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…


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.


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!


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.