Pastor David B. Curtis

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Put to Death Sexual Sin

Colossians 3:5b-7

05/02/2004

We have seen thus far in our study of Colossians that as believers we share in all that Christ is and has done, because we are in Christ. Since this is true, Paul declares that you are no longer to live in the way you used to. The imperatives of the Christian life -the command to "put to death your members which are on the earth," for instance - are rooted in the new reality of who we are in Christ. Since you have been united to Christ, live like it!

Colossians 3:5 (NKJV) Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

"Therefore" - This verse begins the practical section of the epistle where imperatives abound. This is a turning point of huge importance at this juncture in Colossians. Paul's epistles don't vary much from this format. First, he lays a substructure of positional truth. Doctrine always comes first. Then the letter concludes with a superstructure of plain imperatives of practical importance. These imperatives deal with both attitudes and behavior.

Before we do, we must believe. First it is doctrine, then deed. First it is belief, then behavior. If our belief does not affect our behavior, then we have a flawed belief. First it is creed, then conduct. If our conduct does not match our creed, there is something wrong. First it is principles, then it is practice. First revelation, then responsibility. The last two chapters of Colossians are given over to relevant and stinging imperatives.

"Put to death your members which are upon the earth" - Paul, uses a figure of speech here known as "metonymy." A "metonymy" is a figure of speech in which something named is used to represent another thing which it is part of or associated with. For example, we use the White house for the President. Or a Biblical example would be the blood of Christ, which is used to refer to his death. Blood is metonymy in Scripture for his sacrificial death. When Paul speaks of killing bodily parts or members, Paul is actually referring to the sins associated with those members. We are not to put to death our hands and eyes and tongue. We are to put to death the sins that are associated with those members.

"Put to death" means to cease completely from activity, with the implication of extreme measures taken to guarantee such a cessation. The Greek tense suggests decisive and urgent action - kill them. This is a call for practical holiness.

We saw in our study last week that the only way we will be able to put to death our members is to: 1. Know your position in Christ. 2. Believe what God says about you. 3. Do not present your members to be used for unrighteousness, but present them to be used for righteousness. Practical sanctification comes as we stop yielding to sin and start yielding to God. As we do this, we put to death our earthly members.

We don't do this in our own strength but in dependence upon God:

Romans 8:13 (NASB) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

It is "by the Spirit" that we are to put to death the deeds of the body. This means that we do it in dependence upon the Lord.

Let's look at what Paul says we are to put to death:

Colossians 3:5 (NASB) Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Paul lists five sins here. I believe that all five of these terms have to do with our sex. We are basically sexual beings. God created the human race in two sexes, and He intended it that way. Sex is a tremendously important part of life. It is designed by God to add flavor and excitement to our relationships. Sex in the Bible is like a great river flowing through life which, kept within its banks, is a source of pleasure and power. When it overflows its proper banks, it becomes destructive and, ultimately, disastrous.

Foremost among the acts of the sinful nature is porneia. Porneia is the Greek word translated: "immorality, or fornication in some texts." That it's a predominant word in the lists of expressions of the fallen nature should alert us to the fact that it was also the most prevalent one by which early believers were tempted, and it was one of the most widely accepted 'sins' in the ancient world, which went uncondemned by various cultures.

Paul is concerned that the Christian congregations be kept free of such corruptions:

Ephesians 5:3 (NASB) But do not let immorality [porneia] or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints;

Our last President sought to redefine sexual sin so as to justify his immorality. Graphic, embarrassing, and detailed testimony made it clear that Bill Clinton had indeed decided that porneia applied only to actual intercourse. Sadly, now there are reports that many young people are duplicating this sin, because they believe the Bible does not condemn it.

Thus we are forced to confront the question: just what is porneia? We could ask the question this way: if Monica Lewinsky had been married, could her husband have put her away scripturally according to Matthew 19:9 for what she and Bill Clinton did?

Matthew 19:9 (NASB) "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery."

Porneia is a biblical ground for divorce, so we must understand exactly what it means.

What did the Jews think when Jesus said that if a man found his wife guilty of porneia he could divorce her? What did porneia mean in Jesus' culture?

