June 14, 2009
Put off the toxic waste of your old life, and put on the image of Christ.
I. Put to death, put off. (Colossians 3:5-9)
II. Be renewed, put on. (Colossians 3:9-14)
I’d heard a lot about the show Extreme Home Makeover, but I hadn’t actually watched an episode until this week. Those familiar with the show will know the producers pick a family in need of a new home, and usually with some other struggle in life, or a history of caring for others themselves that makes it fitting that they should be the recipients of the extreme home makeover.
Scripture teaches that you and I are like the chicken coop in this episode. Even after we become believers we’re in need of an extreme makeover. Our text this week, Colossians 3:5-12, contains familiar and yet powerful imagery encouraging transformation in the life of a believer. Paul calls us to put off the toxic waste of our old lives and put on the image of Christ.
I. Put to death, put off. (Colossians 3:5-9)
We’ve already read the context, so let’s begin by looking at verses 5-9. Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
The first word of verse 5 is very strong: put these things to death. It’s a command: not an option; not just good advice or one route of many; it’s mandatory. It’s also plural; it’s really ‘all of you put to death.’ I’ve been tempted lately to do a new translation, ‘the y’all Bible,’ because so many commands, including all those in this section, are plural, given to the community of believers, not to individuals in isolation. We’re individually responsible for obeying the commands, but we do so in community, through and for the life of the body.
So, y’all put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. This is a radical break with the old life, a radical rejection. If I asked you to walk into the next room and put to death the person you find there, your whole body, soul and spirit would rebel. Yet so evil, so anti-God, so destructive and toxic is our old sinful nature that we must participate in its utter destruction. Paul describes this sinful nature as ‘our members that are on the earth’ – that is, any part of you that clings to this fallen sinful world and its system, the part of you that clings to sin. Down in verse 9 Paul will call this earthly nature the ‘old man,’ the one that existed before you were redeemed.
In other places Paul commonly uses the term flesh, or sinful nature. Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Even in believers the sinful nature is working to keep us what we were, not what we’re supposed to be; to keep us from righteousness, from transformation.
Paul goes on to list specific sins believers must put to death: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. With the exception of the last, these focus on sexual issues. And notice the progression. Paul starts at the most acted out sexual sins and works toward internal desires.
‘Sexual immorality’ is acting out sexual sin, especially involving another person: adultery, or any sexual relationship or encounter outside marriage. Impurity is less other-focused, but still implies an acted-out expression of sexual sin. The third word, lust or passion, is inward: it’s the inappropriate expression of sexuality in the thought life. Finally, evil desire is a common expression for all the destructive desires of the sinful nature, not just the sexual ones.
So the question is ‘have you and I put to death inappropriate sexual behaviors, thoughts, and desires.’ It’s likely for many that the answer is no. Sometimes these thoughts behave like the zombies in terror movies – you think you’ve put them to death and they rise up to strike again. It’s an ongoing struggle.
So how do you do it? We can learn from the sad practice of euthanasia. First, take them off life support: get rid of every circumstance and technology that sustains these evil desires. Next, starve them to death. Paul says to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Finally, expose them: drag these desires into the sunlight of accountability and let them die of exposure.
The last item in this first list is different than the others: greed, which is idolatry. This keen insight can help us with the putting to death Paul commands. What is idolatry? It’s the setting up of false gods in the place of the one true God. What might these false gods be? Well, in our culture they are unlikely to be little wooden statues. Instead we put in God’s place stuff, and security, pleasure and power, recognition and affection, and ultimately, ourselves.
So whatever I purse that selfishly consumes me is my idol. It might be an intense desire to acquire. It might be the pursuit of a secure, risk-free life. It might be sexual sins, escapes like alcohol, drugs or games. It might be the attention, affection and even service of others – making others care for me. Whatever takes God’s place as the center of my attention and affection is my idol, and the desire for it, the greed for it must be put to death.
