5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.Colossians 3:5-11
If you look back over the first seventeen installments of our study of Colossians (this is the eighteenth!), I have said again and again how much I love the book of Colossians. And I do. How much I love to study it. Again, I do. But the book of Colossians can be tough – it is meant to be, yet it is loving in its toughness. I am not particularly excited to write on this particular section, though. Why? It deals with sin.
Oftentimes, if asked, church folks would remark that sin is a constant topic in sermons they hear. And it may be in some places. I am reminded of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show that features Barney Fife, sitting right on the front row, sleeping through the sermon of a prestigious visiting preacher. As they were filing out of the church, Aunt Bee, Andy, and Barney stop to talk to their pastor and the visiting preacher:
Aunt Bee: Oh, Dr. Breen, your sermon has such a wonderful lesson for us.
Andy: Yes, sir, you really hit the nail right on the head there.
Barney: Yes, sir, that’s one subject you just can’t talk enough about…sin!
The studio’s laughter follows as does Andy’s embarrassment, but this reveals something about the nature of people’s attitudes toward preaching and studying the Bible – especially within the church. There is a hellfire-and-brimstone view that has left many callous toward talking about sin, in some cases injured by a misuse of talking about sin, or ignorant of it because some pastors refuse to talk about it at all.
When we talk about sin, read about it in the Bible, or listen to sermons from passages that deal with sin, what do we say, understand, or hear about it? If asked, most who are part of a local church would say that they believe the Bible is true and what it says is necessary to live, but what about when we get out into the world? What about our lives and the lives of those around us? When the rubber hits the road, the majority of us would definitely disagree with Barney and feel that we have had enough talking about sin.
Before we get into this passage, I believe we need to have a brief reminder of the presuppositions – “basic beliefs that are essential for a particular type of study to be conducted” – that we have stated to be necessary to study the Bible.
- The Bible is what it claims to be (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is God’s Word. It is true. It contains everything that can be known about God and is sufficient to bring us to Him.
- There is a difference in the lives of those who know Christ – are saved/born again – and those who do not – are lost/dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:20-24).
Today, we add to those the fact that God has authority over creation, which He Himself created. What He intended to be right is right, and what He intended to be wrong is wrong. What He says (see presupposition one) goes. That means He has the authority to declare what sin is. Again, most church folks would say they agree with those statements, but what about when His Word declares an activity you enjoy as a sin? What if it was your family, friends, or kids?
What happens when one of your presuppositions or your world view is challenged by something you come across in the Bible? I am quick to say that, when confront with this in theory, my beliefs will change if I find they are contradictory to God’s Word. That is theory; what about when that theory intersects real life?
This is where the pre- part of presuppositions is extremely important. These beliefs need to be nailed down before the rubber hits the road. Look at people in the Bible who we would call “heroes” whose beliefs before their trials and tribulations made the difference in how they made it through.
- Joseph survived his brothers faking his death, selling him into slavery (Genesis 37:12-28), being slandered by his master’s wife (Genesis 39:1-21), and ending up forgotten in Pharaoh’s dungeon (Genesis 40). Yet he was faithful throughout because of the beliefs that came before and could say to the very brothers whose jealousy set all those terrible events in motion that led to Joseph being exalted by Pharaoh: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19-20).
- Job’s worship of God was tested in ways we never hope to experience. God Himself described him as being unlike any other person on earth – “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8, 2:3). Satan took his children. His great material wealth was brought to nothing. Satan asked even to be able to attack his health because if one were to “stretch out [their] hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face” (Job 2:5). So, Satan made it so their were sores from the tip top of Job’s head to the soles of his feet (Job 2:7). Yet despite all the loss and pain – including three knot-headed friends and a disparaging wife – Job never recants his faith in God.
- Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) were taken from their homes, imprisoned, indoctrinated, and made into eunuchs (Daniel 1). Their names that spoke of Yahweah were traded for names proclaiming gods of Babylon (Daniel 1:7). Yet they continued the faith in Babylon as they “had done previously” (Daniel 6:10) and saw God strengthen their bodies (Daniel 1:8-21), answer their prayers (Daniel 2:17-18), give interpretation to dreams (Daniel 2:19-45, 4:19-27), stand with them in the midst of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16-26), and shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-24).
The faith and beliefs that come before mattered when it came time to live them out.
For that reason, today’s Bible study will serve as a reminder of what the Bible teaches about sin and why Paul wrote Colossians 3:5-11.
How Sin Works (James 1:13-15)
Most of the time when we talk about sin, we talk about it generically. If asked in church who is a sinner, we are quick to remark that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). At Christ Community, if one of our pastors asks the congregation what the “wages of sin” is, there is a resounding “death” (Romans 6:23). But that is generic. That is hypothetical sin. What about when it gets personal? We see it in other people’s lives and are well-acquainted with their sins. But, when it comes to recognizing it in ourselves, we are like the hypocrite Jesus describes in Matthew 7:1-5; we have a giant log stuck in our eye (unconfessed sin we are willfully ignorant of) while trying to point out the sawdust in the eye of another (sin we would rather recognize). We know how sin works in the lives of others but all too often fail to recognize it – and repent of it – in our own lives. It is important for us to know and understand how the Bible talks about sin and let our lives – “assuming that you have heard about [Jesus] and were taught in Him, as the truth is” (Ephesians 4:21).
