Be Who You Are! – Part 1 (Col. 3:5-11)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Colossians 3:5–11. We will be continuing our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church this morning. And I hope in my previous sermons in this book that I have made clear that one of the primary emphases in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae is that we are united with Christ in his death. In other words, with Christ we have died to sin.

In verse one of our passage last week, Paul reminded the Colossians of this exact thing. That they had died to their old way of life and had now been raised with Christ and were able to seek and set their minds on the things that are above—on heavenly things.

The reality is that as Christians who are united with Christ in his death, we have truly died to the power of sin over us. Before Christ became our master, we were slaves to sin. But Christ has liberated us from our former slave master named sin. And we are now able to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

But this raises a question… at least for me and probably for you too. If I have died to sin, if I am free from its bondage, if it no longer exercises authority and rule over me, why do I still sin so much?

This question is one that can really bother us. I was talking with a man just the other day. He is a Christian man and yet he told me that he finds himself waking in the middle of the night from time to time terribly frightened about his salvation. Believing this man is truly a Christian I asked him why he is having those kinds of fears. He told me he worries primarily because he still sins so much. He said, “I am still so bad.” I went on to remind him that thankfully our salvation is not based on our being good and not bad. And he quickly interrupted me saying he knows all the right answers and that he preaches them to himself. But he said, “I would just think by now, I would be getting better and not worse.” So for this man, who I do believe is genuinely a Christian who has died to sin, it certainly does not feel like it sometimes.

Do you ever feel that way? I do. Lots of times.

So, why is that? Again, if I have died to sin, if I am free from its bondage, if it no longer exercises authority and rule over me, why do I still sin so much?

I think the tension here can be resolved (to some degree at least) when we understand the specifics our passage for this morning from Colossians 3:5–11. When we understand it within the context of what Paul has just said in verses 1–4 where he reminded the Colossians that they have indeed died to their old way of life and yet here he is telling them to attack the sin that is within them.

What we will see in this passage is that Paul is telling the Colossians to “be who you are!” But what do I mean by that?

Well, before I answer that question, let me read the passage to us. Follow along with me as I read Colossians 3:5–11.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:5–11 ESV)

So back to the question. What do I mean when I say Paul is telling the Colossians in this passage to “be who you are?” Look with me at verses 9 and 10. Paul begins verse 9 by saying, “Do not lie to one another,” and we will discuss that more in a few minutes. What I want to point out to you now comes in the second half of that verse and into verse 10. Follow along with me again.

9 seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self… (Colossians 3:9–10 ESV)

Now, to be honest, we are really getting the cart in front of the horse by starting with these two verses. Because what we see in these two verses is the basis for Paul’s exhortations in the rest of this passage. The truths in these two verses are the basis for why and how the Colossians should obey and are able to obey the commands Paul gives them in the other verses we will look at this morning.

But let’s go ahead and start off by noticing that Paul says the Colossians have put off the old self and put on the new self or more literally, “having taken off the old man with its practices and having put on the new.”

The words translated “put off” and “put on” are words which were used to describe the simple act of putting on and taking off clothes. As Christians we have thrown away our old shabby set of clothes and donned the attire of royalty.

So when I say that Paul is telling the Colossians to “be who you are,” what I have in mind is becoming more and more like the new person you already are in Christ. Remember the “already and not yet” we talked about last week. We are “already” perfectly holy and righteous in the sight of God because of the righteousness of Christ that has been given to us, but we are “not yet” perfectly holy and righteous in the way we live. And so we are currently in the process of being renewed and being sanctified. We are in the process of becoming who we are.

Let me try to illustrate this for us. Imagine with me a mighty and powerful king who rules with dignity and fairness over a vast kingdom. Because he is a good king, he is diligent to care for the people under his rule. And this includes protecting them from enemies.

One day a remote part of his kingdom comes under attack from an enemy kingdom. And a message is sent to the king about this and he does what all honorable kings do—he gathers his army and rides off to protect his kingdom and its people. Well during this battle the king dies. And he leaves behind a son who, because he is the heir to the throne, is now himself the king. The problem is, this newly crowned king is only 7 years old.

And, being only 7 years old he knows nothing of managing a vast kingdom. He has no idea how to engage in battle. He is clueless about the details of allocating resources to the various parts of the kingdom. He doesn’t know how to act as a judge when cases need to be brought before him. He is only seven. But at the same time he is the king. He is already the king, but not yet ready to act like the king.

