Nathan Schneider

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Growing in Christ Includes Killing Sin

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 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. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:5-11

Addition by subtraction. Everyone has heard this statement repeated at some point. Although this is not a complete picture of growth, especially in the Christian life, it does accurately point out that there’s often a need to put aside certain things in order to attain better things. We see this in a number of circumstances. For example, people will stop eating certain foods in order to become more physically fit. Men and women put aside relationships with others as they become more serious with each other. Those transitioning into a better position in their workplace are often forced to cease doing their typical responsibilities.

The same is true for Christians growing in their faith. In Colossians 3:5-11, Paul urges the Christians to likewise lay aside their former behaviors in order that they may live more godly lives. Paul’s charge is for Christians to “rid” themselves of sin and pursue Christlikeness (e.g. 3:12-17).

Motivation: the Gospel

We often use two motivations for growing in Christ: 1. consequences, and 2. rewards. Consequences is the easier one to focus on because we’ve all experience consequences to our actions. It’s also easier to focus on consequences because we feel that we can more easily motivate ourselves or others into action out of fear. Paul uses this motivation when he says, “God’s wrath is coming.”

However, he does not end the conversation there. He includes this statement, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” He would add later, “since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” In other words, “You are no longer held by the power of this former way of life. You have been redeemed by Christ and are now a new creation, being renewed to something better.”

The gospel, then, is our primary motivation for change because it reminds of certain truths that give us perspective and power:

  • We have died with Christ and have been raised to new life (Col. 3:1-4).
  • Sin no longer has power over us because Jesus has already overcome the power of sin (2:13-14).
  • We have been rescued from sin for something better, reconciliation through Christ and to Christ (1:12-14; 21-22).

Goal: Christlikeness

As Christians, we have been rescued by Christ for something better. Paul wrote in Colossians that we are “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We no longer have to live in sin. One day all believers will be made perfect and to spend eternity with God in heaven. This is a reality already declared to be the case by God. However, the great thing is that we don’t have to wait to live out this reality. Because of our redemptive position in Christ, we can work out our salvation. We have been positioned to grow in Christlikeness and this is much BETTER than sin. Therefore, let us lay aside sin in the pursuit of something greater. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Context: Christ’s Community

Finally, lest we endeavor to kill sin on our own, let us not forget that we fight this battle alongside of others. Paul’s argument to kill sin ends with a reminder that in Christ, we’re all equal and all in the fight together, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” In the same way that you would never see a soldier leaving his regiment to fight the war himself, it doesn’t make sense for believers to fight alone. In the fight against sin, Christians would be best served to have the support, encouragement, and accountability of others.


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The Necessity of Mortification

Christians are constantly engaged in active battle:

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another… (Gal. 5:17)

At any moment, ground is being won. We are either aligned with the Spirit and overcoming temptation or giving ourselves over to the enemy. My track coach used to tell us as athletes, “Every day you are either getting better or worse as a runner. There is no such thing as staying the same.” C.S. Lewis may have said it better as it pertains to our spiritual lives, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

Think of how unfair it is when we choose to put things before our eyes (literally and figuratively) that aid the enemy in battle. When we do this we are putting weapons in the hand of Satan, while de-arming the Spirit. John Owen illustrates this in spiritual battle:

Now this is, first, the most unjust and unreasonable thing in the world, when two combatants are engaged, to bind one and keep him up from doing his utmost and to leave the other at liberty to wound him at his pleasure; and, secondly, the most foolish thing in the world to bind him who fights for our eternal condition and to let him alone who seeks and violently attempts our everlasting ruin. THE CONTEST IS FOR OUR LIVES AND SOULS.

This is unjust and unreasonable. Imagine what this would look like on the beaches of Normandy – soldiers being forced into the fire of enemy soldiers while they march uphill empty handed. WE MUST FIGHT! Or as John Piper says, “Make war with sin!” However, to do this in our own power is a great travesty. For to fight apart from the Spirit is to have “no strength in combat.” It is to fight the necessary battle, but always come up short and never conquer. Instead being a Christian soldier means actively allowing the Spirit to fight through you:

He (the Spirit) works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to work itself.

How does the Spirit mortify sin?

  1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them.
  2. By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away.
  3. He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death and fellowship in his sufferings.

For more: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen.

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The Denialator

This past summer, our youth group spent time studying the latter days in the life of Jesus. On one particular Wednesday night, we looked at Peter’s denial of Christ. Looking at this story, we also drew on the point that we continue to sin and this has a negative effect on the Christian witness. To help illustrate that point my friend Shane and I (the intern) decided to make a video about the fictional character, the Denialator. This then is that video:

These were the denialators:

I. Realize our vulnerability
Peter denied being a follower of Jesus three times and he even denied ever knowing Him.  This came after Peter’s declaration just hours before that he would die for his faith, “If I have to die with You, I will never deny You!” (Mk 14:31) The rest of the disciples followed suit, but when actually confronted there was no one by the side of Christ.

We cannot forget that we are still prone to sin.  John warns us that we should not deceive ourselves by thinking that we will not sin (1 Jn 1:10).  There is sin and there is also the enemy, Satan and his cohorts, who are out to destroy us (John 10:10).  We must always be on our guard by depending on the Spirit to bring us through our daily lives.  Understand that the more we let go of trying to defeat sin ourselves and instead surrender to the power of God, the more likely we are to be pulled through moments of temptation (1 Cor 10:13).

II. Recognize God’s presence
With Jesus by his side, Peter was willing to stand against 600 Roman soldiers.  However, the moment he realized that His Lord was gone he denied everything about his faith.  I know I always felt stronger when my dad was by my side and it’s the same thing with our relationship with Jesus.  The more in tune we are to His presence, the more confident we can be about our faith.  Paul reminds us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).  To pray continuously is less about a position and more about the constant recognition of God’s presence and dependence on His will.

III. Remember our place in Christ
Peter denied being one of the disciples (Jn 18:17).  When we have a better understanding of who we are and what we’re about (see next point), we will be less likely to deny the very thing we are: God’s.  He is our Creator and the one from which we derive our meaning and purpose.

IV. Reinforce our commitment to sharing the Gospel
One of the things that strikes me about the denial account is that Peter missed out on an opportunity to talk about Jesus, his best friend.  As Christians, we have been given the awesome responsibility of telling others about Jesus (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor 5:18-20).  When sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes our passion, encounters with other people turn into opportunities.