Walking in Change

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:1-11)

Remembering our past can be a joyful occasion, and it can be an occasion to feel great sorrow. It is joyful for me when our family gets together and we talk about all the crazy events that we’ve shared over the years. There are some stories we hear again and again, and we laugh as much during the hundredth telling of it as we did the first or second. Memories can be fun. 

There are other memories that are not so delightful. Some memories we try to forget, to shove aside in our minds to a far corner where we hope our access to them will be restricted. Our brains sometimes even cooperate with this effort in that a unique thing can happen where they are even erased. Those are extreme cases. But who wants to recall terrible things?

And yet, in the Bible, God’s Word, we are told often to remember some things. And some of the things we are called to remember are not good things. Paul in Colossians 3:7 does jog our memories. He doesn’t, I don’t think, encourage us to dwell on past sin, or to be overly consumed with our past behaviors that were displeasing to God, but he does give us opportunity to recall them and he does so for a good reason. 

In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. (Colossians 3:7)

He is leading us to recall past attitudes and behaviors. And by this I mean attitudes and behaviors that marked our lives before coming to Christ by faith, and that have even continued on some level since then. He puts this sentence strategically between two lists of sinful attitudes and behaviors.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:5-8)

Paul is simply saying that there were things that characterized you before you were a Christian – you would be identified with them, with those behaviors – that are no longer to characterize or define you. It is not just that you did a bad thing, sinful thing here and there, but you and I were marked by them. Paul says these are ways in which you “walked.” This “walk” means these were your ways of life. These things defined who you were, they were an integral part of who you were before becoming a child of God and heir with Christ.

This is important, and so I want to be clear. A drunkard is one who is often drunk, he has or she has become that. In some cases, and you may know some like this, when you think of a particular person, what comes to mind first is that he or she is a drunkard. It’s like you can’t separate the person from the lifestyle.

As Christians, we are not to be labeled, no one ought to be labeling us with a sinful behavior. If that is happening then we are, possibly, overtaken by it so visibly that we have lost our effectiveness in representing Christ well in this world.

As believers, when we talk about habitual sin in our lives, it should be a discussion about our history, not our present day life. I’m not saying that any of us are not susceptible to habitual sin. If that were so, we wouldn’t have this passage and these warnings from Paul. I am saying though that if this is the case, if a habitual sin seems to be reigning in our hearts and minds, then we ought to do as Paul says and work at putting it to death so that we will not malign the name of our Lord.

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Paul is being consistent here, he is referring to sinful lifestyles in their past. “We were this, but we are now washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” And so walk in this new life. We see these descriptions of the old life and the new life, and we feel the tension in our own experience. 

Paul shares his own experience with this tension…

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
And he goes on to say this:

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
But it is not hopeless!

8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 7:18-20, 24-25, 8:1-4)

In other words, we are not left on our own to obey, the Spirit helps us to not walk according to the flesh but to walk according the the Spirit who is in us. And so our lives should look like those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in us richly. And if this is happening it will require putting off our old sinful habits and replacing them with new ones for the glory of our Savior.

What are some things that represent the old life that we need to put to death?

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

So anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk, Paul says specifically that we are to put these away. Putting away is from an expression that meant to take off clothing. The idea is of taking off filthy clothing, dirty clothes at the end of the day. Like when, after working outside all day in the Texas heat of the summer, you are ready to shower and change into something clean and fresh. We as Christians ought to have this same desire to take off, remove remnants of the old life that are displeasing to God.

We are not to be identified by these things. What are they? Paul begins with anger.

By the way, these sins are all social. They all speak of how we relate to each other. So given that, not only are we affected by our actions in each of these negatively, but we are also affecting everyone around us.

Anger is translated from the Greek word “orge.” This is a deep seated, sometimes quiet anger that develops over time. It is similar to bitterness. It is descriptive of a person who goes around with a constant or near constant attitude of anger. This kind of anger drives a person’s responses to others and circumstances.

An angry person feels like he has gotten the short end of the stick, doesn’t like what life has given him, thinks he has been treated unfairly by some and even by most people. He is dissatisfied generally, and wonders why everyone has it better then he does. This person’s anger boils just under the surface, but it is always there.

He does not go around blowing his top, so he may not even think he is angry, but he is. His anger will be more subtle toward other people. He thinks he deserves more, and desperately wants more, and wants others to deliver more to him. 

