Monday, May 23, 2011

Colossians 09: Put on the New Self

Scripture Text: Colossians 3:5-11

Introductory Comments

For the next two weeks in Colossians, Paul is going to paint a couple of pictures for us. The first picture, if you were to see it in a museum, would consist of two sections. We can imagine that Paul might entitle this painting, “The Old Life as Adam.” Each section of the painting shows us an image the same sinful human being from two angles.

The second painting could be entitled, “The New Life in Christ.” In this second painting, Paul will show us the appearance of the person who is born again. The two paintings, as we will see, stand in stark contrast with one another. The subject for this week’s sermon is the first painting. We’ll talk about the second painting next Sunday.

The First Painting – The Old Life as Adam

The first painting shows us the old, dead, worldly life of an unsaved, sin-enslaved human being. The painting shows us the cause of death, which is sin. Paul commands those in Colossae, who have known the mercy of Christ and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, to cast off the trappings of this old life of sin and death.
[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.
This list of five items is the first section of the first painting. The first four items in this list of sinful vices are all related to sexual behavior. God’s Word has much to say about human sexuality and God-honoring sexual relationships, despite what many in the culture and the church would prefer. I’ll touch on each of these briefly:

Sexual immorality – This Greek term Paul uses here refers to almost all sexual sin apart from that ordained by God at the creation between one man and one woman united in marriage. Included under this term are unchastity, fornication, prostitution, relations with those who are too close in the family tree, et cetera. Paul makes it clear that those who engage in these behaviors have broken away from God.

Impurity – The term here is frequently paired with the previous term in the bible and in extrabiblical literature. This term refers to someone whose behavior is “determined by his commitment to his natural lusts.”1. These natural lusts are the result of living in the worldly ways of sin.

Passion – This word was commonly used by Paul to describe a “shameful passion which leads to sexual excess” and so is included in the list of things to be abandoned by faithful Christians.

Evil Desire – Not all desires are evil. But some are. Some desires take over the person who is still rooted in the ways of the world and can consume them. When I see this term here, I think of stalkers, for example, who are consumed with their desire for someone. This kind of desire represents a carnal lust which separates a person from God.

Covetousness, which is idolatry: The fifth and last item of this first list gets additional emphasis because Paul calls this covetousness “idolatry.” This is “the insatiable desire to lay hands on material things.”2. Because this covetousness is idolatry, it means that the thing, rather than God, becomes the object of worship. In the bible, idolatry is presented as a most grievous sin. Almost all other sins in the bible are inevitably the product of covetousness which is idolatry. It is covetousness that creates the unhealthy objectification of another human being in order to pursue sexual pleasure at all costs. It is covetousness which is at the source of our greed, our desire for more and more material and monetary goods. It is the seed which when it takes root in the heart leads increasingly us to increasing sinful outward expressions of sin. Covetousness leads to evil desires leading to sinful passions which lead to impure thoughts which ultimately lead to sexual immorality. What this first list, this first panel of the painting, shows us is how the sinful heart enslaves the sinner.

Paul says that it is on account of these things that the wrath of God is coming. God’s anger will be poured out on those who are idolaters in the heart and whose idolatries play out in the bedroom. Among other things, this text teaches us that God indeed knows everything that goes on with us. He knows the conduct of our hearts and he knows that corrupts our desires and our thoughts and he knows how that is lived out in our “personal” lives.

Paul also reminds the Colossians and us, somewhat uncomfortably: “Hey folks, you once walked this way. This is how you used to live. This is what life was like before Christ. But you’ve received Christ now. You’ve been transferred into his kingdom and have been raised with him into a new life which increasingly reflects Jesus’ life. Therefore, all these things I’ve just listed? They need to die, and they need to die right now if you have received Christ. If they haven’t died, then you are still in your sin and subject to God’s justified wrath.”

Think about where we live as a culture right now. Think of some of the images you see on the television or in movies or hear in music. Is this world not fraught with temptation for the Christian? Are we not always under assault to make an idol our of sexual pleasure? We must always take care when we put images in front of our eyes or when piping songs into our ears. And we should be especially on guard for the young people in our communities who are pelted by these things and are subject to even greater temptations.

All of these vices are part and parcel of the old life as a member of Adam’s fallen people, who are by nature subject to God’s justified wrath and anger for sin. Therefore, Paul says, Christians who have been saved must throw these things out of their lives because they are now Holy People in Christ, empowered by the forgiveness of Christ.

