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. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Jake is a self-described conservative Republican who works in politics for a living. He’s White and serves as a deacon at his church. Although his church is racially diverse, he assumed that his Black brothers and sisters were politically conservative like him because they were committed Christians. “I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “They love the Lord,” he thought, “they must be conservative.” On one occasion, he posted an image of President Barak Obama on Facebook with the Bill of Rights under the President’s feet. He said, “I remember at the time thinking maybe I shouldn’t post it, but that was more of a passing thought. Yeah, it’s fine. Everybody would understand this.” Well how many of you can figure that everybody didn’t understand? That night, in response to his post, a Black woman from the church posted on her Facebook page, “I can’t believe somebody gets a pass on being a racist bigot because they’re an officer in our church.” She didn’t name any names, but it wasn’t hard to figure out who she was talking about.
He never saw the post, but about three people texted him to say, “I think she’s talking about you.” Then he said, “I thought maybe she is.” He wondered, “how come three people immediately thought of me when she posted this? That was a little disconcerting.” What would he do in response to this? What would you do in response to this? Would you get angry about being called a racist bigot in public? Social media is a world of public shaming. What would you do? Would you get defensive and respond to her on social media to give her a piece of your mind; tell her why she’s wrong about you?
Jake’s first instinct was to have a conversation with her. Not a FB conversation but a face-to-face conversation. This was the case even though he asked himself, “What in the world could I have said or done that would’ve communicated that?” He couldn’t imagine a scenario where the label “racist bigot” would fit him, yet there it was.
He called her on the phone and said, “Let me ask you this. You posted something on your FB page last night. I never saw it, but can I ask, was that about me?” She said, “Absolutely it was. I don’t know how you figured out it was you, but yes.” They talked for an hour, and he said let’s go to lunch next week. When they met for lunch he said, “for the first time in my life, I just let her talk and I listened. She said things about some of my posts and my views that I had no idea that my views could be interpreted that way. It was the first time I stepped out of myself, saw myself from her perspective. I thought, man maybe she’s not alone. Maybe there’s a whole church of people that think somehow I’m racist or bigoted because I’m a conservative and support Republican policies.”
It was a turning point in his thinking. It was the first time he invited someone to be honest with him about how they felt about him. He began to have conversations with others in the church, asking them what they thought of his views. He started bumping into more and more people at his church who supported President Obama. The more that he saw people in his church whom he loved and respected first because he knew they loved Jesus, and found out that they had different political perspective than he did, his whole political language began to change. He said, “I’m still a conservative. I still believe in conservative principles for the most part, but man, there’s a humility with which I hold my political views that I never did before. Because, I’m like, if [my brother] loves Jesus, is a man of faith and he loves Obama, man, I must be missing something.”
Jake, and that’s not his real name, is one of the people I interviewed for my dissertation on identity formation in diverse churches. Here’s why I tell you his story. In the first four verses of we hear the apostle Paul say to the Colossians, “Since therefore you were raised with Christ…you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The deal is that in Christ we die. We don’t die physically; we die to the power and grip of sin and wickedness over our hearts. Paul said to the Colossians in 2:14 that in Jesus Christ God cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing to the cross. Therefore, 2:20, with Christ we died to the elemental spirits of the world. But what’s glorious is that when you become a Christian, you don’t die to die. You die live! You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Now, he is going to tell them what this dying to live looks like in practice.
by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
that in Jesus Christ God cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing to the cross. Therefore, 2:20, with Christ we died to the elemental spirits of the world. But what’s glorious is that when you become a Christian, you don’t die to die. You die live! You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Now, he is going to tell them what this dying to live looks like in practice.
He says, “Therefore, put to death what is earthly in you…You must put them all away…Here, in the church, there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave free, Black, White, but Christ is all and in all.” What Jake pursued, and the way he pursued is an example of the kind of justifiable homicide that Paul is talking about in our text. We’re going to spend our time talking about dying this morning. What we are talking about this morning is justifiable homicide for the benefit of living like Christ is all and in all. If we’ve died with Christ, then there’s some stuff we’ve got to kill. We’ll work through this message with two R’s, Reality, and Relationships.
