As an idealistic youth, I thought I could die unto sin altogether so that it was no longer I who lived, but Christ who lived in me.
Getting married, raising a family and starting a career quickly taught me that Paul was pointing to the ideal for which we are to strive, for this side of heaven we will not eliminate sin in our lives. There will always be a part of us which we refuse to allow God to redeem. Day by day, however, we can die more unto sin and rise to walk more according to God's ways.
In Colossians, Paul said that we are to "seek and set our minds on things that are above," meaning to focus on the things God has done, is doing and promises to do. We are to focus on the way things can be different by God's grace and our hard work.
Paul also noted some sexual sins and abuses that we need to put to death. What feeds and nourishes sexual sins are greed and a mind that thinks only of meeting our own needs, regardless of what our actions do to others.
Adulterous relationships are spawned in the mental anguish (psychic pain) that results from things such as a loss of self-esteem, self-pity, feeling unappreciated and taken for granted at work, trying to meet unrealistic expectations of others, feeling inadequate, feeling life is passing us by or viewing each day as just a chore to endure.
At the first sign of these feelings, you need to run - not walk - to a mental health professional because you are going to relieve your mental pain one way or another. Once you reach this state of mind, meeting your needs becomes more important than family, job, church or even God. You may end up not only in adultery, but also in idolatry.
It does not have to be that way. God has offered to help us die to self-gratification and self-centeredness, to feel better about ourselves and what we are doing with our lives, and to become more other-directed.
Sometimes God uses a crisis as a wake-up call to the fact that we need to change our ways.
During my early teens, I developed a bad habit of using profanity without much thought of what I was saying. While working in my father's office one summer, another teen twice my size said something that upset me, and I cut loose with a lot of profanity. He took literally what I had just said about his mother and was on the verge of tearing me apart. I quickly apologized profusely. From that day I ceased using profanity as a way of communicating my feelings and thoughts.
Paul used the analogy of stripping off old clothes and putting on new garments. We are to clothe ourselves with Christlike virtues, such as unconditional love, "which binds everything together in perfect harmony." We are to practice being grateful people. We are to allow Christ's teachings to become so much a part of our thinking and action that they become second nature to us. We are to go out of our way to teach and help others along our faith journey.
The story of the husband who sold his watch to buy the lovely tortoise comb for his wife's lovely hair and of the wife who sold her hair to buy the gold chain for his watch illustrates Colossians 3 better than anything else I know of. It all depends on whom we choose to focus our attention.
Dr. Eugene Norris is a Presbyterian minister who serves as a hospital chaplain and family therapist.
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