Word studies find that porneia in Old Testament times had strong associations with harlotry. The term is rooted in a word meaning: "to sell" and referred originally to prostitutes and prostitution. Over time, it came to mean the one who visits a prostitute (a whoremonger) and then began to be applied to adultery.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (often referred to as "Kittel" for its main editor, Gerhard Kittel) tells us:

After the Old Testament the term came to mean all sorts of sexual perversion. In non-inspired, extra-biblical literature, the term is used of 'unnatural vice' and of sodomy. The Testament of Benjamin 9:1 says, 'Now I supposed, from the words of the righteous Enoch, that there will be also evil-doings among you: for ye will commit fornication with the fornication of Sodom.' There is a porneia of Sodom. We trust that our readers can understand the implications of this condemnation of homosexuality and perverse sexual relations - a condemnation that would include acts not defined as 'normal' relations. This is in concert with the findings of the rabbis in their debates and discussion.

So Kittel tells us that the rabbis believed "unnatural forms of intercourse" would also be porneia.

That said, it is apparent that in Jesus' day sexual activity with a person one is not married to would meet the definition of porneia. A man and woman who are physically intimate with one another and are having or simulating sexual relations would easily fit the definition and standard use of porneia in Jesus' time. To be physically intimate with someone not your mate, making physical contact with another person in a sexual way, is porneia.

Many fundamentalist preachers, ignorantly or simplistically, distinguish the biblical concepts of "adultery" as "sex by a married person with someone other than the spouse," and "fornication" as "sex between two unmarried people." "Fornication," i.e. the Greek "porneia," actually describes a much larger class of activities, however, than "intercourse between unmarried people." It is, in fact, the root that we get our word "porno" from, and it covers about the same broad class of behaviors as "porno" does to us today.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a group called "Liberated Christians" who say that premarital sex is okay. They write:

There is absolutely nothing in the bible forbidding premarital sex. It is one of the traditions that is man made to control people. The only reference is in the OT and in the NT only the total mistranslation of the Greek word 'porneia' as 'fornication' - a clear lie that has no basis.
The scriptures were not written in English. 'Fornication' is a great example of the lies in translation of some bibles. Some English bibles say that, others say the more correct translation 'sexual immorality'. The koline Greek word that has been mistranslated as fornication is porneia. There is no biblical basis whatsoever to translate porneia into fornication (singles sex). Quoted from their web site: http://www.libchrist.com/bible/premaritalsex.html

This group wants to define the word porneia so that it doesn't mean fornication, because fornication is defined by the dictionary as "voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other."

What does the Scripture say about fornication? As a whole, the New Testament uses porneia, most often translated: "fornication," in at least four ways:

  • Voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with someone of the opposite sex (1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Thess. 4:3).
  • A synonym for adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), which is sexual relations with someone other than one's spouse.
  • Harlotry and prostitution (Rev. 2:14,20).
  • Various forms of sexual sin such as homosexuality and bestiality.

Porneia is a broad term used to cover any form of sexual sin. Let's look at some of the Bibles exhortations against this sexual sin:

Ephesians 5:5 (NASB) For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NASB) For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

Clearly, God's will for believers is sexual purity. He says in:

1 Thessalonians 4:6 (NASB) and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.

The word "avenger" is the Greek word ekdikos which means: "one who carries out a legal sentence." This word is only used one other time in Romans 13:4 where it refers to the magistrate as the bearer of the sword of justice, that is, as inflicting capital punishment. So, talking to believers, God warns that He is the one who carries out a legal sentence against those who commit porneia.

To help us understand the severity of this sin, let's look at some passages in Corinthians that deal with this sexual sin:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NASB) Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul list fornicators first in the list of the unrighteous, who will not inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:13 (NASB) Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body.

Paul is pointing out the simple fact that the stomach finds its fulfillment, its satisfaction in taking in food. But the body finds its fulfillment, not in sex, but in the Lord. The body only finds it's fulfillment, it only finds its satisfaction, it only finds its meaning when that body is being used to glorify God. The body is an instrument that God can use for His glory. The body was made for the Lord, it belongs to Him.

Notice that Paul does not say that you should abstain from immoral living in order to protect your body. He could have said that. We are living in the midst of an epidemic in the United States. An epidemic of STDs. Sexually transmitted diseases are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States today. More than 20 STDs have now been identified, and they affect more than 13 million women and men in this country each year. The annual comprehensive costs of STDs is estimated to be in excess of $5 billion.