Here’s the reality that Paul presses upon the Colossians. Y’all are in a fight. He’s done all this talking to them about how they’ve died, they’ve died, they’ve died. But that doesn’t mean that they’re now assured of life as they want it to be. Put to death whatever in you is worldly, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, inordinate craving, evil and greed, which is idolatry. The reality is that you’re in a fight because of the other reality that being a Christian doesn’t mean you no longer have a problem with sin. That phrase, “what is earthly in you,” or, “what is worldly in you,” means that there are parts of us as Christians that still look like we don’t belong to Christ. Here’s a simple reminder for you. Being a Christian doesn’t mean I now have my act together. Being a Christian doesn’t mean I no longer sin. Being a Christian means that I’ve trusted in the finished work of his crucifixion and resurrection to new life on my behalf. Therefore, sin, evil, ungodliness is no longer my authority. Jesus Christ is my authority. Paul put it this way in chapter 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
So, as citizens of the kingdom of light, the light shines on the things in us that are still dark so that they can be killed. Please hear me. Paul is not naïve enough to think that these Colossian Christians aren’t fighting against being consumed with themselves. Look at his list, sexual immorality (porneia), impurity, lust, inordinate craving, evil, greed. He’s not finished. In v. 8 he says, “Now you must lay aside all things like wrath, rage, wickedness, slander, obscene speech from your mouth.” What is the common denominator in these things? The common denominator is that they are the manifestation of a thriving self-consumption. We lust because we want to please ourselves. We are greedy and we covet because we are the center of our world. We face sexual temptation because we want more than anything to have our appetites satisfied. When he says that you’ve got to commit justifiable homicide on these things, he’s saying you’ve got to kill your disordered obsession with yourself.
Let’s be clear. This is no joke. It’s not a laughing matter to be ignored when God shines a light on our sin, especially if we say that we already follow Jesus. He says in v. 7, “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.” He just said in v. 4 that when Christ, who is your life, is revealed you also will be revealed with him in glory. Glory awaits for all the redeemed, all those who belong to Jesus Christ. It’s coming is just as sure as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. That’s not the only thing that’s coming though. God’s just judgment of sin is coming too. The pouring out of God’s wrath against those who have not turned to God through faith in Jesus Christ is coming. Jesus put it this way in
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Pastor Scott Sauls says it so succinctly and well in his book, Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgement, Isolation, and Fear. He says,
“In Jesus, our judgment day was moved from the future to the past.”
Judgment is coming, rest assured. Protestors will march against injustice in our land. And they will shout, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Recently, Karen Ellis speaking on the topic of what we can learn from the persecuted church in this current day, said this.
“Sometimes justice can only be dispensed by the judgment seat of God.”
So, with God, justice delayed is not justice denied. And that justice of God to judge our evil, our wickedness, our sin, if you are joined to Jesus Christ, that day isn’t in the future. It’s behind you. This is reality. This is truth.
So, the apostle says, that stuff in you that belongs to judgment day, that’s the old self. He says in v. 10, “you all have put off the old self with its practices.” Isn’t that interesting? Every once in a while, I’ll go back to my childhood home in Brooklyn, and come across pictures of my early years as a little boy. There’s this one picture where I’ve got a neat little afro going on. So, from the neck up it’s a good look. But then I look at my button-down shirt. Half of the shirt is plaid, and the other half is stripes. It’s horrifying to see! “Mom, what were you thinking?” But that was stylish in the 70’s. It was fashionable back then. But I’m not trying to bring that fashion forward to 2017. That shirt’s been taken off. It’s been judged and is in the ash-heap of history. I’m not bringing back the old to try and wear it again. That thing is dead. Paul says, these vices, that’s the old self whose ways have been judged as belonging to the ash-heap of history. Don’t try to bring them back into fashion.
He calls covetousness, or greed, idolatry at the end of v. 5. is a helpful way of explaining what’s often at the heart of all the others. Our disordered self-absorption reflects a worship problem. Instead of being formed and shaped into people who live like Christ is all and in all, idols form and shape us into their image. That’s why we hear the Lord talking about the foolishness of Israel’s idolatry in . A man takes a block of wood. Half of it he uses for cooking and warming himself by the fire. The other half he makes into a god and bows down to it. The Lord says in , “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.” They become just like that piece of wood. They can’t see, hear, or understand.
This is why in the list of vices in , we find things that cause us to need professional counseling. I have an anger problem. I can’t seem to keep my temper under control. I have a pornography problem. It destroys me, but I can’t seem to stop. What manifests itself as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, wrath, rage, slander come from a root of idolatry. An idolatry that’s trying to conform you to its image.
This is the reality, and I would’ve had to title this message Justifiable Suicide if it wasn’t for our second R. Being a Christian means that you still have to fight against the things that are worldly in you. Paul makes it clear that this putting to death the things that are earthly isn’t a solo project. The relationships that are formed within Jesus’ church are a huge part of putting earthly things to death. The command isn’t to go off by yourself, and keep your struggles to yourself, and act as if it’s you alone fighting against the darkness that Jesus is exposing. Every “you” in our text is a plural “you”. It’s “y’all.” He says in v. 9, “You all have put off the old self with its practices.” Plural “y’all,” singular “self.” Then in v. 10, “Y’all have put on the new self,” plural and singular again, “which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator.” The essence of the image, the substance of the image, what is most important about the image lies in what it is reflecting. What we find here is Paul pointing out that we were created in the image, according to the likeness of God. When the creation looks at humanity it should see a reflection of God. Not God himself, but a reflection. The problem, because of sin, is that the mirror is cracked. Not just one little crack. Picture a mirror with cracks all through it. Such that when you look at it, you say, “I think I know what that’s reflecting, but I’m not too sure.” The mirror isn’t shattered, but it’s sho’ nuff’ badly damaged.
