The Death of Earthly Things

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)

Today in our study through Colossians we will focus more specifically on what it means to live as a Christian in this world. Paul has helped us to see that we are not to follow false teachers, teachers who are presenting their ideas that stand in opposition to God. But if we are not to follow them, then how are we to live? What does it mean, what does it look like to follow Christ? Paul’s theological teaching always works itself into life. What I mean is that truth must be more than understood, it is to be lived. We get today to look at the living part of our new lives in Christ.

How are we to live? We begin in verse 5 to answer this question with the words “put to death.” We have already read that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. These are spiritual realities. But with these spiritual realities there comes practical matters that we need to deal with. We are not yet perfect. We are continually changed as we live in this world. This change brings our thinking and actions more and more in line with our spiritual realities. How this happens is what Paul is helping us with here.

We begin by putting some things to death. There are some things that may be in our lives, a part of our lives, that we need to put to death, to kill.

The imagery is powerful, and it rightly communicates the seriousness of some things that we may not recognize as being as bad, destructive, and displeasing to God as we should. 

I say often that the Bible is not a book simply about a bunch of things, or lists of things, that we should not do. Some reduce it to that. Some reduce the Bible to a list of don’ts. “Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t enjoy things too much,” and so on. It is not that, not simply that. The Bible is more about living in a joyful state of a relationship with Christ – loving Him, walking with Him, relying on Him, and in doing that looking forward to greater closeness with Him and one day seeing Him face to face. 

Having said that, there are some lists of don’ts. These lists help us to move closer to Him, to enjoy Him more with greater fervor. They are not meant to make us unhappy or feel deprived, but to do the opposite, that is lead us to a better place of enjoyment of Him. We get messed up when we see biblical prohibitions any other way. For example, when we wrongly believe that God is trying to steal our joy by giving us rules.

Take a toddler for instance. Imagine a toddler sees a campfire for the first time. Can you imagine seeing a blazing campfire for the first time? What must go through that child’s mind at that moment? A fire, it seems to be alive, flames dancing, sparks flying, the crackling sound of the wood burning. Everyone sitting around looking at it, clearly everyone is somehow attracted to it, everyone moving their chairs closer, smiles on everyone’s faces. The toddler is getting more and more excited, mesmerized by the fire, enjoying it with the others. Don’t you love campfires? The child is really liking this new thing, this campfire. You can imagine the child thinking that the only thing better than observing the fire would be to interact with it, to touch it. And so he moves closer to it, reaches out his hand, and all of the sudden a sharp rebuke comes from dad, a stern warning. Dad picks him up, moves him away, and immediately sets boundaries for him in relation to the fire.

In that moment the child is thinking that dad prevented him from enjoying the fire by touching it. “Dad is preventing my joy.” It may not look like dad is protecting him, and even that dad is better ensuring his well-being by keeping him away. There would be no joy, no happiness in actually touching the fire, but the child does not yet know that. In time he will, but for now things are confusing.

We mustn’t look at God’s commands as barriers that keep us from good, but as barriers meant to keep us from what will destroy us. And that is sin’s aim.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

The thief, opponents of Christ, all that is opposed to Christ, are meant to steal, kill, and destroy. In contrast, Jesus came to give us abundant life. Not easy life, not trial free life, but full life, living for His glory according to His ways. This begins now, but is manifest even more so in our near future as we enter into heaven. The don’ts of Scripture are for our protection and for our joy. They are not to steal our joy, but to protect it. And so we must kill some things that may be in us as a remnant of our fleshliness.

So remember, though we have died with Christ, spiritually, buried with Him and raised to new life, we must still on an ongoing basis put to death un-Christian behavior, because our behavior is not yet fully aligned with our position in Christ. We must start living, move toward living a life that reflects who we have become in Christ. So to do this we must kill some things that are in us.

Paul lists five things we are to put to death in us. Before I read them, first look at verse 6.

On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:6)

We see here God’s perspective on the five sins we will look at. We haven’t looked yet in detail at the five, but we know from verse 6 where God’s heart is concerning them. Because of sin, and these sins in particular, which are probably representative of all sin, God will pour out His wrath on the earth, on sinners. What does this mean? 

What is it, what are these things that will play a part in the unleashing of God’s wrath?

A.W. Pink writes about the wrath of God, saying it is “His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.”

Non-Christians, those who will in the end never enter into salvation by faith in Christ, these will one day experience God’s full wrath. It is a frightening thought, knowing the power of God. Romans 1:18 says it like this: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

Those who do not believe, who have not by faith believed in the work of Christ, for those the wrath of God will be revealed against them.

but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:8)

On account of these things, the sins we are about to talk about, on account of these things God’s wrath will come, and since that is true, believers, Christians, are to have no part in these sins. These sins will not bring happiness, there is not lasting joy in them, and they represent the lives of non-Christians.

Now let me be clear about something: as Christians, we have been delivered already from God’s wrath that is to come. 

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

This is not a message for Christians that God’s wrath is coming to us, he is not saying that as Christians we are in danger of facing the awful wrath of our almighty God. That is not what this is about.

Here is what John MacArthur says about this passage: “He is saying that those who are Christ’s, who have been made one with Him, who love Him and serve His glory, would certainly not wish to participate in those kinds of behaviors and thoughts that are characteristic of those who will feel His eternal wrath.”

