Put Them All to Death
Colossians 3:5-11 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
9th Sunday after Pentecost – July 22, 2018 (am)
Put Them All to Death, that is our title this morning. I know it doesn’t sound very edifying. We’re not studying, and certainly we’re not endorsing the way of, political tyrants in world history—those who might decree to wipe out an enemy outpost, or a whole village, or at times an entire ethnicity. What I’m talking about today is our call to put to death things that ought to die, things that deserve to die! Our call in Col.3:5-11 is to put to death that which is death itself, that which is equated to death, which has brought on death. We’re talking about killing that which is trying to kill us, a mortal enemy, a malicious, midnight home-invader that hates us and our family and is bent on our destruction.
But it’s actually worse than that! This mortal enemy has already finished the job! We’ve already been killed! (We’re) dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1). That means we’re cut off from God, Who is our life. Our sin has separated us from Him such that we’re dead to Him—spiritually dead. And an eternal death sentence us upon us because of that, which means spiritual and physical death, forever! But this is also where our previous two paragraphs in Col. come into play. This glorious Jesus Whom Paul describes so richly in this letter—the One in Whom all the fullness of God resides (1:19; 2:9), the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3), the One Who is the firstborn of all creation (1:15) and also the firstborn from the dead (1:18)—this same Jesus, God in human form, died in our place to pay our eternal death sentence and deliver us from death, out of our state of estrangement with God because of our sin! We died with Him to our sin (2:20-23) and we have also been raised with Him (1-4) to the hope of eternal glory! So now our call is to put to death any engagement with sin.
This call is issued in three commands.
Put to Death What Is Earthly in You – 5-6
Because (we’ve) died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, to the (ways) of (this) world, we’re therefore called to, and ought to, 5 put to death what is earthly in (us): sexual immorality, impurity, passion or lust (niv), evil desire, and covetousness or greed (niv), which is idolatry. If we’ve been freed from these through the death and (resurrection) of Christ, why would we live in them any longer? They’re diametrically opposed to the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (1), having accomplished our deliverance from these things at the cost of His own life! This list of sins is contrary to all we’re called to set our minds (upon) (2), so they have no place in the lives of anyone who’s been raised with Christ (1) and is seated… with him in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6).
And yet, it’s no easy task to put these things to death, is it? They’re very near to us in our flesh. In fact, a literal translation of what Paul wrote here is: put to death… your members that are upon the earth (ylt). These sins are part of us! They’re within us! They remain interwoven with our very being while we’re still in this world, and they’re expressed through our members (Melick 289) even if (we’ve) been raised with Christ (1) by faith.
Sexual immorality is one that most of us think we’ve put away, but is it really put to death? We can pretty easily set a pretty low bar on what qualifies here, or at least a pretty self-excusing bar. But if we hear the words of Jesus we recognize that even a lustful look qualifies as adultery (Mat.5:28). And Paul said that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Co.6:9). This is a serious offense! And its frequency just mushrooms when we realize that it’s not just a sin of the body, but also a sin of the mind!
And it flows forth into many different kinds of impurity, including passion (lust [niv]) and evil desire, which are closely related. Together they capture unbridled, misdirected sexual urges (Still 326). If I can’t satisfy my desire for sexual gratification with a real person, I’ll opt for pictures or movies online, or novels that create the sort of world I wish I lived in. I’ll let my imagination form the perfect partner, and the perfect relationship, in the perfect setting. And then when I see something in the real world that fits in with my imaginary world, I’ll just fold that in also.
Four of the first five earthly expressions here are clearly sexual in nature, but the fifth can be also: You shall not covet (Exo.20:17) is the tenth commandment, which includes not (coveting) your neighbor’s wife. But we can see that this one is broader than just sexual when Paul tells us that covetousness equates to idolatry, the ultimate expression of rebellion against God, the very God Who has provided for our redemption in Christ. In the final four words of v.5, then, Paul links the first and tenth commandments (Hafemann 37): failing to love our neighbor by looking at his stuff with (greedy) (niv) desire also fails to love God with all our hearts. We’re putting other gods before Him!
And that’s why we need to put these self-gratifying (desires) to death: they’re substitute gods! They’re our attempts to satisfy ourselves when God has given us Himself in Christ! It’s like we’re saying to God: You’re not enough for me even with all You’ve given me in Christ. I want the salvation You’ve provided, but I still want what I want in addition to that. And even though You designed sexual expression for a higher and holy purpose, I want to use it for my own purpose without any consequences from You. And if You won’t allow that, how can you call Yourself a loving God?
We need to put to death all these earthly expressions that set self above God. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. These things are under His judgment. They’ve earned, and they deserve, His eternal displeasure, the outpouring of His just, holy, measured wrath. Christ has been declared guilty of all these things on behalf of those who believe so that we can be freed from them! How, then, can we continue on in them as though we’re entitled? Then he continues.
