Every Christian, no matter how long he has walked with Jesus, struggles with temptations to sin. Our sinful flesh, the world with its allurements, and the enemy of our souls bombard us with temptations to walk in that which the Lord forbids or to ignore those things he has told us to do. We struggle with these temptations, and often try to overcome them through our own fortitude or just give in.
We shouldn’t grow weary in our fight against sin when it gets tough. Even though gratifying our flesh seems right, the pleasures of the world look fulfilling, and the temptations of the enemy are a delight to the eyes, we need to keep running away from them.
Why should we do this, though? Why should the person who trusts in Jesus put sin to death and keep running after our Savior?
In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul gives us three powerful motivations to continue waging the war against our sin. He points us to the work of Christ in us through the Gospel and gives us powerful motivations to keep fighting the good fight.
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.
We Possess an Unshakeable Hope
The passage begins with Paul encouraging the Colossians believers to seek Christ because they have been raised up with him. The pattern Paul will follow for the rest of this passage emerges in the first verse. He calls Christians to seek Jesus and put to death sin in light of what God has done for us in Christ. He reminds us of the Gospel and its implications, then he calls us to obedience in response to his grace.
In verse 4, Paul says that Christ, who is our life, will appear and that we will appear with him in glory. We only have life because of Christ, and the life we have in him is currently “hidden” in him. We are already new people, but the reality of that newness has not been fully realized. It will be when Christ appears and we live in the expectation of his imminent return.
After calling this hope back to our minds, Paul says “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” His point is that we should put to death our sin because of the hope that we have laid up for us in Christ. The expectation that we will appear with Christ in all his glory makes us want to live in a manner consistent with that blessed hope. As John says in 1 John 3:3, “whoever thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.”
We Are Saved from God’s Wrath
In verse 5, Paul recites a list of sins that should be put to death. Notice the language he uses here. “Put to death.” We do not play with sin or offer it the opportunity for a foothold in our lives. Instead, we must take practical steps to cut the head off of the practice of sin in our lives.
Paul says these sins should be put to death because “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” It seems strange that Paul should mention the wrath of God to a Christian church. They aren’t destined for the wrath of God, so why even mention it to believers? He wants to remind us of that from which we have been saved. Why would we want to live in things that bring the wrath of God when we have been saved from the wrath of God?
Charles Spurgeon makes this point clearly in his comments on Romans 6 in his book, Morning and Evening.
“Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den? Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent? Did he not poison all thy veins once, and wilt thou play upon the hole of the asp, and put thy hand upon the cockatrice’s den a second time? Oh, be not so mad! so foolish! Did sin ever yield thee real pleasure? Didst thou find solid satisfaction in it? If so, go back to thine old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delight thee. But inasmuch as sin did never give thee what it promised to bestow, but deluded thee with lies, be not a second time snared by the old fowler—be free, and let the remembrance of thy ancient bondage forbid thee to enter the net again!”
We Walk in Newness of Life
When we read the Bible, we need to pay attention to seemingly mundane things like verb tense. “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.” Paul says that the sins of the flesh were characteristic of us, but by using the past tense he shows that they are no longer. Christians must realize that we have been changed by the grace of Christ and this means that we are radically new people. Because of this new life, we should no longer be slaves to our old way of life.
Paul offers another laundry list of vices to avoid in verse 8 and implores believers not to lie to each other in verse 9. After this admonition, he says that the motivation for not lying to each other is our having put off the old self and putting on the new self in its place. This again points to the new heart we receive at our conversion and the intense change brought about by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Christians can truly say that we are men and women who have been made new.
The new self experiences a consistent renewal into the image of the one who created it. In other words, Christians walk through progressive sanctification. Over time, through repentance, faith, confession, and walking by the Spirit, we grow to be more like Jesus and less like who we were before we knew him. This growth is only possible because the new life we have because God took out our heart of stone and gave us a heart of flesh.
When we stop to consider what God has done for us in Christ, how can we not put our sins to death? When we think about the hope laid up for us in Christ, does a lifestyle of sin seem in keeping with what we will appear to be with Christ in his glory? As we remember the life of sin from which we have been rescued, does anything about it seem so appealing that we would abandon Jesus to go back to it? And, realizing the new life we have because of Christ, is there any way that walking in sin would be consistent with it?
All of the answers to these questions are “no” because in Christ we hear “yes” to all of the promises of God. What we have in Jesus is so wonderful that the fleeting pleasures of sin are of no value to us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we turn away from them because what we have in Christ is of infinite worth.
“Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day“
For Further Reading:
Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor
Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson