Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On Knowing God: What is it to "Know" God?


Christianity makes the claim that there is a God who has created all things and who himself gives his creation meaning. Further, we can know him! This is an exciting and satisfying possibility. It is exciting because it involves the possibility of contact between the individual and God, however insignificant the individual may appear in his or her own eyes or in the eyes of others. It is satisfying because it is knowledge not of an idea or thing but of a supremely personal Being, and because it issues in a profound change of conduct. 

This is what the Bible means when it says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). And, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10). 

Here, however, we must be clear about what we mean when we speak of “knowing God,” for many common uses of the word know are inadequate to convey the biblical understanding. There is a use of the word know by which we mean “awareness.” In this sense we say that we know where somebody lives or that we know that certain events are transpiring somewhere in the world. It is a kind of knowledge, but it does not involve us personally. It has little bearing on our lives. This is not what the Bible means when it speaks of knowing God. 

Another use of the word know means “knowing about” something or someone. It is knowledge by description. For instance, we may say that we know New York City or London or Moscow. By that we mean that we are aware of the geographic layout of the city; we know the names of the streets, where the major stores are and other facts. We may have gained our knowledge of the city by actually living there. But it is also possible that we may have gained our knowledge by reading books. In the religious realm this type of knowledge would apply to theology which, although important, is not the whole or even the heart of religion. The Bible tells us much about God that we should know. But this is not enough. Even the greatest theologians can be confused and can find life meaningless. 

True knowledge of God is also more than knowledge by experience. To go back to the earlier example, it would be possible for someone who has lived in a particular city to say, “But my knowledge is not book knowledge. I have actually lived there. I have walked the streets, shopped in the stores, attended the theaters. I have experienced the city. I really know it.” To this we would have to reply that the knowledge involved is certainly a step beyond anything we have talked about thus far, but still it is not the full idea of knowledge in the Christian sense. 

Suppose, for instance, that a person should go out into a starlit field in the cool of a summer evening and gaze up into the twinkling heavens and come away with the claim that in that field he has come to know God. What do we say to such a person? The Christian does not have to deny the validity of that experience, up to a point. It is certainly a richer knowledge than mere awareness of God (“There is a God”) or mere knowledge about him (“God is powerful and is the Creator of all that we see and know”). Still, the Christian insists, this is less than what the Bible means by true knowledge. For when the Bible speaks of knowing God it means being made alive by God in a new sense (being “born again”), conversing with God (so that he becomes more than some great “Something” out there, so that he becomes a friend), and being profoundly changed in the process. 

All this is leading us, step by step, to a better understanding of the word knowledge. But still another qualification is needed. According to the Bible, even when the highest possible meaning is given to the word know, knowing God is still not merely knowing God. For it is never knowing God in isolation. It is always knowing God in his relationship to us. Consequently, according to the Bible, knowledge of God takes place only where there is also knowledge of ourselves in our deep spiritual need and where there is an accompanying acceptance of God’s gracious provision for our need through the work of Christ and the application of that work to us by God’s Spirit. Knowledge of God takes place in the context of Christian piety, worship and devotion. The Bible teaches that this knowledge of God takes place (where it does take place), not so much because we search after God—because we do not—but because God reveals himself to us in Christ and in the Scriptures. 

J. I. Packer writes of this knowledge, “Knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as His word and works reveal it; third, accepting His invitations, and doing what He commands; fourth, recognising, and rejoicing in, the love that He has shown in thus approaching one and drawing one into this divine fellowship.” [J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 32.]

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On Knowing God: The Contemporary Crisis


One hot night in the early years of the Christian era a sophisticated and highly educated man named Nicodemus came to see a young rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. The man wanted to discuss reality. So he began the conversation with a statement of where his own personal search for truth had taken him. He said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him” (Jn. 3:2). 

