5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 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. 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).
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.2 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.