VICTORY OVER SIN AND TEMPTATION
Chapter 3: How can I gain victory over sin?
The purpose of this chapter is to present the right attitudes, principles and methods for successfully dealing with sin. Victory over sin is what God wants for His people. Victory over sin is what God expects in His peoples’ lives. Therefore, victory over sin is what they also should desire and expect.
Understanding Colossians 3: God’s program for dealing with sin
As we search for help to gain victory over sin, we could glean wisdom from any part of the Bible. But the counsel God gives in Colossians 3 is complete and easy to grasp. Therefore, we shall use this chapter to direct and guide our investigation of the Bible. Our plan will be as follows. Verses 1 and 2 state two principles that form the foundation of God’s plan for dealing with sin, and we will spend most of our time on them. The rest of the chapter 3 explains and illustrates those two principles. Our examination of those verses will be brief, but we will spend enough time to highlight a few important points.
Colossians 3:1, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”
The word “if” begins a conditional statement. That means the counsel of the chapter does not apply to everybody. It is reserved for someone who meets the requirements that are given in the verse. The instruction of Colossians 3 is only for someone who is “risen with Christ.” The idea of this word can be expressed as, “These words of help in dealing with sin are intended for the properly qualified person.”
The word “ye” is plural. It is an inclusive word. The instruction of the chapter is for everyone who is “risen with Christ,” without exception. There are no people who are “risen with Christ” to whom this counsel does not apply. That means people who are “risen with Christ” will not find another way to deal successfully with sin. No one has their own private or secret plan for dealing with sin. The point of this word is that the counsel of this chapter applies to every qualified person’s life situation and sin problem. In other words, if someone is “risen with Christ,” they will follow this counsel and eventually will successfully deal with their sins.
The word “then” implies a connection between the contents of Colossians 3 and the contents of Colossians 1 and 2. That is, chapter 3 reminds us of and continues some previous ideas. One idea is expressed by the words, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13), implying that those people who are “risen with Christ” are under a new authority, Christ’s and no longer Satan’s. Another idea is expressed as, “and you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13). This implies that those people who are “risen with Christ,” in addition to a judicial pardon, have received a life they never had before. That new life is Christ’s own eternal life (Col. 1:27, Gal. 2:20).
Thus, those who are “risen with Christ” are expected to be different than they were before, both inside and outside (II Cor. 5:17). We can express the intent of the word “then” by means of the following words, “if, then, your situation is so different than it was before, both because you are in a new place (in the kingdom of God) and because you are a new person (with a new life) .....”
The word “then” also introduces a conclusion. Colossians 1 and 2 described the necessity and value of doing things God’s way, in contrast to some other way. We can summarize the discussion of the previous two chapters in the following way. The basis for the victory God’s people have over their own personal sin is Jesus Christ, who is God Almighty (Col. 1:15, 2:9). Jesus is sufficient for all His people’s needs (Col. 2:10). He alone has the authority, wisdom and power to keep His people faithful as they face the challenges of personal sins. Jesus separates His people from the penalty (Col. 1:14) and power of sin (Col. 2:11,12). He removes them from the dominion of Satan (Col. 1:13, 2:15). He gives them a new life and continues to sustain them as they deal with sins each day. These blessings display the value of being under the Lord Jesus Christ’s supreme authority, which He used to design a solution for the real sin problem of His people.
Colossians also describes the contrasting human attempt to deal with sin, based upon philosophy, empty promises, vain traditions, and a physical focus (Col. 2:8). The programs men invent and peddle to others for overcoming their wicked habits may sound good, but they do not help people deal with sin in an honorable way (Col. 2:23), that is, in a way that honors God’s just demands. Their plans might temporarily make some people look godly, but their plans have no sustaining power to help people rule over the desires of their flesh now, or to face the consequences of their sin at the end of time.
Having looked back at the previous two chapters, we “then” see that the futile plans men make to deal with sin are quite different from the effective power of the Gospel. The difference is revealed in the lives of God’s people who successfully deal with sin in their lives. From that point of view, the idea of the word “then” can be expressed as, “with all that we previously have said, we can conclude that if you are risen with Christ, rather than relying upon human wisdom and strength, you must proceed in the following way in order to successfully deal with your sins.”
“be risen with Christ”
According to Colossians 2:12, the phrase “be risen with Christ” refers to someone who has been raised from the dead. The phrase “be risen with Christ” is not a poetic or figurative term. Before people are saved they are not kind of dead, or mostly dead. Instead, before people are saved they are just as dead as people in a cemetery. However, after they are saved they are alive. So this phrase refers to an actual resurrection from the dead. In support of this fact, we can point out that the phrase “be risen with Christ” links the reality of that resurrection to Jesus’ own resurrection (Eph 2:6, Col. 2:13). That identity means, if it is true that Jesus really died and did not just appear to die, then it is true that before people are saved, they also were dead. That identity also means, if it is true that Jesus really came to life again, then when people are saved they also have a real death-to-life experience.
