I’m preparing for a message on Colossians 3:1-17 to present at next Friday’s chapel service at Dallas Seminary. It’s really a passage that addresses the very practical issue of “How do I overcome sin in my life?” The big picture of the passage is straightforward – replace the old dirty clothing with new clean things, consistent with your new nature in Christ Jesus. But today, I’m fascinated by how many different ways you can handle the list of sins of the old nature.
First a question: “Of all the negative traits Paul could have listed, why did he choose the ones he did?” Perhaps these sins of immorality are most offensive to a holy God: Immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, and idolatry (3:5). Perhaps there’s something to be said for how easy it is for us to allow sexually related sins to pull us away from close connectedness to God. All this leads to covetousness (greed and idolatry), which the tenth commandment condemns.
While this list seems to go from action to motive, the next list – anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying — seems to go from motive to action (3:8). John MacArthur handles these issues very nicely on pages 135-145 of his commentary. Whether it’s action or motive, it doesn’t have a place in God’s character and therefore should not have a place in our character. Indeed, in 3:9, Paul writes that when we became followers of Christ and received a new nature, we “laid aside the old self with its evil practices.” The word is actually, “we violently ripped off” those old, dirty, smelly clothes. It reminds me of my mother’s reaction when I (at age eight) walked into the house after exploring a dead skunk for about fifteen minutes. “Get out of those clothes immediately! They have no place in this house!!”
In addition to handling these words in a string, we can probe each one individually to yield a vivid picture of what we are to “put aside.” For example, immorality (porneia) is the root of our pornography, which has to do now with a wide range of sexual sins. Impurity (akatharsia) literally means not clean. Our word catharsis comes from this and means the release of bottled up emotions, or an emotional cleansing. Slander (blasphemion) is the root of our blaspheme or blasphemy. A student of ancient language could have a heyday chasing down the richer meanings of each of these words.
I think a more do-able study would be to take each of these words and see what the book of Proverbs has to say about them. The pastor of Rock Valley Bible Church did this in a sermon in 2006. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 hits several of these in one sweep.
“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”
Yet another way to illustrate how common these traits are (as well as how they contradict the character of God) is to find examples in the lives of biblical characters. For example, Achan coveted some silver after Joshua’s men capture the city of Ai, resulting in great “trouble” for all the people. It’s interesting to me how easy it is to find examples of sin as well as their consequences throughout the Bible. It’s a little harder to see sin so clearly in my own life.
But however vivid our picture, the challenge is to not give in to these things. How do we avoid what comes so naturally? I think the first step is to see clearly (and honestly) what we need to avoid. For example, if I rationalize that candy is a treat or a reward, I am likely to give into my desire for it. But if I see it as a poison that is potentially deadly, it helps me respond to it less enthusiastically. Problem with sin is that it’s always wrapped in an attractive package and seems so harmless at first. We prefer to stick with what’s familiar, predictable and comfortable rather than change to something more healthy and pure.
Even if we’re successful in “putting aside” all these negative things from our lives, we have done only as well as the Pharisees. Jesus said very clearly that we need to do better than that. So, in addition to avoiding the ungodly things, we need to discipline ourselves to “put on” the godly characteristics outlined in the following verses. Another blog. Another time.
Click here to link to the actual chapel talk that I’m adding on April 27, 2008. There’s a 15 second add at the beginning, so just let it run through.