Paul is saying that the new self we put on through faith in Christ is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. The cracks in the mirror are disappearing. But the way that they practically disappear is through brothers and sisters in Christ helping one another to kill the worldly stuff. That’s why I used the example of Jake at the beginning of this message. He likely wasn’t going to discover the biases in his own heart, and the blindness without somebody calling him out. We might take issue with the way the sister called him out on social media, calling him a racist bigot. But this point applies to her too. Part of the reason that Jake only heard about the post, and never saw it is because some other brothers and sisters in the church challenged her about what she said, and she took it down. But just like Jake wasn’t going to be aware of a certain blindness that he had without somebody pointing it out, he wasn’t going to be able to kill it by himself. He needed her to help him. We need one another in the church to help one another put the earthly stuff to death. That’s why it’s not justifiable suicide, it’s justifiable homicide. And this is especially true when it comes to the sinful divides we have along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and on and on.
Look. Paul says, y’all put off the old self with its practices. You never were a solo project. His point in v. 7 is that there’s some people you used to run with, and they shared those same values. Y’all helped each other confirm and affirm your worldly ways. Just like your wickedness is a social project, your righteousness is a social project. Being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator happens as we help one another kill earthly stuff that Jesus shines his light on.
Let’s be careful here because I’m not talking about a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. Notice with me that Paul has already dismissed legalistic “do nots” in ch. 2:20-23, when he said,
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
There are some legalistic “do nots” that happen relationally in Jesus’ church that don’t build up. Instead they destroy. But then there are grace driven “do nots” in the church that help make the cracks in the mirror disappear so that the image of God can image God. Did you notice the “do not” in 3:9? “Do not lie to one another…” That was his very next thought after he mentions slander and obscene talk from your mouth in v. 8. These are all connected. They’re talking about what we do relationally, how we interact relationally. The obscene talk isn’t really about never saying a curse word. The Bible says you shouldn’t curse. Ok. The mention of obscene talk follows slander and precedes the command not to lie to one another because it’s about whether what’s coming out of our hearts toward one another is about building up or tearing down.
Our current political and cultural moment is one of entrenchment that leads to tearing one another down, not building up. In other words, it leads to the kind of obscenity in the church that Paul is talking about here. Dr. Christian Edmondson of Calvin College said it well in a recent article,
Instead of hearing the experience of the other, owning the consequences of our own cultural-narcissism, we fast from different voices and turn to news outlets, places of worship, and friend groups that match and fertilize our biases. This approach ensures our entrenchment and entitlement.
The Colossian community to whom Paul is speaking included all these people: Greeks and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythians, slaves and free people. The old way includes justifiable divisions based on whatever barriers we prefer. The old way includes staying in our own manufactured lanes, or even the lanes we’re forced into because of life situations. The slaves couldn’t live like the free people. Poor people couldn’t hang with rich people. But the new way in Christ, in the new way poor people help rich people drag their idolatrous love for money out into the light and kill it. How can we go further in showing what it means that Christ is all and in all?
Last year after the presidential election the NY Times published an opinion piece by Mark Lilla titled, The End of Identity Liberalism. He’s assessing the presidential election; particularly where he thinks Hillary Clinton fell short. He says,
It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch…But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences.
He then is critical of Hillary Clinton saying that on the campaign trail she tended to,
slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded.
How different that is to the vision Paul presents in Colossians! Mark Lilla says you’ll lose elections in America if you don’t scratch everyone’s itch. They’ll feel like you’re excluding them and they won’t vote for you. Paul says, here, in the church there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free. Rather Christ is everything and in everything. In other words, in Christ, is not just about you and your itch. In fact, in Christ you need others who are least like you for your own growth. These people are now in relationship with one another. They need one another. Why? In part because you need the voices of others who love Jesus, but who are not like you to give you a perspective on what it means to follow Jesus that you don’t have.
Let me ask you a question. When it comes to your political persuasion, are you more interested in the rightness of your perspective than you are in the righteousness of Jesus Christ? You need others in the church who love Jesus, but are least like you, for your own growth. If you’re someone who supported Trump, are you seeking out and trying to relate to others in the church who are aching and traumatized by his election? Or, are you dismissive of that trauma, not seeking to understand where that pain is coming from? If you’re a #NeverTrump person, are you only responding in anger and disbelief, claiming that Trump supporters are only motivated by race or something you consider inconsequential?
Here there is not Black and White, Latinos and Asians, Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians, but Christ is everything and in everything.
What are the vestiges of prejudice, pride, or even hatred that remain in us and for which we have to cry out to God to remove? How much further into Christ does God have to bring us until our differences, diversity, and distinctions are far less important to us than our unity in Christ? Understand that we will never stop having to ask those questions. The work of justifiable homicide will continue in the body of Christ until glory. We are assured that this good work will continue because of the unjustifiable homicide that took place at Calvary 2,000 years ago….