Paul emphasizes that in verse 6: “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” God doesn’t take sin lightly. Before you became a believer you stood with the mass of humanity in rebellion and sin against God; you were by nature an object of wrath. In Romans Paul says “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men.”
So, don’t harbor in your life the very sins that bring God’s wrath on mankind. Instead, verse 8: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” The first command was ‘put to death’. The second is ‘rid yourself’. It means to lay something down, to put it aside like an article of dirty clothing. Do you remember the early days of Ike relief? You came home from some messy job and thoroughly enjoyed the moment when you took off your dirty jeans.
It ought to be the same with anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language. This list focuses relational sins, sinful words and attitudes. These sins, like the others, are toxic, deadly poison to the sinner to those around him. To be the victim of rage, anger, malice, slander and filthy language has a huge impact on a person’s life, especially on a young person, especially if the person spewing that filth is a loved one or anyone who calls themselves a Christian.
We need to examine ourselves and be honest with ourselves. Am I angry? Is there an undercurrent of frustration that expresses itself in my relationships, subtly or blatantly? Do I rage? Does my anger give me the appearance of being out of control? I may not even feel out of control, but do I appear that way to those I’m hurting. How about malice? Malice is that sinful part within you that says other people deserve my wrath or anger. Malice can also be quiet – I don’t rage, I may not even get angry, but I think and speak and act in ways that place the blame and responsibility for relational stress on someone else.
That can lead to slander, the gossipy finger painting by which we stain someone’s reputation. The biblical standard is clear; it’s a shame how little it’s used: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Don’t go to your friend, your small group, not even your elder or pastor, but to the person. Get the log out of your own eye and go.
Verse 9 completes the list: “Do not lie to each other.” Lying is singled out because of its toxic effect on a community. What do we call people who say one thing and act the opposite? Hypocrites. What happens in a community where people hide their sins or make promises they don’t keep? Trust is eroded; the community becomes jaded and suspicious.
So put this stuff to death, lay it aside. As he gets ready to transition to the positive commands, Paul says ‘having taken off the old self.” His verb is the one commonly used of clothing. All your righteousness is like filthy rags: you’ve got to take it off. The vicious, toxic nature of sin calls for radical response. You can’t just ignore sin and hope it goes away. Like the chicken feces in the wall of the chicken coop, it will continue to stink up your life. That’s why on Extreme Makeover they go to the extreme
II. Be renewed, put on. (Colossians 3:9-14)
But Paul knows, just as Ty Pennington does on the TV show, that it is not enough to destroy, it is not enough to put off or even to put to death. Verses 9 and 10 are actually a balanced summary in which Paul moves to the positive side of this transformation. Beginning at verse 9 let’s read the rest of the section.
9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
When you take the dirty garments off you put the clean garments on; when you knock down the toxically infested shack, you have to build a building, or there is no place to live. Our calling is to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Probably the most important phrase in that verse, and possibly in our whole study, is ‘being renewed.’ These words are a wonderful reminder that someone else is at work. Yes there are commands in this section, yes we are responsible to obey them, but ultimately God himself is at work in renewal. What did we say in Ephesians 2? “You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” One of the good works God enables is the transformation of our lives from the image of our earthly nature to the image of Jesus.
We are being renewed. This renewal is present tense and continuous: you are being renewed, right now at this moment. It’s not a finished process, though you have put on the new self. It’s not all future, though it will be completed when Jesus comes. It is a present process in the present moment in your life.
You are being renewed in knowledge. Relational knowledge of Jesus gets hold of you, transforms you. Knowing about Jesus doesn’t do it, but knowing Jesus, his heart, his compassion, his comfort, his challenge, this does it. You’re renewed in His image. Paul explains in the parallel passage in Ephesians that your are “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Adam was created in the image of God, including moral and intellectual likeness to God. This image was broken by the fall, and needs to be restored. We are promised that one day we will “bear the likeness of the Man from heaven” – Jesus. Then “we will be like Him.” We are being changed into his image.