Since believers have the same body they had before they were saved, they must have been raised in their spiritual part, in their souls. Although not visible to the human eye, the resurrection of their souls is just as real as a physical resurrection. That is, before they were saved, Christians were really dead in sin (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13). Furthermore, they died the death of the wrath of God in punishment for sin. They did not endure that wrath personally, but in the sense that Jesus represented them when He paid for their sins. Nevertheless, before they were saved, Christians were just as dead as Christ was, who paid the penalty of death for their sins (Isaiah 53:5, Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 1:14,22). After they are saved, Christians have life (John 5:24, Col. 2:13). Therefore being “risen” is a real from-death-to-life experience, even though it is a spiritual experience.
In conclusion, the phrase, “be risen with Christ,” means to be saved by the grace of God, which includes not only what God does for His people judicially in paying for sins, but also what God does to His people in bestowing upon them a new life. So the idea of the phrase, “if ye then be risen with Christ,” can be expressed as, “If you are saved, I have some advice to help you deal with your sins.”
With all of this in mind, we can say that a more complete title for Colossians 3 would be God’s program for dealing with sin in a Christian’s life. That is, the counsel of this chapter is meant exclusively for Christians. Only Christians want the advice and all Christians have the power to apply it to their lives. We do not imply that Colossians 3 has no message for unbelievers. God uses all of His Word to deal with them, too. After all, God uses His Word to call to salvation all those whom He intends to save (Rom. 10:17, I Peter 2:23). As long as someone is physically alive, there is hope. So, God can use the opening “if” statement of Colossians 3 to graciously call people into His Kingdom. Furthermore, God uses His Word to prepare for judgment all those who refuse to submit to His will (John 3:19, 12:48). Nevertheless, when we think of Colossians 3 as a guide to help people gain victory over sin, then we must understand that it is intended for believers.
We now are ready to make some extremely important observations about the struggle Christians have with their sins. These observations will help us understand the foundation upon which God builds His program for gaining victory over His peoples’ sins and the tactics He prescribes for fulfilling that program in their lives.
a. Salvation is the foundation for gaining victory over sin
Based upon the phrase “be risen with Christ,” we can state that salvation is the foundation for gaining victory over sin. We can understand this observation in two ways.
First of all, salvation is the foundation for gaining victory over sin in the sense that people first must be saved in order to deal successfully with it (Rom. 8:3,4). For people who are not Christians, successfully dealing with sin begins with seeking the mercy and grace of God for salvation. For Christians, the first step in dealing with sin is to “make sure that you are saved!”
As we face the so-called “practical” issue of dealing with sin, we must keep in mind that there is no separation between the doctrines of salvation and advice for Christian life. Truth in one leads to truth in the another. Error in one leads to error in the other. A person who does not correctly understand the doctrines of grace will eventually show it by how he lives his life. Conversely, any sin of attitude or behavior to which a person clings will eventually affect his understanding of salvation. That is why the best basis for a faithful walk with God is a correct understanding of salvation. Similarly, only a person with a humble willingness to submit to God’s commands for his life is open to the truths of salvation as presented in the Bible.
Maybe we can better understand the idea that salvation is the basis for gaining victory over sin by asking the following questions. Is God’s counsel, “Let me tell you how to do a better job than Adam and Eve”? Does God point us in the right direction and send us off to just try harder? Is our task to copy Jesus’ life more carefully? Is the key to solving our sin problem leading a good life and going to church? Does a sincere effort count? The answer to all of these questions is, “No.” Anyone who seeks to take the necessary steps to gain victory over the sins in his life, must understand that Colossians 3, or any part of the Bible for that matter, is not a do-it-yourself kit. As we said, dealing with our sins is really a salvation issue.
People who are not saved have no interest in denying their sinful desires and have no ability to turn from their sin, even if they wanted to. However, people who are saved have the desire and power to turn from their sin. Jesus Christ has given them a new life. They are animated by new motivations, objectives and abilities. Therefore, gaining victory over sin is first of all not a moral issue of performance, but an issue of salvation. Dealing with sin begins with redemption, which is a rescue from the wrath of God, and is accompanied by the resurrecting power of the Gospel. The expected moral and spiritual virtues that attend salvation are the resulting fruits, not the initial objective of the Gospel.
