Colossians 3:5-11 A putting off - What not to wear

Bible Studies in the Book of Colossians

Colossians 3:5-11 A putting off - What not to wear

by I Gordon

I spoke last time about a coming day when all true Christians will be changed and found in His image. Among the many revelations still to come, Col 3:4 spoke of the two biggest ones - Christ shall be revealed and you shall be revealed with Him. Now from the glory and heights of that coming day we take a giant plunge back down to earth. You see, while it is great to spend time looking at what things will be like, the Lord is also incredibly interested in how things are here and now. We will be changed fully as we looked at last time. But we are being changed progressively as well. This part of Colossians starts the more practical aspect of the Christian life - things to put off and things to put on. In this study we'll be focusing on the former. Let's have a look at the passage:

Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Just an old fashioned list, right?

The passage starts with a list that is not really relevant anymore - sexual immorality, impurity, lust, greed or covetousness... It is interesting seeing the types of things that were present and causing issues back when Paul wrote this, but humans and society as a whole have evolved so much in the last 2000 years ago that these sins are no longer a problem. As a society, and as individuals, we are so much more advanced today, that this list is simply a thing of the past. Really, the Bible is just showing its age here is it not? Yeah right! Goodness - the truth is that we are 2000 years on but has the human heart changed one little bit? Nope. Just turn on and watch the 6 o'clock news! What do you see? You'll see the very same things that are mentioned here. In fact, all that has changed is society's acceptability, even approval in some cases, of these things. Let's quickly examine these things:

  • Sexual immorality (or fornication) - Any act of sexual sin such as sex outside of marriage or adultery.
  • Impurity (or uncleanness) - refers to impurity of thought, word, or action.
  • Lust, evil desires - Strong and unbridled passions/lust. Evil desire speaks of intense and often violent craving.
  • Greed (or Covetousness) - Strong desire to have - something or someone. It is said to be idolatry because it is placing and worshipping something, or someone, instead of the living God.

Paul starts with the outward acts and then moves to the inward motives. Outward acts of sin such as these don't just happen. They follow a series of wrong choices inwardly.  [1]  This list is one of many that the Apostle Paul wrote about.  [2]  They are things that have remained true throughout human history until, well, until about the last 40-50 odd years. It reminds me of something Stuart Briscoe said. I heard him speak a few years back when he came to Capernwray Bible College and mentioned how when he was young there were many virtues and many vices... many things that were morally right and to be desired, and many things that were morally wrong and were to be shunned and rejected. Today, Briscoe said, we are heading for a society that has only one virtue and one vice. That one virtue, that one thing to be desired above all is 'tolerance'. And the one vice, that one 'wicked' thing that is to be rejected and shunned is of course, 'intolerance'. Scary times!

Difficult times when world views collide!

So we live in difficult times where the Christian beliefs concerning the type of moral issues raised at the start of this passage stand in direct contrast with that accepted in the world. It is an age that is saturated with the things mentioned above. It is a hard age to live in. But we need to remember that this passage is not aimed at the woes of society as such. It is directed to the Christian. It is saying that we should be different. That we may have lived that way in the past but shouldn't and don't have to anymore. Now, I just want to state a few points about this:

1. None of us should think we are immune from these things 

This passage is addressed to Christians. Because of the sinful nature and the flood of this type of thing in the world, no one should consider themselves immune to such things.  [3] 

2. Putting to 'death' is not a one off event! 

'It says '  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.' 

'Death' makes it sound kind of permanent does it not? It makes it sound like you can kill it off and then that's it! It's all gone. I killed it! Hooray! I put lust and greed to death and never again shall I ever have to worry about them! It sounds wonderful but nothing in this fallen creation works like that.  [4]  'Death' and 'kill' in this passage doesn't mean without life or ceasing to exist. When you look this word up in the Greek it is '  used metaphorically meaning to deaden, to deprive of force and vigor.' 

3. We no longer have to be slaves to these sins or be under their power 

How is it deadened or deprived of force and power? This can only be done with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not within our power. But sin, as Romans tells us, shall not be your master for you are not under law but under grace. In other words, in all that God calls us to do, there is also an enabling power under grace to meet that demand. We shouldn't read these verses, or any of the New Testament, as a Jew would read the Old Testament.

