The Bible gives us many motivations to do battle with sin and to persist in putting sin to death. We battle sin because of a newfound desire for righteousness. We battle sin out of love and loyalty to Christ. We battle sin out of hatred for the consequences of sin. But one reason Christians too often overlook is this: we battle sin as an expression of love for others.
In the first eight verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul commands the Christians in Thessalonica to put to death all expressions of sexual sin. They are to abstain from sexual immorality and instead learn how to control their bodies in holiness and honor. They are to trade the passionate and out-of-control lust of the pagan for the loving self-control of the Christian. And as Paul completes this brief teaching on sexual immorality, he turns immediately to a related topic: the love of one Christian for another. When he has finished condemning their lust, he affirms and encourages their love.
I am convinced that there is a connection here. As Paul tells the church to turn away from lust, he tells them to turn toward love. It’s easy to see why: lust destroys love. A person driven by selfish lust cannot act in selfless love. A person who is controlled by lustful desires and lustful deeds no longer has a mind filled with Spirit-motivated desires and a life marked by Spirit-motivated deeds. The area of lust, especially as it is so commonly expressed in pornography, may be the clearest example of the value of putting sin to death as an expression of love for others.
A commitment to pornography destroys the ability to take seriously a command like this one, which Paul gave to Timothy: “[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). A man who is dedicating himself to pornography, who is objectifying women for his own gratification, cannot treat younger—or older—women with purity and dignity. His lust destroys his ability to love.
A commitment to pornography destroys the ability of a man to enter into church leadership. Paul also said to Timothy, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (3:1). Young men who will not do battle with this sin are rendering themselves unavailable for ministry. There are men with great God-given abilities who could be stepping out as the next generation of Christian leaders, except that this sin continues to dominate their life. If they will not put it to death for their own sake, surely they can put it to death as an expression of love for a church that needs strong leaders.
In all of these ways and so many more, a Christian’s lust interferes with the ability to love. In all of these ways and so many more, the Christian could express love for his brothers and sisters by putting sin to death.