Off with the Old
INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Living the Christ-Centered Life” and as we mentioned last week, with chapter three we begin a section that is heavy on personal application. Chapters one and two spent a lot of time on doctrinal truths. Now chapters three and four tell us how to live those truths out in our lives. Today’s passage tells you how as a believer in Christ you should treat sin in your life. (Read Colossians 3:5-11 and pray.)
One of the most precious truths in the Bible is that we are saved by grace rather than works. You are not saved because of anything good that you have done but simply by faith in Jesus Christ and in what Christ did for you at the cross.
It is a beautiful truth that is at the heart of the gospel, but it is also a truth that can be misused and abused. And perhaps the worst abuse of grace is when someone concludes that if we are saved by grace and not by works then it doesn’t matter what you do. That we shouldn’t worry about sin because it’s all forgiven anyways.
Yes, we are saved by grace, but we do not truly understand grace if we think that it’s okay to keep on living as though nothing changed when we came to Christ. We died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. Now we must live out these truths in our new life as believers.
And that’s what Paul addresses here in our text this morning. His basic message is this. You have received new life in Christ. So get rid of those sinful things that were part of your old life. Paul begins with a command telling you to get rid of these sinful things in your life. He then gives specific examples of sinful things you should get rid of. And then he also gives you four reasons why you should get rid of these things. And through it all he is saying, “Off with the old! On with the new! You have been given new life with Christ.”
I. Get rid of the sinful things in your life
So first let’s look at the command to get rid of the sinful things in your life. Paul uses two metaphors to describe this getting rid of sin. He talks about putting to death and taking off clothes.
A. Put them to death (5)
– Romans 8:13
Let’s look at the image of “putting to death” first. Look at verse 5: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Colossians 3:5) “Whatever belongs to your earthly nature” refers to the sinful practices and tendencies that reside in your body. It’s not that matter is evil or our bodies are evil – that was the teaching of the false teachers. Our bodies are not evil, but they are corrupted by sin. Paul has gone to great lengths to dispel the dualism of the false teachers, but now he must remind the Colossians that we still have a sinful nature to deal with which operates primarily in our flesh. The human body is not sinful in and of itself, but it is still susceptible to sin. And so God says to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.
Now “put to death” may sound extreme, and it is. But that’s because sin is an extreme situation. We don’t always understand how wrong sin is. Sin defies God, it defiles the person, and it destroys human relationships. And so the proper response to sin is not to treat it casually but to kill it. You don’t trick it, train it or tame it; you terminate it. You don’t put it aside or put it in a drawer; you put it to death! Extreme problems require extreme solutions.
Once again this relates back to the new life you received in Christ. You need to connect verse 5 – “Put to death” – back to verse 3 – “You died.” You died with Christ, but you still fight the battle against sin in this life. You died, so put sinful things to death. That’s the difference between God’s role and your role in all this. God’s role is you died with Christ. Your role is to put these things to death.
We read in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) John Owen was a famous pastor in 1600’s, and he had a famous saying: “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you!” We are to be merciful with sinners but ruthless with sin. Sin is under a death sentence, and we are to take part in its execution. Paul says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Colossians 3:5)
B. Remove them like clothing (8-9)
– Colossians 2:11 (“put off”), 2:15 (“disarmed”)
So that’s the first image Paul uses: “putting to death.” And then the second image is that of taking off clothes. Look at verses 8-9 where Paul writes: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these … you have taken off your old self with its practices.” (Colossians 3:8-9) The “but now” at the beginning of verse 8 indicates something has changed. You are a new creation in Christ. All things have become new. So rid yourself of all these things.
The word translated “rid yourselves” in verse 8 is a word that means “to put off or to lay something aside.” It is the same word that is translated “taken off” in verse 9. Paul used this same word twice in chapter two. We saw it back in Colossians 2:11 which talked about “the putting off of the sinful nature.” (Colossians 2:11) And then we saw it again in Colossians 2:15 where we read that at the cross Christ “disarmed” or stripped the powers and authorities.
And the common idea behind all these verses is removing something like clothing. Since you have already taken off your old self – literally “the old man,” that is, who you were before Christ – now you must also take off the sinful practices that accompanied your old life. The old self was removed when you came to Christ in repentance and faith. But now we learn that repentance is ongoing, and you must continue to remove these things from your life.
As a believer in Christ what do you do with the sinful things in your life? God says, get rid of them. Put them to death, and remove them like an old piece of clothing.
II. Examples of sinful things we should get rid of
So that’s the command from this section of Scripture. Next Paul gives us specific examples of sinful things we should get rid of. Someone at church asked me just a couple weeks ago, “When you talk about sin at church, could you give us some examples of what sins are according to the Bible?” Well ask and you will receive. You want examples? We’ve got examples! That’s right, we are going to name sins this morning. We are going to name specific sins because the Bible names specific sins.
