Dying To Live (Colossians 3:5-11)
What is earthly inside of you? Isn’t this an odd thought? We are all from the earth and we all live in the earth, but Christians are not supposed to be “earthly.” What does that really mean to be “earthly?”
Colossians 3:5–11 (ESV) — 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.
Notice what it says, “Put to death what is earthly inside of you.” Paul wants us to do something violent. Christians aren’t typically supposed to be a violent people. Christ was not violent, but this is the one area where we are supposed to be violent. We need to kill what is earthly inside of us. We need to attack it, pulverize it, and destroy whatever is earthly inside of us. So let’s look at this more closely and ask ourselves what is earthly inside of us, why would we kill it, and how do we kill it?
What Is Earthly Inside of Us?
Paul goes on in verse 5 to describe what is earthly, “Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. Then, he describes covetousness as idolatry. Also, if we skip ahead to verse 8 we see that there is another list, “Anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.” Finally, in verse 9 he says, “Do not lie to one another.” Notice how Paul did not recite the Ten Commandments to the Christians, but he mentions a couple of lists that amount to “what is earthly inside of” the Colossians.
List 1 - Covetous Idolatry
The first list we have begins with a brazen, overt act of sexual immorality which is any form of sex outside of marriage. Then, it transitions into impurity which is anything that does is unholy or wrong. Next is says passions which are a reference to evil craving or desire (which is the next one). He ends this list with covetousness and he defines covetousness as idolatry. Isn’t that an interesting end to this list? What is covetousness? Covetousness is talked about extensively in the Ten Commandments. God is very descriptive in saying, “You shall not covet your neighbors wife, donkey, house, property…” In the Ten Commandments idolatry is given its own space. Here Paul wants to be very clear that desiring something more than you desire God is not just a bad idea. It is earthly and evil. Paul defines covetousness as making something else our ultimate source of life. This is the essence of what is earthly inside of the Colossians and the essence of what is earthly inside of us. Being covetous amounts to idolatry and when we think of something in this way we are replacing God.
Let’s think for a minute about what covetousness would look like in our lives. We often covet things that aren’t forbidden by seeking to enjoy them in excess. For instance, we could covet food. You might say, “But we need food to survive.” But we cannot make food our ultimate source of satisfaction? Life is not about finding the next greatest food place and spending all of my time, money, and energy pursuing food. We covet anything when we make it our ultimate source of satisfaction. That’s what God wants to be in our life. We can covet all kinds of things that aren’t bad, but they become bad for us because they remove us from God. We can covet fame and become boastful and proud. We can covet success and become selfishly ambitious. We can covet money and become abusive and greedy. We can covet pleasure and become a fornicator. None of these things are bad in themselves, but they become bad when we pursue them as our idol. By doing this we are failing to do what Jesus says is the greatest commandment, to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are worshipping the creation instead of the creator. These are earthly things.
List 2 - Anger
In the second list of verse 8 we see it beginning with anger and progressing rapidly to wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. These things are also kind of related with anger being the root of all of this. Wrath is the the outburst of anger, malice is the evil desires against someone else, slander is speaking about someone in a way that is harmful to them, and obscene talk is saying filthy things. These all seem to stem from anger.
Why are we so angry? Where does this anger come from? Anger is something that we can constantly struggle with as we live in a broken and sinful world. People around us offend, abuse, and mistreat us. Anger is our emotional response to this mistreatment. The world around us says that it's okay to get angry and to express your anger in the form of wrath, malice, slander, and obscene (disgusting, offensive) talk. They might encourage us to express these feelings and say that it is unhealthy to leave these feelings suppressed. But why do we get angry? Ultimately, are we trying to punish people for their bad behavior and create a change in them. But our attempts to control people with angry outbursts always fail to accomplish what they are intended to accomplish. Instead of making things better or balancing the scales, they put us at fault and make us guilty of sin. This goes against the second command where God said to love your neighbor as yourself.
Then on top of all of these lists, in verse 9 we see a sin that is added to these sins. Why do we lie? These internal sins of idolatry and anger are things we like to hide. They are our little pets that give us some level of satisfaction and we don’t want anyone to take them away from us. The hypocrites of Jesus’ day were good at hiding what was earthly in them while appearing spiritual and we can do the same thing. We think that by hiding it from men, we are somehow able to hide it from God. But he knows everything we are doing. These are all earthly things inside of us and Paul says we need to put them to death instead of lying about them.
These things were supposed to be put to death. We are supposed to be killing idolatry, anger, and lying because we have put off the old self (9). Putting off the old self reminds us of what Paul said in verse 3, "You have died." Our will was put to death and our heart was transformed when we were saved from our sins. Here Paul says that some of us have that old self trying to come back to life again. Do you ever feel that? Do you feel covetousness, anger, lying trying to come back into our life? These things crepe back in and we have to put them to death daily. Our old self is the reason we had to die in the first place. We can't let its self serving ways rule in our hearts again.
Why Must We Put What Is Earthly To Death
These earthly things seem like things that everyone around us is involved in. We all struggle with coveting, getting angry, and lying and it will take a lot of work to put these things to death. Next I would like for us to see why Paul says these sins need to be put to death.
