Colossians 3:5-11- Killing Sin
Paul previously explained that we should have our minds on Christ in heaven rather than the concerns of the earth. Many of Paul’s epistles follow a similar outline. Generally speaking, Paul’s epistles can be divided into two parts, the first being doctrine and the second being the implementation of doctrine in the lives of believers. Maybe put another way, the first part is instruction and the second is application. The broad categories can be helpful to understand a letter, but they are not in isolation from one another. Good doctrine always leads to good practice, or else you would be a hypocrite. This week we will look specifically at the lists that Paul is talking about when it comes to earthly things. Paul explains the earthly things we need to put to death, and things we need to put away, finally we will see something that we need to put on.
I. Killing Sin
Firstly, Paul continues his argument from the previous verses that having a heaven heart, mind and eyes will lead to putting to death what is earthly in you. Paul commands the believers in Colossae to “put to death.” The contrast of death and life has come up frequently in Colossians especially 2:20, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world…” Paul provides a list of 5 things that the Christian should put to death in their life. You could spend a lot of time slowly dissecting each of these deceitful desires (Eph 4:22). The interesting point I would like to focus on is not their differences but their similarities. Each of these desires are internal desires that are not known to anyone else besides the person having those desires. We tend to think sin is purely an external thing that we do, as many other religions actually teach. However, sin is never action or not doing an action. Sin is much greater. Sin is not only what we do or do not too but what we feel, think, desire, or will.
The list Paul gives could possibly be divided into two categories; sexual desires and idolatry. Firstly, sexual desires, even during the first century lust of the flesh was rampant, hard to image what the apostle Paul would say if he watched modern day television. Sexual sin has become normalized, what the Word of God calls evil the world calls good. We need to be aware that Paul was not writing to the culture but the church. Paul explains in Ephesians 5:3 that these things should not be named among the saints. We should not be surprised when the world acts like the world but it should give us great alarm when the church acts like the world. We should be killing the sin of sexual immorality. Secondly, idolatry, Paul explains covetousness which is idolatry. Paul connects the ten commandments, “you shall not covet,” with the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Paul shows that covertness is just another god we serve of people, things or stuff. The opposite of coveting is being contempt. We should be contempt with what God has blessed us with. This is a great challenge, that is why every year I read the book, the Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. We should be killing the sin of idolatry.
This is very easy to say, to kill sin. It is of course true, no one would argue we need more sin in the church, sin is a negative word. However, in reality killing sin is very difficult. John Owen says in his famous quote, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” However, we treat sin as a friend not a foe. John Owen says this as well,
“Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who has once smitten a serpent, if he does not follow on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so, will he who undertakes to deal with sin and pursues it not constantly to death.”
We tend to think killing sin is plucking a hair, painful but quick. However, killing sin is an enormous operation where you are removing many cancerous cells within the body. In C.S Lewis’ book, ‘The Great Divorce,’ he explains a story of a man with a pet lizard (a sin) on his shoulder, an angel asks him if he would like it to be killed. The discussion continues where the man does not want the lizard to die. This is our sin; we would be happy if it was removed from our house, but we do not want it dead, but in fact it is this sin that we lived in (Rom 1:29) and we have been saved from (Eph 2:3).
II. Removing Sin
Paul’s first list of sins speaks of internal deceitful desires, he then provides a second list which is still internal but also external. In verse 8-9 Paul lists six sins that the believer should put away, anger, wrath, malice slander, obscene talk and lying. The contrast between the two commands is interesting, first Paul commands them to put to death and then to put away the second list. We should be aware that every sin desires the wrath of God, however not all sins are equally heinous. This does not mean we should not treat some sins as bad sins and others as good sin. All sin is bad; however, we should realize that some sins come with great warnings (2 Tim 2:22, 1 Cor 6:18, Jam 4:7). The Westminster Larger Catechism 151 addresses this in an excellent way. This should not be an excuse to continue to be angry, or slander others, because you are busy putting the other sins to death. We are called to put off the old self with its practices. Again, this does not mean once you become a Christian that sin immediately is taken from your life and you can reach sinless perfection. Paul is writing this letter to Christians. Nowhere in Colossians does it appear that he questions their faith, but rather he commends them for their faith in Christ, and even their good works (Col 1:3-4). The work of putting off the old self is a continual work from justification to glorification. Like weeding a garden, it is never ending, we must put them all away. John Owen’s Killing sin quote actually comes from a longer sentence, which speaks of the daily need of putting of the old self, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
The true believer hates sin, one because of the great offence it is to God but also the great price which was paid for our forgiveness. We cannot walk in the gospel which says, “Jesus died for my sins,” and then continue to walk in sin. We cannot make light of sin, for Jesus did not die for our sin lightly. We should be grateful daily for the forgiveness of sins given to us through Jesus’ death, and also hateful of the sins that caused Jesus’ death.
III. Renewed Image
We all fell in Adam’s sin, this is called original sin. Man was made in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (WSC 10). Mankind fell into the estate of sin and misery. In some regard man lost the image of God, (he did not lose his value Cf. Gen 9:6, Jam 3:9). Man lost the holiness, knowledge and righteousness. However, the Christian, because of their union with Christ is being renewed, day by day, into the image of their creator. This is the new self, the new creation. Paul uses the terminology of clothes, putting off and on. The Christian walk is one of change. Old self off, new self on, old self off, new self on. Paul prayed this prayer for the believers in Colossae, “asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9-10). We do not lose heart because each day we put off more of the old self and put on more of the new self. Paul will explain this more in the coming verses.
Again, the important connection is the believer’s union to Christ. We have seen this throughout Colossians. The believers want to turn else where: diets, days, philosophy, traditions, angle worship, asceticism and others. Each seeking to be united to other things that are not Christ. Paul explains that Christ is all and in all. Paul in verse 11 is not saying that there is no such thing as a Jew, or Greek etc. One commentator explains that Paul is showing four different groups of people racial (Greek and Jew), religious (circumcised and uncircumcised), cultural (barbarian, Scythian), and social (slave or free). The point is that it doesn’t matter what group you are in, what matters is you are united to Christ. Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Each of these groups can be renewed in the knowledge after the image of their creator (Col 3:10). Again, union with Christ is critical for every believer, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:28-29).
The death of sin in our lives is the outworking of the doctrine of our union with Christ. Paul explain in 1 Corinthians that we would not united Christ’s body with a prostitute, but that is what happens when we sin, in sexual immortality (1 Cor 6:15-18). We often under value the work of Christ and our own sin. However, we should daily be killing sin, removing the old self and putting on the new self after the image of our creator.