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The Apostle Paul: 5 Secrets to Fighting Sexual Sin

Last Updated: October 17, 2023

Hugh Hefner didn’t invent sexual sin. It is a problem that has been around since our ancestors walked east of Eden, and it will be around until the new Jerusalem descends upon us. The good news is that the Bible promises that we can experience foretastes of that coming freedom in the here and now. But how?

The Apostle Paul commands the Christians in Colossae, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). But how do we do this? If we rip this verse away from the letter, we’re likely to apply it the wrong way, so we need to look closely to understand what Paul is talking about.

1. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Not About “Do More, Try Harder”

A dangerous philosophy was circulating in the church at Colossae. It was championing asceticism: If you want to remain pure, then separate yourself from the pleasures of the body that are so often a source of temptation. This philosophy said if you really want the fullness of divine life within you, then insulate your life.

But Paul delivers a crushing blow to this philosophy:

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).

No value. That is Paul’s verdict on asceticism. It simply doesn’t work. Yes, there is a grain of truth in the philosophy—all popular philosophies contain at least some wisdom in them. If you are tempted to sin sexually, then it makes sense to get away from sexual temptations. This will keep sin at bay—but ultimately the flesh remains unsatiated.

This false philosophy is still circulating in the church today. When the best advice we can give people is better filters, cold showers, more hours in prayer, and trying harder, we have given into this philosophy that Paul says is of no value.

This false philosophy either totally underestimates the power of sin or sets the benchmark of holiness too low. It either doesn’t get just how ingrained sexual sin is in us or thinks that merely getting rid of outward, blatant sexual sin is the goal. Neither is accurate.

Related: How to Be Free From Sin–The Higher Law Than “Try Harder”

2. Fighting Sexual Sin Starts With a New Identity

Paul offers his readers another approach to fighting sin, and it starts with these core identity statements:

  • “With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20).
  • “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
  • “You have been raised with Christ” (3:1).
  • “You were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12).
  • “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9-10).
  • “The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).

This is where a lot of modern readers check out. “Don’t give me these abstract theological ideas. I need something practical,” they think. But for Paul, there was nothing more practical, nothing more life-changing, than these ideas.

We are united to the risen Christ by faith. His resurrection life flows in our veins now. The Spirit of the living Christ lives inside us, so we no longer belong to this world and the rules it plays by—we belong to Christ and the age to come. In order to have the power to fight lust, we first have to understand this: we no longer belong to sin. We belong to God who has accepted us and forgiven us, not because we purified ourselves first, but because we are united by faith to the Pure One, Jesus Christ.

[Tweet “In order to fight lust, we must understand that we no longer belong to lust.”]

3. Fighting Sexual Sin Continues by Kindling New Desires

Knowing we are united to the living Christ, Paul writes, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:1-2). The terms Paul uses here mean to center one’s interests, focus, and passions on something—to savor something. Now that God has united us to the risen Christ, we savor that reality, and this kindles new desires in us that displace a desire for sin.

What are these “things” above that we should savor?

  • First, we are to savor Christ himself. This is one of the reasons why Paul spills a lot of ink in this letter describing who Christ is. He is the beloved Son of God (1:13), the image of the invisible God (1:15), creator and sustainer of all things (1:16-17), the one whose blood reconciles us to the Father (1:20), the firstborn from the dead (1:18), and the one seated at God’s right hand (3:1). In him all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (2:3). The fullness of deity dwells in Him (1:19; 2:9).
  • Second, we are to savor our new position before God. Christ is seated at God’s right hand and we are seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). To be seated at a ruler’s right hand meant to be in the position of greatest authority, honor, and delight. Because Christ is in us, we share in the favor He has with the Father.
  • Third, we are to savor the hope that someday we will see and experience these realities. Someday, Christ Himself will appear and we will appear with Him in glory (1:4). It is our destiny to be like the holy, pure Son of God. Some day our eyes will see the one who died for us and rose again, the one who is God in the flesh, and God will honor us as his royal children before every creature, every human soul, and every angelic being in the universe.

How does this practically help us to fight sexual sin? The reason why sexual sin can have such a grip on us is because of its power to define us and what is most valuable, how sexual pleasure makes us feel about ourselves. Sexual fantasy, pornography, or pursuing illicit sex makes us feel desired; it makes us feel valued and validated; it gives us a refuge; it gives us connection; it can even make us feel powerful. This is why setting our affections on things above is so important: It gives us a new center to our lives and gives us a completely new sense of value—not based on our worthiness but based on the love God has for Christ that overflows to us.

Related: What Is the Difference Between “Liking” and “Wanting” Porn?

4. Fighting Sexual Sin Is About Fighting for Our New Desires

Finally, we come to Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Paul here is not endorsing asceticism—something he has already refuted. Asceticism is about fighting to get rid of something we think is unholy, but mortifying sin is about fighting for the new affections that God is giving to us.

