Colossians 3:5-11

Since we have been raised with Christ and now seek the things above, where Christ is, we no longer seek the things of this world.  This results in holiness – it can do nothing else.  Death, burial, resurrection and living in union with Someone else change us.  They have a drastic effect on sexual purity and greed, and on how we interact with others generally.  We are NOT the same person that we were before our death, and we are not the same as those who have not died and been raised.  Thus we put off the behaviors that are associated with the old self – the self that was not changed to a new identity.  In this text Paul makes it clear that it is impossible to live as if DEATH and RESURRECTION are not life-changing.  We must therefore put to death what stands in the way of holiness before God.  We must live holy before the Lord because HE is holy and we live IN HIM.

We have been raised with Christ and we live in union with Christ and we have died to this world and we will someday appear with Him in glory (vss 1-4).  Therefore – we must put off the behaviors listed in this verse that typify those for whom verses 1-4 are not true (and perhaps typified us before we came to faith).

Paul tells us that we must put to death (or consider our bodies dead to) five sinful practices that cannot be part of the new life in Christ.  Interestingly, four of the five have to do with sexual sin (immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire) and the fifth – greed – can be associated with it.  Sexual sin is so pervasive in a fallen world that the old self is characterized by it.  It is also so strong and so damaging that Paul wants to make it clear it can be no part of the Christian’s life.  Remember that he tells the Corinthians sexual sin is unique because it is a sin against one’s own body – a body that belongs to Christ (I Cor 6:12-20).  Sexual sin is therefore not like other sins – it poses a specific danger to the believer.

The reason sexual immorality is so dangerous (and it is worth noting here that the different descriptions he uses really take into account just about any sexual sin – pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, pornography, lust, etc.) is because it is based on some of the strongest desires God gave humanity.  Sex was intended to bind a man and a woman together in marriage to model the Trinity.  They were to be one flesh as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one (Gen 2:23-25).  Said another way, sex is the culmination of a relationship that is based on the intimacy of the Trinity.  Something that is meant to both represent and enable the intimacy of the Trinity is enormously powerful.  Thus when man fell and sex was corrupted, it became the source of some of the most egregious and damaging sins as well as one of the strongest weapons in the Enemy’s arsenal of temptations.  We can think of sex as the nuclear power of mankind’s desires.  When used correctly it is a wonderful gift to mankind.  When twisted from its intended purpose it can destroy the world.

With that in mind, it makes sense that Paul goes here immediately when he speaks of things the believer must put to death.  Sexual sin is a perversion of a gift from God, and the believer has died to the perversions and powers of the world.  The believer is now joined with Christ and belongs to Him.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body (I Cor 6:19-20).  Thus he must take drastic steps to make sure any kind of sexual immorality has no place in his life.

The fifth practice – greed – goes along with the first four.  It springs from the same selfishness as lust and covetousness.  It wants more and more and is never satisfied.  It may target sex, money, status, possessions – anything that self decides it must have.  Paul says it amounts to idolatry because it is based on putting something in God’s place as ultimately worthy.  The greedy man says nothing is more valuable than what I want more of – it is the highest good.  Greed assigns to its object what should only be assigned to God.

It could be that Paul intends the final phrase about idolatry to apply to all of the sins of verse 5, not just greed.  This would not change the meaning, as ultimately all sin springs from a violation of the first commandment.  No commandment is broken without breaking the first (You shall have no other gods before Me).  Sin always comes from a desire placed somewhere other than on God.  We never dishonor our parents, murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet without first putting something or someone or ultimately ourselves on God’s throne.

Since Paul commands us to put these things to death, it is apparently possible to do so.  As believers we are to consider our minds and bodies as dead to the power of lust and greed, and we are to put to death our inclinations toward them.  Desires so dangerous that Paul says in a parallel passage (Eph 5:3), “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  Sins so easy to fall into that Jesus said, “But I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt 5:28).  Urges that have been around so long that they were among the main reasons God brought the flood (Gen 6:1-2), and they caused Job (who likely lived before Abraham) to say, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1).  THOSE desires are in our power – as Spirit-filled believers raised with Christ – to kill.  We are not slaves to them; instead we are slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18).  They are strong – incredibly strong – but we are in Christ who is much stronger.

It all comes back, then, to setting our minds on things above and continually seeking the things above where Christ is.  Without our vision placed on Christ and on what Christ values, we cannot kill anything because our eyes will be filled with what the world values.  And the world greatly values lust and greed.  We must CONTINUALLY set our minds on things above.  CONTINUALLY, CONTINUALLY, CONTINUALLY, CONTINUALLY.  Setting our minds on things above radically changes our perspective (as we said in the study of vss 1-4), and causes us to love Christ and love what He loves and hate what He hates.  When we walk according to the values of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of this world becomes much less attractive.  Through prayer, immersion in God’s word, and fellowship with other striving believers, we can set our minds on the right kingdom and put to death – a radical act – what fights to sit on God’s throne in our lives.  …but if BY THE SPIRIT you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8:13b).

