Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices... Colossians 3:5-9
If there is one thing Colossians 3 makes clear, it's who we're not to be anymore.
We're told to "put to death" what is earthly (not of God) ... "sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness."
Let’s not miss the strong language Paul chooses. He’s not saying suppress it, hide it from the public, ignore it… he’s saying that it needs to die a very certain death. This man is not writing this letter lightly.
And we're told why - it's idolatry.
So, let's talk about that for a second. What is idolatry?
It's the act of seeking out what and who is not Jesus for what only Jesus can actually provide.
Let's make it tangible:
Relationships. If we are dependent upon relationships with others to experience peace and satisfaction in life, and so seek them out as the means by which we can experience the feelings we’re after, we've idolized relationships and/or the person we're in relationship with.
Addiction. Contrary to what many are led to believe, addiction is not about idolizing the substance or behavior, but the feeling(s) it leaves us with.
Keep in mind, this is being said specifically to followers of Christ as verse one indicates:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Paul outlines who we were and how we lived before Christ. Verses five to seven are like, “Listen, you used to be the people that walked in all types of immorality…”
Then verses eight through ten happen:
“But now, you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”
In other words, there are a lot of things you used to be, BUT NOW - now that you know Jesus and experienced a renewal of your identity - you can leave all that a behind.
Note there's more we need to “put off” ... anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. All of which flow from the things noted in verse five.
Interesting, isn't it? The only thing that comes from sin is more sin. We'll live lives of, say, sexual immorality to "fix" something within us, but since everything outside of Jesus is only a temporary solution to an eternal issue, we have to keep doing it to avoid feeling the void, and the byproduct is actually just more sin, and more things we don't want to feel.
Honestly, when I consider all of this and then I reconsider how verse five ends, "...which is idolatry," it seems to me that we're being told to stop idolizing ourselves.
Prior to Jesus, we were prone to live lives that had a spotlight on us. Life was about us, and us alone. How can I get what I want? How can I be happy? Who or what will make me feel the way I want to feel? How can I remove anything that stands in the way of that? If we are honest with ourselves, even the “good” things we did had a lot to do with how they made us feel. It was a life characterized by self-centeredness.
Realizing this brings Colossians 3:2 to life in a new way:
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
It's like he's saying, "It's time to get your mind off yourself, and your ‘here and now.’"
So, these are all things Paul is telling the church of Colossae they are not anymore. These are the things to be "put off."
But there is more than one thing Colossians 3 makes clear, praise God. It ends with six verses that provide complete clarity about the life we're invited to choose, and how to walk it out.
This instruction is necessary because to put things off, to turn away from something, leaves a void. That thing we used to pursue - the sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, covetousness - temporarily filled something in us, so to give it up means the void we were filling will be left empty. We’ll just be standing where we are, looking in the other direction, unsure of where to go next. Do you know where that leads us? Right back to what we used to be.
UNLESS we turn to something else that will fill it.
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. 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 3:12-17
First, we see that we are invited to trade “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” for “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…forgiveness.”
Take notice, each of those things we’re told to put on are things that consider others more than ourselves. The first thing Paul tells them to point the spotlight upward.
He goes on to tell them to put on love. I recently did a StudySeries that unpacks the very nature of love as displayed by Jesus, but in a sentence, I’d say Paul is taking the idea of repointing the spotlight a step further and encouraging them to live sacrificially. What comes from living this way? Well, a whole lot more than what was coming from how we used to live.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” If peace is ruling in our hearts, it is settled in and it has authority. It doesn’t just visit, it doesn’t flee and it does’t get walked on by other emotions. It’s there to stay because your heart is no longer overwhelmed by that which only dug the void in your heart deeper.
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Again, we see a word that indicates permanence, or being settled in. This is more than an invitation to hang up a Bible verse on the wall. This is a call to be so committed to knowing the truth of Christ that it lives in your heart, and it does so richly.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “rich” I think of something like chocolate cake. There is a notable difference between a chocolate cake that is rich in flavor and one that is not. When it’s rich, the flavor is strong, real, lasting, and satisfying. It’s not just some cocoa powder sprinkled on the batter. I think of this verse the same way.
Paul isn’t suggesting we should sprinkle some Scripture into our minds, so our lives look and “taste” like that of a Christian. He is inviting us to have the Word of Christ actively live within us, which interestingly enough, is the only way we will experience peace ruling in our hearts.
And why is this important? It’s the only means by which we can walk out the life He has called us to:
…teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Think of it this way; when our lives are saturated with his truth and peace, we can be the reason others “taste and see the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) and our hearts are postured to give God the glory He deserves.
When our hearts know real peace, and the Word of Christ dwells within us, our lives begin to shine light on others rather than shining a spotlight on ourselves. Life’s not about us anymore, and we find that it is better that way. We find that God is beyond worthy of our lives poured out for Him. We find everything we had been seeking in all the wrong ways and all the wrong places.
But here’s the thing the Lord has impressed upon me to end with…
When we put off what is mentioned in these verses, but do not put on what Paul writes about later in the passage, we are no different than the world.
The world can get sober, too. The world can stop sleeping around, too. The world can do business honestly, too. The world can be kinder and more patient with others, too. We all bear the image of our Creator because we were all created in His image, whether we all acknowledge it or not, and therefore have the capacity to reflect aspects of who He is (again, whether we realize it or not). Because unbelievers have not yet “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (v10)” they may not be characterized by it, but the point stands.
Colossians 3 is not Paul’s way of telling us to stop doing “bad things.” And Jesus isn’t just interested in telling you who you’re not anymore. We are called to far more than that.
Jesus wants you to know who you are now, in and through Him. In Colossians 3, just like the church of Colossae, we are being invited, or really instructed and encouraged, to be committed and surrendered to a Christ-like life, which requires more of us than to just stop doing what’s wrong. We are called to stop living the way we did before Christ, and start living like Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is in this that we discover who we are; this new person we are because of Jesus. In fact, Paul was kind enough to start painting the picture of our new identity in verse twelve when he wrote, “as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved…”
So, my friend, if you’ve “put off” some things, but you’re still standing in the same place wondering who you are and what you’re supposed to do now:
Run towards Jesus and leave everything you aren’t anymore in the dust behind you.