Hundred of thousands of Americans die each year of venereal diseases. Thousands more are crippled morally and physically as a result of STDs. But Paul does not use that as one of his reasons for moral purity. He also doesn't call for them to abstain from immorality to avoid pregnancy, but he could have; even in spite of the pill, and in spite of legalized abortion. We have thousands of illegitimate births every year in our country. Paul also does not argue for purity in the marriage relationship to protect one's marriage, although he could have. It is a fact that premarital relationships are one of the greatest hazards to a happy marriage relationship. We might have expected Paul to argue for sexual purity to protect your spiritual life; to protect your relationship with the Lord. Immorality fractures one's fellowship with God.

Paul is reviewing, because this phrase is introduced by the phrase, "Know ye not?" When he was in Corinth, he obviously taught these things to them, so he is just reviewing what he has taught. Paul calls upon them to live morally pure based upon their Position in Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 6:15 (NASB) Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be!

Your body is the member of Christ. As you look at me, you see my body with its many members. There are ten members on my hands, and those fingers are parts, or members of my body. I have two arms that are parts of my body. If you can catch the majesty of this, you will realize the very beautiful truth that your body is a member of His body, it is a part of His body. Of course His body is a spiritual body, the church. But your body is to His body; what my fingers or arms or legs are to my body. Your body is part of His body, it is a member of His body. That is what makes sexual sin so obnoxious; it is taking a member of His body away from Him and from its proper use and robing Him of that member. That is exactly what Paul says, "Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!" The Greek word for "take" is airo, to "take away." What he is asking is shall I take away from Christ one of the members of His body? That is exactly what a person does when he uses his body for an illegitimate purpose. He is robbing Christ of one of the members of His body and his right to use that body for the specific purposes that He has ordained. More than that, it was using a part of Christ's own body in an act of fornication. The Greek word used for harlot is porne, which is a form of the word porneia which is fornication, sexual immorality. We certainly shouldn't take Christ's members and join them in sexual immorality. It is because of our position then as members of the body of Christ that Paul appeals to them for moral purity. This is the same appeal that he uses in Colossians.

Now to those who want to redefine porneia so as not to mean sex between single people, Paul has something to say:

1 Corinthians 7:1 (NASB) Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.

The phrase "not to touch a woman" does not refer to the holding of hands or putting your arms around a woman. Touch is the Greek word "haptomai" which means: "to attach oneself to, to apply oneself to." It directly relates to the sexual relationship within marriage. So "to touch a woman" is a euphemism for a sexual relationship, which Paul uses here as a metonymy for marriage.

So what Paul is saying contextually is this: Considering your present circumstances and considering the responsibilities within marriage, it is good not to marry....but:

1 Corinthians 7:2 (NASB) But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

This verse makes it clear that God does not approve either of polygamy or homosexual "marriages."

But because of immoralities [porneia]- Paul says that is it good not to marry, but because of immoralities, every man is to have his own wife, and every woman is to have her own husband. Is this why a person marries? It is one reason. To avoid fornication is not the only reason for marriage, but it is one reason.

Paul is not giving us here his doctrine of marriage. He is speaking of the danger of sexual sin for those who are single. What Paul is doing here is answering a specific problem that was given in a specific question in relation to a specific situation existing in Corinth at that time. The situation was this: Fornication was rampant in the city. Temptation abounded on every turn. A man could not walk down the streets of Corinth without being propositioned. What Paul is saying in this passage is that the real solution to the situation in Corinth is: Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. God has instituted marriage as the safeguard against such evil. Marriage is not the lesser of two evils; it is the God ordained safeguard against the immorality that is existing in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 7:3 (NASB) Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.

The words "fulfill his duty" are the Greek word eunoia, which means: "kindness; conjugal duty:--benevolence, good will." Paul is saying, When you get married, you become obligated to meet the physical needs of your spouse. Marriage is no place for celibacy.

The general obligation is that I am to pay to my spouse what I owe him/her. I am to fulfill my duty as a spouse. Now there is a specific obligation, and it is found in verses:

1 Corinthians 7:4-5 (NASB) The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

It can be stated very simply; it is given to us in the first phrase of verse 5, "Stop depriving one another." The word deprive is the Greek word apostereo, which is a compound verb that comes from "apo,"which means: "from", and "stereo", which means: "to deprive, or keep back." The compound word means: "to deprive another of what belongs to him or her." The object is the body, which belongs to the spouse in the marital union. What Paul is saying is that you do not have the right to deprive your marriage partner of their conjugal rights. You do not have the right to deprive them of their rights within a physical relationship in marriage. It is not enough for us to say that sex is a marital privilege. It is that, but it is also a sacred responsibility; it is a debt that we owe.