Paul reminds us what is at stake in holiness.  It is on account of the sins of verse 5 that the wrath of God will come.  He elaborates on this to the Ephesians – For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph 5:5-6).  He tells the Romans, “…if you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (Rom 8:13).

This is not to say that God’s wrath comes upon believers.  It is just that these sins will be punished eternally at judgment, so how can the believer – who died to sin and who shares in the inheritance of the saints in light (1:12) – dabble in them?  How can sins that bring damnation be a part of the disciple’s life?  And if a disciple IS typified by them, how can he claim to have died with Christ to the power of what obviously rules him?

Regardless of who God’s wrath comes upon, Paul makes it clear that these sins have eternal ramifications.  That is why he commands us to take such radical action.  We must put them to death.  This goes along with Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (also talking about sexual sin) – And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell (Matt 5:29-30).  No preventive act is too radical to take in this life if it positively affects the next one.

Paul goes on to point out that these behaviors are what the Colossians walked in before they heard the gospel.  That being the case, they cannot walk in them now.  They cannot walk as if their death and resurrection in Christ did not happen (Eph 2:1-10).  If they walk now as they walked then, the gospel is meaningless and powerless.

Having warned against sins that come from our most basic desires, he now warns against sins that separate us and disrupt our fellowship.  He says to put aside anger, malice, slander, and abusive speech.  He also says that since we laid aside the old self with its evil practices (we put it to death) we must not lie to one another.  All these are based in selfishness, and all died when we died with Christ.  They characterize those who live for themselves instead of in Christ.

So the one raised with Christ has his desires changed and his perspective on others changed.  He sees nothing the same.  Instead of tearing others down out of envy, lashing out at others because of insecurity, attacking others out of vengefulness, or lying to others out of fear, he sees others through the lens of the saving grace extended to him in the gospel.  He no longer presents his body as a slave to sin and no longer interacts with others from a foundation of selfishness.

As opposed to the old self with its evil practices, we have put on a new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.  We are ENTIRELY new since our rebirth in Christ.  And as new creatures we focus on Christ instead of ourselves.  We grow in our knowledge of Him rather than of us.  And since He created us and is in fact the whole reason WE were created (1:16), and since it is HIS image we were created in, it makes sense that we now strive to be conformed to that image rather than any image of our own making.  The old self was all about self – the new self is all about becoming what it was intended to become, the image of Christ.

Just as we pointed out in the study of vss 1-4, the verb tense here is encouraging and vital to not miss.  We are BEING renewed.  We have not BEEN renewed.  This is an ongoing process that will never stop until our lives stop.  This side of eternity will be a continual process of renewal and progressive (often in fits and starts) conformity to Christ.  No believer can claim to have made it and thus no believer ever has reason to give up.  Since it’s an ongoing process, it means that as long as we are in this world we can get up from yesterday’s failures and start again at being renewed.

Paul ends this section by pointing out that believers have no reason to separate.  The old class or race or religious reasons for separation are gone because we are all new in Christ.  We share the identity of Christ, thus there no longer is Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian (people living along the north coast of the Black Sea, considered very uneducated and uncivilized by the Greeks), slave and freeman.

The reason we have no reason to separate is because Christ is all, and in all.  We all have our lives hidden with Christ in God.  We all have been raised in Christ.  We all have died with Christ.  We all seek our ultimate satisfaction in Christ.  Our lives are all about Him and He is IN all of us and lives instead of us.  If that is the case, then there is nothing left to divide us.  Christ is superior to the powers of evil in this world and Christ is superior to all of creation and Christ is superior to issues of race, class, and status.  We may continue to be different on a horizontal level, but in Christ we are all the same and nothing is left to separate us.

How can we discriminate or lie or treat others harshly when all of us are being renewed to the image of Christ?  If all of us have stopped living and Christ now lives in us, on what basis can we be prejudiced?  There is now no difference between us – we are all in Christ as new creations (Christ is in all), so how can we discriminate if all of us look exactly the same?  And if all of us not only identify with Christ but are satisfied wholly in Him (Christ is all), then what can make us treat each other with anything other than the kindness and mercy with which Christ treats us?

It is very apparent from Paul’s words here as well as in Gal 3:28 that Christians are called to be the most color-blind and class-blind and status-blind people in the world.  Snobbery and racism have absolutely NO place in the body of Christ.  Believers should accept anyone of any background, class, or ethnicity as long as they claim Christ.  This includes the disabled and handicapped also.  No one should ever be treated as anything other than a fellow sinner saved by grace within the loving confines of the church.

Because we are risen with Christ and died with Him to the world and now live with Him and will someday be glorified with Him:

  • Put to death the earthly sins that stem from the corruption of our desires (by setting our minds on things above).
  • Put off the interpersonal sins that stem from selfishness (by setting our minds on things above).
  • Lay aside the old self with its evil practices.
  • Put on the new self that is BEING renewed to the image of Christ.
  • And remember that this new self is all about Christ so there are no longer any class or race distinctions – we are all one in Christ.

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  (Romans 6:1-14)

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