Paul gives us ten examples in two lists of five each of the types of sin we should be getting rid of in our lives. The first list emphasizes sexual sins. The second list emphasizes interpersonal sins. And then he also adds to the second list the additional sin of lying with an emphasis on lying as a special sin against the body of Christ.
A. Sexual sins (5) – sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed/idolatry (Exodus 20:17; Romans 1:24-25)
The first list appears in verse 5. Once again this list emphasizes primarily sexual sins. Let me read the list to you and then we will talk briefly about each one. Paul says these are some of the things you must put to death in your life: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)
The word translated “sexual immorality” in this verse is a general word that refers to any sexual activity apart from marriage between a man and a woman. This would include premarital sexual relations, extra-marital sexual relations, homosexual relations, and even such things as pornography or lust. Paul says as a believer in Jesus Christ you must put these things to death.
The word translated “impurity” is a general word for uncleanness. It reminds us that any sexual activity outside of marriage is unclean in God’s sight. Sex within marriage is holy and sanctified. But any sexual activity outside of marriage is unclean and defiles the persons involved.
Lust is the passion or desire for sexual activity outside of marriage. Evil desires refers to wrong desires which lead to wrong actions. And greed refers to covetousness or the desire to have more than what is rightfully yours.
Now greed is a broad term that encompasses many things. It can be the desire to have more money, the desire to have more things, the desire to have more power, the desire to have more fame. But it can also refer to the desire to have more sexually than is rightfully yours. That’s why when the tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet,” it specifically includes, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” (Exodus 20:17)
Notice that greed is further identified with idolatry. And you might wonder why is that? Well greed is desiring that which is not lawfully yours. It means that you are not content with God or with what God has given you. It means that you are seeking what you desire instead of what God desires. And isn’t that what idolatry is? Idolatry is putting something else before God. It is setting your hearts and minds on earthly things rather than things above. Ross King has a song where he defines it this way: “Anything I put before my God is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol.” (Ross King, “Clear the Stage”)
Now the Bible also connects sexual immorality with idolatry. We read in Romans 1: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:24-25) The Bible says sexual sin is an example of worshiping and serving created things rather than the creator. And isn’t that the very definition of idolatry?
So if you’re a Christian this morning and you’re living together before marriage, what are you doing? What are you thinking? You are putting something before God. It’s an idol. God says put it death. If you’re a Christian and you are cheating on your spouse whether physically or emotionally or even just in your mind, what are you doing? It’s an idol. Get rid of it. If you’re a Christian and you’re viewing pornography, the answer isn’t to try and manage your sin. It’s an idol. You need to make a clean break and put it to death. Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.
B. Interpersonal sins (8-9) – anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lying (Matthew 12:36-37; Ephesians 4:29, 5:3-4)
And then Paul moves on from this list of sexual sins to a list of interpersonal sins. These are sins which we often consider not so bad, more socially acceptable, everyone does them. We think, “They’re not really sins, are they? I mean would these things really keep a person out of heaven?” And God says, “Yes.” Sin is sin, and we must get rid of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying.
So what are each of these sins? Anger and rage are similar, but the word anger here refers more to a settled attitude of anger whereas rage refers more to sudden outbursts. Malice is the intention to hurt another person. It is the attitude of ill-will that either wishes or does harm to another. Malice is glad when the other person is hurting and sorry when they do well. It is the very opposite of Romans 12 which tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Slander is speech which brings injury to another’s reputation. And filthy language can refer either to dirty speech or abusive language. The two are often combined, especially when you’re angry, slandering or full of malice. And then Paul adds lying to the list. This is another major sin of speech which Paul singles out as a particularly bad sin for the community of Christ.
These are all interpersonal sins which damage relationships and disrupt community. And so God says get rid of them. Don’t wear them anymore. Remove them like clothing.
We find similar instructions in the book of Ephesians. We read in Ephesians 4: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) Or again in Ephesians 5: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3-4)
Someone might say, “It’s only words. What do words matter?” But your words are very important. Jesus said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)
So Paul gives us these two lists of sexual sins and interpersonal sins. He gets very specific and names certain sins. And he tells us to put these things to death, to remove them like an old piece of clothing.
III. Four reasons why we should get rid of these things (9-10)
So Paul tells you to get rid of the sinful things in your life, and then he gives specific examples of sinful things you should get rid of. Now finally Paul gives us four reasons why we should get rid of them: 1) God’s wrath is coming because of these things; 2) These things belong to your old way of life; 3) God is making you into someone new; and 4) in Christ all the man-made barriers have been removed. Let’s briefly look at all four of these reasons in turn.
A. God’s wrath is coming because of these things (6)
– Ephesians 5:5-7
First, God’s wrath is coming because of these things. That’s what we read in verse 6: “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:6) God’s wrath is God’s righteous anger against sin. God is holy and will not tolerate sin. This verse speaks of God’s coming judgment against sin.