We can construct helpful boundaries in our lives that keep sexual sin out of reach, but we should do so by standing on our identity as God’s beloved children and standing satisfied in Christ and God’s love. When sexual temptation comes knocking, we can say to it, “No, sin. That’s not who I am anymore. You do not define what life is to me anymore. You do not define me anymore. Christ is in me. I am a child of the king, and one day the whole world will know it.”

5. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Sustained by Relationships That Remind Us of Our New Identity

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

This is the essence of real accountability in the body of Christ. Yes, accountability involves confessing our temptations, sins, and the state of our hearts, but it also involves godly encouragement. Accountability is not just about someone calling you out on your sin, but someone calling you up to the person you already are in Christ. Accountability is about surrounding yourself with the kind of Christian friendships that teach and admonish you, that inspire thankfulness, and that help us unpack all the wisdom contained in the great mystery that Paul called “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (1:27).

Accountability is like stoking the embers of a fire. It does not add energy to the embers. It only exposes those embers to the air so new reactions can happen. When we engage in the disciplines of confession, encouragement, and mutual prayer, we expose our souls again to the life-changing gospel, and God’s power is released again and again.

  1. Scott

    And if you can find that “relationship” and accountability? I live in a very rural area and have no groups around, and struggle alone. I have at time tried to share with people I thought I could trust and was met with rejection and one person even questioned my salvation. I keep looking and searching, as every book I have, every program I’ve looked up online, every podcast I’ve listened to talks about true fellowship, relationship, and accountability…. yet I’m at a loss. I’ve shared some surface level struggles with my pastor and he has nothing to offer other than quoting some verses and the “pray harder, try harder” mentality. I’ve even resorted to trying to start up various men’s groups at my church quite a few times, just to try and start to build an environment of faith and finding men who seek God… and no one ever shows up.

  2. Thomas

    What is A.N.T.H.E.M.?

  3. I would say that a good place to start with an addiction run amok and out of control is boundaries – filters, etc. Certainly what you’re stating here is the ideal end goal, but these more abstract biblical realities are hard for an addict (someone caught in the bondage of slavery to their flesh) to relate to, and it takes time to renew your mind to the point that these things help. I think that a relationship is what God has always wanted from us, and when we are fully dedicated to that relationship, we can truly be free. I guess I’m just saying that this may come in stages.

    • Though I think that boundaries are a good place to start, as Jesus tells us to cut off the right hand that causes us to sin, our end goal and our hope needs to be to set ourselves upon the idea of becoming the man that God wants us to be. The new creation, the new desires, keeping our eyes heavenward. I’m learning about that, I suppose. If one truly understands God’s purpose for them, then all the worldly stuff becomes like trying to ingest vomit. I’m getting that intellectually, but I really want to KNOW it in my heart and live it every day.

    • I agree. Often we can’t even get our eyes heavenward until we have put a forced distance between us and the sinful habit that is causing so much of a brain fog. We need to to the practical work of distancing ourselves from the sin (even if part of us doesn’t want to do that yet), and as the fog clears really begin to apply ourselves to these principles.

  4. engineering student

    thanx mr Luke, I will imitate on those qouted scripture.

  5. seto logologo

    Thank you for your great article on this reality.Its a timely and practical advice and what i have been looking for.Thank you.

  6. Lisa Hermann

    http://vimeo.com/m/56592009

    Here is a wonderful short film my son made titled “FIGHT” that is a picture of a man’s fight for being pure.

    • Appreciative

      The film is really well done, especially the way the man’s struggle at home is interlaced with the boxing match, moment by moment.

  7. That’s a nice article Luke,
    God bless you.

    I was having a similar problem, but I believe that I am now a saved person. But I still think practical steps can also assist .

    • aaron

      ive been there to and some times you gatta let God have a hand in your life

  8. DF

    We’ll written article, thanks Luke. There are many books and we pages devoted to fighting lust and porn, but very few seem to offer any real ideas on how to actually battle it. I appreciate wha you have written here to help in my own struggle. This ties in nicely with what John Piper has written in how to change your views in his A.N.T.H.E.M strategy. Keep up writing articles like this. Freedom from lust can be had!

    • Yes, I really liked Piper’s ANTHEM approach: fits nicely with what I’m talking about here. Thanks for the comment!

    • Great article, but it is easier said than done! This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through! I mean the mental implications as well as the physical! I know in the long run this will be all worth it and my relationship with Jesus and my family! I got to say I just want to give in to see if it will bring me back to “normal” but then I’m back into the same sin cycle as before! I thank God in Christ for the Holy Spirit to give me strength! And I understand that it’s not just trying harder but that’s a start! I’m looking forward to one day of absolute freedom, the struggle will always be there but the failure will not!

  9. James Lanier

    Luke, thanks for another great article. I found points 3 and 5 especially helpful. I see a lot of biblical wisdom in having relationships that remind us of our new identity in Christ. I would be really glad to see some more articles on just that issue.

