At first Paul's counsel on dealing with sexual sin seems almost too simple. It’s actually tempting to overlook it. But looking closer, we'll see it provides such important insight into overcoming sexual sin that we dare not ignore it.
"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..."
When Paul says we must put to death what is earthly in us he is indicating that we have a responsibility to war against sexual sin.
This is a duty. There are no exemptions.
I really feel a little silly saying something so obvious, but unfortunately in this day and age it needs to be said. If you are a believer, there are no biblically legitimate excuses for falling into these types of sin. Oh, the world will be glad to give you some illegitimate ones. That’s for sure.
One of the big ones in our day being, genetics.
When it comes to many types of sexual sins the world just says that is the way you have to be, you have no choice. You are a homosexual because you were born a homosexual. You are struggling with pornography because you are a teenager and that is just what you have to do, your genes won’t let you do anything else.
The thing is, if you are a believer, those kinds of excuses just don’t cut it.
Paul says in verse 7, “You used to live in these kinds of sins but no longer…”
You can’t just sit there and say well I’m a homosexual, or I’m just naturally lustful, or I used to watch a lot of bad movies, or I come from a long line of adulterers, or whatever, no you have a responsibility no matter what your past was like to war against these kinds of sins, you have a duty to put them to death.
Now, some people think that’s harsh.
"I can’t believe you just said that a homosexual has to war against those homosexual desires that sometimes plague him. Just let him be."
I think that’s harsh.
I, for one, am so glad that I don’t have to be all the wrong desires that I have ever been tempted by. I’m very thankful to God that I'm not determined by the things that Satan has tempted me to do.
There’s great hope in that.
If you are a believer you may be tempted to sin in some sort of sordid way, but when confronted with those kinds of temptations, you can rejoice because that’s not who you are, you are a new creature in Christ and so when you are tempted you don’t have to give in and say this is what I have to do because I’m facing this evil desire, no you say that’s not who I am, I’ve been washed, I’ve been set apart, I’ve been given a new life in Christ, and so there is no way that I am going to act on that temptation. I’m going to put that kind of desire to death.
The first step as a believer to overcoming sexual sin is a refusal to make excuses.
The second step is to go to war.
When Paul says that we are to put to death what is earthly in us he is saying that we have to commit ourselves to, on a day-to-day basis, vigilantly and vigorously opposing and destroying the sinful desires which remain in us and seek to control us.
I realize that’s a long, drawn out sentence, so let me kind of pick it apart.
We're talking about a day to day battle. Paul’s not describing something that is just once and done here. There’s no little magical pill you can take once a day that will take all the temptation away. You are going to struggle with sin on a daily basis, and so you have to seek to put it to death on a daily basis.
To say it another way, this “putting to death” is a continual act. It’s to be our daily occupation.
Sometimes people act as if they’ve come to a point in their Christian life where they don’t need to fight so hard against sin. The truth is, if that’s what they are thinking, they have come to a point in their Christian life where they are the perfect set-up to fall into serious sin. Other times people become lazy. They’re just trying to deal with sin on a once a month basis or a once a year basis. You know, when they get fired up after a real good sermon. Not enough. The kind of putting to death that Paul is talking about here, requires great diligence.
We’re talking about vigilant and vigorous opposition to these sinful desires. In other words, we’re talking about work.
There’s no short cut to holiness. If you are carelessly and kind of haphazardly dealing with your sin you aren’t going to do so very effectively. That’s why the Bible says “Discipline yourself for godliness…” And Paul here is saying “Continually put to death what is earthly in you…”
You’ve got to kill sin or it’s going to kill you.
That’s what the word Paul uses for put to death here means. It’s sometimes translated to mortify - you could even translate it to slay. When you kill or slay or mortify something, what you are shooting for is complete destruction. You are not just trying to make it really, really sick. You are not just trying to wound it. You are attempting to destroy it.