This is contrary to what Paul said about his own life, which was very hard at times. Paul, though often facing hardship and even poverty in life, was able to put away anger and find contentment. 

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:11-12)

An angry person is a discontent person, and his discontentment will come out as he relates to other people.

The next one is wrath. Wrath here is from the Greek word “thumos.” It means rage, it is explosive anger. This describes one who blows up in anger. It flares up and burns intensely. When we lived in East Texas our next door neighbor accidentally set his pasture on fire. It was an intense fire and got really close to our house. It burned several acres around us. In this pasture there were several cedar trees, green cedar trees. And it was the most interesting thing to see what would happen. The fire would burn the grass around these trees for some time, and all of the sudden the entire tree would erupt with flames, almost like an explosion. In an instant the whole tree would be in flames. 

This is like the word thumos or rage. It is explosive and it always has a target. It is out of control and can look really scary. God says that we are to have control, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. You have seen people like this, maybe this is how you were, maybe you still struggle with this kind of anger. 

Road rage, a fist through a wall, physical abuse of a spouse, each of these can be described as this explosive rage.

We must put this off and learn what it means to love others, and as Christ has loved us, rather than bringing them harm. We have been bought, we have been changed, we are new and we are called to love. We are to love our neighbors and even do good to our enemies. There is no place for rage as we interact with those around us. This is a work of the flesh.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-25)

We must put this, wrath, off like old filthy clothing.

Paul also lists malice. Malice is ill will, it is vicious and has as its intention to harm others. It is bent on doing others harm. A word spoken for the purpose of hurting another person. This is terrible and sinful speech, and ought not come from the Christian’s mouth, and certainly not be a pattern of speech in any of us. The problem is we are tempted to do this on a regular basis. Someone outperforms us, gets what we want, and what are we tempted to do? We are tempted to bring them down a notch in the eyes of others. How? By speaking negatively of them. Or maybe someone cut us with hurtful words or actions, and what are we tempted to do? Cut them with hurtful words. We say things, are tempted to say things, for the purpose of hurting others.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

Our words either build up or they tear down. They encourage or discourage, they are helpful or they are hurtful. We are not to speak words of malice.

Next Paul mentions slander. This word is from the Greek word where we get “blasphemy.” It is translated blasphemy when speaking about God, but translated slander when speaking about other people. Slander is basically defamation of character. To slander someone is to injure their reputation.

When we speak, we should be very careful how we talk about other people. You know, sometimes we say things that we don’t really know anything about. You may make a judgment about someone out loud in a conversation with another person that in reality is slander. We may say, “Well so and so did this or that, and what I really think he was doing was this, and this is why I think he was doing it.” Do you see what happens here? We are making all kinds of assertions about another person as if we know what was going on in their head, when we cannot know what was going on in their head. “I saw Mary at the store and she didn’t speak to me, and I know why it is, it’s because she is mad at me because I didn’t go to her party.” Well, maybe Mary didn’t speak because she didn’t see you, or maybe she was in a huge hurry, or maybe her mouth was numb from a dentist appointment she just left. When we make assumptions and think we can get into the minds of others and then start telling people what we think we know, we may be guilty of slander. God hates slander. We need to repent of slander.

I would even say that if someone is telling you what another person is thinking or what their motivations are for their actions, we should say, “Wait a minute, how do you know this? How do you know what they are thinking? Did they tell you so, or are you assuming this?” And if it is merely an assumption, we ought to gently counsel our friend to be careful of slanderous talk.

Lastly Paul mentions obscene talk. This is filthy or abusive speech. Derogoratory speech that hurts others. 

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4)

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:35-36)

We need to be careful that our joking around with others does not cross into abusive, hurtful speech. Sometimes we may make a joke, and the other person laughs about it, but it’s actually hurtful. We will give an account for the things we say.

Each of these attitudes and behaviors, as well as the list from last week, each one is indicative of non-Christians. We should not be surprised to find all of these in the non-believing population around us. These are natural to the natural man. But for those of us who have been changed, who are children of God, we are to put these, each one away.

And by the grace and the power and the might of our God we can move away from them and toward a new way of pleasing our Lord. Soon from this chapter we will see what these are to be replaced with, that will be something to look forward to! 

7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:7-8)