So Paul tells the Corinthians that in order to avoid pornea, they should get married. This would clearly tell us that sex among singles is pornea and is sin. Pornea is not limited to singles having sex, but it does include it.

Before we move on to look at the other words that Paul uses in our text, let me make a few comments. In 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul says, "There is fornication among you." I believe these words could be said of every church in America. That statement may seem a little strong, but I'm convinced that it is sadly true. Porneia has become rampant in the church in our day. We must understand that God hates and judges this sin. We must understand the destructive nature of this sin, and we must put it to death. And we must do all that we can to protect our children from it.

Let's move on and look at the other words that Paul uses:

Colossians 3:5 (NASB) Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

The second word is "impurity." This comes from the Greek word akatharsia, from which the word catharsis or "cleansing" comes. The alpha privitive (a) makes it a negative, meaning: "filthiness," or "uncleanness." It is a more general term than immorality, going beyond the act to the evil thoughts and intentions of the mind. It could refer to what we would call perverted forms of sex - homosexuality, child abuse, and various strange and kinky sexual practices. They would all be covered by this one word "impurity."

The third word is "passion." This is from the Greek word pathos. This refers to erotic passions which are aroused (especially with men), by visual things. If men are aroused visually, are women responsible for how they dress? Pornography clearly falls under this classification. Anything that is sexually arousing: literature, movies, whatever, is to be denied. It belongs to the old life. It is beyond the boundaries of God's river and becomes a very destructive thing.

"Evil desires" is closely associated with lust - it is mental uncleanness. It is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he said, "If a man looks after a woman and lusts after her in his heart (if he mentally plays over the picture of having sexual union with her), he has already committed adultery in his heart."

Lastly, we are to put off "greed, which is idolatry." When this word "greed," or "covetousness" appears in Scripture without being linked with idolatry, it is referring, of course, to lusting after money and the things that money can buy. But in this particular context, linked with this word, "idolatry," it is greed to possess another person's body. That, says Paul, is idolatry - a powerful longing to lay hands on some other person and possess his or her body. It is what the world calls "having an affair," in which you allow another person to become so dominant in your thinking that he or she takes the place of God to you. Those who mistakenly feel that a new affair, a new love relationship, is going to meet all the hungers of their life find themselves again and again disillusioned and ultimately despairing. Every affair becomes less and less satisfying. They find themselves at last drifting aimlessly, lost on the sea of life.

These sins are as common today, as they were in the first century, that even Christians tend to accept these practices and to overlook the error of those who fall into them. The apostle says there are two things wrong with acceptance. First, he says:

Colossians 3:6-7 (NASB) For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.

"Will come" is in the continuous present tense and could be translated: "keeps coming." What do you think of when you hear the phrase "the wrath of God"? Many think of it as a kind of divine temper tantrum; that God gets very angry and vindictively strikes you down in some way or other; lightning bolts shoot from heaven, or whatever. But Scripture declares that the "wrath of God" is simply his judicial reaction to evil; it is the way a Holy God reacts to a civilization or individual who turns his back on moral absolutes and tries to ignore moral laws. The first chapter of Romans gives a vivid description of what God does in such a case. He removes the restraints within society against evil, and lets it have its way, allowing it to produce what evil always produces - death in the midst of life.

We all find ourselves facing a flood of evil practices. The restraints that once kept evil under bonds and within bounds are lifted, and evil practices flood the scene. Laws are laughed at, morality is cast aside, evil is praised and defended on every side. Finally, we reach a stage in society where almost anything goes, and we cannot legislate against anything; the moral fabric of society is destroyed. It is easy to see that this is right where we are today. Historically, it is always a prelude to the break-up of government and the overthrow of the forces for law and order within society. This is how the Roman Empire, and many other empires in history, fell apart. These are moral absolutes, which men never can break with impunity. That is what Paul is pointing out. You may think that nothing happens when you allow yourself to fall into immoral practices, but something is happening - God has not lost His power. He is quite able to react to evil, and He does react. He allows it to have its head. He removes restraints upon this dissolution of society, and nothing man can do can prevent it.

