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The New Self

Colossians  3:5-17

How we cherish our sins! If we hold on to them long enough, they become points of pride. It has often happened to me that when teaching, someone will object to a particular practice being described as sin. Often, it is not a matter of interpretation; it’s found in one of the lists of sin in the Bible. The objection will come loud and long – that’s not sin, that’s the right way to do things.

Paul, I suspect, had the same experience. He is writing to people he has not met personally, but he knows enough of man to be well versed in the sins which we turn into virtues. So it is that he has laid the groundwork with his readers. If you have agreed with him thus far, then his list of sins should not surprise you. It is a gentle way of bringing people to see the wrongs they have canonized.

Unfortunately, if you break up the letter into lessons, you can easily miss that point. So I remind you of it here; the lists of evil and good are not something disconnected, but integral to his message.

Put to death

The Holy Bible, New International Version

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.£ 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Colossians 3:5 through Colossians 3:11 (NIV)

The “outer” sins

Paul begins his list with those sins which are easily seen on the outside of a man:

  • Sexual immorality – from the Greek porneia, from which we get our word “pornography” – which includes not only fornication but adultery and (surprisingly) incest.
  • Impurity – taken from the Greek akatharsia, from which we get our word “catharsis” – means either physical or moral impurity. Dirty linen, in either sense of the word.
  • Lust – from the Greek pathos – means an inordinate affection.
  • Evil desires – the original here means an intense longing to do evil.
  • Greed – the word implies money hunger which is satisfied by extortion or fraud.

How interesting that these sins are said to bring the wrath of God. They are sins easily seen and therefore should be rebuked quickly.

Some will object: how can a loving God condemn people like that? The loving God is also the righteous God. Should he ignore incest? Should he ignore the lust that breaks up marriages? How about the cries of the victims of extortion and fraud? There are two judgments implied here:

  • First, to those who commit such sins.
  • Second, to those who see them and, knowing the wrath of God is coming, do nothing.
The “inner” sins

These are not so easily seen – until their effects make them know.

  • Anger – the Greek is orge, yielding our word “orgy”, it means a passion tending to violence.
  • Rage. The Greek word here means someone is so made that they are breathing hard. Fuming with rage, we might say.
  • Malice – in the Greek, this is an all purpose word for evil. Just in case we forgot something.
  • Slander – in the Greek, “blasphemia” – it means vilification (to treat someone as if they were evil), especially of God.
  • Filthy language – which means exactly that. So many of us are so proud of our grasp on the lower parts of the English language.

All these are summed up in one testing point: are you lying to your fellow Christians? Are you concealing anger, rage, etc. under your polite Sunday smile? That’s the old self. The new self, given by God, is to be renewed in knowledge. The word used there, epignosis, means a complete knowledge.


Paul now takes the common distinctions of his day and throws them away. People in those days took pride in these things. See if any still apply today:

  • They were to take no pride in their nation, or race. Race we understand; nation we have yet to approach. The Ugly American is still with us.
  • They were to take no pride in their economic status. Do we look down on the homeless?
  • They were to take no pride in their family’s religion. The fact that your grandfather was a great preacher only increases your responsibility. You can’t get to heaven on his memory.
All conquered by Christ

All these things we are to throw out – by putting on the new man. In short, we have to practice. But there is a heartening development here; instead of a long list of “thou shalt not” we get the solution: put on Christ. There is deep spiritual water here: Man was formed in the image of God; he must now be re-formed in the image of God. The process of the new creation has already begun. We are not to wait to see what the Almighty will do with us; rather, we need to take heed of his instructions and begin now.

God’s chosen people

The Holy Bible, New International Version

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:12 through Colossians 3:14 (NIV)

How it must have cost Paul to write the words “chosen people.” For that is what God named the nation of Israel. But by the grace of God this is now extended to all who believe.

  • We are chosen. The history of Israel reminds us that God did not choose the Jews because of their greatness, but because of their weakness. This is not a point of pride – but a mark of grace.
  • We are holy. We are set apart. The world should notice the difference between Christians and non-Christians, a point greatly ignored today.
  • We are beloved. Our relationship with God is started, sustained and seen because of the love of God.

Just as Paul has given us a laundry list of don’ts, he now provides something to take the place of that which we’ve thrown out:

  • Compassion – the phrase literally means “bowels of mercy” – a deep seated love for and desire to help others.
  • Kindness – the word for this implies moral excellence, a desire to be gentle and good.
  • Humility – modesty of mind.
  • Gentleness – often translated “meekness”, it is the way of the truly strong in dealing with those who are truly weak.
  • Patience – the work is makrothumia­ – often translated “longsuffering”, the prefix “macro” tells you what you need to know. Patience – in the industrial size.

All these have a common thread: the way we deal with other people. In short, we are to mind our relations with our relations.

Bear and Forgive

In those two verbs he neatly ties up our relationships:

  • Bear – if we can’t fix it, we can at least endure it. Often, it is all we can do.
  • Forgive – ever remembering that in matters of forgiveness, God uses our standard. If we forgive, he forgives (us and others). If we don’t, God uses that as his yardstick to measure us.
Above all else

There is in this brief passage the secret of integrity. Integrity means “one-ness” – that we are inconsistent in our actions, which is consistent with the character we receive from God. Consider how often you are faced with what we would call an ‘ethical dilemma’. God has given you the solution: whatever you do, do it in love. Love is the glue of the virtues, binding them together into integrity. Integrity is the unity of all virtues.

Filled With Christ

Paul now wraps up his description with Christ:

The Holy Bible, New International Version

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15 through Colossians 3:17 (NIV

The Peace of Christ

Have you ever heard of the crime, “breaking the peace?” The phrase itself comes from medieval times. Each person of rank had his peace; to offend against that peace was to break it. The higher the person, the greater the crime. To “keep the peace” was to live in tranquility under such a king. If a king’s peace was so valued, how much more the peace of the King of Kings?

Is this important? Paul shows us how important it is. He compares us to a body – a physical body, of which we are members (i.e., arms, legs, etc.) What do you call it when a body is at war with itself? It is cancer. But if this body keeps the peace of Christ, there is no cancer. There is only thankfulness to God the Father.

The Word of Christ

Paul tells us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The phrasing in the Greek means that which is abundant, that which is overflowing. How do we do that? We do it for each other.

  • We do it in teaching. Not all of us can be teachers; all of us should, however, be willing to instruct others, one on one, as the need arises.
  • We do it with admonishment – with warning. That warning must be given with all wisdom; that wisdom will call us to speak the truth in love.

This will cause us to overflow with the love of Christ. The result? We begin to sing. To sing with gratitude to God – that is what the human soul does when it overflows with the word of Christ. Some things are just too precious to put into words alone.

Whatever you do

Paul then sums up the matter. Whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Think about that for a moment. Everything you do should be done in Jesus name. Whatever else that means, it surely means that the world should be able to look at us and know that we are Christians – because we do things as Jesus commands, not as the world commands. There should be a distinct, visible difference between Christian and non-Christian.

The difference is not only for the world; it is for us. If we are doing all things in Jesus name, are we not kept from sin?

So then, if you are kept from sin and shine as a light to the world in darkness, should you not then give thanks to God?

Next time: the practical application of the new self.

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