So what needs to take place? He needs to become who he is. He needs to be taught and trained. He needs tutors and teachers and instructors in government, law, and battle. He needs someone to teach him manners so that he can act respectably around visiting dignitaries from other nations. In other words he needs to learn how to act like a king. He needs to become who he is. And this transformation is not automatic, it will take work.

And so, though as Christians we are dead to sin, and though we have left our old way of life behind having put off our old sinful nature, the reality is, we are still living in our mortal bodies in a fallen world that constantly bombards us with sinful temptations we have a difficult time resisting. And so what we see in our passage for today is that…

Because Christians have died to their old way of life, we must leave our old sinful practices behind.

And much like the young king had work to do, we have to work at this too. And so Paul gives us some guidance in this passage. He lists some very specific sins that the Colossians needed to be diligent in addressing. And since human nature has not changed all that much, we will see these are the same types of sins many Christians are still struggling with today. These sins Paul lists in this passage can be categorized as sexual sins, sins of anger, and sins of discrimination.

And so, the first thing we see in verses 5–7 is that

Because Christians have died to their old way of life, we must be about the business of killing sexual sin within us (vv. 5–7).

Now let me begin by saying that I have a hard time completely understanding the relationship between the work that I need to do on myself and the work that God is doing within me. The Bible seems to allude to some sort of cooperation between myself and the Holy Spirit with regard to the process of sanctification in my life.

I think there are a few verses that will help us to understand this relationship.

Turn back with me a few pages in your Bible to Philippians 2:12–13. Let me read those to us:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13 ESV)

So we see here that in a sense the Philippians are expected to be about he business of working hard to live appropriate Christian lives, but at the same time Paul says it is God who is actually working in them.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:10, though Paul is speaking about his work in the ministry and how God is actually the one who enables him, I think the principle of how our cooperation with the Holy Spirit works will be made more clear. Look with me at 1 Corinthians 15:10:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV)

So my point here is that while sanctification, or the process of becoming holy, is a gracious gift of God, it nonetheless requires our active cooperation. The great theologian of the 19th century, Charles Hodge, said it like this:

Sanctification does not cease to be supernatural, or a work of grace, because the soul is active and cooperating in the process (Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:215).

So do not think that you can engage in any of these attacks on your old sinful nature apart from diligent prayer and immersion in the word of God. And if you are not a Christian, the only option you have for controlling sin in your life is submitting to the regulations Paul mocked in chapter 2: “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch,” which will ultimately prove useless in controlling the desires of the sinful nature within us. They may mask what is going on inside, but they do nothing that gets at the root of the problem. Thankfully as Christians we do not have to go it alone.

Now, back to the first point from this passage. Because Christians have died to their old way of life, we must be about the business of killing sexual sin within us.

Sexual sin is not something that is just a problem for us today. It has always been a problem for the church. The problem for many of the churches Paul was dealing with is that they were made up of people coming out of a way of life and a culture that would tolerate sexual grievances that were not considered by society to be excessive. A few indiscretions from time to time was considered normal. And some of those within Paul’s churches had a difficult time abandoning their tolerant attitude toward sexual sins. And so, they would often allow sexual sin to linger in their lives.

So Paul has to get very graphic with them here. He says that they must put sexual sins to death. They must act violently toward this type of sin in their lives. They have to take severe action to put it to death. And that needs to be our course of action today when we deal with sexual sins and temptation. We must act violently against it. It is not something we toy with, thinking we can walk a fine line of just looking but not touching and be ok. We have to attack those sinful desires and kill them at the root.

But how do we do that? I think the way we kill sinful desires is first by prayer and second by the word of God. We pray for God’s help and then we get out his word which Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 is the sword of the Spirit. Of all the pieces of equipment Paul tells the Ephesians they are to arm themselves with in Ephesians 6, the only one that is actually an offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which Paul defines as the word of God. In Romans 8:13 Paul says:

For if you live according to the flesh (i.e. your sinful nature) you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13 ESV)

In other words, we have to yield the sword of the Spirit with lethal violence against sexual sin in our lives. But if we do not, if we ignore sexual sin in our lives, it will control and ultimately kill us. Look with me in verse 5 from our passage for today, and let me show you the progression Paul describes for us if we ignore sexual sin in our lives.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 ESV)

There are five items he list that are all part of a progression from the slightest beginning of unhealthy desire in the heart to the full-blown act of sexual immorality. I am going to to start with covetousness and work toward sexual immorality.

