The following is an excerpt from Secret Sex Wars: A Battle Cry for Purity, Chapter 6 “Putting Sin to Death” by Pastor H.B. Charles. Used with permission.
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Let’s seek to understand this command to put sin to death (Colossians 3:5) by first clarifying what it does not mean. First of all, putting sin to death does not mean that you cover it up. Hiding your sin will make you a good hypocrite. But it will not make you a godly man. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” There is no such thing as a “secret sin.” God knows all and sees all. Hidden sins on earth are open scandals in heaven. So while you may be able to fool other people in your life, you cannot hide from God. Our good God who won’t let you down won’t let you off either.
David testifies, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). David learned the hard way that you can run but you cannot hide from God. He later learned, however, that you can run to God and hide in God! In verse 5 of the same Psalm, David testifies, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” The Lord will do the same thing for you if you repent of your sins and run to the cross for forgiveness. I John 1:9 supports this notion. It promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Secondly, you cannot put sin to death by internalizing it. The God who sees your conduct also knows your heart. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). So you cannot please God or live victoriously if you quit a sinful habit but continue to embrace and entertain sinful desires. You must change your sinful ways and change your attitude toward sin. You must clear away the cobwebs and kill the spider that created them. You must mop up the wet floor and turn off the overflowing faucet that caused it. You must deal with sin in your heart. Remember, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Proverbs 4:23-27 is wise instruction. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
Lastly, you have not put sin to death just by replacing one sin with another sin. This is what David did. David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife. And Bathsheba became pregnant. But none of these experiences moved David to get right with God. Instead, David simply exchanged one sin for another to cover his tracks. And there was a freefall from adultery to deception, murder, and hypocrisy. Yet, after all of the hustling David did, he still was not able to get anywhere until he became honest with God. David’s failure warns us that you can’t simply exchange one sin for another sin. Replacing homosexuality with pornography is not spiritual victory. Replacing adultery with masturbation is not spiritual victory. Replacing fornication with lust is not spiritual victory. These are all just attempts to avoid dealing with the real issues in our lives – the spiritual realities that exist underneath the skin. We must put sin to death.
If putting sin to death is not accomplished by covering it, internalizing it, or replacing it, how do you put sin to death? First of all, you must hate sin passionately. It means that you establish a disposition of animosity toward your sin. The psalmist said: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). That’s how the process works in all of us. True spiritual understanding results in holy hatred for every false way. Note that the psalmist did not just hate the consequences of being on the false way. He hated the false way itself. In fact, he hated every false, evil way. He detested anything and everything that is contrary to the ways of God. Please recognize that you cannot cherish sin and kill it at the same time. You need to have spiritual animosity, godly ill will, and a holy hatred for sin. In fact, here is a practical way to begin to put sin to death in your life. Pray. Ask the Lord to teach you to love what he loves and hate what he hates. Sincerely and persistently pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Secondly, putting sin to death means that you fight sin violently. The victory Paul is talking about here is military, not athletic. This is not a sport. It’s a war in which we must fight to the finish. The Lord has graciously given us the whole armor of God for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-13). However, the Lord will not fight the battle for you. You must fight for godliness in your life. This is the other side of sanctification. Indeed, God is at work in us to will and to do for his good pleasure. But we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). It is the will of God to have the Spirit of God use the Word of God to make the children of God look like the Son of God. But you and I also have a role and a responsibility in this process. You can’t overcome sin with a passive attitude that sits back and says, “Let go and let God.” Spiritual growth does not happen through osmosis. You must take personal responsibility to deal with sin in your life. This responsibility is not just the development virtue; it’s putting sin to death. Colossians 3:9-10 says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” That’s a great way to describe the process. You must take off the selfish ways of sin and put on the godly ways of Christ. You must plant some flowers and pull up the weeds. You must walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4) and put to death what is earthly in you. That’s the key to true godliness.
We are in war. And we should not deal with sin in a half-hearted manner. We cannot negotiate or compromise with sin. We must not treat the battlefield of faith as if it is a playground of life. If you are going to overcome sin, you must fight! You can’t play with sin and think that sin will play nice! It won’t. You must be decisive and aggressive, even militant, in dealing with your sins. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Of course, Jesus is not suggesting that dismemberment is the way to holiness. Amputating your hand does not fix a sinful heart. And gouging out your eyes will not cure you of lust. Jesus is graphically illustrating how aggressively, decisively, and militantly we must deal with sin. Jesus is stressing the point that whether you go to heaven or hell is infinitely more important that the use of your hands or the sight of your eyes. So, do whatever it takes to decisively attack sin in your life!
Thirdly, you must deal with sin decisively. That’s why there are no shortcuts to holiness. Laying hands is not a shortcut to holiness. Coming down an aisle is not a shortcut to holiness. You must fight to the finish. You must fight to gain and maintain spiritual victory. You must fight on your knees. You must fight with the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). You must fight alongside other godly soldiers who will support you and hold you accountable (Eccl. 4:9-12).
This is how we should view the call to self-mortification of our sinful ways. Obedience to this call to worship requires that we hate sin passionately, fight sin violently, and deal with sin decisively.