Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Colossians 3:5-11 ESV
Continuing the grand idea of chapter three, Paul further instructs the Colossians on how to live in the light of the gospel of Jesus. Previously, the apostle argued for us to turn our thoughts and attention to things of heaven rather than things of earth, now he will urge all Christians to flee from the sinful immorality. It stands to reason that if Christ is our life (as verse 4 states) then we would desire to live like Him and not in ways that displease Him. Think of this section essentially a guide for how not to live as Christian.
PUT TO DEATH WHAT IS EARTHLY // VERSES 5-6
Paul begins this section by saying therefore. The question that we should aways ask when seeing that word is “What’s the therefore there for?” The reason Paul places it here is because this section is immediately picking up what Paul discussed in the previous section. The apostle tells us to put to death our earthly selves because we have died with Christ.
But what does it mean to put to death what is earthly in us? It is the same principle that Jesus presented in commanding us to pluck out a sinful eye or cut off a sinful hand. His point is not to actually mutilate your body; rather, He wants us to understand the importance of destroying sin. As a new creation, we are called to be holy, set apart exclusively for God. Killing sin is a call for holiness, a purity of living. Notice that this is not the same as the legalism that Paul sought to combat in chapter two. Holiness is a heart postured in humility before God, while legalism is a cheap knock-off of holiness. We are in a war for our holiness. John Owen taught to be killing sin or sin will be killing us.
Further, we are told that sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness are all idolatry. Giving into our desires is a form of idolatry. In fact, the greatest idol of our present society seems to the god of self. No human can truly cease worshipping; the only question is what are we worshipping. For many, the answer is themselves.
But while these sins may be mostly internal, they are far from harmless. The wrath of God is coming because of them. This is a highly unpopular doctrine. Because so many hate the idea of God being wrathful, let us simply hear what the rest of Scripture says on the topic. Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” Isaiah 13:9 states, “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” The same prophet speaks in 30:27-28, “Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire; his breath is like an overflowing stream that reaches up to the neck; to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction, and to place on the jaws of the peoples a brilde that leads astray.” James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
IN THESE YOU ONCE WALKED // VERSES 7-8
Verses 5-6 were about inward sins; these verses are primarily about sins associated with the mouth. John Calvn taught that God gave us a tongue to reveal what is in our heart. This, of course, is a comment upon Jesus’ own teaching that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. James 2:2-5 states: “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder whever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small flame!” If have truly died with Christ and if we are putting to death our sins, we will speak differently than the world. A Christian simply cannot be known by the anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscenities of their words.
Notice that Paul claims we once walked in these sins. As Christians, there must be a change in our behavior. If you are a new creation, then you have new affections. You hate sin and things that you once loved. Christianity is not a list of rules, where you avoid the things you love and do the things you hate in order to make it to heaven. Yet many people view Christianity through that lens, but that is not true Christianity. Instead, we kill our sin because we love Jesus more than we love our sins. John Piper’s Christian Hedonism explains the heart of this matter: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” If Jesus means more to us than anything else, we will happily kill our sin. And I should also note, this is not radical Christianity; it is orthodox Christianity. It is not being a radical Christian; it is being a real Christian.
PUT ON THE NEW SELF // VERSES 9-11
In the context of Paul’s discussion of sanctification here, he is telling us not to pretend perfection. We should be quick to acknowledge our sin and weakness to another, with accountability and repentance. Christians ought to be known by our realness with each other. We should strive to remove any false pretenses from ourselves. 1 John 1:8-10 speaks about this issue: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Verse 11 is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful verses within the entire Bible. Here Paul is describing why Jesus’ church ought to strive to be honest with one another, to put away all malice and slander among them, and to kill their evil desires. Christians are now united together as the body and bride of Christ. Greeks are no longer Greeks. Jews are no longer Jews. “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). How are we a new creation? Together we are in Christ. He alone is the source of our unity. Because God has called people from every nation, every language, and every ethnicity, there is no means for us to unite under anything less than God Himself. Either Christ will be the glue of His church, or it will collapse under its own weight. There is no other option.