As John Bunyan once wrote:

Run John, run, the Law demands, but gives me neither feet nor hands;
Better news the Gospel brings, It bids me fly and gives me wings

So there is an enabling under grace. It bids me fly and gives me wings. But it is a continual walk (or fly!). Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. And we have an important role in this to be careful what we are feeding upon. Because, as we have seen, the outward acts of sin follow inward thoughts and desires.  [5]  So what do you fill your mind with and what is your heart's desire?

Wrath is coming or 'comes'?

Colossian 3:6-7 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

Let's look at this in terms of our society for a moment. The word translated 'is coming' is actually in the present tense in the Greek. Literally 'comes'. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says  'this suggests that God's wrath has already begun (cf. John3:36). It will, of course, culminate in His future climactic visitation on evil.' 

Many think that because of what is happening in society, with a breakdown in morals and traditional values, it will lead to the wrath of God. I'd agree with that. But that isn't the full story. According to Romans chapter 1, when a society moves from worshipping the creator to worshipping the creation itself, it isn't so much a sign that the wrath of God is about to be poured out but that the wrath of God is being poured out. According to the Bible when men and women in a society abandon the desire for the opposite sex and are inflamed with desire for the same sex, it is not primarily a sign that the wrath of God is about to come, but that the wrath of God is already upon that society. It is the wrath of abandonment - a three-fold 'giving over' by God to do what they shouldn't. It is the wrath of abandonment where God withdraws His hand from society.

Glimpses of the future from the past

Now, will this lead to the future wrath of God? Well, look at the two lists we've got here. The first is mostly- not completely, but mostly made up of sexually related sins. What about the second?

Colossians 3:9 but now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

The second is mostly based around anger, rage and malice. The natural outcome of such rage is outward violence. Now what are the two main times where God poured out His wrath and judgment upon the earth in the Old Testament? And, incidentally, they are the same two times that Jesus used as an illustration of what it would be like leading up to the days of His return. What are they? 'As it was in the days of Noah...' and 'as it was in the days of Lot...' We've got the days of Noah and the days of Lot. So what characterized those days?

 Gen 6:11-12 now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 

The days of Noah were characterized by violence and the days of Lot by sexual sin - specifically homosexuality. That's an indication of what things will be like leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ. So it would be nice to read these things and say, 'whoa... look at what it was like back then in Colossae! Things were pretty immoral in those days... that Roman Empire, no wonder it was really destroyed from within before being defeated from without. I'm glad mankind has evolved into something far greater today. We've come a long way morally and spiritually since then!' Oh, no we haven't! We may have got somewhere but we seem to be coming full circle again.

So the wrath is here and it has come. There is a literal future wrath of God that scripture warns of again and again, and there is a present day wrath of abandonment - a giving over by God of societies that abandon Him.

Easy to point the finger...

Now, it's easy to point the finger - but we should again remember that this passage is not speaking about society primarily. It is speaking to believers. Paul is saying that we should put off all these things, the things of this world, and put on the things from above. So if the first list didn't quite get you, let's look closer at the second one! But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

The first list went from the outward acts to the inward motives. This list is the opposite. It starts with the inward. There's a little anger brewing down below. Someone has said or done something you don't like. There's a little bit of anger bubbling away under the surface. Now anger in itself is not necessarily sin but when the source of that anger is pondered and dwelt upon long enough it can become rage. The next step down this slippery slope is malice. Malice is a secret intent to do someone harm whether physically or verbally. You are going to get them back! The inward bubbling is starting to build and rise to the surface. And the results? Here they are: Slander and/or abusive speech. Slander is an attack on someone's character. It can be to their face or quietly speaking to others behind their back. But the intent is to cut them down - to destroy their reputation in some way.

Paul is saying these things ought not to be. It's not who we are anymore. Abusive speech, lying, filthy language, malice... none of this is exactly the love, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit now is it? There should be a change in keeping with the new creation that we have become.

(9) Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices, (10) and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Here we see that there is not only a taking off, but a putting on that is important. We have put on the new self - we have become new creations within but it takes a continual ongoing renewing so that this image of the creator comes forth. But the ability of God to change a person is amazing, even if your life was characterised by these sins listed in this passage. We've all got our own personal stories. But as a pretty radical example, (and a slight detour) I was reading about the Welsh revival of 1904/05 recently. I read the following:

'Countless numbers of souls were saved. No records were kept of the actual number converted, but 150,000 is a very conservative estimate during the first six months. Not only were individual lives changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, but whole communities were changed indeed society itself was changed - Wales was again a God-fearing nation. The crime rate dropped, often to nothing. The police force reported that they had little more to do than supervise the coming and going of the people to the chapel prayer meetings... Public houses became almost empty. Men and women who used to waste their money in getting drunk were now saving it, giving it to help their churches, buying clothes and food for their families. And not only drunkenness, but stealing and other offences grew less and less so that often a magistrate came to court and found there were no cases for him. Men whose language had been filthy before learnt to talk purely. It is related that not only did the colliers put in a better day's work, but also that the pit ponies turned disobedient! The ponies were so used to being cursed and sworn at, that they just didn't understand when orders were given in kind, clean words! The dark tunnels underground in the mines echoed with the sounds of prayer and hymns, instead of oaths and nasty jokes and gossip. People, who had been careless about paying their bills, or paying back money they had borrowed, paid up all they owed. People, who had not been friends for a long time because of something that had happened in the past, forgot their quarrels and were happy together again.' 

How amazing it is when the Holy Spirit changes lives! We will be changed into His exact image as Colossians says when He returns. But there is an ongoing change that should be shown because of the Spirits' work in our lives. This is obviously a radical example of God changing a nation but all true Christians are new creations in Christ. I know He changed me. Many would say that is still very much a rather large work in progress... but change none the less!

Christ is all and in all (Christians!)

Finally we see that God draws no distinction in those that can be changed. He is no respecter of persons.

Colossians 3:11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Think of any differences that you can get between people - they may be a different sex. They may have different nationalities or income and social standing. They may come from a different culture or have had a different education... Whatever it is, God draws no distinction in such terms. He doesn't judge by what man judges by. So what does matter? That Christ is all, and in all! But it also means that we can't blame any of these distinctions for what we are and do!  [6] 


To conclude this passage speaks of a putting off and a putting on. We've concentrated on the former in this study and we'll get onto the latter next time. And that is probably more important. We certainly don't just want to be known as people that are against certain things. We want, with God's help, to known for what we are. And these are the good things that we are to put on as indicated in verse 12 onwards: Love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience etc.

But nor should we become blasŽ and compromise with the sins that would seek to drag us back. I saw a quote from A.W. Tozer the other day that spoke about this. I sent it to a friend at work and he printed it and put it up on his wall. Tozer said:  'Religion today is not transforming people; rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending to society's own level, and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender.'  He wrote that in the 1960's. Gulp. What would he say today?

The fact is we live in a world that is getting more wicked and immoral and the Christian is in quite a battle. To close let me just end with an illustration that I saw on TV that spoke to me recently concerning this. I was watching the program North America. If you didn't see it, it is a wildlife documentary filmed in, well, North America. It was really well done in terms of the close up camera work and cinematography. On one of the first shows they showed a herd of Bison running across the plains. Mums, dads and little baby calves. But tracking them were three wolves. The wolves would run at the rear of the pack, pursuing them, looking for an opening. And when I say pursuing them, I mean it. This wasn't a 5 or 10 minute chase. The herd of bison would run across the whole plain and the wolves would be there following, just looking for an opening. The bison would cross streams or rivers and the wolves would follow. The bison continued running through a massive woodlands area and still the wolves would chase. The wolves were looking for any that were weak or trailing and finally they separated a calf from the rest of the pack. The mother of the calf went back to help but now it was three fast wolves against a mother and her calf. As I watched, the wolves bit at the calf's leg trying to disable it. The mother tried to fight them off but the wolves were quick and kept coming. Just when I was starting to wonder whether I want to watch this, finally there was a change. The calf itself began to fight back and kicked the wolf which yelped. The mother and calf bison were then able to get back into the pack and escape the wolves. Whew! I'm sure you're all relieved! : )

