"For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (Eph 5:5, NKJV)
This passage is often quoted as a warning against sin. Were you or I to use this verse as a means to convince someone to renounce sin, we might be asked in return, "How? I would like to change my behavior and live a holy life, yet I have failed. All you give me is a warning and no aid. What good is that?"
When we counsel ourselves or others with warnings from scripture, we must also seek practical advice from God's word on how to stop sinning. Fortunately, Biblical warnings against sin almost always include instructions as to how we can cooperate with the Triune God to live a holy life. The above quoted verse is no exception.
In Ephesians 4:21-24, Paul commands us to put off the old man "which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind..." This command more than implies that not only can we change our behavior, but that the very mind that produces wickedness can be transformed. The rest of the chapter lists behaviors and attitudes that we must put off as inconsistent with being a new creature in Christ: lying, stealing, corrupt communications, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, malice. But Paul does not stop there. He give us more than a list of don'ts. The other half of holy behavior is to add on those activities that transforms our minds and therefore changes our behavior. Speak the truth, labor so as to be able to give, impart grace in our speech, practice kindness, forgiving each other, giving thanks to God at all times. What many people forget when they attempt to be holy is that holiness does not just consist in casting off the bad. Holiness also includes adding on the good. Holiness requires the practice of what I call replacement behavior. However, this is not the whole story concerning holiness. If it were just a matter of our own efforts to live right, then holiness would be nothing more than legalism. There is more and to discover the whole truth about holiness, we need to look at the context not only of Ephesians 5:5, we need to know how other scriptures speak about the holy life. For example, I Thessalonians 5:12-22 gives us a long list of what to do and what to abstain from. Yet in the next verse, Paul declares that it is God himself who sanctifies us, not we ourselves. The author of Hebrews writes: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (NKJV) As we put off bad behavior and put on the new man, we do it in faith that God will sanctify us, that the Father will transform our minds to be like His Son's through the power of the Holy Spirit. The faith that He will reward our endeavors is what we must remember most. It is this faith that we must remind ourselves of as we live holy lives. It is this faith that we must point people to as we counsel them to put off sin.