In every genre of Scripture, whether it be narrative, Psalms, wisdom or the Gospels and Epistles, warnings against sexual sin are prominent. From Genesis to Revelation, every book of Scripture teaches that believers are to vigorously pursue sexual purity and forewarns against transgressing God’s law in this area. Perhaps the most serious warning is in Revelation 21: 8 “But as for the cowardly, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fie and sulfur, which is the second death” (ESV). Yet how attitudes in the church have changed to sexual sin! No longer the scandal it once was, it is not so much a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ this sin will happen in the church. We cannot deny that the world’s lax and liberal attitude to sexual sin has permeated the church–to the point that it is now bordering on being accepted as one of the so-called “acceptable sins.”
Perhaps this is because we have lost sight of what a terrible offense sexual sin is in the eyes of God. Following the pattern of the world, the church rarely sees the terrible nature of this sin both in its inherent sinfulness and its destructive nature to those who engage in it. What then can we in the church, do to help warn against the epidemic-like spread of sexual sin, especially, though not exclusively in our young people. First we need to diagnose what sexual sin is, before we can seek to counsel and protect those who are tempted or have fallen. Paul, in Colossians 3:5 does precisely that.
Paul wrote “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry”. Paul is very clear – sexual sin, which is manifested in both thought and deed is actually covetousness, which itself is idolatry. More of that in a moment, but consider the common response of those caught or confession their sexual sin. “We just fell into it”, or “I just wanted someone to comfort me during my trial”, or “it just happened”. Not so, according to Paul. Sexual sin NEVER “just happens”, rather it is the end of a long process which starts with idolatry.
In Colossians 3:5 Paul provides us with a list of sins, all inter-related, that always accompany sexual sin. He starts with the acts of sexual sin – sexual immorality and impurity – and concludes with the cause – idolatry. He works backwards from the outward manifestation to the inner cause. To put it another way, he works from the execution of the sin to its conception. Consider his flow of thought, as we treat it in reverse:
– “covetousness which is idolatry”. This is the root-cause. Those who sin sexually are guilty of committing idolatry, in that they have made a god of sex. It matters not what kind of sexual sin it is – heterosexual, homosexual, pornography – or any other, the first sin is idolatry. That is to say, there has been a coup d’état in the heart of man: God has been dethroned and individual, selfish desire reigns in his place. In this particular coup sex is the new god. The sexually immoral has given him/herself over to what is an unlawful practice in the sight of God. Long before the mouse clicks on an image, or a flirtation, or sexual act takes place, the heart has been taken captive by another god. Notice Paul states that idolatry is related to covetousness. To covet is to lust for something you do not have. In sexual sin, it is to lust for something you should not have. In other words, the sexually immoral person desires something prohibited and enshrines it as god in his own life.
– The next sin Paul highlights is “evil desire.” Notice we are still in the realm of the heart, not the body. Note that Paul diagnosis sexual sin as an evil desire. To want something that is inherently evil, that is, something which is prohibited by the law of God. To desire such is evil. How many of us pause to think that the glance to the bill-board, or the lingering look, the flirtation with a co-worker or the fantasy of the mind, is in fact, an evil desire. Paul says that once the heart worships sex, it will conceive all manner of evil desires.
– “passion” – that is living in a manner consistent with the evil desires. It is to be controlled by such desires, so that moderation and abstinence from such thoughts are impossible. To be passionate in sexual sin, is to be controlled by one’s desires for sex. And when one is controlled by sex, sex is your god, and the Spirit of the true God does not rule in you.
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