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 beginning of the year sermon series on the Church titled ‘3 Marks.’
As we did last week, let’s once again pray the words on the screen above together, “What we have not, give us; what we know not, teach us; what we are not, make us; all for the glory of Your beloved Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with You, together with the Holy Spirit – one God, forever praised. Amen.”
Recall that we’re beginning the year in this small series on the Church in Colossians 3 because we want to start the year being reminded of who we are as Christ’s Church and why we do what we do as Christ’s Church. Last week we emphasized that by believing in Christ God has united us to Christ. So spiritually speaking then, in Christ’s death we died – in Christ’s resurrection we rose – and in Christ’s ascension we have truly been seated with Him in the heavenlies. All of this is now our real state before God but it is hidden. One day that will change as Christ appears, as He returns to bring in His Kingdom in full measure, then we will appear with Him in glory. Paul’s point in this is that our lives here below must look dramatically different. How so? We must seek what is above and set our minds on things above where Christ is rather than setting our minds on things below. Or in other words, our life above must dominate and drive our life here below. We talked some about what that looks like day to day, but as we move ahead in the text where Paul keeps on teaching us how these things change our lives explaining further what all of this looks like.
Here’s an illustration to begin. I’ve spoken before of my trip to Kenya in college. I spent the whole summer there working at a camp modeled after the Chick-fil-A camp, Winshape. Anywho, part of our summer included a break where all our camp kids had to return to school so we didn’t have camp and during that time our team to a trip to Uganda. We were out in western Uganda, far from any city in various villages staying with missionaries and pastors, doing various labor work to help them out. For some reason, though there were bucket showers available to us during this time, some of my friends and I decided to see who could go the longest without showering. I didn’t win, no. But I did make it three weeks without changing clothes or showering. And I remember the glorious feeling of taking off, or more like peeling off, that dirty shirt and standing under a hot shower…Come back to Paul with me. Paul’s main thrust in v5-17 is clear – since our minds on to be set on what’s above, namely Christ, we should therefore be put off the old man (in v5-11) and put on the new man (in v12-17). Or, we should we be eager to rid our lives of everything that doesn’t reflect Christ.
Note how v5 begins. As soon as we get to 3:5 Paul uses a phrase that lets us know we’ve changed lanes. “Put to death, therefore…” This marks a shift from doctrinal explanation to doctrinal exhortation, from creed to conduct. From 1:3 – 3:4 we find solid, meaty, doctrine. From 3:5 onto the end of the letter in 4:18 Paul is exhorting, urging, pressing, and making an appeal to this young Colossian church to live lives in line with the truth. He’ll show us that old practices must be abandoned and 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, displays to the watching world that the death you died with and in Christ was not mere talk, but a real event that severed you from sin’s grip and dominion. So we could say the big idea put forward in v5-11 is this: be what you now are.
This is o’ so potent during a time of the year when so many are resolving to be this, or be that, or become something they’re not in their new year’s resolutions. ‘I’m not in shape, so I’ll exercise in 2020.’ ‘I’m not healthy, so I’ll eat better in 2020.’ ‘I’m not kind with others, so I’ll try to be kinder in 2020.’ It isn’t wrong to desire these things, but Christians should never begin the any year endeavoring to be something we’re not. v1-4 made it crystal clear that in saving us God united us with Christ, God changed our address, God made us entirely new. So, the counsel from Scripture is clear: it’s not become a better version of you…but be who you now are, be who God has made you to be.
Putting Off the Old: The Requirement (v5-8)
v5-6, “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.”
Put to death, yes. But look again what Paul has in mind. Put to death…what is earthly in you. What does he have mind? Look at the first sin denounced in v5, sexual immorality. This is an all-encompassing idea referring to every kind of twisted and out of bounds sexual activity. Paul doesn’t just leave it at that, he expands on this term giving us a list to follow it: impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness (which is idolatry). So adultery, fornication, orgies, homosexuality, pornography, polygamy, and the like is all included here. All of this is out of bounds for those who’ve been united to Christ. That the word ‘passion’ is included shows 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 among these words describing sexual sin reveals that sexual sin is vile to God because at root it is an idolatrous craving. Like an addict needing a fix is the one who acts out sexually, insatiably desiring more of what’s forbidden, ultimately bowing before an idol of lesser pleasure. In 1884 a Scottish minister named John Eadie 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 in v6 that the wrath of God is coming. To say something is coming is to say that while it hasn’t yet arrived, it is on the way and will arrive one day. So putting to death sins as these is vital because God is coming to pour out His wrath on those who practice these things. Is this not a potent weapon against temptation? Since God will come in wrath against these things, why would I want to be caught up in them now? We must remember Jesus’ words. 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 the same in Romans 6:11, “…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:13 also, “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.” John Owen said it like this, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” It is not an option for believers to be actively waging war against their sin, if you don’t fight and oppose your sin the outcome is easy to predict: you’ll not only lose, you die, and face the wrath of God forever.
