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 also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
(Colossians 3:5-8 NIV)
Paul builds upon each section of his letter to the Colossians. In today’s passage, he builds upon the foundation of verses 1-4, where he identified our current state as dead to our old nature and raised to life in Christ.
Paul quickly moves from the general teaching in verses 1-4 to very specific teaching starting in verse 5. Paul tells us to put to death anything associated with our old nature, in thought, word, or deed.
Paul begins his list of things that must die in us in order that Christ may fully live in us:
- sexual immorality
- evil desires
- and greed, which is idolatry
Notice that Paul starts his list with actions (deeds) and traces them backward through words and thoughts to the root cause of evil desires. Paul is not telling us to become practicing Buddhists and try to kill all our desires. Quite the opposite, in fact. Paul is telling us to kill our selfish desires and replace those selfish desires with our desire for God. We must clean out space for God to live in our hearts.
Please note that Paul is not advocating self-mutilation of our bodies here, as some would try to teach. Instead, Paul is telling us to clear our minds of old natural desires so that we can be consumed with God’s love and be filled with His desires.
As we look at Paul’s list, at first it may seem a bit odd that Paul would be talking about sex-related topics like immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires, then jump to greed / idolatry. In fact, these are a natural progression and closely related. Paul is arguing against the idea that we can be fulfilled if we can just get enough of these things to be satisfied.
Paul recognizes the law of diminishing returns is at work in our old nature. The more we have of something, the less it satisfies, leading us to want it all the more. This downward cycle continues until we are completely consumed by the thing we want and are left completely unsatisfied.
Paul reminds us in verse 6 that the wrath of God is coming because of these greedy, self-centered desires. If you want to see the full downward spiral of these thoughts, words, and actions, read Romans 1:18-32.
In verse 7, Paul identifies these thoughts, words, and actions with our old life, and not our new life. He calls us to take inventory of what is on our hearts and minds and do housecleaning as needed to make room for Christ to indwell our desires, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
In verse 8, Paul addresses another list of things to get rid of:
- filthy language
In this list, Paul moves on to address speech-related sins. Again, Paul is not telling us to take the vow of silence, but rather to change our speech from our old nature to our new nature. The change gives the Holy Spirit room to transform us into Christ-likeness.
Paul is in the middle of telling us what to put off and throw away before we can put on what God has for us. Paul knows that God will not leave us empty and unfulfilled, but rather needs to clear out the junk of our past to make room for the good things that He wants to fill us with.
May we joyfully and enthusiastically throw out all the old nature in us so God can work in and through us. The pain of our heart “housecleaning” is worth the joy and victory we have when we shed the old self and make room for Christ.