Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Putting Old Ways to Death

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. (Colossians 3:5-7)
All our “side slips” (trespasses) have been forgiven. The indictment that accused and condemned us has been nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus. The principalities and powers have been disarmed. We are dead to all these things. But that is not a license to go back to the old ways of the world and the sinful behaviors that once held us in bondage.

The brief list of sins Paul gives here are mostly sexual in nature and were apparently at issue in the culture of that day, as well as in the false teaching that was being hawked.
  • The Greek word for “fornication” is porneia (from which we get the word “pornography”) and refers to any illicit sexual intercourse.
  • “Uncleanness” speaks of sexual immorality and the pursuit of such (see Romans 1:24).
  • “Passion” is lust or inordinate affection.
  • “Evil desire” is licentiousness.
  • “Covetousness,” or some versions say “greed,” is insatiable hunger or desire.
  • “Idolatry” is giving priority to anything other than God.
This list sounds very much like modern Western culture with its insatiable desire for all kinds of sexual behaviors and abuses, to the point where sex has become a very prominent idol. They are part of the old ways of a fallen world and God’s wrath will come on all of them. Such perversions and idolatries may have been part of who we once were, but they have no place in our new life in Jesus.

Some strains of the false teaching Paul has been addressing believed that matter is inherently evil and the physical body beyond redemption. Therefore, they said, it does not matter what one does in or with the body. But Paul will have none of that. The body is not beyond redemption, it will be transformed in the resurrection to come, when Jesus returns. For He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18) and the guarantee of our own bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). So, yes! It does matter what we do with our bodies. We now have new life in Jesus the Messiah, as well as the promise of the resurrection of the body, and how we live now should demonstrate that reality.

Paul says, then, “Put to death your members which are on the earth.” These “members” are the appendages, the remnants of the way we used to live in the world before we receive His life. We are now dead to them. Though they still have a voice, it is an echo that no longer has any authority, and the only power it has over us is whatever power we yield to it. “Put to death” means to make it dead, deprive it of its power, destroy its strength.

How do we do that? Not by beating ourselves up, treating our bodies harshly or trying to keep a list of rules and regulations. As we saw earlier, such things “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). And Paul has already given us the answer: We are already dead to these things! We died to them with Jesus the Messiah. We have also been raised with Him and He is now our life. What is needed now is to live in the truth of that. In other words, it is a matter of faith — that is, believing the truth of who Jesus is in us and who we are in Him. In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul put it this way:
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)
To “reckon” means to account it to be so, to treat it as the truth that we are indeed dead to sin and alive to God. When temptation comes and the voice of the old ways tries to reassert itself, we do not have to let any of it in. It has been stripped of its power and we do not have to give any of it back. Instead, we answer with the truth: We are now dead to sin and alive to God (it helps to make this a personal declaration: “I am now dead to sin and alive to God”). Instead of yielding ourselves to the old, fading echoes of who we once were, we present ourselves to God, yielding ourselves to Him. The grace of God and the power of the new life we have in Jesus accomplishes in us what rules and regulations never could.

Focus Questions
  1. Why does it matter what we do with our bodies now?
  2. How do we “put to death” the remnants and silence the old voices?
  3. How does asserting the truth of who we are in Jesus help us?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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