With the exception of the word Rabbi, which was merely a polite form of address, the first words were a claim to considerable knowledge. Nicodemus ‘said, “We know.” Then he began to rehearse the things he knew (or thought he knew) and with which he wanted to begin the discussion: (1) that Jesus was continuing to do many miracles; (2) that these miracles were intended to authenticate him as a teacher sent from God; and that, therefore, (3) Jesus was one to whom he should listen. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, Jesus replied that such an approach to knowledge was wrong and that Nicodemus could therefore know nothing until he had first experienced an inward, spiritual transformation. “You must be born anew,” Jesus told him (Jn. 3:7). Nicodemus’s subsequent remarks showed at least an implicit recognition of his lack of knowledge in important things. For he began to ask questions: “How can a man be born when he is old? How can this be?” (vv. 4, 9). Jesus taught him that true knowledge begins with spiritual knowledge, knowledge of God, and that this is to be found in God’s revelation of himself in the Bible and in Jesus’ own life and work, the work of the Savior. 

This ancient conversation is relevant to our day. For the problems and frustrations that Nicodemus faced nearly two thousand years ago are with us in our time also. Nicodemus possessed knowledge, but he lacked the key to that knowledge, the element that would put it all together. He knew certain things, but his search for truth had brought him to the point of personal crisis. In the same way, much is also known in our time. In the sense of information or technical knowledge, more is known today than at any previous time in history. Yet the kind of knowledge that integrates information and thereby gives meaning to life is strangely absent. 

The nature of the problem can be seen by examining the two almost exclusive approaches to knowledge today. On the one hand there is the idea that reality can be known by reason alone. That approach is not new, of course. It is the approach developed by Plato and therefore assumed by much of the Greek and Roman thought after him. In Plato’s philosophy, true knowledge is knowledge of the eternal and unalterable essence of things, not merely knowledge of changeable phenomena. That is, it is a knowledge of forms, ideas or ideals. Our nearest equivalent would be the so-called laws of science. 

On the surface, this approach to knowledge through the exercise of supposedly impartial reason seems desirable, for it is productive—as the technical advances of our day often indicate. But it is not without problems. For one thing, it is highly impersonal knowledge and, as some would say, highly depersonalizing. In this approach reality becomes a thing (an equation, law or, worse yet, mere data), and men and women become things also, with the inevitable result that they may therefore be manipulated like any other raw material for whatever ends. 

An example is the manipulation of poorer nations by rich nations for the sake of the rich nations’ expanding economy, that is, the injustice analyzed and rightly condemned by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, Capital and other writings. Another example is that of communism itself which, in spite of its desire to better the lot of the masses, actually manipulates them for ideological ends. On the personal level there is the science of behavioral technology and the frightening teaching of a man like B. F. Skinner of Harvard University who claims that individuals must be conditioned scientifically for the good of society. 

There is also another problem with the attempt to know reality through reason alone. The approach does not give an adequate basis for ethics. It can tell us what is, but it cannot tell us what ought to be. Consequently, the extraordinary technical advances of our time are accompanied by an extreme and debilitating moral permissiveness which promises in time to break down even the values and system that made both the advances and the permissiveness possible. Interestingly, the same thing was also true of the Greek philosophers, who, although they were men of great intellect, on occasion led depraved lives. 

In recent years the failures of the rationalistic system have impressed themselves on a new generation with the result that many in the Western world have abandoned reason in order to seek reality through emotional experience. In the ancient world, in reaction to the impersonality of Greek philosophy, this was done through intense participation in the rites of the mystery religions. These promised an emotional union with some god, induced by lighting, music, incense or perhaps by drugs. In our time the same approach has surfaced through the drug cult, rediscovery of the Eastern religions, Transcendental Meditation, the human potential movement and other supposedly “mind-expanding” practices. 

This modern approach also has several problems. First, the experience does not last. It is transient. Each attempt to achieve reality through emotional experience promises some sort of “high.” But the “high” is inevitably followed by a “low,” with the additional problem that increasingly intense stimuli seem to be necessary to repeat the experience. Eventually this ends either in self-destruction or acute disillusionment. A second problem is that the approach to reality through emotion does not satisfy the mind. Promoters of these experiences, particularly drug experiences, speak of a more intense perception of reality that results from them. But their experience has no rational content. The part of the human being that wants to think about such things and understand them is unsatisfied. 

The result of this situation is a crisis in the area of knowledge today, as in ancient times. Many thinking people quite honestly do not know where to turn. The rationalistic approach is impersonal and amoral. The emotionalistic approach is without content, transient and also often immoral. “Is this the end?” many are asking. “Are there no other possibilities? Is there not a third way?”

At this point Christianity comes forward with the claim that there is a third way and that this way is strong at precisely those points where the other approaches are lacking. The basis of this third approach is that there is a God who has created all things and who himself gives his creation meaning. Further, we can know him. This is an exciting and satisfying possibility. It is exciting because it involves the possibility of contact between the individual and God, however insignificant the individual may appear in his or her own eyes or in the eyes of others. It is satisfying because it is knowledge not of an idea or thing but of a supremely personal Being, and because it issues in a profound change of conduct. We'll consider more about this tomorrow.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Satan's Reality

The fact of Satan’s existence can be neither proven nor disproven by philosophical reasoning alone. Nevertheless, the incontrovertible existence of evil must have an actual perpetrator. Experiential claims by themselves cannot prove Satan’s reality because they lack any objective standard by which the alleged experiences might be validated.
However, a reliable historical account of human history would serve to establish the factuality of Satan if the author were credible. Actually, one such book exists—the Bible, whose author is the God of creation, the originator of truth without error, and the Creator of Satan. Thus, the Bible is the Christian’s only unimpeachable witness to the actual existence of Satan.
BASIC FACTS
The revelation of Satan’s existence is found in only eight Old Testament books, yet it is completely consistent with the more frequent references in the New Testament. The Hebrew word for Satan basically means “adversary” or “one who opposes.” Of the 27 Old Testament occurrences, 18 refer directly to Satan (once in 1 Chronicles 21; 14 times in Job 1–2; 3 times in Zechariah 3), while 9 refer to adversaries other than Satan. Additionally, 2 Corinthians 11:3 and Revelation 12:9; 20:2 testify to Satan’s reality in Genesis 3, where he is disguised as a serpent. First Kings 22:21–22 and 2 Chronicles 18:20–21 refer to him as “a lying spirit.” Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 allude to Satan as the power behind the kings of Babylon and Tyre, respectively.
On the other hand, New Testament references abound. The terms translated “Satan” or “devil” refer to “the evil one” on 74 occasions. Every New Testament writer mentions him, and he appears in nineteen New Testament books (Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Titus, Philemon, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John excepted). An amazing 28 of 30 references in the Gospels involve either direct encounters with or mentions of Satan.
BASIC CHARACTERISTICS
Satan exhibits the three basic characteristics associated with personhood: intellect, emotion, and will. With his intellect, he tempted Christ (Matt. 4:1–11) and schemes against Christians (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26). Emotionally, he exhibits pride (1 Tim. 3:6) and anger (Rev. 12:12, 17). The Devil also exercises his will against Christians (Luke 22:31; 2 Tim. 2:26).
Five additional personal qualities complete an elementary profile of this lying and murderous adversary. First, he is a created angel. According to Paul, God created all things (Col. 1:16), which includes angels. God’s response to Job equates “morning stars” with “sons of God” (Job 38:4–7; cf. 1:6; 2:1), the first-created angelic ranks who sang and rejoiced over the remainder of creation. The evil power behind the King of Tyre is referred to as the “anointed guardian cherub” (Ezek. 28:14, 16) who was created (Ezek. 28:13, 15). Originally created as a chief angel at the level of Michael the archangel (Jude 9), Satan now rebelliously leads a band of evil angels (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:9). Although he is an angel of darkness, he disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
Second, Satan is a spirit being (1 Kings 22:21–23; 2 Chron. 18:20–22; Eph. 2:2), although he appears at times like a physical person (Matt. 4:3–11), just like the holy angels (Mark 16:5). Whereas the writer of Hebrews refers to angels as “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14), Christ characterized demons as “unclean” (Luke 4:36) and “evil” (Luke 8:2) spirits. Such would also be true of the prince of demons.
Third, Satan possesses an extraordinary mobility. Both Job 1:7 and Job 2:2 portray Satan as “going to and fro on the earth,” as does 1 Peter 5:8, which refers to Satan as one who “prowls around” the world. Fourth, Satan can function both in heaven (1 Kings 22:21–22; Job 1–2; Rev. 12:10) and on earth (Matt. 4:3–11). Finally, God will hold Satan morally responsible in the end for his treacherously evil deeds (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
BASIC CONTRASTS
The theological understanding of Satan reflects a studied contrast with the Lord Jesus Christ. This surprises no one, since Christ is the Creator and Satan a mere creature. We will consider this contrast further tomorrow.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Putting on the New Creation (Colossians 3:9b-17)



