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Spiritual oncology

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Colossians 3:5-11

The other day I got interested in domain names. There are some strange ones out there, like menwholooklikekennyrogers.com. It’s just what the name implies, available to anyone with too much time on their hands.

And I found some intriguing website names for sale, like ultimatemoneymachine.com and doubleourmoney.com. Comeonbabylightmyfire.com is for sale; if that doesn’t work, talktomyattorney.com is available.

USA Today is reporting that the most expensive domain name ever sold was purchased just last month: sex.com, for $12 million.

But as we’ll learn today, that domain has been for sale a lot longer than the Internet has been around. In Colossians we’ve learned to live for God’s glory, in his fear, radically and fully devoted followers of Jesus. We do this in his strength, in gratitude for his grace, by fixing our minds and values on Jesus. Now we go from preaching to meddling. This week: what to get rid of. Next week: what to put on.

When we see these sins as cancers of the soul, deadly to our lives and joy, we see them properly. Let’s discover those which are growing in us today, what to do about them, and why the subject matters so much.

Refuse sexual sin

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature”:

This is a present tense imperative, intended for us all. Paul’s syntax makes clear that we are all included here, no matter how checkered or clean our past or present appear to be. The tense is active–something we must do. God cannot do this for us and yet honor our free will.

Something on the lists which follow is the enemy’s special strategy for each one of us. Your temptations may not be mine, and mine may not be yours. But we’re all here somewhere.

We must put it “to death,” not just out of the way to be considered later. Something must die–these sins, or us. Either we kill the cancer, or it kills us.

Now we come to the vice list, five words which all relate to sexual sin. Five stages of sexual cancer, if you will.

The first is “sexual immorality,” porneia in the Greek. Any kind of sexual activity outside marriage and outside God’s will. Premarital sex, extramarital sex, prostitution, pornography–all such acts are included here.

Next is “impurity,” “filthiness” in the Greek. The word relates to immoral thoughts.

Next is “lust,” “passions” in the Greek. The word relates to emotions, feelings.

Next comes “evil desires,” immoral desires and longings.

Last is “greed, which is idolatry.” In this context, wanting something sexual which we should not have. Wanting a person or a picture, an act or a relationship.

The order appears to move from symptoms of the disease to their source. From secondary, metastasized malignancy to the primary tumor.

To reverse the chronology, we begin with stage one: we are tempted by something or someone which is sexually improper. Stage two: we desire what we want. Stage three: the cancer spreads to our emotions. Stage four: it spreads to our minds and dominates our thoughts. Stage five: it spreads to our bodies, and we act on it. Then the cancer spreads to others, and the malignancy multiplies.

James warned us about the same fatal progression: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).

Such sins lead to the “wrath” and judgment of God (v. 6). The cancer is eventually terminal. We all have committed something on this list in the past (v. 7), and we are tempted to go back where we used to be. But the wages of such sin is death.

Consider a few statistics regarding the cancer of sexual sin in America today:

Those who lived together before marriage are three to five times more likely to have an affair than those who did not. The divorce rate for those who lived together is twice that of those who did not.

24 percent of men say they have had an affair. Only three percent ever marry their lover.

“Sex” is the most popular search term on the Internet.

70 percent of porn traffic occurs between 9 and 5 in the day.

Pornographers sell 20 times more movies each year than Hollywood produces.

One in ten who use the Internet admits being sexually addicted.

One in five youth under the age of 17 received a sexual solicitation over the Internet last year.

325,000 children under the age of 17 are prostitutes in America today.

The average American teenager will view 14,000 sexual references on television this year.

Fortunately, there is some good news from our teenagers. The number of boys who are sexually active has declined nearly 50 percent in recent years, and girls’ percentage has declined significantly as well. It is not true that everyone’s doing it.

God’s word is clear: “put to death” all such sins. How?

Where they start. At stage one, when the thought first attacks us. When we first want something or someone we should not. Bring that temptation instantly to Jesus, asking his help and strength. “Set your hearts on things above” (Colossians 3:1) in prayer and praise, word and worship. Bombard the cancer with God’s Spirit.

If you’re already further down the slippery slope into immoral desire, feelings, thoughts, or even actions, it’s not too late to come to Jesus for help. He cannot reverse the past, but he can bless the future. He can heal your guilt and remove its stain. You can begin again in his grace. “It’s too late” is a lie from the enemy. The fact that you’re here, listening to God’s word, proves that his grace is sufficient for you this day.

Refuse spoken sin

The other category about which Paul warns us is just as deadly, though far less publicized in our culture: “now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other” (vs. 8-9a). From sexual sins to spoken sins.

Consider the list, this time given to us in ascending order:

Stage one is “anger,” a feeling of bitterness or hatred toward another. Not the emotion we associate with anger, for the Bible teaches, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26, quoting Psalm 4:4). The sin is to cherish that anger, to refuse to let it go.

Stage two is “rage”–a “burning anger which flares up and burns with intensity,” to define the Greek term. The simmering pot boils over.

Stage three is “malice,” the decision and intention to hurt the other person.

Stage four involves “slander” and “filthy language,” when we speak words which put our malice into effect. We belittle and attack with our words.

Finally comes stage five, where we “lie to each other” (v. 9a). From unkind words we progress to out-and-out falsehoods in our desire to hurt the other. “To each other” shows that the problem existed in the Christian community, not just the larger society.

All of this is so unnecessary, since we have already put off this “old self” when we asked Christ into our lives (v. 9b). We have put on the “new self,” which he is renewing in his image every day (v. 10). He does this for us all, no matter our background or story: Greek or Jew, Hebrew or Gentile; barbarian (uneducated), Scythian (savage), slave or free–“Christ is all, and is in all” (v. 11).

But we must cooperate. God created us to love and worship him, but love requires a choice. So our Father made us with free will, and has limited himself to it. It is no denial of God’s sovereignty to understand that he chose of his own sovereign will to limit himself at the point of our freedom.

God has made us his children, but we must choose to live out that reality. He has given us new clothes to wear, but we must strip off the old, dirty rags. He has given us a beautiful mansion to inhabit, but we must come in from the mud pits. He has given us a pure and holy spirit, but we must refuse sexual and spoken sin. The choice is ours.

The old parable makes the point well. A boy told his grandfather, “It feels like there are two dogs fighting inside me. One wants to be good. The other wants to be bad. Which will win?” The wise grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”

So, where are you being tempted by spoken sin?

Begin at the beginning, at stage one. Name the person for whom you harbor “anger,” unspoken bitterness. Before the cancer metastasizes into wrath, and boils over into malicious desire expressed by slander and lies, stop the cancer now.

Give that person to Jesus. “Tell God on them.” Turn the person over to him. And ask him to help you see that person as he does, through the eyes of grace.

Admit that you don’t know everything about their story and circumstances. Counselors say that there’s always “one thing more” we don’t know. If we did, we’d understand why the person acts as he or she does. We may not excuse the behavior, but at least we’d understand.

Every time the anger comes up inside you again, turn it to God in prayer. Intercede for that person, especially when you don’t want to. Ask God to change the person, and to change you as well. And as you strip off the old clothes, he’ll give you new.

If the disease has progressed beyond stage one, it’s not too late to go to the Great Physician. If you’ve already acted on your anger, rage, and malice, God stands ready to heal and to help.

Ask God if you should go directly to the person you’ve slandered and lied about. Rarely, it would do the person more harm than good for you to do this; so you should pray about it first and seek wise counsel if necessary. But almost always, going to the person is the right first step.

Confess your sin, even if you believe the person was to blame as well. You’re dealing with your problem, not his. Whatever the person does, you’ve done your part.

When the temptation to spoken sin comes again, remember how hard this was. And refuse to experience that cancer again in your soul. Give it to Jesus, praying for the person, and receive his grace.

Conclusion

This week we’ve studied two of the most practical diseases incurred by disciples of Jesus: sexual and spoken sins. Either will keep us from his joy. Either will keep God at church, on Sunday, the subject of religion only. Either will separate his power from our lives. Both are conquered when we obey his word and trust his power. Which is his word for you today?

During the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982, the British Royal Navy employed a sophisticated defense system which identified enemy missiles and shot them down with great effectiveness. Attack after attack was repelled.

Then the unexpected happened. The 3,500-ton destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by a single missile fired from an Argentine fighter jet. An investigation revealed the problem: the ship’s defense computers had been programmed to recognize and ignore the French-made Exocet missile as friendly. By chance, the Argentine fighter was equipped with just that missile. So the ship was sunk by a missile it identified and could have destroyed.

What missiles are flying at you today?