If you have not already done so I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, where today we’re continuing in our series titled “Supremacy.” We have hit a turning point in the letter today. As soon as we get to 3:5 Paul uses one word that lets us know we’ve changed lanes, “therefore.” The word therefore, in Paul’s letters, marks a shift from doctrinal explanation to doctrinal exhortation. The logic of Paul’s ethics and the order in his letters show us that he always begins with an explanation of right doctrine and then moves from that to an exhortation of right practice. Right doctrine to right practice, we never see this reversed.
This simple pattern teaches us that an earnest embracing of right doctrine leads to a powerful passion for right practice. Or as historical theologians used to say, “orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.” Such is the case in Colossians. From 1:3 – 3:4 we find solid, meaty, doctrine. In 2:6 and 2:16 Paul exhorted his hearers with a few things but then went quickly back to doctrinal explanation. From 3:5 onto the end of the letter in 4:18 Paul is exhorting, urging, pressing, and appealing to this young Colossian church to live lives in line with right doctrine. He’ll show us that old practices must be abandoned, a new way of life must be adopted. That we must put away the old man because in Christ we died to the old man. That we must live like new men because in Christ we’ve been made new. Saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new, shows yourself and shows the watching world the death you died with and in Christ was no mere figure of speech, but a reality that severed you from sin’s dominion. This is to say, at our conversion we aren’t merely ‘accepting’ Christ but submitting to his leadership and lordship over our lives. This point is important because some people think that ‘accepting’ Christ is all one has to do without giving a second thought to the life change that must follow. Our big idea today is this: you’re to be (in practice) what you now are (by God’s saving act).
But as always don’t take my word for it – I want you to see it in the text itself. Our passage, Colossians 3:5-10 gives us three headings: 1) 3:5-6, Kill what brings Wrath, 2) 3:7-8, Past Experience & Present Life, and 3) 3:9-10, Putting Off & Putting On. Let’s begin.
1) Kill what Brings Wrath: 3:5-6 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” In the original Greek of this passage the very first word in the sentence is ‘nekrosate’ meaning ‘mortify’ or ‘kill’ or ‘put to death.’ This sets a tone of severity against sin for the whole passage before us today. This is one of those verses where many foolishly try to ease the difficulty or soften the blow. This should never be softened, it’s a warning, sin is nothing to be played with. If not dealt with swiftly and strongly, sin that’s left alone will in time consume and destroy you. This language of putting sin to death indicates that Christians are a people who take severe measures to conquer sin. Jesus said in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Paul said in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Puritan John Owen said it like this, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” So we see it is not an option for believers to be actively waging war against their sin, if you don’t fight your sin the outcome is easy to predict: you not only lose, you die, and are thrown into hell forever.
Most of you have heard that it’s bad to sin, bad to give into sin, and bad to do things that are against God’s Word. But do you fight?! Is there a vigilance within you? When you encounter something that could lure you away what do you do? Do you sit and stare at it? Or do you fight? Do you run in the opposite direction? If I want to know how committed someone is to Christ I do one thing: look at their lives over a period of time to see how much they fight against their own sin. I’m encouraged when I see them fighting, because it shows me they love Christ and yearn to know Him more. If I don’t see them fighting, I’m discouraged because it shows me carelessness or an ignorance of Christ and His ways. How many of you, if you dropped your phone in the toilet, would rush to reach in as fast as you could to save it? Probably most of us right? We should treat our sin no differently, rushing to fight against it as soon as it presents itself.
