Putting Off the Old Self


It’s a lot more effort than it looks

This is a sermon on Colossians 3:5-11. Download sermon outline/commentary and audio.

Christians must put off the old self by putting it to death because they have been and are being renewed in gospel-knowledge after the image of Christ. Remember there are no higher class Christians based on any earthly differences because Christ the new self is in all. Christ in you is all you need to live for God.

Introduction – Many times in the last year I’ve encountered the idea that being a Christian is all about “doing what is right.” As if the gospel message is “be a good person.” This idea is generally expressed in a generic-God, moralistic, feel-good way. Something like: Johnny saw someone who needed help, and when he did the “right thing,” he felt good about himself (which means God approves), and then he finally understood what it means to be a “real Christian.” Why is this idea about how to be good so widespread? Most people want to be considered good. Most consider themselves good because their standard is other people who are not as good. Even religious people often do this—forming teams, drawing up a behavioral code, and then boasting in their higher morality, as if this makes them better than others. The problem is God’s standard is much higher than “other people.” God requires a rigorous and vigilant goodness, a morality so high that no one can live it—unless a person is somehow converted into a new kind of human being. This is really bad news! Has God made for you a way to become a new person?

I. How Not to Live

The gospel is not a list of dos and don’ts, although a superficial reading of this passage is often understood this way. Such lists are always embedded in the gospel story that gives prohibitions their meaning. This sin list is in the context of a story about death and life, earth and heaven, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus Christ, the central character of this story, wraps this sin list in grace and hope.

A. Sexual sins (v. 5)

1. This list of five sins (literally “members” since they adhere so closely to our old self) majors on sexual practices. God emphasizes the importance of bringing this area of life (our sexuality expressed in thoughts, words, and behavior) under the Lordship of Christ. God cares very much about your sex life and your thought life about sex. He seeks to keep us godly and pure, that we might be blessed and enjoy his good gift of sex to humanity.

2. The five sins listed and defined. (1) Sexual immorality (porneia) encompasses every kind of sexual activity outside of marriage (one man and one woman), meaning unchastity, prostitution, fornication, and various kinds of unlawful sexual intercourse. (2) Impurity (akatharsia), meaning uncleanness, refuse. (3) Passion (pathos), especially of a sexual nature. (4) Evil desire (epithumia and kakos), meaning the evil forms of eager desire, longing, passion, concupiscence (strong sexual desire). (5) Covetousness (pleonezia), meaning greediness, insatiableness, avarice.

B. Verbal sins (vv. 8-9a)

1. This grouping of sins corrupt and destroy social relationships in the Church: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. These deal with angry and abusive attitudes and speech. Observe that anger and wrath, when they become heightened and settled, become malice.

2. The six sins listed and defined. (1) Anger (orge), meaning wrath, indignation, judgment. (2) Wrath (thumos), meaning anger, rage. (3) Malice (kakia), meaning badness, faultiness in the sense depravity, wickedness, vice, evil, ill will, malignity. (4) Slander (blasphemia), meaning abusive speech, reproach, blasphemy, a reviling judgment. (5) Obscene talk (aischrologia), meaning evil speech, in the sense of abusive speech, dirty talk. (6) Lying (pseudomai), meaning tell a falsehood, deceive by lying.

C. Prideful sins (v. 11)

This grouping of sins is not explicit, but still quite clear. Paul lists a number of different labels used to divide and thereby discriminate against others. These deal with pride and prejudice, elitism and holier-than-thou, condescension and hatred. (1) Greek and Jew: reason vs. religion. (2) Circumcised and uncircumcised: holy vs. unholy. (3) Barbarian and Scythian: unsophisticated vs. scum of the earth. (4) Slave and free: low vs. high social status.

This is where some sermons usually end. “You know what to do now, the sermon is long enough, let’s wrap it up!” But ending here will set us up to become either moralists (I can do this), pluralists (I don’t need Christianity to know this), or just indifferent (that’s tough so maybe this life is not for me).

II. Who Can Not Live Like This?

The Moral Law is transcendent. It manifests itself not only in every people group, but also in every person (Rom 1:18-21). Notice those who deny these things are sins and so do them always object when they are on the receiving end. And those who admit these are sins nevertheless practice them (Rom 2:1).

A. Religious and secular people live (and die) in these sins (vv. 5-7, 11)

Despite the secular myth that the religious mindset is dying, most of the world’s people are still religious. Yet our churches, temples, mosques, and shrines are full of religious people who are guilty of these kinds of sins. Many of them are unrepentant. Clearly having or practicing a form of religion does not empower people to avoid sin. Secular folks are not doing any better. So not having or practicing a form of religion does not provide any moral power either. Even for those religious or secular people who attain a measure of external morality, their hearts are gripped by fear or pride. Fear of slipping up again. Pride in comparing themselves to others. But tragically fear and pride simultaneously feed and devour each other until a person destroys himself. Fear produces apathy and despair. Pride produces arrogance and carelessness. God’s wrath awaits.

B. Civilized and barbaric people live (and die) in these sins (vv. 5-7, 11)

If being civilized made people moral, then we’d expect advanced civilizations to grow increasingly moral, and primitive societies to be less moral. But what anthropologists, historians, and sociologists find is that the same sexual, verbal, and prideful sins plague us all. Lord Byron and the Marquis de Sade were two famous “civilized” people who lived like this. One might think of contemporary famous people who live like this in Hollywood, in government, or other “cultured” circles. It’s no use looking down on barbaric peoples for their immorality when the civilized world is hypersexualized, characterized by deep-seated anger, and steeped in an us-vs-them culture war mentality.

C. Empowered and disenfranchised people live (and die) in these sins (vv. 5-7, 11)

Are free peoples morally superior to enslaved peoples? Do the haves morally outrank the have-nots? Does attaining power make a formerly powerless man moral? Does being the boss somehow make you less likely to live in these sins compared to your employee? To ask these questions is to demonstrate their absurdity. Who can not live like this?

III. Only Renewed People Can

A. The image of Adam is the old self; the image of Christ is the new self (vv. 9-10)

The old self is earthly and spiritually dead. The new self is heavenly and spiritually alive. To be a Christian is to be renewed in the image of God. Only those who are dead to the old self and alive to Christ in the new self are renewed people. There is no other way to get a new self. There are only two men: Adam and Jesus Christ. You are either still in Adam the natural man of the earth, or you are now in Christ the spiritual man of heaven (1 Cor 15:45-50).

“There is one kind of man – the man trapped in the total depravity of his sinful nature, inherited from his father Adam (Rom. 5:18). And since there is only one kind of man, there is only one kind of salvation – faith through the second Adam, Jesus Christ.” ~ Tim Challies

B. Sin is a “not-yet-beaten” cancer when Christ is in you (vv. 5-7)

The only wise way to treat your cancer of sin is with Christ who is the only cure. Set your mind on Christ who is your life (Col 3:1-4). When you see that Jesus Christ put on your sin so that you can now put it off, when you see that Christ was put to death on the cross for you to give you a new self, you will find power to more and more put off the old self. The more you look to Jesus and find yourself worshiping and adoring him in his goodness, purity, love, and kindness, you will find your heart affections changing. You will desire to please him by following him. If Christ is in you then you have the cure to the cancer of sin. He has already given you new life, but you still have to fight the indwelling sin with God’s enabling power (1 Cor 15:54-58).

C. Practical Instructions

1. Ruthlessly put to death sexual sins (v. 5). Joseph is a good role model. He literally ran away when sexual temptation confronted him. Most of us have never faced the problem of minding our own business when suddenly someone throws themselves at you. But it does happen! Usually sexual sins begin in the imagination. You see an image or link on the computer screen. You read a passionate story. You view a suggestive or explicit scene on TV. You notice the attractive coworker or neighbor. Or you just find your daydreams crossing into lustful thoughts. Now you have a choice. Will you go down that path? Or will you do battle with that temptation? That is the choice in the moment of temptation. But there is another choice. Once you understand your temptation triggers, what choices will you make about those triggers to put sexual sin away by putting it to death? Here are a few ideas. (1) Put to death pornography use. Take drastic measures to cut off your access to it. Then seek accountability and other helps. (2) Jealously guard the holiness of the marriage bed: your bed and your neighbor’s bed. Jealously guard the holiness of the Church. Of course our zeal for holiness must be governed by the amazing grace of Christ, but that grace must never tolerate sin. (3) Be aware of how easy it is to find someone willing to have illicit sex, and completely avoid the avenues that facilitate it. This includes popular web sites and apps designed to make sex readily available, anonymous, and adventuresome. (4) Stamp out sexual sin in your mind. Don’t ignore or wink at sexual temptation. Do battle against it. Kill it. By God’s grace and in his strength you will beat the cancer. (5) Visit Harvest USA’s website, a ministry that cares for sexually-hurting people in Jesus’ name.

2. Repeatedly put off verbal and prideful sins (vv. 8-9). In this passage the language of “putting off” evokes disrobing. “Putting off” language is sometimes associated with baptism, and sometimes associated with the “cutting off” of circumcision (Col 2:11). Here it applies to Christian moral behavior. Think of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:38-44). Put off those grave clothes because you are not dead anymore—you are dead to sin. Here are a few ways to practice this. (1) Confess your anger to the person you are angry with. Apologize. Own it. Don’t make excuses or justify yourself. (2) Learn your anger triggers and your boiling point. Ask God for patience and wisdom to recognize when to walk away to keep your temper. (3) Repent of harboring personal vengeance against your enemies. Leave it in God’s hands. Pray for your enemies, who may be in the “old self” as you once were. (4) Associate and befriend all kinds of people, especially in the Church, who are different from you. Cultivate relationships across race, culture, cultural sophistication, socio-economic status, religious affiliation, educational level. Get over yourself. Laugh at yourself. Be humble about yourself and proud of others. Trust God will still love you when you’re afraid to do so. Remember Christ transcends all our differences with other believers. He is in every believer. No believer’s new self has higher value than the image of Christ in any other believer.

3. Relentlessly pursue knowledge of (not merely about) God in Christ (vv. 10-11). In his classic book Knowing God, J.I. Packer distinguishes between Christian travelers and balconeers. Travelers seek to actively know God, while balconeers are content to passively observe travelers and to merely know about God. If you have trusted in Christ as Savior from the “old self,” and as Lord of your “new self,” then you are being renewed in the image of Christ. Pursue this “new self” renewal as a traveler by gaining true knowledge of God in Christ. Here are a few ideas. (1) God reveals himself in the Bible. If you haven’t read the whole book, you need to. If you are out of the habit of reading and pondering it, begin again. Regularly read, study, and discuss it with other Christians. Do Bible study with someone else who is not as far along the traveler’s road. (2) God reveals himself through prayer. The spiritual discipline of prayer is a weakness for all of us. It is both simple and difficult. That is why we are seeking ways to encourage private, small group, and corporate prayer. (3) God reveals himself in the midst of fellowship. Pursue God in Christ while fellowshiping with other Christians. Engage with the Church in shared relationship and gospel partnership. Learn to love, live, and work alongside believers who seem different from you. (4) Give thanks to God in Jesus’ name in everything you do: worshiping, working, eating, drinking, speaking, sleeping, playing, planning, rejoicing, mourning, laughing, crying, loving. Everything. A thankful heart is a heart putting off the old self and putting on the new self which is Christ.

Conclusion – A Christian knows he is dead to the old self because that old man died when he was crucified with Christ. But putting off sin by putting it to death is not the only action the Bible calls you to. Once a Christian puts to death her sin, she must also put on character appropriate to her new self, which is Christ. A Christian is not only one who has died to sin, but also one who is alive to God. This we will consider next time (Col 3:12-17).

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