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Sins of the Flesh
When we read the New Testament, we cannot help but notice how much of the text is devoted to sin. That’s not by chance. Christ, we must remember, died to redeem us from sin. Considering his sacrifice, to continue in our sins would be the height of ingratitude. Of course there is a more personal reason to refrain from sin. The penalty is severe.
Before we discuss sins of any type, permit me to say at the outset: I’m not preaching! My shortcomings are probably as great or greater than your own. All I intend to do in the next four topics is to tell you what the scriptures have to say about sin and its consequences. And to present that in a such a way it may be remembered.
You won’t find sins classified in the Bible, although many are mentioned, scattered randomly throughout the writings. Nevertheless, all sins seem to fit into four broad categories: sins of the flesh, sins of the mind or spirit, sins against other people, and sins directly against God.
Let’s start with the most sensual category . . . Sins of the Flesh. (We will review the other three topics in later articles.)
Sins of the flesh is a rather old fashion way of putting it, but it is an apt description. The term means not controlling our appetites. Included in this group is: debauchery, drunkenness, idleness, and sexual immorality.
By definition debauchery means gross indulgence of our sensual appetites. Paul and Peter both warn us not to engage in debauchery or orgies. (Romans 13:13) (1 Peter 4:3) Debauchery and orgies are acts of a sinful nature. Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Proverbs refers to gluttons twice: “Drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” (Proverbs 23:21) And “He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.” ( Proverbs 28:7)
The New Testament speaks of gluttons once. Paul quoted the sixth century B.C. poet, Epimenides saying: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12)
Should our understanding of debauchery be limited to food and sex? Clearly, they were mentioned because they were two temptations prevalent during the first century. We have more to tempt us now. Today we can destroy our bodies by smoking, drinking, or drugs. And we can destroy our finances by gambling.
God gave us brains for a reason; he expects us to use them. Surely common sense tells us, even if the pleasure is innocent in and of itself, the safest rule is: nothing to excess. In the case of smoking, drugs, and gambling probably the best advice is to just say “No.”
Paul wrote the Ephesians telling them to avoid drunkenness which leads to debauchery. (Ephesians 5:18) This leads to the second sin of the flesh . . .
Are Christians required to be teetotalers? I have heard sermons to that effect. The scriptures, however, tell us a different story. Remember Jesus’ first miracle?
At a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee, Jesus told the servants to fill six stone jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons, with water. After they filled them to the brim, Jesus said, “Draw some out and give it to the master of the banquet.” They did. After tasting it, the banquet master wondered aloud why they had saved the best wine until last. (John 2:1-10)
And then there is Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23)
Also read the qualifications for deacons in the church. “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine.” (1 Timothy 3:8) Notice he didn’t say, “any wine” he said, “much wine.”
Obviously, neither Jesus nor Paul considered drinking wine a sin.
Here’s another thing. The “fruit of the vine” represents Christ’s blood in the Lord’s Supper. We are to take it in memory of him and his sacrifice. In the days before refrigeration, grape juice fermented rapidly in the heat of the middle east. Consequently, for most of the year, early Christians were drinking wine in keeping with the Lord’s command. Christianity is not a teetotaler religion. Drunkenness, however, is another matter.
Jesus warned us: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)
Paul lists drunkenness with debauchery and orgies and condemns all three. (Romans 13:13) He calls it an act of the sinful nature, and warns us that drunkards do not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
Moderation, not abstinence, is the rule for alcoholic beverages. Certainly there is nothing wrong with abstinence. But Christianity does not demand it.
For some people the easiest thing in the world to do is — nothing. Laziness and idleness come natural to them. Have you noticed? Vices are easy to acquire; it is the virtues we have to work at.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul issues a warning to the idle. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) And in his second letter, Paul orders the church to stay away from every brother who is idle. When we were among you, you did not see us idling. We worked. And we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat. . . . If anyone disobeys these instructions, single him out and have nothing to do with him until he is ashamed of himself. Don’t treat him like an enemy, but admonish him as one of the family. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10)
Paul: “Those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:8)
Paul also cautioned the church not to support widows under the age sixty for they may become idlers, gossips, and busybodies. (1 Timothy 5:13)
How serious is the sin of idleness? Paul did not consider it a minor offense. In his first letter to Timothy, he writes: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
Idleness along with debauchery and drunkenness is not permitted in Christianity.