The underlying assumption that’s present here in the text is simple: there is a way to live one’s life that is incompatible with life in Christ. It astounds me what Christians will embrace as valid Christian behavior these days. Do not be fooled, Jesus said “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
Look at the first sin denounced in 3:5: sexual immorality. This is the Greek word ‘porneia.’ This word porneia is an all-encompassing word referring to every kind of sexual activity outside of marriage. Paul expands on this term giving us a list here: impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness (which is idolatry). We would quickly point out that adultery, fornication, orgies, homosexuality, pornography, and polygamy are also included here. Every sexual activity committed outside of marriage is sin. Does this offend you? If you’re in sin or living a lifestyle contrary to the Bible, passages like this should offend you. The Bible doesn’t hold back punches, it tells it like it is, it’s an equal opportunity offender. When it rebukes you it’s you that’s the problem, not it. Now, understand that God isn’t warning against sex, but the perversion of sex. That the word ‘passion’ is included to show that God is against sexual passions that are misdirected. Another way this word passion could be translated is ‘inordinate desire.’ That the phrase ‘covetousness, which is idolatry’ is included amid these words describing sexual sin reveals that sexual sin is so vile because it’s often deeply desired above all else, like a craving, or like an addict needing a fix. It’s the insatiable desire for more of what’s forbidden. In 1884 John Eadie (Scottish minister) described the idolatry of sexual sin saying this, “This desire, this sexual coveting is never satisfied, it always wants more. It’s a fierce and ever fiercer longing…what it craves it worships, what it worships it makes its portion. To such a god there is given the first thought of the morning, the last wish of the evening, and the action of every waking hour.”
Because of these things, Paul says, the wrath of God is coming. God’s wrath and judgment is offensive to the world – but be reminded: God is and He, in His holiness, is the standard by which all men are to be judged. All men must reckon with Him one day or another. Two options are left for us: humble yourself now and submit yourself to Him in Christ, or be humbled by Him later and thrown into Hell forever. When tempted to sin, remember you must one day stand before God. Stand with Him by faith in Christ, do not join in with the sons of disobedience.
2) Past Experience & Present Life: 3:7-8 says, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” Note here the phrase ‘In these too you once walked’ shows that though these sins once characterized our lives apart from Christ, these sins are not to characterize the life of a believer. These sins were our past experience and now they’re not to be part of our present life. Paul says as much when he says ‘But now you must put them all away.’ Let me ask you: if you have made such a commitment to Christ, are you right now remaining true to your confession? 3:5 and the back half of 3:8 gives us the list of sins to fight against, we’ve discussed 3:5, let’s discuss 3:8.
Anger: an attitude of the heart in which there is a large stinking pile of displeasure. In my experience anger seems to be the natural reaction to unmet expectations. You desire a certain thing to play out in a certain way, and that doesn’t happen, so you get angry. All of the sins that follow in this list are outbursts of this first sin anger. Wrath: an eruption of a deep seated anger. Malice: the desire to hurt, injure, or harm out of anger. Slander: a false report of another intended to harm out of anger. Obscene talk: offensive, lewd, or distasteful discussion born from anger intended to create feelings of disgust in others. ‘In these you too once walked’, so throw them away, rid your heart of this evil and it’s stink that seeps into your bones. You who possesses a life that has it’s foundation in heaven who seeks and cherishes things above is not to stoop and gratify earthly desires which are so far beneath your new nature in Christ. The night is over and a new day has dawned, submit to the rising Son of the new day. He’ll shine on you, change you, transform you, sanctify you, and will one day glorify you.
The underlying assumption here in 3:7-8 is that change is really possible. No matter how steeped in sin someone is, no matter what upbringing you’ve had, no matter far gone you are, or how bleak your situation may be – is anything to hard for God? His grace is strong and able to change anything. Though that’s true, I’m not quite sure we believe it. Over the years I’ve seen many bad excuses redeemed people can have to justify their own lack of growth: Hurt excuse: you don’t know what they’ve done to me: therefore my bad behavior is justified. Home excuse: you don’t know how my parents treated me: I am who I am because of them. Hard excuse: I can’t change, it’s too hard. Halfway excuse: I’ll change if someone else does first. History excuse: we say things like ‘past performance predicts future behavior’ and completely disregard the power of the gospel in the heart of sinners like you and me. All of these excuses are used to justify sin and the bottom line needs to be seen. The root of every excuse to fight sin is a love of sin. We don’t leave it, because we love it too much. But be encouraged: God in His sovereign grace can and does triumph over the rebellion in a sinners heart bringing light and life where there was only darkness and death. As long as God is in the equation, anything is possible.