But most of you know it’s bad to live in sins like those in v5-6. But are you from that knowledge, moved to fight? Is there a vigilance within you? When you encounter something that could lure you away what do you do? Do you sit and linger on it? Or do you fight? Do you run in the opposite direction? I’m encouraged when I people them fighting, because it shows me they love Christ and yearn to know Him more fully and obey Him more wholly. And so too, I’m discouraged to see people careless or lazy in their fighting, because it shows an ignorance of Christ and His ways.
How many of you, if you were there in Uganda with me, would put on that nasty shirt I took off? Probably no one! We would flee! We should treat our sin no differently, rushing to fight against it as soon as it presents itself. The point present here in the text is simple: there is a way to live one’s life that is incompatible with life in Christ. And all of what is incompatible with Christ is to be put off. v7-8 continues on the same track, “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 now no longer to characterize our lives. These sins were part of our past experience but 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.’ What are we to put away? A new list of sins now begins in v8. 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 (with yourself or others) that doesn’t happen and you get angry. All of the sins that follow in this list flow from 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. We who possesses a life that has its foundation in the heavens, we who set our minds on things above are not to stoop and dabble in earthly things when Christ, who is life, sits in the heavens. He’s raised us from the grave, why would we return to it and lay out a banquet to feast on?
The point present up to this point has been: there is a way to live one’s life that is incompatible with life in Christ. And all of what is incompatible with Christ is to be put off. That expands in v7-8 with a new thought: yes there is a way that’s incompatible with life in Christ and change is needed, but this change toward a new way of life is really possible. ‘But now you must put them all away’ means 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 – nothing is too hard for God? He is strong and able. Though that’s true, I’m not quite sure we believe it. Over the years I’ve been told many bad excuses from genuine believers to justify their own lack of obedience.
‘You don’t know what they’ve done to me: therefore my bad behavior is justified.’
‘You don’t know how my parents treated me: I am who I am because of them.’
‘I can’t change, it’s too hard.’
‘You don’t know the kind of hell I live in.’
‘I’ll change if they do first.’
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. But be encouraged: God in His sovereign grace can and does triumph over the rebellion in sinners hearts bringing light and life where there was only darkness and death. As long as God is in the equation, anything is possible.
Putting Off the Old: The Rationale (v9-10)
v9-10 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 self (or man). Put off the nature of the first and faithless Adam, replacing those clothes by putting on the new man and the new nature of the final and faithful Adam Jesus Christ. Again, Paul points out what has happened to us. At conversion we’ve become new in Christ, and now we must, by God’s grace, labor diligently to bring our lives into line with 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 more of a future reality. But the reason we don’t do certain things and do other things is that we’re to be what we now are. Paul’s simple point here is: be who God has made you to be. Paul says when we don’t live in line with our new nature we lie not just to ourselves but 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: in the context of ‘one another’ or other words, in the 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 is massive. By this statement Paul goes back to Genesis 1 and makes a contrast between the first Adam and the second/last Adam Jesus Christ. ‘How so’ you ask? It’s all wrapped up in the use of that little word in v10 ‘image.’ Follow me now: in Genesis 1:26-27 we see God make man, male and female, in His image. God then commanded Adam in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the His image. This Adam 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 Noah 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 (called a ‘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, His very image, the exact expression of His nature, as Hebrews 1:3 says, to redeem a people for His own possession. Jesus Christ the Son of God comes and we have a new result. He doesn’t fail to do this but accomplishes His saving work in behalf of His people. He came, lived, died, rose, and ascended. What happens then? Romans 8:29 says He is now busy by His Spirit conforming us to His image.
See what’s happening now in v10? We were made in God’s image, in the fall that image was marred, and now all of the children of the first Adam have that marred 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 v10 work! And this renewing of image happens, how? By putting off the old man and clothing ourselves with the new man.
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, a New Covenant, a new people, a new family, with new hearts, new life, new affections, new actions, who are all heading towards a New Jerusalem, a New heavens and a New Earth. Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Come to Jesus as you are, yes! But you can’t come to Jesus and remain the way you are – for He makes you new. And this process of God making us new by re-making us into His image (the image of Christ) is much larger than just a new me or a new you. He’s making a new humanity. We see that, lastly, in v11.
Putting Off the Old: The Result (v11)
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
Don’t mishear this. Greek are still Greeks. Jews are still Jews. Circumcised and uncircumcised are still circumcised or uncircumcised. Barbarians, Scythians, slaves, and free are all still what they are. But all of these earthly identities are no longer what is most important about us. What is most important about us? Christ! He is all, and in all!
One example might prove helpful to you. Perhaps you remember Paul’s letter to Philemon? His slave Onesimus had run away doing great harm to Philemon in the process. He meets Paul in his running, hears the gospel, gets saved, and Paul send him back to Philemon! That’s awesome but there’s more. As Paul sends Onesimus home a letter goes with him instructing Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother in Christ! The old relationship is completely transformed by the new.
So Church, in this new year may you not endeavor to become something you’re not. Rather, may you endeavor to grow in and become more defined by who God has already made you to be. How do you do that? By putting off the old and putting on the new.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon – PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008) accessed via Logos Bible software, 1/3/20.
 R. Kent Hughes, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon: The Fellowship of the Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013) 301.
 Moo, see citation above.
 Hughes, 302.
 Moo, see citation above.
 Moo, see citation above.
 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians – NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 150-151.