The answer to the question, “What can I do about my sins?” is “You can do nothing about it yourself.” One reason is that we have accumulated a record of disobedience, for which we are accountable, that we are not able to erase by our own efforts. An inventory of our sins is not a list of wrong or neglected actions which we simply need to properly complete in order to fulfill our obligation. In other words, solving our sin problem is not just a matter of eventually finishing what we were supposed to do. Nor is solving our sin problem a matter of adding acts of obedience to our record that hopefully will balance out or compensate for our acts of disobedience. The answer to the question “What can I do about my sins?” never is “Do better next time” or “Try to redo the job and fix what you did wrong in order to make up the difference for your mistake” or “Be good so your deeds will out weigh or cancel your bad behavior.” No one can start life again with a clean slate. No one can go back, erase, and correct his acts of willful disobedience. Every sin is a permanent, indelible mark in the book that God will open on Judgment Day in order to confirm the frightful destiny of every unsaved sinner (Rev. 20:12).
Another reason the answer is “You can do nothing about it yourself” is that we can do nothing in our own wisdom and strength. When God first meets us, we are dead. Turning from our sin and obeying God are impossible tasks (Matt. 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 18:27). We cannot raise ourselves from the dead. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Only God can remove the judicial barrier between a sinner and His grace, and only God can raise up that which is dead.
As we explained in Chapter 2, our sin problem is really God’s problem to solve. He first removes the penalty and power of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. He then continues to deal with sin in the lives of His people even after they are saved. It is all of God. Therefore, victory over sin begins by heeding the warning, “be sure that you are saved!”
In addition to that, salvation is the foundation for gaining victory over sin in the sense that after people are saved they must apply the same principles to their sin problem that brought them salvation in the first place. As we read in Colossians 2:6, Christians walk in Christ the same way they receive Him. Let us examine the process or means though which God saves people in order to understand how to gain victory over our sins.
We begin with the fact that God causes people whom He saves to recognize and focus upon their own personal sins (Psalm 32:5, 38:18, Prov. 28:13, I John 1:8,9). That is, in any situation that might lead Christians into sin or in which they have sinned, they must focus upon their own sin problem and not on the sins of another person, as real and as aggravating as the other person’s sins may be. In any situation, especially when their sin involves a conflict with another person, they must contritely recognize their own culpability. They must face the shame associated with their own sin as well as be aware of the consequences they deserve, whether they are spared those consequences or not. That personal focus will make their sin problem clearer in their minds and make their struggle with sin less complicated.
Next, we turn to the fact that God causes people whom He saves to trust Him (Psalm 37:3). In any situation that might lead Christians to sin or in which they have sinned, they must believe the promise of His grace, trusting that He will forgive according to His Word. Also, they must trust His control over all things in their daily lives. For example, when their carefully prepared plans fall apart, when they are arrested from attaining something they want, or when they wonder about an unfair situation, they must not impatiently and aggressively strive to achieve what they want through their own wisdom and strength. Neither must they compare their situation with that of another person and become jealous, frustrated, bitter or vengeful. Rather, they must trust that God is always in control and can change any situation as He sees fit. They must conclude that things are the way they are because God has allowed them to be so. Then they must abandon themselves to God’s management over the affairs of each day, expecting that God’s ways are best and that He will direct things for their good and His glory. They must trust that no situation is more than God can handle. No situation can prevent Him from doing His good and perfect will.
Associated with the need to trust in God is the principle that people cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). In addition to trusting God, people who seek to deal with sin must simultaneously relinquish control of the things that they treasure (Phil 3:13). They must give all those things to God. They must abandon all of own their plans, jealousies, resentments, hurts, fears, desires, or anything else that would divide their loyalty and keep them anchored to this world. On one hand, people who trust God must understand that God means what He says when He threatens to destroy all idols, together with the people who cling to them (I Cor. 6:13). On the other hand, people who trust God must delight more in the Lord than in any earthly pleasures or treasures. The things of this world, which includes their flesh, work against their effort to gain victory over their sin and their effort to serve God whom they claim to love (Gal. 5:17). Therefore, anyone who trusts God in a half-hearted, double-minded way will never receive victory over his sin (James 1:6-8).
Finally, we face the fact that God causes people whom He saves to take deliberate steps of contrite repentance (Psalm 37:23, 148:8). In any situation that might lead Christians into sin or in which they have sinned, they must never think that a little indulgence does not matter or that they can take care of their sin sometime later. Sin problems only get worse. Sloth in this area often leads to great sorrow later. In fact, some people’s procrastination may be an indication that they have no interest in God’s will because He really is not their Lord and Savior, even though they might think He is. On the other hand, a true believer can take and wants to take prompt steps to change his attitude and pattern of behavior.