1. The Wrath of God is Coming
The first reason we must put to death the earthly self is found in verse 6. Paul says, "On account of these the wrath of God is coming." These earthly desires, which break God's two greatest commands, are the reason behind God's judgment of mankind. These desires are not serious to the world around us. In fact, it is acceptable to live in a full blown sexually immoral, materialistic, self serving life that is full of covetousness and it is expected that we would get angry and slander or speak offensive words with one another from time to time. But God considers continually living this lifestyle to be rebellion. With all of the blessings that God has showered on us and especially with Christ being provided for our sacrifice, God is just to bring about his wrath on all those who rebel against him. But do we see that Paul is providing a subtle reminder and warning for us. The wrath of God is against all of those who refuse to love him and refuse to love their fellow man who was made in his image. Will we really escape that wrath of God if we stubbornly rebel against God? Let's look at the next reason why we need to kill what is earthly in us.
2. We Have Put On The New Self
In verse 9 Paul points to the old self being put off and putting on the new self that is "being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." What a statement! God has changed us. He has put us to death and raised us up to walk in newness of life. The old self is dead. It wants to come back, but it’s dead. That means we are going to be radically different from the old self. This renewal moves us more and more to the things that are God centered, putting our minds on spiritual things that are above. We are supposed to be completely different. People who knew us from high school should not only see a different person on the outside, but a different person on the inside as well. We want to put on the new self and be better than we have ever been for God’s glory.
3. Christ is Everything We Need
In verse 11 Paul says, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." In this text Paul points to the heart of our identity. There was a time when we thought we fit into a specific group and that made us better than others. We relied on that for feeling approval. We found some level of satisfaction and safety in that. We thought that it mattered what group I was a part of, but now we realize that it doesn’t matter what group we are a part of. We are all the same in our sin and spiritual death. We have all found ourselves wrapped up in covetousness and anger. We have to put to death what is earthly inside of us because identifying as a good person by the world’s standards does not help us. We can’t make that identification our ultimate source of fulfillment. We have something greater as our identity. We have Christ and he is everything we need. By living for earthly things we are failing to recognize how great our blessings are in him and we are failing to show our appreciation to him.
How Can We Put What Is Earthly To Death?
In this text Paul has described to us what we need to put to death and why we need to put it to death. Now let's see how Paul says we can do this. What do we need to do in order to overcome the earthly temptations we face? Two things…
1. The Heart is The Root of Our Problem
First, we must recognize that this is a heart problem. He says, "Put to death what is earthly IN you." This is not a discussion of modifying our outward behavior to look good. The three lists he gives all point to an internal problem with our heart. First we saw that we love other things and pursue them for our fulfillment and satisfaction instead of loving and pursuing God. Then we saw that we love ourselves and protect ourselves by lashing out at those who mistreat us instead of loving and forgiving them. Finally, we saw that we like to lie about our failures so that others think we are righteous when we are not. This, again, shows a desire to exalt the inner self above God and above others. The problem is not these outer failures, but an inner failure to submit our will to the will of God.
Often we attempt to stop doing some external action without getting to the root of our problem. We will chop off branches of a tree while leaving the roots. The internal heart problems are what we need to kill. They are the source of all our problems. Is this not why Israel failed? God said they honored him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. We cannot love God and money. We cannot let the things of this earth keep our hearts affections. We must kill what is earthly inside of us. We must repent.
The first solution to help us put to death what is earthly in us is to admit that we have a problem in our heart. We want to hide our heart problems. We want to lie about our desires. We lie to ourselves, we lie to others, and we lie to God so that we can continue to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. This is what the old self does and it is rising up in us to pull us back to death. Understanding and admitting that sin is in our heart is half the battle.
2. Renewed in Knowledge After The Image of Our Creator
The second half of the battle is submitting to a renewal process in Christ. If we receive a diagnosis for cancer and refuse to go through the treatments, learning that we have cancer does not help. Those who have received God's grace and mercy have been given an understanding of their heart problem and all of the motivation they need to submit to the will of God. This act of grace means their lives are no longer about them and what they want. Now their lives are about becoming more and more like Christ. Notice how he says renewal takes place: "Being renewed in knowledge." The more we know about God, the more we love God. God is patient, loving, compassionate, merciful, just, pure, righteous, wise, powerful, and the list goes on. But when we read his word and meditate on what he has done for us we understand God on an even deeper level. We desire for God and Christ to be our all in all and we are able to find satisfaction in them. This is our primary motivation for transformation.
Also, the more we study God’s word, the more we understand ourselves. Studying God’s word is foundational to developing our love and desire for God. But it is also foundational in removing our love of self. We often try all of these other ways to invoke this transformation. We prohibit things that God has created to be enjoyed, but notice what Paul is saying is the mechanism for us to be transformed: knowledge of God. When we look into God’s word we are faced with the harsh reality that God is good and we sin against God way beyond what even the most patient of us would tolerate. God reveals to us our faults as Paul said in Romans 7, we would not even know what it means to covet if God had not said, “You shall not covet.” But we also find wisdom and understanding that help us address those heart problems and become more like Christ. The more we study to know God, the more we love him and the more our desires will change. In contrast, the more we spend time in the things of the world the more we will desire to be like the old self, the more evil we will do against God, and the less we will be able to show the world his glory.
In this text we have seen that we must put to death what is earthly in us. We must put to death our idolatry and anger toward others because they break the two greatest commands, they are worthy of the wrath of God, and they are part of our old way of life. These issues are heart issues which means that the heart must be transformed to love God. The more we understand who God is and what God has done for us the more we hate our sin and the more we will kill our desires for earthly things. We cannot let these things live inside of us any longer. We need to constantly evaluate our hearts and study the word to let it cut us and bring us closer to the image of God, as we were created to be. This is a picture of what heart felt repentance looks like. Have you repented of your sins? Do you want to kill what is earthly inside of you?