The Christian rule on sex is simple and straightforward. All sex outside of marriage is strictly forbidden. Singles must abstain from sex. Those who marry must remain faithful to their spouse until death.
Which do you think is more difficult? loving your enemies or living a lifetime of chastity. Both run counter to our natural instincts. God, however, understands our natural tendencies. He issues warning after warning on fornication and adultery. He also warns us against yielding to unnatural desires: sexual perversions, homosexual and lesbian behavior, (Romans 1:24-27) and male prostitution. (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Certainly, all of us are not tempted by the same thing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of us can take most temptations in stride. Sure, we don’t drink too much, or gamble too much, or go out of our way to cause other people problems. But when it comes down to something or another that really tickles our fancy, such as __________ (fill in the blank with the temptation of your choice), all of a sudden a thousand and one excuses will rush into your head.
You know how it goes. For whatever reason, God is going to overlook this little discretion this time. After all, we are not hurting anybody else. We know everybody else does it or maybe even something worse. And, of course, I’m really a good person at heart. That’s all that really matters. God’s fair. Surely, he will see it my way.
How easy it is to talk ourselves into doing what we really want to do. There’s one little problem though. Every choice we make is leading us down one of two paths. Either we are growing more like Christ with acts of charity, courage, and faith, or we are slowly sinking into a mire of sin and excuses becoming a creature fit only for hell.
Tell me, what do you think? Did Jesus die for our sins? Was he resurrected from the grave? Did he promise us eternal life if we follow him? Did he and his disciples tells us to avoid sexual misconduct? Should we obey his command? If we answer “yes” to everyone of these questions, then we really don’t have a choice.
No one promised Christianity would be easy. We aren’t here to gratify our own desires, we are here to obey Christ’s commands. If he says “do,” we do; if he says “don’t,” we don’t. We know, of course, that whatever he tells us is really for our own good.
Paul gives us this reassurance: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Bearing that in mind, what does the New Testament say about fornication?
Fornication is voluntary sexual intercourse between unmarried people. Christ says it defiles a man – makes him unclean. (Matthew 15:18-20) And in Revelation, the resurrected Jesus issues this dire warning: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
Paul too condemns fornication saying fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9) He orders us to stay away from this sin. See Ephesians 5:3 and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.
Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with someone other than the spouse. Jesus tells us that adultery, like fornication, defiles a man and makes him unclean. (Matthew 15:18-20) Then Jesus drives his point home saying that if you want eternal life, do not commit adultery. (Luke 18:18-20)
Jesus warns us not to even think about adultery. Here are his words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
Paul agrees: Adulterers will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Fornication and adultery are the natural desires. What of the unnatural desires?
Perverts, Homosexual Offenders, Lesbians, and Male Prostitutes
Paul lists perverts in with murderers, adulterers, slave traders, and liars as those who flout the sound teachings of the gospel. (1 Timothy 1:9-11) He also speaks of homosexual offenders and lesbians. The apostle offers this explanation: Because people worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:25-27)
Some claim today that Paul just didn’t like homosexuals. That’s why he added those “homophobic” remarks to his writings. However, the anti-homosexual view clearly did not originate with Paul. Long before Paul was born, the Lord said to Moses: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” (Leviticus 18:22) And again the Lord condemned homosexuality: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Leviticus 20:13)
It appears that it’s God, not Paul, who detests homosexual conduct.
Paul also mentioned male prostitutes. Male prostitutes will not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Enough said. God will not tolerate fornicators, adulterers, perverts, homosexual or lesbian offenders, or male prostitutes.
Questions to Consider:
Which of these sins: debauchery, drunkenness, idleness, sexual Immorality is worth losing eternity in the kingdom of heaven? Which is worth eternity in hell?
“Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but it is forbidden because it’s hurtful.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Note: All Scripture References are taken from the New International Version.
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