3) Putting Off & Putting On: 3:9-10 says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” The language here of ‘putting off and putting on’ is a clothing metaphor. We’re to put off the old man, and put off the nature of the first and faithless Adam, replacing those clothes by putting on the new man, and putting on the nature of the final and faithful Adam Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, the words used here in Greek (put off, put on) are used in such a tense (aorist) that we’re to learn the event of putting off and putting on is an event that has already taken place. This means at the conversion of a sinner a qualitative change in identity takes place. We become new in Christ, and now we must, by God’s grace, labor diligently to bring our lives into line our new identity. Too often in Christian living we merely think of not doing things: not going here, not drinking this, not wearing that, not watching those. We also miss the point when we think we’re always going to struggle with sin and think our ‘new-ness’ is a future reality. Both of these miss the point. The reason we don’t do certain things and do other things is that we’re to be (in practice) what you now are (by God’s saving act). Paul’s simple point here is: CHRISTIAN, BE WHO YOU ARE. Notice Paul says when we don’t live in line with our new nature we lie. And notice that lie happens not just personally but in community 3:9 says ‘we lie to one another.’ Do not miss this: we see here in the text that one function of the local Church is to aid its members in putting off the old self with its practices and putting on the new self. So being new and becoming new to greater degrees in Christ happens in one place: through the ministry of the local Church.
Now in 3:10 we have a strange ending comment. After Paul instructs us to put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, he says this new self in Christ ‘is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.’ This means massive things for us. By this statement Paul is making a contrast between the faithless work of the first Adam and the finished and final work of the second Adam Jesus Christ. ‘How so’ you ask? It’s all wrapped up in the use of that little word in 3:10 ‘image.’ Follow me now: In Genesis 1:26-27 we see God make man, male and female, in His image. He then commanded Adam in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth with the image of God. This he failed to do. Noah is then told in Genesis 9:1 the exact same thing: ‘be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth with My image’ God says. This he failed to do. Fast forward to the nation of Israel, redeemed out of Egypt, who God refers to as ‘Israel, my firstborn son’ in Exodus 4:22. So the nations of the world were to look at Israel (the son of God) and see what God was like. This they failed to do. Then, in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son into the world, the very image and expression of His nature, as Hebrews 1:3 says, to redeem a people for His own possession. Jesus Christ, Son of God comes, accomplishes His saving work in behalf of His people and after He saves them Romans 8:29 says He is conforming us to His image. 1 Cor. 15:45-49 picks this theme up and says, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
See what’s happening now in Colossians 3:10? By mentioning the new self we’re to put on being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator Paul is making a contrast between the faithless work of the first Adam and the finished and final work of the second Adam Jesus Christ. We were made in God’s image, through the fall in Genesis 3 that image was marred, and all of the children of the first Adam have that married image, but now through the faithful and final work of the Last Adam Jesus Christ we become remade into His image, and He just so happens to be the very image of God Himself. This is the image God is renewing in knowledge in Colossians 3:10, and this renewing happens by putting off the old man ‘Adam’ and clothing ourselves anew with the Last Adam ‘Jesus.’
Really this putting off the old and putting on the new is the trajectory of the whole Bible: In Christ we find there’s a New Adam, a New Noah, a New Abraham, a New Moses, a New Joshua, a New David, New Exodus, New Covenant, New people, New family, New hearts, New life, New affections, New actions, New Jerusalem, New heavens, New Earth. Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” You can’t come to Jesus and remain the way you are – He makes you new.
So to end: hear the Puritan Thomas Goodwin, “There are right now but two men standing before God, Adam and Jesus Christ; and in these two men all other men are found.”