If we were to describe the workings of one’s life, we call it the life cycle. James 1:13-15 clearly defines the cycle of sin from temptation to death:
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
In this brief passage, we see three things that are necessary for our understanding of sin.
First, we see that sin does not come from God. To see it one needs only to look back to the Fall in Genesis 3 and the first sin ever to be committed. God told Adam what was right. He gave Him the idyllic garden of Eden and every tree in the garden for food – except one. God told Adam that to eat of that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, would cause him to “surely die” (Genesis 2:16). There has been debate as long as there has been a Bible as to who made whom sin: Adam, Eve, or the Serpent. The serpent had his role, to be sure, but Adam and Eve each made their own decisions to disobey the commandment of God. But, as we said in our third presupposition above, God has the right and authority as Creator to declare what is right in His creation – and to command against going against that as sin. Adam, who heard the command from God Himself, willingly disobeyed. And every one of his descendants from the beginning until the return of Jesus has dealt with the repercussions and struggles that come from their own sin (Romans 5:12).
Second, we get a picture of what exactly temptation is. Temptation originates in our “own desire”. James gives a fishing analogy. Temptation is like a lure attached to a fishing pole. Fishing lures are designed to look like the most appetizing food for certain types of fish. When a fish sees the lure moving through the water, it cannot help but bite it. Then, the hook hidden within the lure is set, and it is too late for the fish. They are reeled into the real-life consequences of biting onto the lure.
For humans, it is not a shiny lure attached to nearly invisible fishing line but be assured: there is a lure. It looks like what we desire most – what we want that we either know we should not have, or our wants wrapped in a way we should not have them. Do not be mistaken; the sins we desire are attractive to us. So often the struggle one has with sin is because of the great desire they have to commit that sin. Think of the time spent thinking or fantasizing about sinning – not planning to commit said sin, of course, just looking.
Think about King David. He could have easily made the list of “heroes” above as Joseph, Job, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were all sinners, but David gives a better example of what it looks like to be hooked. David was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). David’s lure was lust and desiring sexual sin.
Early on in David’s narrative, he married Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Samuel 18:27). Later, he met Abigail who was described as “discerning and beautiful” (1 Samuel 25:3). She helped keep him from making mistakes due to her husband Nabal’s treachery, and Nabal’s death happened to coincide with Michal marrying another (1 Samuel 25:44 – though 2 Samuel 3:13-14 shows David never stopped considering her his wife). It would make sense if David simply married Abigail, yet David married her and a woman named Ahinoam at the same time (1 Samuel 25:43). God never supported polygamy but intended marriage to be between a husband and wife (Genesis 2:24-25). David obviously wanted three wives to support his appetites.
Fast forward to 2 Samuel 11, and we see David chose to stay home rather than be where he should be – at war with his soldiers, on his roof with a clear view of a naked woman – Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, and his sending of his servants to take her (2 Samuel 11:1-4). In 2 Samuel 11:2, it says “It happened, late one afternoon”. What happened? Sin. His looking gave way to taking. David’s sin had him hook, line, and sinker. And what he thought would be casual sex – that 2 Samuel 11:4 seems to say he thought could not result in conception – produced live evidence of their union.
That is a good segue into the third thing James 1:13-15 teaches us about sin. The fishing analogy gives way to the analogy of conception and birth. That desire that lures in verse 14 is compared to conception – to human biology. Conception is when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. Lust does not do this. Sex does. Conception is supposed to lead to birth. The baby has a life. But sin is about death. The conception of sinful desire in the mind and heart ultimately leads to committing the sin. It is rarely enough to just enjoy the guilty pleasure of sin once. The behavior grows into a lifestyle. And sin, “when it is fully grown” brings forth death. That life of sin earns – remember “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23) – death.
When we look at sin, it is tempting to question all this talk of sin producing death and doubt and whether a good and loving God would allow such – whether He would really let the consequences of sin be death. To that, I would remind you 1) of the existence of death, and 2) what our good and loving God did for sin was to give Himself as a sacrifice to bear the death we deserve on the cross, not ignore it.
Next week, we will begin diving into the specifics of Colossians 3:5-11. The sheer volume and span of the lists (there are two) of sins will hit us all more than once. It will not be enjoyable. It will be uncomfortable. You may even be mad at me before it is over. I promise you that I have been mad at me in studying this, too.
I urge you to meditate on what we have seen from James 1:13-15 and in Colossians 3:5-11. Search your heart. As you do, consider the Holy Spirit’s motives for giving such a passage to the church at Colossae and to us today. Why would He take the time to tell us here – and again and again throughout Scripture – what we should be putting to death in us (Colossians 3:5) and what we should be taking off as if it were a filthy garment (Colossians 3:8)? Does He just not want us to get to do what we want to do and be happy?
God is the Creator. He knows how He designed life to work best. He knows what truly brings happiness – following Him, and He knows what brings death and sorrow – sin. He knows how to take lost sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins and make them alive together by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10).
So, I pray that God grants repentance for you where you need it. I pray the same thing for me. And I pray that God helps us to learn to pray like David in Psalm 139:23-24:
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
 F. Leroy Forlines, Biblical Systematics: A Study of the Christian System of Life and Thought (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 1975), 5.
 ESV, Jas 1:13–15.