You can tell a lot about people in our society by the way they dress. From baseball players to bus drivers, from postal carriers to policemen, people wear the uniform of their profession. As it turns out, who we are determines what we wear, and failing to “dress the part” can sometimes have embarrassing consequences. 
Many years ago a very wealthy man in a Southern California town was found wandering around the local country club wearing shabby clothes. He was promptly seized by security guards and charged with vagrancy—even though, as it turned out, he owned the country club. You see, he was arrested because he had failed to dress consistently with who he was.
That is precisely Paul’s point in Colossians 3:9–17. Christians must dress themselves spiritually in accordance with their new identity. If we are in Christ, a change has taken place. We have had to say goodbye to the Old Man, to Mr. Wrong and all the habits, passions, and practices of the past. And because Jesus has restored our life we are new creations, made in His image.

For that reason, I have titled today’s message “Putting on the New Creation.” And what I want us to do this morning is notice some areas where God has taken the initiative to restore us. If you will consider these things with me, I believe you will better understand the response God expects from you because you have been restored to fellowship with Him.

1. Because we belong to God, Christ is all and in all (v. 9b-11)

Paul begins with a foundational statement in verse 9 about how we are new creatures in Christ and we need to dress accordingly…
“…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 3:9b-11; ESV)
Paul says that because you have died and been raised with Christ there has been a radical change in your identity. What is that change like? Well, it’s like discarding an old shabby, dilapidated, worn-out, embarrassing set of clothes. 

What is it specifically that you put off? Well, in Christ you put off Adam. You discarded your identity in Adam’s lost race. And [you] have put on the new self, like a brand spanking new, smart, classy set of clothes. You put on Christ. You joined the new human race in him.

And here’s the thing — this new humanity is defined by one thing. In Christ, it makes no difference if you are a sophisticated Greek or a pious Jew. Indeed it is not a matter of whether you are a Jew or a Gentile. Here it makes no difference if you are even a despised barbarian, or an even more despised Scythian, which were the lowest class of barbarians. It doesn’t matter whether you are a slave or free. It doesn’t matter if you are a Spartan or a Wolverines fan. No. Christ is all that matters here. Christ is all, and in all.

2. Because we belong to God, we dress ourselves for peace

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12-13; ESV)

Paul begins by reminding us of the fact that we enjoy a position of unique favor with God. He says we are Holy - set apart from sin, from the rest of the world, and set apart unto God. Now not only are we holy, but we are beloved. This means that God loves us and wants the very best for us.

So, what is it that is best for us? Well, the best is to put off the old sinful way of life, and to "put on," or clothe ourselves, with some special new behaviors. Now, it’s important to note that this phrase “put on” is the same phrase used in Ephesians 6:14 where the Scripture tells us to put on the armor of God before we do spiritual warfare. But in this context he is telling us to put on certain characteristics that will prepare us for peace, not war. Whereas in Ephesians we are putting on the armor for war, here we are dressing ourselves for a peaceful existence with other Christians.

So, what are these special new behaviors?

Heartfelt compassion

This is mercy or sympathy. As Christians we are part of the same family and we should not be indifferent to one another. We should not be cruel, harsh, and cold toward one another. This is nothing less than feeling towards others as God feels towards you.

Kindness

This is a sweetness of disposition. A person who is kind has good things to say about others, is considerate of the feelings of others. Their words are tempered with grace and with tenderness.

Humility

As God’s loved people, we are to put on humility, like that of Christ Jesus: ‘He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross(Phil. 2:8).

Gentleness or Meekness

Meekness is controlled strength. It’s the willingness to suffer injury instead of inflicting it. And boy what a contrast with the way the world thinks. The world sees meekness as weakness. But the Bible says Jesus was meek, and we know He was not weak. Meekness, from a biblical perspective, is strength under control. It takes a greater strength to exhibit meekness than to burst forth with anger and lose control.

Patience

This is longsuffering, especially in the face of injury or insult. It is marked by the ability to respond in love when others treat us poorly. Of course, patience in our own strength is impossible. Patience is not something the world teaches us to practice.

According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink.

The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, "Don't you worship God?”

The old traveler replied, "I worship fire only and reverence no other god.”

When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his his tent into the cold night air.

When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, "I forced him out because he did not worship you.”

God answered, "I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?"

When we put on these traits two specific things take place, which we see in verse 13: we will bear with one another and we will forgive each other.

You know, I have seen people who call themselves Christians who have unforgiving spirits and great difficulty bearing with one another. The call to bear with one another is the call the endure with each other because we are a Christian family. But of course, bearing with one another and forgiving one another is not optional. Because God restored us to fellowship with Himself, we love the people of God even as God loves them. Isn’t that right? Is there someone here this morning you need to forgive? Do you need to do a better job enduring with your brothers and sisters in Christ?

3. Because we belong to God, we dress ourselves in loving Christlikeness

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:14-17; ESV)

The apostle envisions a man dressing his body with the flowing garments of the day, and then it occurs to the man that as beautiful and fine as his garments are, they can never be worn with comfort or grace until they are held in place by a belt. So he adds the belt and guess what that belt is: it’s “love.” You know, it is possible to have some of the garments, these attitudes, and not have love, but it is impossible to have love and not have all of these other “garments.” Why is that? It’s because love is the grace that binds all these other graces together. The imperative thrust is continuous: keep putting on love over and over and over again.

As the Apostle Paul wraps up this little section, he gives us a string of imperatives…

“…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…

“…be thankful…”

“…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”

“…teach and admonish one other in all wisdom…

“…sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God…”

How are all these linked you might ask? To answer that, let me end with a story.

An old story which comes from the Salvation Army in the last century tells of a strong-willed woman who had been nicknamed “Warrior Brown” because of her fiery temper. She was often belligerent and became enraged whenever she got drunk. Then one day she was converted. Her entire life was wonderfully changed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. At an open-air meeting a week later, she told everyone what Jesus had done for her. Suddenly a scoffer threw a potato at her, causing a stinging bruise. Had she not been converted, she would have lashed out at the man furiously. God’s grace, however, had made such a profound change in her conduct that she quietly picked up the potato and put it into her pocket without saying a word. No more was heard of the incident until the time of the “harvest festival” months later. Then the dear lady who had been known as “Warrior Brown” brought as her offering a little sack of potatoes. She explained that after the open-air meeting she had cut up and planted the “insulting potato,” and what she was now presenting to the Lord was “the increase.” Warrior Brown had allowed “the peace of Christ” to be umpire of her life.

Do you see how all of this relates? She put off the old “Warrior Brown” She put on the new daughter she was in Christ. Because of Christ, she put on the new garments of her new life and she bound it altogether in love. She was thankful and she let the peace of Christ rule in her heart. The word of Christ dwelled in her richly, she did not retaliate. In her meekness, she teaches and admonishes us all. We could sing songs about this woman’s God because He has so clearly affected a radical change in her life.

And in it all, her gratitude causes us to be careful about how we carry the name of Christ. My friends, we need to be mindful of the fact that we are called Christians, and that our actions reflect to the world the reality of Christ. That's what it means to do something in the name of Christ - to do it on His behalf, under His authority, and according to His will.


