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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. Gary Hagan

    I really enjoy the comments on here. Maybe there is significance that “You are not in the boat alone” syndrome. Whatever, I enjoy the banter and knowing that others fight the same demons is significant in my struggles. I wholeheartedly agree that strengthening your relationship with Jesus is the only way to defeat the urges that inevitably surface. I personally have one of the most beautiful wifes in the world. One would wonder why I even have problems looking at what is mine (for the record, this woman is a beauty queen, a bonafide awarded pageant winner). I also agree with the absorption in work philosophy, as a work and career addiction person, sometimes that is the only thing that diverts my attention from my impure thoughts. I endured and enjoyed a very active sex life in my single years. At times, I thought that was the only thing I was good at was attracting women. It just came naturally. I also subscribe to the fact that the deeper you fall into the hole of Porn, the more decrepit and sinister your sexual desires become. I do know my Lord and Savior, praise God for that. I know how lucky I am to have one woman who loves and cares for me and I hope with all that is within me that I never ruin the relationship that God has blessed me with. I am really trying and am thankful for this program and you friends that are trying to help me defeat these temptations and lost that have negatively affected my life. Thank you from the depths of my soul.

  2. Okiti moses ayo

    I really enjoy every articles that was written in this podium, because I don’t no how to get out of this secret sin, but due to what I read in this podium I will keep to it and I no that God Almighty will help me, thanks a lot

  3. Daniel

    But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God–I say this to your shame. Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell.
    ENJOY YOUR HOLY BIBLE IT WILL INSTRUCT YOU ON HOW TO LIVE EVEN MORE SO WHEN WE SEEM TO STUMBLE THE WORD WILL PICK YOU BACK UP.

  4. Sheldon

    If I remove my testicles completely (double orchidectomy), would that significantly reduce if not eliminate sexual temptation in my life?

    • son

      Well, once the sexual temptation was gone, what if you were tempted to sin in other ways, such as hating a brother or sister or stealing or lying? Then you would have castrated yourself for nothing, right?
      JOHN 1:8
      “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We are saved by the blood of Jesus and ONLY BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS. Never forget that, brother.

  5. Devan

    Paul was not anti asceticism. That is a truly absurd interpretation of the letter and frankly ignores much of Pauline spirituality. Day in and day out I get an E-mail from you and sure enough there is a fifty-fifty chance you will be twisting Scripture to preach against the Church Father’s, the Apostles, and centuries of Christian thought. I am frankly a bit appalled that Matt Fradd worked for this place. That being said, I still appreciate for the other half of the time, when you are sharing a message that gives me hope in this fight against porn. Thank you for the help, but there is no way I could use this site personally, nor in good conscience recommend it to my mens group.

    • Chris McKenna

      Hi, Devan – I would be happy to help clarify our position if you could point me towards examples of “absurd interpretations” of Scripture in what we and other authors have written. Thank you!

      Best, Chris

    • Greg

      The approach to overcoming sin that the article rightly rejects is like the aimless “shadowboxing” Paul describes in 1 Cor 9:24-27. But in light of the same passage, to say that Paul regards asceticism as having no value, cannot be true. “Asceticism is about fighting to get rid of something we think is unholy” is an incorrect, incomplete definition of asceticism.

  6. Tanya

    Paul had a problem with his pride!!

  7. Stanley Damabide

    Clearly, your essay was divinely inspired. It spoke to me. Many thanks.

  8. Justin

    This is an article that not only causes us to examine.. ourselves but to expose the “hidden thing”.. “Oh me, And Amen”. This is a blessing to read, very informative, full of insight, and causes one to think! Well written! Glory to God! Scriptually strong as well.

  9. Tanya

    This word helped me to keep moving forward on God’s word, and praying , pleading the blood of Jesus against sexual sin in my life. Thank you for the encouragement God Bless.

  10. Chris McKenna

    Hello Scott, here are a few thoughts:

    Online support groups. Sign up for something like BraveHearts (http://bravehearts.net/). On the very secular but free end of things.

    The NoFap Reddit Group is also kind of awesome. https://www.reddit.com/r/nofap

    Phone/VoIP support groups (Sexaholics Anonymous has one: http://www.sa.org/meetings_phone.php; Co-Dependents Anonymous also has some, though I’d suggest you call someone to see if it’s the right group for you: http://locator.coda.org/index.cfm?page=usmeetings.cfm)

    Checking out other local churches to see if they have men’s ministry groups to join. Even if you’re dedicated to your home church, maybe you can find fellowship at other ones.

    Finally, Covenant Eyes does have the 40-day Challenge app now, which is still going through some improvements, but it’s a fantastic daily reminder, right there in your pocket, if you think that might be helpful: https://www.covenanteyes.com/2016/01/07/overcome-porn-the-40-day-challenge-app/

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