Now as God’s children we need not fear God’s wrath. However, we should also not participate in those things which will provoke his wrath. We read something similar in Ephesians 5: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” (Ephesians 5:5-7)
Why should you get rid of these things in your life? God’s wrath is coming because of these things. So why would you want to participate in them?
B. These things belong to your old way of life (7)
– Romans 6:21-23
Secondly, these things belong to your old way of life. Look at verse 7: “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” (Colossians 3:7) You already lived this way before you came to Christ. And when you came to Christ, you came to him asking for forgiveness and deliverance from these things. In other words, we should know better. Been there, done that. You already tried sin and it did not deliver. You already said goodbye to your old way of life, why would you welcome these things back into your life?
Romans 6 puts it this way: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:21-23)
So that’s the second reason. Why get rid of these things? Because these things belong to your old way of life.
C. God is making you into someone new (9-10)
– Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24
And then the third reason is this: God is making you into someone new. Look at verses 9-10: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)
Once again, Paul uses clothing imagery here. He says you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self. You’ve already changed clothes. Why put on the old self again? You don’t put new clothing on over the old, and you don’t put old clothing on over the new. You take off the old and replace it with the new!
Let’s say you are working in the garden all morning and then you have a wedding to go to in the afternoon. You wouldn’t put your wedding clothes on over your old dirty clothes. You would take the dirty clothes off first. And then when you come home from the wedding, you certainly wouldn’t put the dirty clothes back on over the new!
God is making you into someone new. That’s what verse 10 is saying: “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:10) Notice the importance of knowledge in this verse. There is no spiritual growth without knowledge of God. And where do we get this knowledge? From the word of God. As you grow in your knowledge of God through his word, you are being renewed in the image of God your Creator. We learned earlier in Colossians that Jesus is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15), and so this means you are actually growing to be more like Jesus.
We find this same truth taught elsewhere in Scripture. We read in Ephesians 4: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) Or in Romans 8:29: “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29) Or again in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We … are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
D. In Christ all the man-made barriers have been removed (11)
– 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-28 (racial, religious, cultural, social)
Why as Christians must we get rid of the sin in our lives? Four reasons: 1) God’s wrath is coming because of these things. 2) These things belong to your old way of life. 3) God is making you into someone new. And then finally 4) In Christ all the man-made barriers have been removed. Look at verse 11 with me where Paul writes: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
God not only wants holiness in your new life but also harmony. Getting rid of the sexual sins in your life is all about holiness. Getting rid of the interpersonal sins is all about harmony. Holiness and harmony are equally important. The new self in Christ is not just the transformation of the individual but also of our relationships with each other. It’s not just doing away with sinful patterns or habits but also with the man-made barriers that divide us. These man-made barriers are merely human distinctions. They are not how God views us in Christ.
So what are these man-made barriers that have been removed in Christ? Paul names four of them: racial, religious, cultural and social barriers.
First, Paul says “there is no Greek or Jew.” This refers to racial barriers. In Christ all racial barriers have been removed. We are all one human race, and we are not to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race.
Next Paul says “there is no circumcised or uncircumcised.” This refers to religious barriers within Christianity. It doesn’t mean that all religions in the world are valid. We know that’s not true because Jesus is the only way to God. Rather it means we should not cause divisions in the body of Christ over religious traditions or preferences.
Thirdly Paul says “there is no barbarian or Scythian.” This refers to cultural barriers. Barbarian is what the Greeks called anyone who was not a Greek. The Scythians, who came from what is now Russia and Siberia, were viewed as the lowest and worst barbarians of them all.
And then fourthly Paul says “there is no slave or free.” This refers to social barriers – things like social or economic status, what we often call “class divisions” today.
Paul says in Christ these barriers have all been removed. They have no bearing or relevance on your new life in Christ, but Christ is all, and is in all. “Christ is all” means Christ is all that matters. “Christ is in all” means that Christ is in each of these as believers, so how can you discriminate against them?
It’s interesting, this passage in Colossians takes place in the wider context of your union with Christ as symbolized by your baptism in Christ. And when you look at other passages in Scripture that talk about Christ breaking down the barriers, these passages also take place in the context of baptism. For example, we read in Galatians 3: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28) Or again in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
We were all baptized into one body, which means we are all one body of Christ. Christ is the head of one body, and the body of Christ takes precedence over all man-made barriers and divisions. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Democrat or Republican, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Now that doesn’t mean we are all going to think the same on every issue. You can disagree with each other and disagree strongly, but what you must not do is fail to love each other. Christ is central, and in Christ all the man-made barriers have been removed.
CONCLUSION: You have been given new life in Christ, and that means you must make the conscious decision to get rid of the sinful practices in your life. You cannot receive new life in Christ and then continue to live as though nothing has changed.
What is the Christian’s attitude to sin? Get rid of it! You died with Christ; you have been raised with Christ; now Christ tells you to get rid of the sinful things in your life. So off with the old, on with the new! Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.