We can conclude our observation that salvation is the basis for dealing with sin by looking at I Corinthians 10:17. According to I Corinthians 10:17, God makes a “way to escape” for people who face sins and temptations. The word translated “way to escape” is used only twice in the Bible, once in I Corinthians and once in Hebrews 13:7 as “end.” In Hebrews, it refers to the faithful lifestyle of the rulers of the church, whose way the other members should follow. The word translated “way to escape” is a combination of the prefix “away from” and the root, “feet.” The root is used only in Acts 3:7, to refer to a man’s restored feet as a picture of salvation. Our conclusion from all of this is that I Corinthians 10:17 teaches we have a “way to escape” only if God has given us “feet” to walk “away from” the sins and temptations. Those are feet that accompany salvation. The point is that a Christian’s ability to deal successfully with sins and temptations begins with and continues all his life by God’s work of grace (II Peter 3:18).
b. A finished work of God
Being “raised with Christ” does not mean people are raised part way or raised by installments. Salvation is an all-or-nothing proposition. In terms of John 15, a person either abides in the vine and produces fruit or he does not produce fruit because he is not in the vine. The fact is that the Holy Spirit fully equips a Christian to deal with sin (Rom. 8:13,14).
Since God’s work of salvation is something that He does without any participation by those who are saved, it is a perfect and complete work that needs no amendments. Therefore, a Christian’s objective for gaining victory over sin is not to prepare himself for entrance into Heaven. Colossians 3 is not a plan to help him be good enough to be accepted by God or to allow him to fix something in his life before he meets God. The notion that gaining victory over sin is a clean-up in preparation for entering Heaven implies that Jesus’ atonement was insufficient, and that something is missing which is supplied by our own works or the work of someone else on our behalf. However, Jesus alone made full access to the Father for all of His children, inasmuch as he disposed of the barrier to Heaven that their sins erected. That access is available, both now in prayer (Eph. 2:18, Heb. 4:16) and after death when Christians go to be with God (II Cor. 5:8, Phil. 1:21-23). That is both a relief and a caution. It is a relief for Christians who understand that their right to enter Heaven is independent of their uncertain efforts in dealing with sin, and a caution for people who think that it is not.
c. Christians still sin
Colossians 3 is addressed to people who are “risen with Christ.” The idea is that the counsel of the chapter is meant for Christians because they need it. The implication is that Christians sin. Do people who have the heart and the power to do God’s will still sin? Yes. That is what God teaches in Romans 7:18-25. Keeping that fact in mind helps Christians deal with their sin.
First of all, the recognition that Christians do sin arrests any tendency to pride. The message is, “Don’t think that you are perfect, super holy and without sin. That is a conceit and a deceit that fools no one but yourself” (I John 1:8). Christians must never attempt to protect their pride and self-respect, because that action would be a barrier to gaining victory over sin. Christians must be humbly honest about themselves and their need of God’s help. Their souls are righteous, the proof of which is that the moment they die they go to Heaven in the presence of a Holy God (II Cor. 5:8). However, while on earth, they are in a sinful body that continues to delight in its own sinful desires (Rom. 7:45).
Secondly, the recognition that Christians do sin provides solace in their struggle. The message is, “When you sin don’t be overly discouraged or fearful.” It is important to understand that the presence of sin in a person’s life is not an indication of a loss of salvation. It is a reminder of the fact that after a person is saved, he is a walking civil war (Rom. 7:17-24). This is both an encouraging and a sobering fact.
A person is encouraged by the fact that he struggles because the battle shows he has life within him. We can compare this to a fish in the water. A dead fish is swept along with the prevailing tides and currents. But a fish that is alive often swims and struggles against them. Similarly, a Christian’s struggles against sin is good news, because those struggles reveal he is a true Christian, that he is spiritually alive. If he were still spiritually dead, he would conform to the desires of his flesh without an intense or prolonged conflict. But since he is alive, he has both the desire and ability to fight against his flesh.
A Christian must keep in mind that a person who is saved can never lose his eternal salvation (John 10:27-29, Rom. 6:23, Eph. 1:13). He can trust God’s promise to keep him (Phil. 1:6, II Tim. 1:12). Although sin is found in his life, repentance and faith will follow, because he really is saved. That realization should drive him to seek the wisdom and power of God he needs to turn from his sin. And as time goes by, he will gain victory over this sin and that sin, never completing the job but always showing evidence of striving to be more faithful (Phil 3:13-16).
