by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
I’ve become fascinated by the lists presented in the Bible when I came to realize that many of them are more than a collection of related items. Permit me to illustrate this with a list that Paul gave in Colossians 3.
“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them” (Colossians 3:5-7).
Paul had been arguing that those who have become Christians should display a life changed by Christ. Their focus should be on heaven and not on the earth (Colossians 3:2). As a result, they should consider themselves dead to sins.
To illustrate, Paul starts out with the sin of fornication. The NASB poorly translates the Greek word porneia as “immorality.” “Immorality” is far too broad of a term. The word means being engaged in sexual acts with another person where the two people are not married to each other. It would include acts done before marriage or acts of adultery when one person is married to someone else. While the world is losing its moral compass, it is still common to find people who realize that unmarried sexual acts are wrong. Yet, even those who admit that it is wrong will talk about how fornication “just happened to them” at one point. They got caught up in the moment, they didn’t mean for things to go this far, but now they worry that a child might have been conceived.
But it wasn’t a random accident. Things led up to the moment of intercourse. Paul covers that with his next term: impurity or uncleanness (depending on your translation). The term refers to actions that are the opposite of holiness. “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification” (I Thessalonians 4:7). These are acts that you would not associate with a person who has been set apart by God for a holy purpose. In the realm of sexuality, uncleanness includes actions where two people act like animals, stirring up their desire for sex through inappropriate touching (I Corinthians 7:1). Impure actions naturally lead to fornication because that is how the human body was designed by God. But that design was for it to take place in marriage, not outside of it. “Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body” (I Corinthians 6:13). If your intention is not to engage in fornication, then you must not engage in what leads up to fornication.
Yet, we need to consider why people decide to act without restraint with someone they are not married to. “Passion” refers to lustful things that a person observes that stir up the desire for sex. These can be the things people refer to as their triggers. They might be visual or verbal, such as seeing a part of a person’s body or the attention that another person gives them. These triggers nudge the person into arousal and thinking about sexual things. Because arousal feels good, people get into a habit of seeking out passion, such as looking at pornography, especially in times of stress or depression (I Thessalonians 4:3-7). Passion becomes a distraction but it is also a trap.
Yet, the problem of lust is not just external. It is rooted in an internal desire for sin. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). The things you accept in your thoughts become the things that you seek out and eventually do. “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them” (Romans 1:24).
However, Paul takes it one step further. Behind all of these is a very basic problem – greed or covetousness. We usually think of greed as a desire for money or other worldly things, but it can be connected to sex. “You shall not covet your neighbor's wife” (Exodus 20:17). People in the world give themselves over to wanting more and it doesn’t matter how they gain those things. “They, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17).
What I want, what I desire, becomes the pivotal point of all my choices. It becomes my god that directs my life. It is my god that I made in my own image.
Thus, we now have the insight to get ourselves and others out of sexual sins. It begins with recognizing that God is in control of my life. I’m here to serve God and not my own desires (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). I must love God and my neighbor, which means I cannot allow my desires to lead me to harm my neighbor.
Conquer the greed within you and the succeeding steps into sexual sins fall apart.