In verse 11 Paul puts this wonderful theology in very practical clothing: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” These were the divisions and groupings in the churches of the day. Slaves and free-men didn’t get along, didn’t trust each other. Circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles, apart from the transformation of Christ, could hardly stand to be in the same room.
But now a greater allegiance has taken hold. These people are being transformed into the image of Christ and in Christ these differences have been put off, put aside as part of the old nature. Shall I point this verse at us, my friends? Here, on this side of the line of redemption, there is no home-schooler or public-schooler, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, single person or family member, but Christ is all, and is in all and is all in all to all.
How do we live this? Verse 12 is Paul’s command: “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” One of the things I’d like to do in this series is to give you, each week, a key verse to mark and memorize. If your Bible isn’t open yet, please turn to Colossians. Take a pencil or a highlighter and mark this verse somehow to set it apart. Now say it with me: “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
The command is ‘clothe yourselves.’ Put on these things, so that these are what people see: not the filthy toxic rags of the zombie, but the image of Christ. Notice that Paul lays the foundation, again, in what God has done: He chose you to be his very own. He made you holy, declaring you righteous in Jesus, and he dearly loves you. You are dependant on him, and he is the source of strength for any right behavior you attempt. Transformed living is not based on human works, but depends on the grace of a God who loves us.
How should we be clothed? Paul begins with compassion. The word is literally ‘a gut of mercy’ or a gut feeling of mercy. Jesus had it. Matthew 15:32, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days with nothing to eat.” This is more than just seeing or even feeling a need. To be like Jesus, do something about those needs. Your old nature would like you to be indifferent – your new nature is to be clothed with compassion.
Next, kindness. The DeGray definition: Kindness is being nice to people. It’s doing nice things for people, being polite to them, seeing where they need help, thinking of their convenience. Three and four year olds can tell you ‘so and so isn’t being nice.’ Our old clothing was selfishness, but the imitation of Christ is selflessness that shows up in simple kindness to those around you.
Clothe yourself with humility. Humility means letting others have the credit, the honor, the starring role, the last word. It means be content with serving rather than spotlight. Christ sets the standard: “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!” In the community of faith we constantly strive to honor others.
Next, gentleness. The same words which, spoken gently, can build up, spoken harshly can destroy. The same actions which antagonize can attract if done with gentleness. Are you relating to your brothers and sisters in Christ gently? Harshness hurts relationships, it causes great and unnecessary pain.
The next quality is patience, being willing to wait, peacefully. Was anyone in your home impatient this morning? Did it lead to angry words, raised voices, frustration? The patient person waits for others. I’m learning that my agenda, my plan, my timing needs to be set aside, peacefully. Patience also waits for change, giving people time to mature and make progress. Consider the patience of Jesus toward Peter. No matter how often and badly Peter blew it, Jesus kept patiently correcting him, forgiving him, and loving him.
In verse 13 Paul adds another quality: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” In any community there are going to be things about others that grate, or that make you uncomfortable. Many of these are our own sin issues, or simply style and opinion issues. We need to lay aside those things. But where there is sin, there must be forgiveness. Communities are wrecked, ruined because people won’t ask for forgiveness, and people won’t forgive.
Finally, the seventh attitude: love Verse 14: “And over all these put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Love is like the ancient cloak, which went over the whole outfit and held it all together.
Love does bind all the rest of these things together in perfect unity, because each one of these things is an expression of love, so that like facets on a diamond, these attitudes, taken together, form something of perfect unity and beauty.
Do you get it? It’s a picture of taking off these sinful and toxic behaviors, and putting on the image of Christ. It’s being renewed in that image. It’s tearing the stinky chicken coop you’ve lived in and building a marvelous new home.
Extreme makeover. Put to death; put off; Put on, be renewed. As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved clothe yourselves through practical daily choices with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.