Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Ah! The doctrine of mortification (the putting to death of sin) now there’s something you don’t hear much of these days and yet Paul’s charge to the church in Colossae is “put to death.”
When one looks at society today one can clearly see a ‘spirit of excess’ which is why this verse is so relevant today. In this verse Paul gives us a list of sins, of which, we are to put to death or to kill. He will give us another list in verse 8.
Before we begin I would like us to understand one thing, that Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in doing so both he and God clearly believed that a Christian can exercise control over their desires and that they do not have to be defeated by them.
Paul does not say that we should portray an outward appearance of putting to death these sins or that we keep trying to suppress them but rather Paul believes, as does God, that the desires of these sins can be put to death.
Secular counselling would tell us that they find such statements untenable because they don’t believe a person has any power on which to rely other than the strength of an individual’s own will. One simply cannot resolve or will oneself choose to cease desiring.
Paul’s counsel is based on his belief that the Christian is energised, animated, empowered and filled by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:29). To suggest that ungodly passion or desire is so entrenched in a person that the Holy Spirit cannot overcome it is not true otherwise sin becomes greater that God.
This is confirmed again in verse 7 where Paul reminds the Colossians that they “once walked [in these sins], when they “were living in them” (see 1 Corinthians 6:11). Now, they have been delivered from the enslaving power of that lifestyle, but they are still vulnerable to the temptation and the pull to revert to their former ways. Hence Paul’s urgency in commanding them to “ put to death or “slay” and to “strip” such desires from their hearts.
Many say that you can’t simply choose to suppress certain passions. In fact, they argue that it is psychologically dangerous to attempt any such thing. Venting our desires, giving them full freedom, is the counsel we most often hear. “Be yourself! Embrace your longings!” And above all else, never judge or condemn someone else for their expression or attempt to find fulfilment of their inward urges.
For the Christian this is not the point, surely we should not want to be ourselves but rather to look like, sound like and behave like Christ.
When I look within myself I see quite a lot I don’t like and I really don’t want those things to dominate my life. I don’t want to let them out or congratulate myself for “putting them out there” but rather I choose to oppose them, defeat them, and live in true freedom from their enslaving power. My desire is to be like Christ and not do that on my own but with the help of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s look as some of what Paul encourages us to put to death.
We are to put to death “sexual immorality.” It is the Greek “porneia,” from which we have derived our word “pornography.” This word has a prominent place in the New Testament. It is the first of the many works of the flesh found in Galatians 5:19. We are told to abstain from it in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. We are told to flee from it in 1 Corinthians 6:18. We are even told in I Corinthians 6:9 that no person who is unrepentant of the practice of it will inherit the Kingdom of God. Tough stuff then!
So “sexual immorality” (porneia) refers to any and every kind of illegitimate sexual intercourse. I know I am treading on toes here, but I must submit to scripture. What Paul means is, any sexual intercourse in any and all circumstances outside of marriage between a man and a woman is out of bounds, or any pushing of the sexual boundaries given by God for the marriage of a man and a woman.
Next, “impurity” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8) meaning sexual uncleanness given its place in the immediate context. Whereas it is from the first term that we get our word “pornography,” this is a twisting or pushing of one’s own sexuality. It’s addictive, it’s never enough, it takes things further.
At this point those that know me might think that I am reverting back to my Strict Baptist origins or even Victorian morals which many might think are outdated and unenlightened. So where do we draw a line? Where person A believes is a good place or where person B wants to go further? Who draws that line and who says what is harmful or not? Who defines extremes? Is it all to do with what we feel? If ever we needed Gods guidance (which is not just about where you will live, or work) it’s today. We need His guidance about sexuality.
Next Paul uses the words “passion” and “evil desire”. His choice of words is to give weight to what has gone before. It’s true to say that “passion” and “desire” are good Godly yearnings when looking to the worship of Christ or serving for instance.
But in this context Paul adds in the word “evil” and that qualifies the kind of “desire” and “passion” Paul has in mind. Clearly these are all related and most likely apply to sexual longings that are altogether inappropriate for those who are following Christ. These are not casual impulses or experiences to be indulged or ignored or justified because “that’s simply part of what it is to be me.” These are lifestyle things, deliberate, priorities.
I am not saying we won’t fall or cannot fall, I am trying to articulate that sexual practices have become life forming. Paul has in mind those who have given themselves over to the persistent, deliberate practice and cultivation of sexual impurity. He is not talking about the person who falls, and is broken, contrite, and devastated by the affront that such sin has caused to the purity and dignity of God. He has in view unrepentant, cold-hearted, commitment to a life of sexual impurity.
I have, over the years, met with some who have shared with me their quite extreme sexual practices and they have sat there as if what they have done is quite insignificant or unimportant, not too bothered at all as to how their practices have drawn someone else into their world of deviation.
There have also been some that I have met with who are devastated by their sin. They have become, sorrowful for the hurt they caused and are determined, with God’s help, to break free of their bondage and are willing to make whatever practical sacrifice is necessary to walk in purity of thought and deed, no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant that sacrifice may be. Their conscience has been clearly pricked by the Holy Spirit, they are quick to confess and repent of their sin. They are willing to change, to put death that which is very much alive. They do not see this as onerous or dutiful. They are not just being pious but with real tender heartedness want to become like Christ.