Is that wonderful change in your life evident? Has light filled the darkness of your soul? Has it changed the way you treat your fellow Christian? Has God’s presence given you the ability to forbear, to forgive, to love others more than you love yourself? What change has it brought? Has your life ever been restored? And if not, why not today?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Putting Sin to Death (Colossians 3:5-9a)



It's important to be reminded that sin is a kind of poison in your life. Which is why Paul speaks as he does in Colossians 3:5 when he writes,

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:5; ESV)

You see, Paul knows that sin is a poison. Paul knows that habitual sin is something which characterizes all human lives up until the point when Christ sets us poor sinners free from its power. 

Now, if you don’t know this already, let me remind you that in Paul’s writing, theology is always followed by a call to live it out. That’s what’s going to happen in these verses this morning. Paul is saying you are not supposed to live in sin as you used to now that you are a Christian. 

And he’s going to tell you this morning that if you have gotten just a little too comfortable with your sin, well…you’d better wake up and put off those things which should have no part in your life anymore. So, let’s consider Paul’s call to lay aside our old sinful lives and take God’s call to holiness seriously. The first aspect of laying aside the old life is…

1. LAYING ASIDE THE OLD LIFE: SEXUAL IMMORALITY

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire(Colossians 3:5; ESV)

Paul begins here with an idea first spoken by Jesus Himself. You see, Jesus spoke of this same idea when he said: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29). Now, obviously neither Paul nor Jesus was recommending literal surgery, for sin does not come from the eye (or the hand), but from the heart—the evil within. 

Centuries past in England, if a pickpocket was caught and convicted, his right hand was cut off. If he was caught again, his left hand suffered the same fate. There’s a story about one pickpocket who lost both hands and yet continued his occupation with his teeth! The moral of the story is: physical dismemberment cannot change the heart. 

Nonetheless, Paul call on us to “Put to death,” evil practices in our lives which are to have no part of our Christian walk. And specifically, he points out four elements of sinful sensuality which must be executed. And I want to consider these…

The first is “sexual immorality” (Gk: ‘porneia'), from which we get the word “pornographic.” The word here refers to every kind of immoral sexual relation. What is an immoral sexual relation? Let me be very clear on this point: the Bible strictly forbids any sexual activity outside the marriage bond between a man and a woman. Therefore, an immoral sexual relation is any sexual activity which occurs outside the marriage bond between a man and a woman. Chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought to the world. Paul’s call was radical to the pagan culture in its day, and it is almost as radical today. Even as I give voice here to biblical morality, I know I risk being labeled a moral brontosaurus! Well, that’s fine…

The second element of sensuality which we are to kill is “impurity,” which is moral uncleanness. This is wider and subtler than physical immorality, for it embraces the lurid imagination, speech, and deed of a sensual heart or filthy mind. 

The third element is “lust,” a kind of shameful emotion which leads to sexual excesses. Paul used the same word to describe the “passionate lust” of the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:5) and the “shameful lusts” of homosexuality (Romans 1:26)

The fourth element of sensuality to be discarded is “evil desires”—which are a kind of wicked, self-serving, greedy lust. What a deadly quartet we have here, and Paul said it must be slain outright—executed!

Dear friends, I am so glad God’s word is clear on these points. I personally can think of no other array of sins more prominent in our society—and more in need of being put to death. Frankly, the average American is awash in a sea of sensuality. To that point, it is conceivable that on any given evening of TV watching, a person may see more sensual sights than one’s great-grandparents did in their entire lifetimes. And my fear is that the sensuality of our culture, particularly our entertainment, just allows sin to wield an extraordinary power over us. Sin’s power over us reminds me of a story…

Radio personality Paul Harvey once told a story of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. I’ll warn you that the account is grisly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. 

"First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. "Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night.

So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more--until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!” 

Dear friends, it is a fearful thing that people can be "consumed by their own lusts." Which is why Paul says to put these sins to death. Only God's grace keeps us from the wolf's fate.

