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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Die to What You Have Died to


“You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived.

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these...” Colossians 3:7-8

There is a difference, is there not, between having an offer on a house accepted and the day when the keys are placed in your hand? You are comfortable saying, ‘we have bought a house’ when your offer has been accepted, but you are, nonetheless, eager for day of completion to arrive.

There is a difference, is there not, between having done so well in your course work at school, that you only need an average performance in your exam to pass, and the day when the results are in your hand. You are comfortable with your performance, but you are eager for results day.

There is a difference, is there not, between Jesus having ascended into heaven and having started to reign over his kingdom, and the day when he will return and vanquish his foes and bring in his everlasting kingdom on earth. He is comfortable saying that he is reigning (1 Corinthians 15:25) and that he is rescuing people from the dominion of darkness and bringing them into the kingdom of his Son right now (Colossians 1:13) - he is in no doubt what his death, resurrection and ascension has achieved, and yet the day of consummation is yet future.

And, there is a difference between living right now in the knowledge that you have been redeemed by Jesus with his very precious blood and are saved, and the day when, with perfect resurrected bodies, you will enjoy the full fruit of complete salvation in a sinless and eternal union with Jesus.

We are therefore at peace right now and at war right now – eagerlyawaiting the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). At peace because of Jesus, and at war because of sin, and Satan and the world.

That’s what the Apostle Paul is telling the Colossians, and us, here in chapter 3. He’s saying, you’re not now what you once were – your life is hidden with Christ above - but you’re also not yet what you will one day be.

And the question becomes, how should I then live now – in this body here below? Paul is going to devote the rest of chapter 3 (verse 5 onwards) and the start of chapter 4 helping to shape what our lives here below should look like in light of the fact that our lives are hidden with Christ on high.

The fact that that’s what Paul is doing leads to an odd juxtaposition between verses 3 and 5.

In verse 3 Paul used the phrase ‘you died’. He was talking about conversion. In conversion, we died to our old self (v.3 & 9). And, we were raised (v.1) with Christ having put on our new self (v.10). The temptation is to think that if we died, and were raised, then the dying is done. But that’s not the case according to Paul in verse 5, because there he says, ‘Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature’.

So how should we understand this? If our old self is dead - our lives are now hidden with Christ above - surely what belongs to that old self is also dead? Paul says, ‘no’. Here below, in the tent of this earthly body, there remains earthly natural inclinations that need mortifying – that is to say, need putting to death.

Another way of saying it is like this: what we are above is ‘positional’and what we are below is ‘transitional’. What we are above is fixed and what we are below is changing.

Or another way of saying it is, what we are above is ‘justified’, and what we are below is being ‘sanctified’.

And another way of saying it is, what we are above we have been made, and what we are below is our growing up into the reality of what we are above.

Understanding this relationship between what has been done and what is yet to be realised - between what is true and above, and what needs to be accomplished below - is essential to grasping the way the bible talks about us as Christians.

Essential to understanding why it seems to be emphasising persistently that we are saved, and why it also seems to be emphasising persistently that we are being saved.

Why it seems to talk of what God has done on our behalf. And why it seems to talk of we must do to inherit eternal life.

Understanding this relationship between what is above and what is below saves us from robbing God of his sovereignty; it saves us from being flippant Christians; rather, it preserves real, vital, and serious Christianity.

So, this is important.

What is clear here in Colossians 3, is that the nature that we died to when we became Christians needs putting to death, repeatedly, in this life. And in Paul’s mind that nature has tell-tale expressions: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed (which is idolatry).

The life we died to was characterised by these kinds of expressions – both in thought and in action; both in mind and in heart; both towards God and towards our fellow human beings.

His argument for now taking up the spiritual sword and dispatchingthese inclinations is the very fact that, in Christ you died to this way of life at conversion. You saw them for the lie that they are, you counted yourself dead to them – in Christ – and you were saved out of them unto a new pure; spiritual; God-honouring life.

In other words, the reason for putting these things to death is that you already died to them. ‘Now live in the light of your death’, Paul says, ‘and demonstrate you really are dead to them, by putting them to death’. That’s what the word ‘therefore’ in verse 5 is for. ‘Therefore’ – ‘in light of the fact that you died, put to death’ is Paul’s headline.

You cannot say that you died with Christ to this way of life only to continue walking in it. And the main reason for that, is that this way of life is contrary to God - contrary to his nature, and contrary to his laws. How can someone continue to live at ease with a way of life that is contrary to God, when they say that, in Christ, they now belong to God?

Now, according to verse 6, it is because of this way of life, and the expressions of it, that the wrath of God is going to be revealed from heaven. Romans 1:18 helps us out here. It tells us, the truth of God is plain to everybody, but because people love darkness and hate the light of God, they supress the truth about God.

That suppression is called ‘wickedness’ and it is therefore worthy of God’s terrible judgement. Here’s how Jesus describes that wrath that is coming, Matthew 3:12, ‘His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire’.

The chaff are the wicked, and the payslip owing to wickedness is death. So, Paul says, don’t live as though you still belonged to that way of life – its wages are death!

And what did people do with the knowledge of God which they supressed? Romans 1:21 says ‘they didn’t glorify him, or give thanks to him, but their thinking became futile [no wonder Paul wants a mindset reset in the Colossian believers then], and their foolish hearts were darkened’ – John 3:19 says ‘they loved darkness instead of light’ – with their hearts they loved the darkness and not the light of God.

What else did they do? Romans 1:22 says they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images. They preferred the glory of man-made images. So, in light of the fact that this is the way that wicked God-haters behave towards God, here’s what Paul tells redeemed God-lovers to live like, Colossians 3:10, ‘Do not lie to each other, [why?]since you have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’.

So, here’s the reasoning: if it’s true that God-haters exchanged the glory of God for man-made images then what should we who are redeemed be like? We should be being made more like the image of the real God.

That means turning our backs on man-made images and turning our faces towards our creator God and being transformed into his likeness.

The truth is God made us – verse 10 confirms that, it’s not fashionable to say it, but the bible tells us it is so – and when he made us, he made us upright, holy and pure.

Before Adam sinned and passed on his sin nature to all his descendants, Adam was ‘very good’ in God’s estimation. But, what we find here in verse 5 is the perverted versions of categories that were good in the beginning.

We find the good and upright design of God for union between a married man and woman who love each other corrupted into immoral expressions of that good design.

God said, after making Eve out of Adam’s side that ‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become oneflesh’. That’s God’s good design for sex. But the word we have here in Colossians 3:5 is the Greek word Porneia from which we get our word pornography. So, you can see the kind of perversion of the good design God established, that Paul has in view here.

This earthly nature is also the opposite of who Christ is. He’s described as ‘holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners’ (Hebrews 7:26) but here what characterises our earthly nature is impurity – the opposite of Christ’s nature.

And it’s not just the outward expressions either. All outward expressions find their origins internally – in the heart.

The heart is the source of our desires and the heart that is corrupt, produces lust and corrupt desires.

Our hearts, between the cross and the crown, Paul is saying, are still capable of evil desires and these must be put to death – they are notconsistent with the new life that is with Christ above.

The fifth category Paul speaks of, that is consistent with an earthly nature, is greed. And notice he equates greed with idolatry. Why does Paul conflate greed with idolatry? Romans 1:25 says that wicked people, on whom the wrath of God is coming, ‘exchanged the truth about God for lie (which is what we considered last time) and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator’ - which is what idolatry is.

Idolatry is to worship what is less valuable as if it were supremelyvaluable.

God deems that a morally blameworthy preference and gives it a name – ‘idolatry’. And this is why Paul calls ‘greed’ idolatry.

Greed is the uncontrolled longing for material gain.

So, Paul knowing what we are like, and how easily we excuseourselves, knows the kind of things we have in mind when we think of idolatry – and it’s not greed. Rather it’s something akin to a golden calf, or to bring it up to date, a statue of Mary.

Paul is onto our waywardness here. He says, ‘when you so fix your affections on material things with an insatiable appetite for more – which is greed – then know for sure that that is a valuing of something in a manner that makes it out to be supreme, when there is really only one supreme treasure – God above’. Make no mistake about it, greed isidolatry!

So, these are categories of behaviour and attitude that are consistent with our old selves; our earthly natures, and they need to be consistently and with intentionality, according to Paul, put to death.

Not least because the wrath of God is coming as a direct consequenceof these things. But also, because you have died with Christ to this very way of life.

In verse 7 he says, ‘you used to (past tense) walk in these ways, in the life you once lived (past tense)’ The inference is, you must now walk differently.

Well if Paul wasn’t explicit enough in verse 5 when he said, ‘put to death’ it would be hard to misread in him verse 8, ‘But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these’. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; rather it is characteristic of many things that need to be dealt with in our lives.