Thirdly, the recognition that Christians do sin provides the encouragement of companionship, for the word “ye” is a plural pronoun that embraces many people. The message is, “Don’t think that you are the only one who is struggling with sin. You aren’t weird or especially wicked.” That is, not only does a Christian still sin, but all his brethren do too. It is not that a Christian is happy that other Christians agonize over their sins. Rather, the struggles he observes in other people’s lives reinforce the thought that God has not abandoned him and that he must not be weary in well doing, but press on.
Finally, a person is sobered by the fact that he continues to struggle with a particular sin because a besetting sin could be an indication that the sin is par for the course in his life, that the sin is dominant and in control, that he is really not saved and has never been saved, despite his outward claim. That realization should drive him to seek the salvation of the Bible. When a person sins, it is always appropriate for him to reassess his spiritual condition and ask “Am I truly saved?” (II Cor. 13:5) If he really is saved, then he will be assured of his salvation by the Word of God (Rom. 8:16, 10:17). But he should never be so surprised at the wicked things he says and does. After all, what else is new? What does he expect, especially when he remembers that He is still encumbered by a body infected with sin? The issue is not whether a Christian sins, but “what does he do after?” Colossians 3 explains what should come after, if a person is truly raised with Christ.
Incidentally, the words, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God,” found in I John 3:9 do not contradict our claim that Christians still sin. In fact, the book of 1 John itself states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). I John 3:9 refers to the “inward man” which delights in the law of God (Rom. 7:22). A person who is saved is perfect in his soul. We say that based upon statement that, after a Christian dies, he goes directly to God’s Holy heaven without any intervening purification (II Cor. 5:9).
d. Christians are victorious
In Colossians 1:3-6 we read, “we thank God ... since we heard of your faith ... and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you.” The fact is that Christians do eventually gain victory over a sin with which they are struggling (Col. 1:10, 2:5). That is what we read in Romans 8:1-5.
The realistic message of Romans 7, that Christians struggle in this world with the sins that so easily beset them, is followed by the message of Romans 8, that Christians do gain victory over sins. That victory is the hallmark of a true Christian’s life. Even if, as Romans 7 points out, Christians temporarily lose some battles with a particular sin, they always win the war, because that sin cannot determine their eternal destiny, nor can it continue to determine their behavior. The point is that when a Christian submits to God’s plan, there is a real expectation of success.
However, victory over sin is not a testimony to Christians’ personal diligence and valor. God does not design a wise plan to overcome sin, disclose it to Christians, then equip them to gain the victory independently by their own earnest efforts. Rather, the victory is God’s (Rom. 8:37, I Cor.15:57, II Cor. 2:14). It is God’s victory in the sense that He has done all that is necessary in Jesus’ atonement to vanquish His peoples’ sin. And it is God’s victory in the sense that He is the one who animates His people to deal with their sin (Gal. 2:20, Phil. 2:13).
Also, victory over sin does not mean that the propensity to fall into the same sin has been totally eliminated or that Christians will never sin in a particular way again. Instead, the victory is in the sense that, as time goes by, Christians grow and are more and more successful in recognizing and avoiding a particular sin that God brings to their attention. That is, Christians learn to depend more and more upon the wisdom and power of God in different situations (Gal. 2:20), recognizing that though they are weak, He remains faithful (II Tim. 2:13).
From that point of view, we could say that Colossians 3 presents two strong evidences that a person is a true believer. That is, if his greatest desire is to serve God and not himself, and if he reveals the power to gain victories over sins, then he reveals that he is indeed saved, and is under the authority of God.
e. Vigilance is required
Hebrews 12:2 warns that we must be aware of “the sin which doth so easily beset us.” Sin is handy. It is as nearby as our flesh. The potential for becoming entangled in sin exists in every life situation. Therefore, the struggle against sin is a 24-hour-a-day job. Also, it continues until the day Christians die (Col. 2:4, 8). The message is Christians must recognize that the struggle against their sin requires that they constantly be watchful. It can be expressed as, “Don’t think you can let down your guard.”
For example, Christians must understand that even though, by God’s grace and abiding power, they have resisted the attractions of a particular sin for a time, that sin and its appeal never completely disappears. They must ever watch lest they once more heed and answer its appeal to their flesh. In another example, while God in His wisdom removes some issues of sin early in Christians’ lives, He allows many others to remain so that they must deal with them, one at a time, over the remainder of their lives on this earth. That is, when God gives them victory over a particular sin, another sin that they had not previously noticed soon demands their attention. So they must begin to work on it. And yet each victory gives them wisdom to effectively struggle with the next sin, as well as confidence in God, who used His power to help them deal successfully with their past sins.
Christians must be diligent in Bible study and prayer in order to be prepared to deal with the temptations to sin they face every moment. Only through those two means will Christians have the wisdom and power to remain constantly vigilant, which is part of their struggle with sin as long as they live on this earth.
f. Why do Christians sin?