Believers, understand this sin brings wrath, not blessing. It never brings true happiness. Paul is not warning us that if we sin, we will feel the furious wrath of God. Rather he is saying that those who are Christ's, who have been made one with Him, who love Him and serve His glory, would certainly not wish to participate in those kinds of behaviors and thoughts that are characteristic of those who will feel His eternal wrath. The children of God would certainly not want to act like the children of wrath.

Although believers have been delivered from God's wrath (cf. Rom. 5:9), they are subject to His chastening:

Hebrews 12:5-6 (NASB) and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES."

God will react against sin. The unbeliever will experience His eternal wrath, and the believer His loving chastening. Either way, all who pursue sin will suffer the consequences.

Hopefully, you understand now, if you didn't before, that sexual sin is a very serious sin, very damaging sin. The question we must now ask is how do we avoid falling into this sin?

Guard Your Heart

The problem of sexual perversion is within me. The fundamental problem is my mind, not my body. Consequently, radical steps must be taken to purify my mind. Sexual sin always begins in the mind, though it does not always end there.

Sexual sin never comes out of the blue. It is the predictable result of a long natural process in which a mind susceptible to sin is granted unguarded exposure to immoral input. We are what we think. Today's thoughts are the stuff of which tomorrow's character is made. Temptation may come suddenly, but sin does not. The best way to guard against tomorrow's sexual temptation is to cultivate a pure mind today, a mind saturated with God's input, rather than the world's input. The battle is in our minds. Proverbs puts it this way:

Proverbs 4:23 (NASB) Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.

Guard your heart! If we are going to avoid sexual sin, we must guard our hearts. If the battle for sexual purity is in the mind, then we had better start guarding our minds, because we live in a world whose media is consumed with sexual sin. All media touch the mind, stir it, move it, mold it, in every way affect it, even when the process is unconscious. Moreover, cognition is basic to behavior: we act out what we first think. Hence, whatever affects the mind will ultimately, though not always directly or immediately, affect behavior. We must guard our thinking and protect our minds.

Are you seeing things that are causing you to sin? Then stop looking at them. Are you engaged in activities that make sin more enticing? Then stop those activities. It should go without saying that a Christian man or woman should have nothing to do with pornography. Pornography may be defined as any visual, written, or recorded stimulus designed to cultivate or heighten a person's desire toward immoral sexual behavior. If that definition of pornography is true, then today's media is a major source of pornography, because it is often a visual stimulus designed to cultivate or heighten a person's desire toward immoral sexual behavior.

Living the Christian life in our society takes tremendous self-control. Proverbs gives us a vivid picture of the importance of self-control:

Proverbs 25:28 (NASB) Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.

In ancient times, the walls of a city were its main defense; without them, the city was easy prey to its enemies. Self-control is the believer's wall of defense against the sinful desires that wage war against his soul. Self-control is probably best defined as the governing of one's desires; it is necessary because we are at war with our own sinful desires. Self-control of our minds means entertaining only those thoughts that are acceptable to God. Every believer has the ability to control his thought life.

Believers, guard your heart and the hearts of your children. One of the best ways to do this is to put the word of God in your heart. David said:

Psalms 119:11 (NASB) Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against Thee.

Memorize and meditate on what the Bible says about sexual sin:

Proverbs 6:26-29 (NASB) For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. 27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can a man walk on hot coals, And his feet not be scorched? 29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 6:32 (NASB) The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it.

Believers, we must guard our hearts. Another important ingredient to sexual purity is accountability. Accountability boils down to this: I need people to check up on me, to ask how I'm doing spiritually, and to tell me when they see weakness or seeds of sin in my life. Nothing is more healthy in the body of Christ than a strong sense of accountability to each other. If I know I must answer to someone, it makes me more conscious and careful to do what is right.

Believers, God has made us a "new creation" (II Cor. 5:17). We are not the old person made over; we have the life of God resident within us now. God expects us to put away the old life. God does not want us to go on living as if nothing radical happened to our sin. Everything we say and do is either an asset or a liability to the cause of Christ. We are either a credit to Christ or a disgrace. Each of us has a responsibility to put sin to death.

Continue the Series

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