You know the command from the Old Testament, do not covet your neighbor’s wife. That is where it all begins. It is that first glance at something and desire for something that is not rightfully yours. And if left unchecked that glance leads to the next item on the list—evil desire. And notice before we move to evil desire, that Paul calls covetousness idolatry. That is because coveting something can reach a point where the desire for it replaces our desire for God. And at that point it is certainly an evil desire. We are wired as humans with sexual desire. Desire is not bad. Desire for sex within marriage is not bad. What is bad is evil desire. Evil desire means desiring something in an unholy way. Again, it begins by coveting and if unchecked it leads to evil desire. That is why at the beginning stages of this progression it is so important to put it to death. Cut off its life source at the root. Cut it off. The sooner the better before it grows bigger and stronger.

Because when we wait and tinker around with evil desire too long, it develops into a lust and passion that becomes our master. We are hardly able to control it. Then we begin to think impurely and in unholy ways—ways not suitable for a man or a woman who has died with Christ. And then before you can do anything else about it, you have reached the point where this was leading all along. The place where Satan was behind the scenes driving you toward. You have committed a sexually immoral act, you have become involved in an extra-marital relationship. And Satan, the one who has led you and lied to you all along, throws Ephesians 5:5 up in your face to make you doubt your eternal security:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5 ESV)

I don’t want to make anyone more uncomfortable than necessary by talking about sins of a sexual nature this morning. But I want to look you all straight in the eye and say, “Kill it or it will Kill you.” Put it to death.

Sexual sin is destroying families, it is wrecking churches, it is defaming the name of God. Kill it!

Let me show you what I mean by defaming the name of God. There was an article on Al.com just a week or so ago and I assume it was in the paper too. The headline of the story read: “Alabama cities lead list of porn-loving religious places, poll says.” Let me read the opening sentences of the story:

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be No. 1.

Not when the ranking is on the list of “very religious” cities whose residents watch the most online porn.

Huntsville took top “honors” in the poll in which one of the largest online pornography sites, PornHub.com, used data from a Gallup poll on U.S. cities that are “very religious” and compared it with the cities whose residents most often visit its site.

And Huntsville, AL was ranked number 1. The number 2 spot went to Montgomery and Birmingham was just a few spots down the list at number 7.

Brothers and sisters, this is a real problem in the church. And Huntsville is apparently at the top of the list. If you are struggling with sexual sin, you are going to need to act aggressively against it. Attack it with prayer and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

Be who you are. You are holy because the LORD your God is holy and has made you holy through Jesus Christ.

You have died to your old way of life, so be about the business of killing sexual sins. If you don’t kill it, it will kill you. Notice in verse 6 that Paul says it is on account of these types of sins that the wrath of God is coming. Sexual sin is serious business. Kill it wherever it pops up in the smallest way. Put it to death with the sword of the Spirit. And don’t stop there, Paul points out some other sins in this passage as well.

Look with me in verses 8–10 where we are told that:

Because Christians have died to their old way of life, we must be about the business of doing away with sins of anger (vv. 8–10).

What are sins of anger? Paul lists five specific items in verse 8. Anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.

I’ll start with the first one anger. Anger is where it all begins. It is an inward smoldering of hatred for something or someone. It can be controlled but often times it boils over and erupts into the next item on the list: wrath or rage. When anger erupts into actions or deeds that is what is meant by wrath or rage. Wrath is when you act angrily and throw a fit. And sometimes anger is taken to the next level in the form of malice. Malice is when you intentionally try to harm someone you are angry at.

Sometimes I might be angry with someone and deal with it quietly for a while. But then that anger overflows and I end up saying something I shouldn’t have said. And it hurts the other person. That is anger moving toward wrath or rage. But there are times when my anger moves to malice. It moves to the point where I am so angry that I want to harm the other person and so I plan exactly what I am going to say so I can inflict the most damage possible. Am I making sense?

Often times we know how to push one another’s buttons. This is particularly true in marriage relationships. Husbands know exactly what to say to set their wives off and wives know exactly what to say to set their husbands off. And sometimes, unfortunately when we are angry with one another, we pull one of those out of the holster. And we do it intentionally. And we do it to hurt the other person. That is malice. It is saying or doing something that you intend to harm another person.

Or maybe you are not the type of person to speak your mind directly to the person you are angry with, so you wage a different kind of warfare against them. Slander and gossip are your weapons of choice. The slanderer is someone who instead of hurting someone to their face does it in a more indirect way by trying to ruin their reputation among other people. It is indirect malice. You intend evil and harm, but you want to avoid the face to face confrontation. And I don’t need to tell you how much damage slander and gossip can do within a church. Let me encourage you when someone wants to share some gossip with you, let them know quickly you will not be a party to it. Shut it down and change the subject or walk away.