The Bible teaches, which our own experience supports, that Christians sin because they still live in their sin-corrupted bodies (Rom. 7:17-19). However, at this point we could ask, “Why would God allow Christians to sin, especially when we think about the great problem it is for them? Couldn’t God prevent them from sinning? Doesn’t I John 4:4 state that God is stronger than sin and Satan?” Yes, God could prevent Christians from committing many of the sins they do. The fact is that He does restrain sin in their lives, much more than in unbelievers’ lives. In fact, it is only because of God’s power that anyone turns from sin and obeys Him at all. Nevertheless, God does not prevent every sin. He allows some sins to continue in the lives of His people until the day they die. Is there any possible reason for that?
We do not know all that God knows or intends to do through the affairs of men, including the lives of His people. But some things are easy to understand. One reason God allows sin to persist in Christians’ lives is that it teaches them something about God. They learn that He is so gracious and kind to people so undeserving (Psalm 107:9).
A second reason God allows sin to persist in Christians’ lives is that it teaches them something about themselves. Christians’ sins humble them as their sins force them to have a realistic self-image. Their sins remind them of their personal sin-tendencies and highlights their dependence upon God’s abiding care (Rom. 7:24,25).
A third reason God allows sin to persist in Christians’ lives is that it teaches them something about the Gospel. As Christians eventually gain victory over particular sins, they see that the promises and power of God’s Gospel are real (I Peter 4:3,4).
A fourth reason God allows sin to persist in Christians’ lives is that it teaches them something about other people. On one hand, they observe other people struggling with a common foe, and are reminded that all people are earthen vessels, weak and in need of patience and mercy (II Tim. 2:22-25). It causes Christians to be sensitive and sympathetic with other people. They learn that other people should be targets of Gospel comfort, rather than criticism. On the other hand, as Christians slowly over time grow in spiritual strength, they become wise to the wiles of the world and the spiritual attacks of their enemies. So it causes Christians to have a realistic image of other people, and to trust God rather than men (Psalm 108:12).
The word “seek” is a word of action. We find it translated in Acts 21:31, “went about.” This word is in a grammatical form that indicates a command. It is a command given with the expectation that a person who is “risen with Christ” will obey. From this we have one of two fundamental principles which form the foundation of God’s plan for gaining victory over sin.
The first principle is that a true, born again believer can obey and turn from his sin.
Colossians 3:1 teaches that a believer does not have to sin (Rom. 8:12-13). He can walk obediently because he has been raised to a new life in Christ. If a man is saved and God rules in his heart (Col. 3:15), the power of sin has no dominant hold on him. He can serve faithfully by means of the greater power of the resurrected life within him (II Cor. 5:15, Phil. 2:12,13, Col. 2:12,13, Gal. 2:20, I John 4:4).
One conclusion we can make is that when a believer sins he realizes he can blame only himself (James 1:14). For one thing, a believer does not react to the discovery of his own sin with alibis, rationalizations, or excuses. Instead, he cries out in sorrow (Psalm 32:5, 51:3). His wickedness defiles and fights against his new nature (Gal. 5:17). Also, his sin is a grief to him because his wickedness saddens and dishonors God, who has shown him so much love in the Gospel (Luke 22:62). For another thing, a believer recognizes that while he may be born with a particular strong sin tendency, peculiar to his own personality, he does not have to indulge it. Instead, he recognizes God knows his weakness better than he (Psalm 103:14), and that he must not neglect the divine wisdom and power available to him (Phil. 4:13, Jude 24).
Another conclusion we can make is that a person who continues unsuccessfully to struggle with his sin must take the constant defeat seriously, especially in light of the power that is available to someone who is “raised from the dead.” A person whose life is dominated by a particular sin must not casually think, “I made a profession of faith” or “I am a member of the church, therefore I am saved, even though I happen to be living like the world.” Rather, a person must seriously think, “No matter what I said or did outwardly in the past, if I continue to live like the world, am I really saved?” A true believer can seek the things above, so no evidence of seeking means no evidence of salvation.
“those things which are above”
The word “seek” is a word of action with a purpose or goal, namely “those things which are above.” Dealing with sin requires a heavenly focus. It is not true that to be heavenly minded is to be of no earthly good, as if someone who is always thinking of Heaven is incapable of being any use for the practical affairs of daily living on earth. In fact, the only way to be of any earthly good is to be heavenly minded. There is nothing more practical than salvation and the demonstration of the gracious work of God’s grace through a person’s obedience.
The words, “seek ... above” remind us of prayer. That vital ingredient in the successful struggle against sin and temptation will be discussed later when we look at the phrase, “and be ye thankful,” found in verse 15.