After watching it I thought about how sin is like that for the Christian. It's there, pursuing, nipping at people's legs trying to disrupt our walk, and trying to pick off the weak and tired. It tries to pick off those that are separate from the rest of the pack. Those that aren't fellowshipping or drawing close to the Lord anymore. It is a long pursuit. And one in which we must learn to fight back. We must put off the old and put on the new as the scripture teaches. That will be the theme of the next two studies as well.

[1] ↩  The Bible Believers Commentary states  : 'The various forms of sexual sin are described;, then they are traced to their lair, namely, the covetous heart of man.' 

[2] ↩  You'll find similar lists of sins to be avoided in (Rom.1:29-31; 1Cor 5:11; 1Cor 6:9; Gal5:19-21; Eph5:3-5).

[3] ↩  The following story illustrates this. It is taken from the book 'Extreme Righteousness' by Tom Hovestol, page 47.
'Several years ago a Christian leader sat in a college President's office gathering his thoughts just prior to walking out and giving the commencement address. A member of the college board of directors was also in the office and fumbled to make conversion with his guest. Finally he blurted out a question. 'If Satan wanted to blow you out of the water, how would he do it?' The speaker paused, taken back by such a question. 'Well, I don't know how he would do it' he finally began. 'But I know how he could never do it. Satan will never get me on an issue of personal relationships or morality. He just can't. I'm too strong there. I have paid all my dues in my marriage and my family. I've made a science out of it. I've written about it. I have a great marriage. So he may get me through pride, maybe through some arrogance, he may get me in a hundred other ways, but that's one way he will never get me.'

Sometime later the leader fell into sin in a moral area.

[4] ↩  I weeded the vege garden about a month back. When I say weeded, I mean weeded. This was not some half-pie effort. I got rid of all the little and not so little weedy nasties. I made sure I dug under the earth, pulled the roots out, tried to get any bulbs if there were any. By the end I had the most pristine looking vege garden in the street. If not the city. I said to my mother - 'Right, that's it. I've done it. Got them all. Nothing but pure good soil from here on in. I'll never have to weed again.' When I got that look I said 'Ok, how long have I got?' 'About 4 weeks' came the reply. Sure enough... 4 weeks is up and they are back. Drat! Unfortunately I'm finding that weeding is not a one off event and neither is the putting to death the deeds of the old nature.

[5] ↩  A.B Simpson said it well  ''The reason why multitudes of Christians are famished and feeble is because they are trying to live upon the husks or the fruits of this world. They are longing for the flesh pots of Egypt or the quails of lust and are weary of the simple bread of God. They feed on man's philosophies, the protoplasm's of materialism, the sensationalism of the novel... or the husks of the market and stock exchange, instead of the pure, sweet, sustaining word of God.' 

[6] ↩  Ray Stedman is good on this. He writes:

 If you detach that from its context it sounds like a great statement of the Oneness of the body of Christ, which, of course, it is. But in this particular context, dealing with putting off the expressions of the old life, this verse is saying that we can no longer excuse wrong conduct on the basis of class, background or origin. Have you ever heard a Christian say, "I know I have a temper, but I can't help it. I'm Irish. All Irishmen have hot tempers." This is the kind of thing Paul describes. There is no longer to be any of that for you are no longer what you once were. Someone else says, "I'm Italian. That is why I lust. All Italians are hot-blooded." Or, "I'm stingy, but I'm Scotch." Or, "I'm blunt, but our whole family is that way." No, says Paul, we no longer can retreat to that kind of excuse for we are no longer what we were born to be. All such background of class, national origin, training, education, whatever it may be, is all set aside because you are now linked to Christ. "Christ is in all"---all believers---and, therefore, we all have what it takes to say no to wrong and to say yes to God, so that our lives are filled with love, peace and joy.