The book of Colossians is a letter that Paul wrote to “God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ” (Colossians 1:2). He is instructing these new believers how to live their lives as followers of Jesus. This sounds like a good resource for us because, if you are like me, you’re still figuring out how to navigate this sometimes complicated journey.
In chapter 3, Paul makes a statement that I think deserves our attention. It will save you from terrible heartache and inevitable destruction. He begins the chapter by talking about true life.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Paul instructs us where to place our focus. Set your hearts and minds on Jesus. Great. Not always easy, but I’m there with you Paul. Paul then turns his attention to death. He makes a direct contrast to life in Christ. Can you guess the topic?
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
Paul contrasts life in Christ with a list of behaviors that we are instructed to put to death. First, this means that they exist and you will be tempted, so you must prepare. Second, we can infer that the items in the list must be closely related. At first glance, when reading them in order, they seem to be all about sex. The end of the list, greed, and the outcome, idolatry, makes me think differently, though.
Let’s read the list backwards starting with idolatry. This is putting something in God’s rightful place; it is making that something the ultimate thing. This is the target of God’s wrath. He alone is God.
Beyond this is greed, an inordinate or insatiable longing. We were made to worship God so it makes sense that when we put something in God’s place, we will naturally worship it. It is our nature.
Next (still reading backwards), we get to the sex part of the list, which begins with evil desires and ends with action (sexual immorality). Let me make a bold statement. Sex outside the safe confines of marriage will destroy you. It is not safe. You cannot manage it.
Now reading the list forward, Paul’s sequence shows us that the natural outcome of sexual immorality is idolatry: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. It will separate you from God. This is serious business.
I think we can place illicit sexual activity in one of three categories. When you engage in sex outside marriage, you will ultimately act in one of three roles.
- I will be worshipped (I will be God to someone)
- I will worship (I will replace God with someone)
- I will satisfy my desires without regard for how it affects others (I will deny God).
Let’s take a moment and be clear that I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. My list of mistakes is long. I only want to protect you from the lies we are all told and, worse, those that we tell ourselves. I want to spare you from heartache and worse.
If you are currently in an unmarried sexual relationship, stop it today. If you have a strong relationship with the person outside sex, he/she will understand and you can begin building that relationship on a solid foundation. If you don’t, it will end. Both are good outcomes. If you are free from sex, continue to guard your heart and mind. In either case, God will bless your obedience!