2. LAYING ASIDE THE OLD LIFE: COVETOUSNESS

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: […] covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5; ESV)

Recently I laid a small circle of poison around a hill of stinging ants. Thinking the tiny granules of poison were food, the ants began to pick them up and carry them throughout the colony. I returned later to see how well the poison was working. Hundreds of the stinging ants were carrying the poison down into their hill. Then I noticed a hole in the circle of poison. Some of the poison was moving the opposite way--away from the hill. Some smaller, non-stinging ants had found this "food" and were stealing it from their ant neighbors. Thinking they were getting the other ants' treasure, they unwittingly poisoned themselves.

I tell that story because when we see someone with more than we have, we must beware. The hunger to beg, borrow, or steal our way into what is theirs may poison us spiritually. And Paul knows that covetousness is a poisonous sin. In fact, the word “covetousness” which Paul uses here denotes not merely the desire to possess more than one has, but more than one ought to have, particularly that which belongs to someone else. And there is a sense in which covetousness is even more dangerous than sensuality, because it has so many respectable forms. I’m afraid that today we consider coveting a “small” sin. It reminds of a story about the problem of “small” sins.

There was once a man who purposed to do a nationwide walk across America. And to appreciate this, imagine all the obstacles a person might have to overcome if he were to walk from New York City to San Francisco. One man who accomplished this rare achievement, and he mentioned a rather surprising difficulty when asked to tell of his biggest hurdle. He said that the toughest part of the trip wasn't traversing the steep slopes of the mountains or crossing hot, barren stretches of desert. Instead, he said, "The thing that came the closest to defeating me was the sand in my shoes."

You see, small sins are not really very small. This is serious business, and just like sexual immorality, “covetousness” will, Paul says, provoke the wrath of God: 

Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived(Colossians 3:6-7; ESV). 

Paul’s message is clear: since we have died, and have been buried, resurrected, and ascended with Christ, since we have been made full of his fullness, there are some things we must put off: namely, materialism and greed. Dear friends, you need to slay this sin, regardless of the blood and the pain!

3. LAYING ASIDE THE OLD LIFE: EVIL ATTITUDES AND SPEECH

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…” (Colossians 3:8-9a; ESV). 

The book of James tells us that the tongue is a consuming fire. Paul would say AMEN to that. Further, Paul says these evil attitudes must be put away. If they are not, “the heated metal of anger will be forged into poisoned arrows of the tongue.” Further, “slander” will follow—that is, hurtful speech which defames one’s character. This, unchecked, it will turn into “filthy language from your lips”—foul, obscene, abusive speech. And don’t suppose naively that such things do not exist among professing believers. My friends, they do!

Paul continues by writing, “Do not lie to each other” (v. 9a). Lying is a great sin against God, against the Church, and against love. That is why God struck down Ananias and Sapphira in the early church. He wanted truth, not deception. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. A great church demands great honesty. Don’t let sin deceive you dear friends. God would have a holy church.

There’s a story about people who try to keep raccoons as pets, which is impossible. In fact, raccoons go through a glandular change at about 24 months and after that they often attack their owners. Since a 30-pound raccoon can be equal to a 100-pound dog in terms of scrappiness, a veterinarian once felt compelled to mention the change coming to a pet raccoon owned by a young woman named, Julie. Julie listened politely as the vet explained the coming danger. But he never forget her answer. "It will be different for me. . .,” she said. And she smiled as she added, "Bandit wouldn't hurt me. He just wouldn't." Three months later Julie had to undergo plastic surgery for facial lacerations sustained when her adult raccoon attacked her for no apparent reason. Bandit was released into the wild. 

My friends, sin often comes dressed in an adorable costume, and as we play with it, how easy it is to say, "It will be different for me." But the results are always predictable.

The good news is that spiritual victory is possible if you recognize that you are not under any obligation to sin if you are in Christ. If you recognize that the Spirit of God has already bent you towards life, and so He’s already killing sin in your life, and the power to kill all of it is here already in you. 

I don’t know about you but I want to have a life of virtue. I want to have a life of joy. I want to have a life of peace, and I want to have a life of usefulness to God—and this is the path to that life, putting sin to death. My prayer for you this week is that God will give you the strength to walk faithfully and put sin to death. As we do so we will bring glory to God’s name. And that my friends is the purpose of everything.