    My experience is that enslaving lusts breed navel gazers. We end up like the muckracker from Pilgrim’s progress and see only ourselves, our guilt, and the lies that we want to believe. In contrast, the Gospel invites us to be transformed by beholding Christ. I know I can’t do that on my own. I need God’s word and other believers who know exactly where I am in my struggle to point me to beholding Christ in ways that I could never discover on my own.

    Keep up the good work, brother! SO grateful for your effort.

    • well God bless you Mr.Luke..your words are prophetic and inspiring..having known Christ for some years i have realized that one of the tools Satan is using to rub us of our true identity as priest in the kingdom of God is sexual degradation.as a deliverance minister i believe the devil works through various spirits of lust but if we shall only pray to free ourselves by the power of the blood of Jesus then we shall be free indeed and as papa Luke rightly quoted we should live in the relationship of the rhema word of The Lord which comes by fellowshiping of the Holy Spirit and the studing of the Word of The Lord.

    • Perry Gonzales

      I disagree with most of this article.

    • Dan Armstrong

      What specifically do you disagree with?

  10. Well said Luke. These are exactly the truths that I try to communicate to the men who come to me for help in this area of sexual addiction. We who grew up in the church have all heard the “Try harder, do better” mantra for far too long. Sadly, when you’re dealing with a shame-fueled addiction, telling someone to try harder only fuels their shame. That’s why it’s so important for all of us to keep sharing this message of the true gospel. Only Christ can change us…and He already has.

    • Well said, Stephen.

      I’ve often heard this same sentiment from those in the addiction-recovery world, and would go a step further: I think “try harder” moralism is bad advice in general, not just for those trapped in addictions. I know you probably agree, but I think one of the reasons why so many in the addiction-recovery world are disenchanted with the church is because the church’s theology of sanctification is insufficient. This has got to change.

    • Armen Gakavian

      This is very important, Stephen – well said. Also, “try harder” doesn’t address the build-up of demonic strongholds, attitudes and habits that underlie any addictive behaviour. “Trying harder” without cleaning out the build-up of spiritual and psychological grime usually leads to frustration and, in the long run, failure.

    • You know there is a clue to colossians 3:5 put away your evil desires! Sexual drive is not an evil desire but the most powerful creation that God gave to man tp procreate right. And if God created it then there is no way around not craving or actually doing it if the situation is right like putting cindy Crawford on your couch when she was single, I your as horn as hell. You going to run away? 99 percent you won’t be honest. Somewhere in Christianity teaching something went wrong. That’s why I like the scripture GOD is a just weight and a balance. Probverbs. Testosterone. Has to be released eventualy. Blue balls medical term is known not to be healthy. we just need to be consistent because our self confidence will be effected and lonely Ness can bring major deppression. What do you think.

    • Jakob McGraw

      Thank you so I have been looking at porn sense I was a young boy sex has always been the go to to feel good for myself and it’s been a habit for far to long ! I know I’m not out of the woods yet but think to the Holy Spirit Jesus and the Father I this last weekend truest woke up to my son and the destruction it has caused me! I want this no more and I know it’s early but I do feel as though my sims are falling away! I was caught up today by test and temptation and usually I give in that kind of the norm even though I new it was wrong and against Gods will for my life but now I see I can not do those things any longer! I’m so grateful today for the message you made hear on fighting sexual sin! I really was going to fall agian until I clicked on your sight and started to read you insight that God has given you in this area of sin! Again brother I think you for your words of encouragement because I have longed to over come this in my life and you have provided through Paul’s leaders the wisdom I needed to overcome! Keep up the good work and may God bless you and your family! Thanks be to God the father for his son through his spirit! Amen

    • Nicholas

      Luke,this teaching has completely changed everything in my life… glory to Gof

    • Sheldon

      My homosexual temptations keep coming back and once every 2-3 days I keep giving in. If I cut off my testicles, will that kill my biological interest in sex, thus reducing sexual temptation? Didn’t God say to cut off anything that causes you to sin?

    • Kay Bruner

      Please do not cut off anything. Jesus was using hyperbole. God never, ever wants you to harm yourself in any way. God created you with love and care, just as you are. I would encourage you to find a loving, accepting church that can help you accept yourself as you are, without ever harming yourself. Please take care of you. You are God’s precious, beloved child. Find a community of believers that understands that.
      Peace to you,
      Kay

    • Greg

      This is great! I just hope I can change my pessimism and negativity that is so ingrained in me since my childhood. I think that this feeds alot into my problems with sexual desire as well. The focus on positive and opportunity for new life is all throughout scriptures, even if voiced as “do not do this” it is meant to say “you are choosing death, choose life instead”

      I so desire a new perspective.. God help us change our minds, hearts, and behaviors to reflect what reality truly is.

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