“where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”
Jesus does not sit in repose, detached from the affairs of His people. Rather, the “right hand” of God is the place of supreme authority. Jesus sits and reigns with supreme authority as the Creator (Col. 1:16) and as the Redeemer of His church (Col. 1:18). Therefore, the issue of dealing with sin comes down to the question of, “Who is your Lord and Master?” That is, “Are you saved and so is Jesus your Lord? Or are you unsaved and under the authority of either your own desires or Satan’s?”
Jesus, who is the peace of God (Eph. 2:14), rules in the hearts of those whom He saves (Col. 3:15). Since Jesus sits on the right hand of God, He rules with sufficient authority to cause His people to deal successfully with their sin. In the words of Romans 8:12, they no longer owe obedience to sin for it is no longer their master. Sin has no overwhelming control over them. Jesus does. Therefore, the command to “seek” is accompanied by the authority and power of God to help fulfill that command. That is why the first principle is true.
In addition to that, according to Ephesians 2:6, people who have been “risen with Christ” sit where Jesus does. They rule with authority, too, as the Bible states, “as kings” (Rev. 1:6). It is not that they are rivals to Jesus’ authority or that they have jurisdiction in a part of the universe that is equal to or exceeds Jesus’ authority in some way. Instead, their authority is expressed in different ways, two of which are as follows. When Christians bring the Bible’s message of the Gospel, not only is what they say backed by the authority of God Himself, but also God works through their testimony to save some people and prepare others for judgment (II Cor. 2:15-16, 5:20). Also, Christians rule over their own sinful flesh (Rom. 6:12-14). God’s resurrection power within them enables the desires of their soul to reign over the desires of their flesh, so that they can live obediently (Rom. 5:17,21).
We must remember that the reason believers are successful in their struggle with sin is that they do not fight the battle themselves. God fights for and in them. Their victory is based upon Jesus’ personal victory over sin and death in His sacrifice before the law, together with His abiding work in their hearts. That victory is seen at the present time in Christians’ ability to walk after the Spirit (John 14:16,17,23, Rom. 8:1-5), and will be revealed at the end of time in the renewal of the universe, which includes believers’ bodies, too. Again, the principle is that believers can seek the will of God.
Colossians 3:2, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
The word “affection,” used in the King James Bible, is really the word “mind.” At this point, we have to be careful. The counsel of this verse is not that we can meditate our way out of sin and temptation. God’s plan is not “mind over matter,” at least not man’s mind. Nor can we say that accurate thinking based upon correct knowledge is enough to assure victory over sin. A good education simply makes educated sinners. Rather, the idea is that God works through the minds of His people by His power so that they do His will (Rom. 12:2, I Cor. 2:16, Phil 4:6-8). That is why, as we shall see, the counsel of Colossians 3:16 is so important.
Even though the Greek word is properly “mind,” the word “affection” is quite appropriate, because a man thinks about those things for which he has an affection. An unsaved man loves this world. For him Heaven is so remote, if he thinks that it exists at all. Besides, the exciting physical universe is a good place to hide or cover up the guilt that he feels. So an unsaved person has given his heart to the world and sets his mind upon its charms. A believer is also part of this world, at least in his body. But, unlike an unbeliever, he is not of this world (John 15:19). He is really a citizen of a different world (Phil. 3:20, Col. 1:13). He really wants to do the will of his heavenly Master. His heart has been captured by Jesus and his mind is full of His words, which he dearly wants to obey. Therefore, Colossians 3:2 introduces the second fundamental principle that forms the foundation of God’s plan for gaining victory over sin.
The second principle is that a true, born again believer wants to obey and does not really want to sin.
It is true that sin is attractive to a believer’s flesh, which has not yet been changed (Rom. 7:18-24). So, in a superficial way, he does want to sin. A believer is aware that it is easy to develop an affection and appetite for sin. Sin is fun and delicious, for a while, even when a person realizes the bitter fruit of misery that it produces (Rom. 6:21). Yet when a believer does sin, his reaction is quite unlike that of an unbeliever who tries to justify himself. A believer cannot continue in his sin. It violates his new nature. Deep in his heart and soul he does not want to sin. So, after he sins, he reacts in brokenness and sorrow (Psalm 51:4, II Cor. 7:10). A believer is honest about his situation and has a heart that earnestly seeks to turn from his sin and please God.