Put Away the Vices of the Old Life – 7-8
7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now—and what a huge contrast this is: now that you’re in Christ, now that you’ve been redeemed and reconciled to God, now that you’ve engaged all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in (Christ)—you must put (all these) away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Once again, at first hearing we might say: That’s not me. I don’t talk like that. But how do you respond when someone cuts you off in traffic? How about when you break a valuable dish or a favorite mug? What do you say after your boss leaves the room, or when your spouse gives you that same look, tone of voice, brush off yet again—the thing they said they wouldn’t do anymore?
And the progression here is discernible: anger is a state of mind (wsdnt); wrath is an explosion of that anger, a violent, (indignant) expression of it (wsdnt); malice describes this as becoming an evil habit of the mind (wsdnt), a (wicked) mindset that (desires) to do harm (l-n); slander is the word blasphemy, verbal abuse (wsdnt) that, again, seeks to harm or injure (l-n). And finally, obscene talk is when this slander spreads to all areas of our speech. We become foul-mouthed (wsdnt), vulgar (l-n).
How do you respond to irritations, to frustrations, when you’re alone? When you feel peevish? When you’re tired, or just fed up with the difficulties of the day? Do you get (angry)? Does wrath spill out of your heart through your mouth? (cf. Mat.12:34) Is it ever (malicious), (slanderous), obscene? Paul says: put them all away. Put them all to death. But, again, that’s not very easy to do, is it? Because something within us wants to think we’re not all that bad. At least we’re not as bad as some others we know who talk like this all the time. But is that really the standard we want to aim at—just to be better than some others? Do we really want to defend ourselves in any expression of the ugliness we see in these two five-item lists? (5, 8) When we’ve been reconciled to God in Christ, is it really okay with us to remain in any one of these practices, even in the slightest?
Do Not Lie, and Here Is Why – 9-11
But there remains in us some level of self-justification, doesn’t there? We defend ourselves to one another as if we’re not really guilty of these things, as though we’ve already put them away. We lie to one another! And we confirm (one another’s lies). Rather than helping one another put (these things) to death, we help one another feel better them, about not doing them as often as we might, or could, do them.Paul says: 9 Do not lie to one another, no one’s helped by that. God isn’t honored. Christ isn’t exalted to His proper place. After all, He’s the One Who said: I am the truth (Joh.14:6). So, put that inclination to death. (Don’t) lie, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self.
Over in Eph.4:20-24, (putting) off the old self and (putting) on the new is something we’re taught, commanded, to do. We’re laying aside the old self, which is characterized by a corrupt manner of life and deceitful desires. And we’re taking up the new self, which includes (being) renewed in the spirit of (our) minds.
Here this is something already done. (Putting) off the old and (putting) on the new happened when we received Christ Jesus the Lord by faith (cf. Rom.6:5-11). And because that is so, we should put away all (lying) (9) and speak the truth (to our) neighbor, for we are members one of another (Eph.4:25). In our anger we should not sin (Eph.4:26), and we should let no corrupting talk come out of (our) mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph.4:29).
That’s what it looks like when we’ve put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator, restored to a purity of mind and heart and wisdom and knowledge that once again reflects the image of God we were (created) to display. This isn’t a return to pre-fall innocence. This is restoration to right relationship with God through the redemption and reconciliation (cf. 1:14) that was accomplished by the shed blood of Christ on the cross (cf. 1:20) and confirmed in His (resurrection). This is what forms us into a new covenant community with Christ as King, as Head (1:18; 2:10, 19), as Lord (2:6+). 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; none of differences that are so often the source of our anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. All such separations are erased at the foot of the cross. Here there is not ethnic hatred or religious hostility or cultural or political division (wow!) or economic advantage, but Christ is all, and in all.
When (our) minds are set on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (2), this is what we lay aside. This is what we put away (5). This is what we put to death (11). Once we have received Christ as Savior—once we’ve died with him to the (ways) of (this) world (2:20), and been set free from sin (Rom 6:7) and death (Rom.6:9) by His resurrection, we want to taste of this freedom! Our life has been turned around! Our affections have been realigned! And we’ve received the power of His resurrection that has raised us up and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:6), right here and right now! So, when Paul writes these words to the Colossians, the power is there in Christ to hear and to respond! He made this statement himself to the Romans: Rom.6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
The good news today is that we don’t have to find some hidden reservoir of strength in order the put to death all these things that are not at home in the presence of Christ, where (He) is, seated at the right hand of God (1). When temptation presses hard, and the (ways) of (this) world are all too present in our minds and in our (mouths) and in our (members), we say with the Paul: I have died with Christ to all these ways, and I will not submit to them again!
We say with the Colossians: I have been raised with Christ by the matchless grace of God, and I will seek the things that are above, not these earthly things! I will set my mind on things above where Christ is, seated as my Savior and my King at the right hand of God!
We say with all believers in all generations: I will put to death what is earthly in me because Christ, my Redeemer, has purchased my life at the cost of His own. And I will live in the power of His resurrection, in unbridled and unswerving, certain hope of the coming day when I will be free of this temptation!
Let’s now remember His death in Communion