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
Today is my 37th birthday, and birthdays are a good time for introspection.
Younger me had a lot of different goals over the years – plans for where I thought I would be by this point in my life. At 7, I wanted to be a “singing-preacher” (what I thought a minister of music was). At 17, my plans included teaching for a few years, getting my master’s degree, becoming a principal, and having a doctorate by 35 years old. At 27, I wanted to overcome the burnout and depression I was experiencing. I had burned out and quit ministry a few weeks before my 30th birthday and moved back home.
If someone had told me in 2015 that I would have the contentment and peace I have today in my walk with Christ and in my home life, I would have laughed in their face and probably told them they were full of something. I spent so long wanting to be something that I lost track of who I was. My identity became wrapped up in my job. That is a very modern way of putting the situation. Biblically, workaholism is a form of the sin of pride. Burnout, for me, was when my prideful pursuit of being somebody turned into the realization that work or status could never give me what I was looking for – was never intended to provide the feelings and validation I craved (really, coveted).
All of that sounds really negative (it definitely felt negative), but as I sit here in reflection today, God has blessed me and fulfilled me over the past seven years in ways I never could have imagined. The first blessing was finding Him in His Word and in prayer and realizing that He had never moved. The second blessing is realizing how amazing and beautiful a life God had built me by giving me Candice and the kiddos. There were more blessings than I can possibly list here, but ultimately, finding my identity in Christ helped me see which aspects of my life needed to removed – or put to death. Work had to have its place. Success and recognition had to have theirs, too. Eventually, after a lot of repenting, life rearrangement, correction through the Word, and more than a little training from Candice, I found joy in pastoral ministry that I never had in the years prior to burning out.
I do not want you to miss this: the issue that burned me out was sin. Pride is a dangerous thing. It is like the carbon monoxide of sinfulness – tasteless, odorless, and deadly. It crept in subtly and slyly. It began with a mix of not getting the recognition I felt I deserved. People told me that. Church folks, even. Then, I got a taste of recognition. Humility left quickly. I wanted more. The idea that I could become something quickly overtook my ministerial life. The fulfillment that came from compliments and attaboys was fleeting. The larger my pride became, the smaller my satisfaction. I just wanted to quit – and did! But pride tainted that, too. I faked a sabbatical so I would not have to live with the reality of failure, intending to extend it until I could bear the reality that I was spent.
As I said, there were things in my life that needed to be killed – that needed to be dead to me. There were areas of my life that had to be pruned, cutting away some of the weeds and thorns that were keeping me from growing. That is what Paul is talking about in this section of Colossians. In the midst of their dealing with false teachers, they had sin of their own that needed to be taken off as well as aspects of being like Christ that they needed to put on. We, like the Colossian church, need to be active in putting to death the sin in our lives and taking it off so that we can live the life we have in Christ.
Put to Death (vv. 3-7)
There is a famous quote from the puritan pastor John Owen: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” In that quote, he describes a daily process of examining one’s life in order to kill – mortify, as he calls it – sin before it kills you. If you compare that to the way we talk about sin today, Owen sounds a bit crazy. How can he take something so seriously that obviously is not anymore? Either he is wrong, or the modern view of sin is. Which one lines up with the Bible? Owen, obviously.
There is a lot of anxiety around talking about what sin is. I have read or heard no fewer than a dozen people – in the last month, mind you – who talked about how things that used to be a sin or actions that people used to consider sin are sins no longer. This is related to the necessary presuppositions we have been talking about over the past month. If you believe the Bible really is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then what it calls sin is sin. If you believe that those who are saved are different, as taught in the Bible (Ephesians 4:20-24), then what is taught to be sin in the Bible should no longer be a part of our lives. God knows what we need and how we need to live – and not live.
Before we dive into what appears to be the first of two lists of sins, we need to ask ourselves a question: if sin really is as deadly as the Bible says it is (Romans 6:23, James 1:14-15), why would someone want to convince us otherwise? It reminds me of the difference in the way people talk about cigarettes now versus how they did thirty years ago. Thirty years ago, the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel were cool culturally and iconic. Then, the dadgum surgeon general decided to attack the tobacco industry and act like cigarettes could cause lung cancer. I remember seeing commercials in the 90s talking about why “big tobacco” wanted to downplay the cancer risk of smoking: they wanted to sell cigarettes. Who would take advantage of us like that in regarding sin?
Ultimately, Satan! Look at the way he is described in Revelation 12:12: “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His agenda is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He is dangerous in that since “he knows his time is short” he is like a predator backed into a corner. But understand this: he is not looking for minions to rule over in hell. He is not going to be in charge there. He is going to be an inmate. And he is spitefully evil and wants to see as many people misled as he can.