In dealing with sexual sin, there’s no middle ground. There’s no room for compromise. You can’t try to get along with sin, or just give it a small little place in your life. You can't start feeling like you’ve dealt with your sin because you’ve got it cornered and it’s not taking over your whole house... it’s just living in the closet.
No sin is a beast, a monster. You put it in your closet and it’s going to do everything it can to get out. You can’t play with it. You can't just try to mollify or appease it, instead you’ve got to do everything you can to squeeze the life out of it.
This is not some passive process. Paul doesn’t say lull your sin to sleep. He doesn’t simply say wait out your sin. He’s talking about taking action and going on the offensive and viciously attacking the sin in your life.
If you think that’s strong language, you ought to check out the way Jesus talked about dealing with sin in Matthew 5. He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of our members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Both Paul and Jesus are making the same point, to overcome sin you’ve got to go against your feelings and do things that are sometimes painful.
Painful because there are times when you are going to want to sin, times when everything within you is going to be saying, say yes to sin, and part of killing sin is saying no to those desires.
Specifically, to kill sin you need to make a commitment to as Paul puts it in Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” If you are going to overcome sexual temptation and other temptations you can’t give your flesh a fighting chance.
If you’ve got this enemy that you know wants to murder you, you aren’t going to invite him into your house for dinner. You aren’t going to say, hey do you mind if I just fall asleep right in front of you, do what you will. No you are going to be on your guard. You are going to do everything you can not to give him an opportunity to attack. Or if you had a beast in your basement, (work with me here, I know it’s far-fetched) but if you have this man-eating beast in your basement, you aren’t going to leave the basement door open. You aren’t going to throw scraps of meat down there for that killer to eat. You are going to pad-lock the door, you are going to put chairs in front of it, and you are going to try to starve that monster to death.
That’s the attitude we’ve got to have towards sin and our own sinful desires. That’s part of mortifying it. You don’t put yourself in positions where you know you are going to be tempted to sin.
You struggle with lust and looking at bad images, you don’t go on the internet when you are by yourself and think oh you know what I can handle it. No you don’t make any provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts. You don’t open the basement door. No you keep that thing pad-locked.
Think of sin like a murderer who is knocking on your door and wanting in. No matter how nice that murderer sounds, no matter all the things he offers you, there’s no way you are going to let him in. You don’t just stand there and say, o.k. let’s talk, why don’t you come in and have a seat and we’ll see what you have to offer. No you say, get off my porch. Then you run and you get the phone and you call the police.
Sometimes people have the attitude towards sin that a mother or father has towards her child. They make excuses for it. I remember watching on the news recently a father whose son was just picked up for conspiracy to commit murder. The son had purchased a gun, he had a list of people on a little piece of paper, that he wrote out, a list of people he wanted to kill, the police found all this; and yet there the father was on t.v. saying, Oh my son really is a nice boy and all that was just a big practical joke.
Come on. I understand that because as a father you love your children, but let's get real.
Get real about sin. Whatever you do, don’t treat sin like that father treated his son. Don’t minimize your sin. Expose it for what it really is. If you are going to deal with sin you’ve got to see it as a big deal. Otherwise you aren’t going to war against sin the way Paul commands you to here, and if you don’t war against sin the way Paul commands you to here, you aren’t going to be successful.
To be a little more positive, you mortify sin by using the means God has given you to grow spiritually. To deal with lust, work hard at getting to know God and growing in your love of Jesus Christ. Overcoming sexual sin is not just about not doing this, not doing that, it involves “setting your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.”
We as believers are new creatures, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be faced with temptations; sometimes temptation to sin in very grievous ways. We need something more than simply knowing that these kinds of sins are wrong, and we need something more than simply knowing why they are wrong, we need to know how to win the battle against these temptations if we are going to live holy lives in this sin-saturated world...which is exactly what we've seen Paul gives us in Colossians 3:5.
"Put it to death..."