And now again, we are given 5 things. And here I pause to make an inference. It does look like the first five traits (in verse 5) could be characterised by their relationship to God, and that these second five (verse 8) could be characterised by their relationship to others. And if that’s the case, then it’s likely that these two lists of 5 are intended to reflect the two tables of the old covenant law – called the ten commandments - and are also intended to reflect the two great commandments – to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

Whether that is the case or not, you can decide, but this list of five, at least, appears to have two expressions with their location in the heart, and three expressions that manifest themselves outwardly.

And it seems that the heart attitudes directly lead to the outward actions.

Anger and malice are the two heart attitudes. Jesus was very forthright about anger. He said, ‘anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment’ (Matthew 5:22). And malice is the internal desireto harm someone. So, these two are very closely related. You can see how harbouring anger can easily result in malice.

And then the natural outward expressions that accompany those heart attitudes are easy to identify with also. Anger overflows in rage – that intense outburst of emotional displeasure. And Malice overflows indirectly in slander – false statements spread abroad to damage a person’s reputation. Or, perhaps more directly, in filthy language.

Now, filthy language clearly includes the kinds of words that the world would consider unsavoury – all Christians should steer clear of language that even the world considers bad, or else fail to show themselves distinct from the world – but it is surely more than just the type of words Paul has in mind, it would surely have to also include cursing (James 3:10) and deceit (1 Peter 3:10) for example.

In other words, you can tear people down with your tongue in more than one way.

And then there’s lying to one another in verse 9. God does not lie, Titus 1:2 says. Therefore, don’t lie to each other - it’s not in step with God’s character and it wreaks untold turmoil and trouble in people’s lives.

All these things, Paul calls ‘practices’ and they are consistent with the old self which you took off he says in verse 9, not the new self you’ve put on.

So, perhaps the question now is, how do we do all this putting to death? Well, I could say ‘will power’. I could say, keep in step with the Spirit God has given you (Gal 5:24-25) that teaches you to say ‘”no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age’ (Titus 2:11-12).

I certainly think the New Testament teaches us to exercise our will to deal with these characteristic traits of the old nature. It teaches us not to resist the prompting of Christ’s Spirit that he has deposited in us, but to respond to those promptings with action.

But there’s another part to the equation that is explicit in Ephesians 6 and implicit here in Colossians 3 too. According to Ephesians 6:17, the Spirit of God has a sword of God and that sword is the Word of God.

A sword is an instrument of death which sounds useful since Paul wants us to be putting to death, according to verse 5. The way he refers to the sword of the word in Colossians 3 is in verse 10, with the phrase ‘renewed in knowledge’.

If you want to be like the creator, know the creator. And since you mustbe like him – Paul says you must – then you must know him.

The place you get to know him is in the revelation he has given you about himself.

This is how it works, the more you know of him - his character, his ways, his thoughts, his attitudes, his desires for you – the more you will see what is wrong with this earthly nature and its practices.

And, the more you see his purity, the more you will want to be pure – as he is pure. So, bible saturation is essential to what Paul is talking about in these verses.

Verse 11 is the final admonition to a Christ-likeness in our relationship with people. It leaves zero room for racism, or sectarianism, or xenophobia in the life of a believer.

Every believer, no matter what their background, is the same as you – Christ is their all Paul says, and therefore, Christ is in all his people, equally – no differences.

Therefore, whoever walks in through these doors professing Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, is not a Black person, or Conservative person, or a Traveller person, or a Professional person, or a British person, or an Old person, first and foremost (though they may be those things), but is a Christ person; is a co-heir with you of an eternal inheritance. So, there is no room for favouritism, for there is no favouritism in Christ (Eph 6:9).

To sum up then: what Paul is saying here is not the icing on the cake of Christianity, where the cross would be the cake. This kind of putting to death either happens, or a person is not what they say they are, or perhaps believe they are.

Which means this putting to death will happen in every true believer, and you will either hear him speaking to you loud and clear, and you’ll be thrusting with that sword come Monday morning, or you’ll have heard nothing and you won’t.

And that will testify about who you really are, if not in this life, then on that great day when many will say, ‘Lord, Lord’ and he will say, ‘I neverknew you’.

Here’s how Paul shows us that this kind of hard work by the Christian is not the icing on the cake, Romans 8:13, ‘For if you live according to the flesh [Christian], you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death [same phrase we have here] the misdeeds of the body, you will live’.

He’s saying the same thing there as he is saying here, except he’s adding in the consequences.

So, don’t ignore the consequences, let them be the spur that moves you to war as you stand, basking in the peace that is your life hid with Christ in God on high.


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