Christianity is a counter-cultural and transformative religion. The gospel changes hearts (2 Cor. 10:5) and transforms us into the image of Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:17-18). We pattern our thoughts, our words, and our actions after His will and example. This places us in a position of contrast in this world. We “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8) in the midst of great darkness. We raise our children differently. We treat our spouses differently. Our priorities and everything about us are different. While this seems strange to the world’s eye (1 Pet. 4:4) it is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. We are called to “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). We must influence the world for Christ and not allow the world to influence us for darkness. Such a calling demands that certain influences and practices be removed from our lives. This is the subject of Colossians 3:5-7.
Paul wrote, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth…” (Col. 3:5a). To “put to death” is to mortify or to kill completely. The “members” which must be put to death refer to the “practices and attitudes to which his readers’ bodily activity and strength had been devoted in the old life” (F.F. Bruce). The command is predicated upon directives of verses 1-4 (“Therefore”). In view of Christ-centered priorities and Heavenly vision, it is imperative for us to change our lives accordingly. “The body of the sins of the flesh” is put off upon our obedience to the gospel (Col. 2:11). The old man dies (Rom. 6) but sometimes we are tempted resurrect him. But such cannot be the case. We must live in the present by dying to the past. But, what does that entail? Note five items specified in the passage.
- Fornication is a general term for every kind of unlawful sexual activity. Christians must “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). It is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) and as such, those who practice fornication cannot inherit the kingdom of God
(1 Cor. 6:9-10).
- Uncleanness has to do with that which is impure and unholy. It can refer to the general rejection of holiness (1 Thess. 4:17) but is predominantly used in the New Testament to describe moral impurity related to fornication.
- Passion refers to uncontrolled desires which enslave a person. It occurs only twice more in the New Testament and in both cases describes uncontrolled sexual desire (Rom. 1:26, 1 Thess. 4:5).
- Evil desire comes from a compound Greek term which denotes setting one’s heart on that which is evil. Desire alone is not necessarily wrong. God created us with natural desires which are good when governed by His will. But when our desires are aimed toward wickedness, they become sinful. See James 1:14-15, Acts 20:33, Matt. 5:28, etc.
- Covetousness is greed–an inappropriate desire to have more. “An inordinate longing to possess, own, use, or experience something makes that thing an idol. When one concentrates so intently on obtaining the source of a passion, it becomes an object of devotion. Whether this greed is expressed in the form of a sexual craving or any other desire that takes the place of service and dedication that belongs to God alone, it is idolatrous”
While not exhaustive, this catalog of sins very accurately describes the forms of wickedness present in the 1st century world, and even in our own. Sexual sin and materialism are found in practically every corner of modern culture, from books, to television, to social media, and everywhere in between. “Sex sells and money brings happiness” is the mantra of a godless society hell bent on maximum pleasure. But such practices cannot be characteristic of those whose hearts are set on Heaven.
Additionally, Paul identified two reasons to substantiate the command of verse 5. First, these kinds of sinful activities are deserving of God’s wrath (v.6). Second, those things no longer characterize the identity of the Christian (v. 7). God’s wrath refers to His righteous anger. It is judicial in the sense that it is not uncontrolled or irrational but governed by His holiness and justice. Note that the phrase “is coming” is a present tense verb in the original text. Similar to Romans 1:17, the idea is that God’s wrath is an ever-present reality for those who practice ungodliness such as was listed in the previous passage. The second reason given is that the sins described in verse 5 defined who they were in the past, not the present. Obeying the gospel involves the old man being put to death (Rom. 6:1-4). To engage in the sins of the past would be akin to exhuming a rotting corpse.
Christianity is a counter-cultural and transformative religion. When one obeys the gospel, everything changes. It was imperative for the Colossian saints to remember who they were and whose they were. As those who were “buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12) it was paramount for them to live like Him and for Him in order to be with Him in eternity. The same must be said about Christians today. We must be ever mindful of the fact that we belong to Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing one could imagine. As such, the sins of the past, particularly sexual sins and materialism per this context, must be put to death, never to live again.