Paul reminds the Colossians, and us, that we all walked in these ways before our conversion. Think back to your own conversion. Do you not remember how your mind used to function? I can tell you most people do remember. For those who have not confessed and received forgiveness, the usual result of theses memories is a deep, deep shame. It is a shame borne out of the knowledge that what was done was contrary to the will of the creator. The shame is unresolved because the guilt remains. And the reason the guilt remains is that there has been no confession of sin and a pleading to God for the forgiveness granted by Christ. The reason we won’t confess is because our hearts our hardened. There are, perhaps, other vices besides these to for which we still find the illusion of joy. We are wary of letting them go, because we are convinced that the joy of following Christ could never exceed that of the joy of our sin. Think back over your life, dear ones. Reflect on your life now. Are there activities you are engaging in which cause you feelings of guilt? There is a reason for that. R.C. Sproul someplace once said that the reason a person feels guilty is because they actually are guilty. Everyone is born guilty. Not everyone seeks forgiveness. If you have not confessed your sin, will you not do so now, and receive the full and free pardon offered by Christ. He died to free you from guilt so that you can live into holiness in total peace and joy.

More Old-Self Tattered Garments

Paul continues:
[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.
Here is another perspective of the old self rooted in the sin of Adam. What is interesting about this list is how the first items, anger, wrath, malice, lead to the last two items – slandering others and using obscene language and the utterance of lies. The first list moved from the outside to the heart, and this list moves the opposite way. Imagine accidentally slamming your thumb with a hammer. Doesn’t the resulting anger and wrath produce obscene talk?

Anger and wrath are the tough ones on this list, I think, because it is extraordinary easy to get angry. But we must be careful. Not all forms of anger are sinful. For example, there is an anger which is rooted in witnessing things like gross injustice. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul writes, “[26] Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [27] and give no opportunity to the devil.” The teaching implication is this: Christians can get angry about things, but the anger ought not to last. The anger that Paul is writing to the Colossians about is the kind of anger which is rooted in the hatred of something or someone else, and which festers and over time grows over time. How often are you angry with circumstances or with other people? Does it last? Unresolved anger has a corrosive, divisive, isolating, effect. Resolve your anger, and if you need help resolving it, get it. Don’t let anger consume you.

Malice here probably means bad things we do to one another. This is troublemaking for the sake of inconveniencing or harming others. The word is placed next to slander. Slander defames someone else, and when the object of defamation is God, it becomes blasphemy. Christians are commanded to “speak evil of no one.” Small towns like Jackson are easily filled with these things, and greater harm usually results because there isn’t as much anonymity in a small town.

Paul concludes by telling Christians do not lie about anything to each other. Don’t make blithe promises you cannot or will not keep.

In this first painting presenting theses two views of the old, Adam-like life, you can imagine a central figure, representing an unsaved human, burdened by the tattered clothing of the old life, emblazoned with the vices and sins Paul has been listing out. The pictures aren’t very pretty, are they? And yet, Paul tells the Colossians, and us, that everyone is guilty of these things prior to our salvation.

Throw Off the Cursed Garments and Receive the Pure Clothing of Christ

Sara and I have kind of a recurring fun argument about my t-shirts. She monitors the condition of the necklines very closely, because they eventually wear out and become frayed. Inevitably, the request comes to throw out the tattered t-shirt. I usually protest a hasty trashing. Why is that, do you suppose? Well, I think it might be the same reason I like keeping blue jeans past their expiration date - they are comfortable.

Sin can be comfortable to us because it’s the way we’ve always lived. T-shirts are one thing, but sin is quite another. As Christians who are saved by the precious blood of Jesus, we are remade into holy people who need the new clothes that can only be granted by God. Those clothes are Christ. In Romans 3:14 Paul instructs his readers, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In the Old Testament, a constant refrain is to be clothed with righteousness. Psalm 132:9 reads, “Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy.”

That’s what Paul means when he says, “[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.” He uses the “put off” and “put on” phrase as one would with clothing. He’s reminding the Colossians, and us, that because you are in Christ and have been forgiven of all the sins represented on the two panels of this painting, you need to throw off the tattered garments, burn them up, and put on the new garment which is the righteousness of Jesus. Just as I should listen to my wife and toss the old, frayed, t-shirts, Christians are to immediately throw of any vestiges of sin which do not reflect the righteousness they have already been granted by being saved by God through Jesus Christ.

How about you? Are there some sins still clinging to you that need to be thrown off? Don’t hesitate! Throw them out by repenting, confessing, and living more fully into the news clothes of righteousness that you’ve already received in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Next week, we’ll look at the second painting, the one that describes how the “chosen one,” the elect of God ought to live, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Amen.

1O'Brien, Peter Thomas. Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1982. 182.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
May 22, 2011
Fifth Sunday in Eastertide
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew