How to Treat the Cancer of Sexual Sin
For many years, I was a man who lived under sin’s dominion, not understanding, even as a “Christian,” that freedom and healing were possible. The major problem was that I was trying to overcome the temptation to sin without dealing with the hidden cancer of indwelling sin in my own heart.
I have seen this scenario played out in the lives of countless others who have come to Pure Life Ministries looking for help to overcome their sexual sin. Like many others, my idea of victory was that God would somehow zap me and take away all my desires for sin. I had no understanding that the struggle with sin is a daily battle every Christian must endure.
Intellectually, we understand that when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, by this “one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” (Romans 5:19a) All of us are born with a sinful nature, rendering our desires naturally bent toward sin. What we may not fully comprehend, however, is that because of this we are all in a fight for our lives. Sin, left untreated in the human soul, will grow like a cancerous tumor and eventually destroy the soul. Sexual sin is a particularly malignant variety, but the truth is that every human being has this same diagnosis of sin-cancer.
Cancer is a serious condition and, like sin, must be understood so we can treat it properly. In a natural cancer of the body, the genetic material (DNA) of a cell has become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. That’s what happened in a spiritual sense when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit. Our spiritual DNA became damaged. Paul understood this problem of indwelling sin when he said, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
“Very few things strike fear into the heart of a person like hearing the words of a doctor saying, ‘You have cancer.’” I couldn’t help but think about my mother-in-law when I read those words the other day. I asked her what it was like when she was diagnosed with cancer, and she told me the first thought she had after hearing the diagnosis from her doctor was, “I’ll go through whatever I have to, to get rid of this.” From the outset she understood it would be a radical treatment and difficult road ahead. It would be a fight for her life.
The Initial Treatment: “Surgery”
As Christians, we have to come to grips with the same reality, realizing that overcoming our sinful flesh will be an ongoing battle until the day of Christ. The Scriptures portray the life of faith as a fight. In other words, faith involves waging a daily battle against sinful desires. (I Timothy 6:12-14) I am aware that for those bound in sexual sin or other habitual ungodly behaviors, it may seem impossible to overcome the powerful tug of their sinful desires. Many of the men and women who come to us for help are steeped in this hopeless outlook because of their many years of failure.
But here is the good news: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) Jesus Christ not only made a way for you and me to be cleansed from our sin, but also to be freed from its curse and redeemed from its dominion over us. That is the message of the Cross, the message which the Bible says “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18)
Obviously the entrance to appropriating the power of the Cross is through brokenness and repentance. Undoubtedly this can be a painful process, akin to a surgeon’s knife that cuts into the flesh and exposes a cancerous tumor. After years of resistance, I finally experienced this, many years ago now, when God hemmed me in at Pure Life Ministries. For the first time in my life I lay still on the operating table and allowed His Word and the discerning eye of His Holy Spirit to expose the hideous sin that permeated me. Coming to repentance was painful, but I can tell you that there is no greater sense of relief and joy for a sinner than knowing he has been cleansed from his sin. That really is the message of the Cross, but it doesn’t end there.
The Long-term Treatment: “Lifestyle”
Cancer patients aren’t content with just removing the malignant tumor, they want all traces of their cancer to be eradicated. They understand that other measures are necessary to truly eliminate all remnants of cancer from the body. It’s no different for those delivered from habitual sin; they still have to deal with their sinful nature.
Although there are many things we must do to battle against our natural inclination to sin—such as removing things in our homes, reevaluating relationships, reconsidering some of the places we go, or the things we do for recreation and entertainment, as well as learning to actually do the things Scripture teaches are good and right— these efforts alone will not suffice.
Let me put it this way. After the lung cancer is diagnosed, simply quitting smoking isn’t enough. So too with sin, it’s not enough to offer a few behavioral modification tactics.
When it comes to overcoming and dealing with the problem of indwelling sin, there is an essential ingredient in the prescribed cure that has no substitute. I have seen men and women go through our counseling programs, experiencing the initial deliverance and freedom that comes through an encounter with the Cross, only to later relapse into old sinful patterns. They may wonder how this happened to them, but the common denominator among those I speak with is that they started to neglect the regimen of ongoing treatment which is required to keep the spirit-man cancer free.
I cannot emphasize it enough: If we want to win this battle over our indwelling sin, we need daily exposure to God’s presence through a substantive devotional life in the secret place with God. When it comes to winning the war within, this really is the core of what I’m intending to convey.
The value of having a substantial time with God can hardly be overstated. David proclaimed: “O God, You are my God. Early will I seek You. My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” (Psalm 63:1-2) Our lives in this world are like being in a dry and thirsty land, spiritually speaking. We simply cannot make it on our own. We need communion with the Lord if we want to see His power and glory at work in our life.
I recently read a book called The Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge, and he writes,
"Sin is like a cancer; God’s presence is like radiation on that cancer. The longer you’re in His presence, soaking in His Word and basking in His love, the more power you’re ingesting into the very fiber of your being. When you’re in His presence for extended periods, the molecular composition of your soul gets restructured. You start to think differently, you start to have different passions and sinful affections that once pulled at your soul no longer have their former power over you. Powerful things happen inside of you when you spend time with God."
This has been true in my own life. The more time I spend with God, the more I find the power to overcome indwelling sin. Jesus told His disciples to “watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38) When we aren’t spending time in prayer, we’re relying on our own strength.
Sometimes we want a victory that means no more struggles. But in reality, we are all called to persevere in waging the war within. If you want to experience lasting change and grow in holiness, you must pursue intimacy with Him. When we spend time in His presence regularly, sinful desires weaken and godly desires are strengthened. We have God’s Word on it: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring. The rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength. Each one appears before God in Zion.” (Psalm 84:5-7)
Jeff Colón is a minister of the Assemblies of God. He held various positions during his 22 years with Pure Life Ministries. Jeff holds an MDiv and BA in Biblical Counseling from Master’s International School of Divinity. He recently branched out on his own, launching Lighthouse Biblical Counseling Center in Dry Ridge, Kentucky.
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