In other words, we should not act as those who are children of wrath. We have been delivered from God’s wrath. The Father’s wrath was poured out on Christ instead of on Christians, He took our place. The only wrath left is for those who refuse Christ. It is the unbeliever who will experience God’s wrath, and it will be because of sin. Sin is that awful, it is that serious, and since it is we of all people, as Christians, should run from such things that God is so steadfastly opposed to.

And so what are they? “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Five sins mentioned. As I describe each one, it is important that we not just assume we are not tempted by any of them. We are not above temptation. If we think we are, that may indicate real vulnerability.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Understanding that we, any of us, can be tempted and give in to sin ought to lead us to a spirit of gentleness as we walk with others who are struggling with sin. We must watch over ourselves in matters of sin and temptation. I say this just as a side note, a warning, not to just think of everyone else, but to examine your own life.

First Paul says we are to put to death sexual immorality that is in us. This is a reference to any kind of sexual sin. I realize that we are in a setting here with people of all ages, and so I want to be sensitive to that in what I say. At the same time I want to be honest about the text, so bear with me. Sexual immorality here is a reference to any form of illicit sexual activity, which is any activity outside of biblical marriage. Sexual immorality is taking something beautiful that God created to be enjoyed between husband and wife, and perverting it, making it an abuse of what God had made, taking a gift from God and turning it into something He hates.

I don’t think it is coincidence that put this at the head of Paul’s list. What a prevalent sin in our day. What an accepted sin in our day. What a perversion of what God has made. Though sexual immorality is accepted in our society, and though it seems to run rampant among people of all ages, though is seems common and natural, though it is commended by most, God says that His wrath will come on account of it.

It used to be that, at this point, at least in my growing up experience, the preacher would look eye to eye with the young people of the congregation and sternly warn them of the dangers of sexual immorality. I think that is a short sighted warning. I would say husband, wife, young, old, each of us need to take heed here, not just the youth. God hates sexual immorality, and because of it His wrath is being stored up, and it will be poured out. 

Next, impurity. Impurity is a more general term than immorality, going beyond specific acts to also include the mind, or thoughts. 

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Luke 7:21-23)

Impure thoughts are at issue here, thoughts that reside from within us. Evil behavior begins with evil thoughts, that is the progression, so the battle begins in the mind, it begins with what we are setting our minds on.

In any given day, what are we thinking on? What are we allowing to swirl around in our minds? Where are the limits, what are the boundaries? Remember last week we talked about seeking the things above, setting our minds on things above. Do you see the contrast? I mentioned Philippians 4:8 last week, which says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Think of your own downward spiral into sin. Where did it start, how was it initially cultivated? My best guess? In your mind. If we can cut it out there, by focusing on holy pursuits and thinking, we will save ourselves, by God’s strength, from the pain of many sinful acts.

As I have counseled over the years and observed my own life, it is clear that we give way too much time to wrong thinking that leads to sinful behavior. How about this…

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16a)

To dwell is to take up residence in you, to permeate you, to saturate your mind so that it affects you deeply!

Because of impurity God’s wrath will come.

Next Paul says “passion” and “evil desire.” These two are very similar, and also refer to sexual sin. It is interesting, isn’t it, that these first four sins are all related to sexual sin. Let that soak in for a moment. 

“Passion” here is from a Greek word meaning sexual passion, in a negative sense. It is a passion out of control that results in behavior. It is used other places in the Bible…

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. (Romans 1:26a)

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)

“Evil desire” referes to sexual lust, but is probably more mental, again, in the thought life, that will lead to uncontrolled passion.

This is why we see such a strong pattern given in the Bible for us to be renewed in the mind, be changed in our minds.

23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23-24)

Lastly Paul mentions “covetousness, which is idolatry.” Maybe this is mentioned as a core issue of all the others mentioned. Covetousness is wanting things, going after things, that are not ours, or are not to be ours. It is selfish at its root. “I will take what I want, even if it is only in my mind, because I want it. I will take what I want even if God says no, because I want to rule my own world.” This is idolatry, and this is true with all sexual sin, whether an act is involved or whether it resides only in the mind. It is covetousness, it is idolatry, and because of this the wrath of God will be poured out.

Paul says for you, for the Christian, put these things to death in you! Put them to death, put off walking as those who will face God’s wrath. You have been saved, you have been redeemed, you have been pardoned by God, you have a secure future with Him, your are His child if you have believed by faith, repented of your sins, if you are trusting in Him. You are a child of the King of Kings, don’t live as if you are a lost sinner. Don’t say these things are okay because most everyone else says they are, what counts is what God has said.

Every sin committed is an act of unbelief. It is the act of believing a lie. Let’s not continue in that. 

You may need some help in some of the areas we have discussed today. If so I want to encourage you to get help, to go to someone who can help you to put to death sin that you feel has a grip on you. God has answers, and they are found in the Bible, in the renewing of the mind and knowing the God who loves you, and learning to love Him more in return. 

We don’t have to live these sinful ways, as Christians we are no longer slaves to sin, we have been freed from its hold that once may have dominated us. Now we are to live as we have been called!

We have been given a command. And the command is for our good!

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. (Colossians 3:5-6)