Colossians 3:1-6 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
The Apostle Paul continuing his exhortation to the Church at Colossae moves from admonishing the believers on the dangers of the Gnostics beliefs to instructing them on how to live as new creations in Christ. After reminding them of their salvation in Christ, Paul urges the Christians to “put to death therefore what is earthly.” Similarly in Romans, Paul writes, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13 Paul’s message here is the same to both churches, realize that you have been united with Christ in His death and have been raised in Him as a new creation, so start acting like one. Here in Colossians however, Paul details some of the things which not only the Colossians need to “put to death” but also Christians today. On the surface, this list looks like a general inventory of fleshly sins, but digging deeper we begin to see that there is a method to not only the order of Paul’s list, but significance with each one.
Paul begins his discourse with instruction to put to death or mortify, sexual immorality, or as the King James Version states, fornication, from the Greek word pornea, meaning harlotry or adultery. The idea that Paul is conveying here is that this is an action, i.e. the act of sexual immorality. A working definition of this might be, any forbidden sexual act. What is forbidden you might ask? Everything that is outside the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. Jesus addresses the very nature of this sin in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus qualifies adultery by saying it doesn’t even have to be the physical act, but the mere thought of it is sin. This is where Paul takes the next point on his list, impurity. Impurity here is unclean or filthy thoughts and they come directly from the heart. In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus states, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Impurity gives way to immorality, but itself is fueled by passion, Paul’s next point. The King James Version uses the phrase “inordinate affection” from the Greek word pathos. Passion is that internal burning or longing that each of us have for an object of affection.
The progression of Paul’s list has migrated from actions that the body commits externally, to internal thoughts and now to heated passions which flow forth from our own evil desires. James 1:14-15 says, “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.” Desires flow forth from the heart and the evil desires of our old sinful nature conceive with the temptations of the world giving birth to sin. But Paul’s list does not stop here. He has deeper still to go in his admonishment to mortify deeds of the flesh. Paul cuts straight to the root of desire, namely covetousness. This is the source of the previous four sins which the Apostle describes. Covetousness is desiring what is forbidden and at its root is idolatry. It sets each of us up to be mini-gods, worshipping ourselves, thinking that we know what is best or what we need and it is the oldest, deepest, evil sin. It is the same sin that sprung forth in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve desired to be like God and discern the knowledge of good and evil, so from the tree they ate. Satan desired to be like God and let his covetousness lead to a failed coup resulting in his eternal damnation. It was no different for the Church at Colossae and it’s no different for us today. The axe must be laid at the root of covetousness in order to put to death the earthly, fleshly deeds.
The Apostle Paul’s message is powerful and straightforward and God’s Words through His inspired author speaks to us on so many different levels. Our sinful desires are like little streetcars and covetousness is the engine that drives them. They are fueled by our passions and travel on the road of impurity until they reach an immoral destination. Search your hearts Christian and with the power of the Holy Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh at the root level. Do not succumb to your own desires, but let God give you desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4), for it is only He who knows how to give what is good and perfect.
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