And the final item on the list is often translated as obscene talk or filthy language. And in the context of anger Paul is dealing with here, what he is probably referring to is the use of obscenities and abusive language against someone. Again, for the Christian who has been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, this kind of talk is not being who you are. It is being who you were. And that is really the problem with any of the sins in the previous list or in this current list. When we commit them we are not being who we are, we are being who we were.

Notice in verse 7, Paul says, “In these (in these sins) you too once walked, when you were living in them.”

But notice what he says in verse 8. He uses the words “BUT NOW.” In other words, these are the types of things that used to characterize your life, BUT NOW you are a new person. Formerly you were living IN SIN, but now you are living IN CHRIST. And so, you must put all these sins away. Remember, you have put off the old self, and put on the new self. So put away all these sins with the old self that you have already taken off. Do not be who you were, be who you are.

And so, in verse 9, Paul tells them: “Do not lie to one another.” And by “one another” he is particularly talking about those in the church. That is not to say we are free to lie to other people, but Paul is recognizing particularly the damage that lying does to the community of faith.

For the sake of time, I am not going to expand on that. You know what it means to lie. And sometimes it is easier to lie. But in the end it is damaging to the church. Do not do it. You are new people. Jesus said Satan is the father of lies. And in Revelation 21:8, we are told that along with the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral (pretty nasty company), that the inheritance of liars will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.

So having taken off the old self and having put on the new self, we are to be about the business of killing sexual sin in our lives, and we are to put off sins of anger in our lives, and finally in verse 11 we see that…

Because Christians have died to their old way of life, we must be about the business of ending discriminatory practices (v. 11)

Paul knows that the different classes and divisions he lists here were pretty big deals in the ancient world. He outlines some of those lines of distinction in verse 11. Let me read verse 11 again.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11 ESV)

The Jews despised the Greeks and the Greeks despised the Jews. The Jews looked down on those who were not circumcised and the Greeks mocked the Jews because of it. The Greeks looked down on anyone who did not speak their language. That is where the word Barbarian came from. For the Greeks all they could hear when someone was speaking another language was “bar, bar, bar.” And a Scythian was the worst form of a barbarian. They were basically considered savages. And the distinction and tension between slaves and free people was as high as it once was in our own country.

And so, Paul’s point in this verse is that no one who has put on the new self can allow any of the prejudices from their pre-Christian days to continue to exist within them. They must be put away. These distinctions are meaningless within the church of Jesus Christ. Differences in language, color, gender, class, culture, nationality, race, social standing, are irrelevant within the church.

All the barriers of division that keep people apart are torn down in Jesus Christ. Paul says elsewhere:

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)

And:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV)

In Christ the distinction between Jew and Gentile is done away with. So away with concerns about circumcision and uncircumcision.

In Christ, Paul says, the civilized and uncivilized can gather together in harmony.

In Christ, the distinction between a slave and a free person is gone. Where the world saw a slave as a piece of property, in the church a slave may be a leader who leads a slave owner in worship. They were equals. They were brothers and sisters in Christ.

The divisions are gone and Christ is all, and in all. Christ lives in those who believe and we are to treat them as we would treat Christ himself. “Whatever you do for the least of these you have done for me.”

And the reality here is that only the power of the Holy Spirit can remove deep-seated prejudices from our hearts. And sometimes it takes time. We all know what our natural prejudices are and there is no need for me to beat you up with them this morning. But I do want you to see that prejudice and distinction is not to be tolerated within the church. Christ died for all people. People from every tongue, tribe, and nation. And who in the world do we think we are when we try to make one group more important than another. And in the church, this is unthinkable.

Conclusion

I’d like to close by saying: We can only “be who we are” by the enabling power of God. But we nonetheless have to “be who we are.”

We have to be the new person we have put on and have nothing more to do with the old person we took off. Sins of sexual immorality, sins of anger, and sinful attitudes of discrimination are no longer a part of us.

So brothers and sisters, be who you are, not who you were. You are no longer slaves to sin. You are now a slave of Jesus Christ and thus able to live lives that bring glory to him. Your lives are already hidden with Christ above. And one day you will appear with him in glory. So go ahead and get to work “being who you are.” You are not doing this to be saved, you are doing this because you are saved. Christ has freed you to “be who you are” in him.