As we begin to look at these sins listed, we need to acknowledge a few things. First, God’s Spirit gave the list, not Paul. These were not pet peeves that Paul had and wanted to get rid of or to pick on. We need to be careful and guard against calling “evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Second, we must be careful to present it as it is in the Bible. There is always a temptation to emphasize sins that we hate while making light of sins we either commit ourselves or that we just do not think are a big deal. God alone gets to set the agenda regarding His righteous standard and sin. We must guard against letting our own agendas try to steer the text of Scripture.
I have thought a lot about how to present this information and have decided to merely list it out in a chart format. I have used the same lexicon and Greek dictionary on all the words to present their definitions fairly. Even when there are not quotations in the definitions, the information comes from Spiros Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. More importantly, I looked at every verse in the New Testament and a few from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, 3rd century b.c.) that contained these words. This may seem like a boring way to present the information, but I want to make sure you can see what the information is and keep it as objective and free from bias as I can. Take notice of some of the passages that are used multiple times as it shows that those particular sins were affecting multiple places, people groups, and churches.
These are the sins Paul says we need to put to death – things that are “earthly” rather than godly:
|“sexual immorality” πορνεία (porneía)||This is a catch-all term that describes anything sexual that deviates from the intimacy between husband and wife. The WSNTDICT uses “fornication” as a part of the definition, which means any sex outside of marriage, emphasizing that the sin is not merely an issue of timing (like calling it premarital sex) but emphasizing that marriage between a husband and wife is God’s plan for sex.||1 Corinthians 6:13 – “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.|
1 Corinthians 6:18 – Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
1 Corinthians 7:2 – But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
2 Corinthians 12:21 – I fear that when my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality….
Ephesians 5:3 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality….
Revelation 9:21 – …nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
|“impurity” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsía||This basically means unclean, but it not as clear cut as the idea of being unclean in the OT. This means that something has been tainted by sin and gives a connotation of being rotten. This sort of sin can be by oneself or with others.||Romans 1:24 – Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.|
Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality….
1 Thessalonians 2:3 – For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive….
Matthew 23:27 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
|“passion” πάθος páthos||This word is only used three times in the NT. Our passage and the one from 1 Thessalonians imply or include lust while the Romans usage is accompanied by “dishonorable”. The understanding is that these particular passions negatively affect those who participate in them.||Romans 1:26 – For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature….|
1 Thessalonians 4:5 – …not in the passions of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God….
|“evil desire” ἐπιθυμία epithumía||This word is stronger than the English portrays. There is a longing – almost lust – that accompanies this desire. It is like an appetite that needs to be satisfied.||1 Timothy 6:9 – But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction….|
2 Timothy 3:6 – For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and lead astray by various passions….
2 Timothy 4:3 – For the time has come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions….
Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
James 1:14-15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
1 Peter 1:14 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance….
1 Peter 4:2-3 – …so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensualities, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
2 Peter 1:4 – …by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 3:3 – …knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.
Jude 16-18 – There are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires, they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
|“covetousness, which is idolatry” πλεονεξία pleonexía||This is an interesting word. It means covetousness or greediness, but it has a kind of inherent meaning of being the root of other sins – like greediness that sparks a desire to do other sins. It is idolatry because it seeks to forsake God as the object of worship by being filled or satisfied by things of earth.||Romans 1:29 – They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips….|
Ephesians 5:3-5 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.
Luke 12:15 – And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
He follows this list saying that “on account” of these sins “the wrath of God is coming” (v. 6). The wrath of God is not to be taken lightly. It describes the attitude of God toward sin. He hates it (Psalm 5:4). That hatred drives His wrathfulness toward sin.
I mentioned earlier how we need to be careful not to over-emphasize or de-emphasize sin but rather to look at it the way it is presented in the Word. There are many preachers who use sin and fear of God’s wrath (which is appropriate) to, in a sense, scare the hell out of people – to motivate them to follow Christ out of a fear of God’s wrath and eternal damnation.
What I want you to see here is that, for those who put their faith in Jesus, He bore the wrath of God our sins deserve on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:26, Isaiah 53:10-11). We are all of the things represented – all of the wickedness – in the lists above. Jesus is none of those things. But “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Love is a much better motivator than fear!
So, if you read through those sins and looked at the verses that show them for what they truly are – that show us sinners who we are, you can either decide to ignore what you know about the wrath of God or you can embrace the offer of love and forgiveness.
I do not sit here and type this in judgment. There is no ulterior motive of condemnation. No, I am a sinner, too. The difference is that I have put my trust in Jesus – what He has done on the cross, His resurrection, and what He is doing and going to do. I have given my life to Him. And little by little, day by day, year by year, He makes me more like Him. The sin that I clung to so closely becomes distasteful. And He appears more lovely and dear.
Will you take an honest assessment of your life? I hope that in doing so you realize your need for Him. If you would like to talk to someone, reach out; I would love to help you. If you realize that you have become distant from Him, repent and turn back; He has not moved. Remember the warning from John Owen: you better be killing the sin in your life because it is surely killing you. But Jesus…. He offers life.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:5–11.
 John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 9.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).