A person’s desire, or “want to,” is the seat of sin. For as we saw in Chapter 2 of this study, sin is a matter of the will (Col. 3:24). Maybe for a short time one person can force another person to do outwardly what the Bible commands. However, no one can make another person want to do God’s will, no one can except God Himself. Only God can change a person’s “want to,” or rather exchange it. Only God can replace a sinner’s old heart and its affections with a new heart and its affections (Ezek. 36:25,26). That is why salvation is the only hope for dealing with sin. The Gospel alone is the power of God for salvation and the power to help people set their affection on things above. That heavenly desire is a big witness to the fact that they are “risen with Christ.” That desire is a big witness to the fact that God indeed has worked and continues to work in their lives with resurrection power.
The focus of Colossians 3:2 is upon the mind because that is the factory of sin. That is where sin begins and where the battle must be won. Let us trace the way of sin in our minds. When a sinful thought comes into our minds, the tendency of our flesh is to focus and dwell upon it. For example, sometimes we fondle our sin thinking that a little taste is all we need at the moment. We turn it over in our minds and it grows bigger and bigger, soon dominating almost every waking moment of our day. We feel sorry for ourselves when we have an affection for something and cannot have what we yearn. We are afraid of losing it. We feel deprived of something special and want it in contradiction to God’s will. The next step is capitulation, no matter what God says. In another example, sometimes we foolishly think we are in control and try to “figure out” our sin. We try to “better understand” it by analyzing it in order to get rid of it. At that point we are ripe for surrendering to it. The message of Colossians is that we must not think about it at all. We must think about things above. We are not so in control of the situation or of ourselves. We must flee such thoughts the moment they come to our minds and, as this verse says, turn the focus of our attention upon God.
Sin is strong, so very strong! We must realize how strong sin is. We must realize how strong our desire to sin is. We must realize how strongly attracted to sin we fallen humans are. Sin is stronger that we are. That is, our attraction to sin is stronger than our own power to resist it effectively. But God is stronger than sin. God is not attracted to sin but He is powerful enough to keep us from falling into sin. According to Colossians 3:1,2, if we are saved, we can and want to exercise the power of the resurrected life, beginning with our minds. As we fill our minds with and meditate upon the things above, we will reveal the work of God within us and gain the peace at heart which is a testimony to ourselves and others that we are “risen with Christ” (II Cor. 10:5, Phil. 4:7-9, Col. 3:15).
A summary of verses 1 and 2
Before we continue with a brief examination of the following verses, it would be good to summarize the main ideas of verses 1 and 2. Colossians 3:1 and 2 are like two thesis statements. They state two principles which are developed in the rest of the chapter. The first principle can be stated in this way: People who have been “raised with Christ” do not have to sin. They can obey their Lord. Colossians 3:2 states the second principle: People who have been “raised with Christ” do not want to sin. They have a holy affection for the things above which is greater than their sinful affection for the things of this world.
Colossians 3:3, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
This verse gives the reason why the principles stated in verses 1 and 2 are true. One reason Christians are able to gain victory over their sins is that they are “dead.” At this point, we must make sure that we understand what is in view when the Bible uses the word “dead.” The word can refer to at least three different but closely related ideas.
One death is physical death. That is a death which is experienced by all men, both unsaved and saved, except for those people who are physically alive when Jesus returns to conclude history on earth. That is not the kind of death in view here because the Colossian readers were still physically alive, as are all who read these words today.
Another death is spiritual death of the soul. That death also is shared by all men, but is the death from which God’s people are resurrected when they become saved, and is the death in which all unsaved people remain eternally. That, also, is not the kind of death meant in verse 3, because the word “dead” is applied to believers’ present situation. Believers were dead in their souls before they were saved, but they are no longer dead in that way.
Still one more death is the death in Hell. It is referred to in the Bible as the “second death” (Rev. 2:11, 20:6, 21:8) because it is an event that follows the ‘first death,’ namely physical and spiritual death (Heb. 9:27). It is the payment required for sins, which is eternally enduring the wrath of God. In other words, it is the death that accompanies condemnation. The death associated with God’s wrath is also shared by all men. However, that is the death that saved people experience differently from those who are never saved. Those who are saved experience it in Jesus, since He died for them, while all who are not saved will experience that death on the their own. This is the death upon which Colossians 3:3 focuses.
The death in view is the death that believers experience as part of the salvation work of Jesus. That is, when Jesus died He took their sins with Him and so in effect they died, too. But more than a judicial compensation, more than fulfilling the command that the “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, Rom. 6:23), Jesus’ death also was a release. That is the implication of the prefix “away from” which is attached to the front of the word translated “dead” in Colossians 3:3. Those who are “risen with Christ” no longer obey their former master because they have been set free from that master and belong to a new Master (Col. 1:13).
Now that we have a clearer view of the word “dead,” let us try to understand the message of Colossians 3:3. We shall begin by thinking of people as beings who are created in two parts, body and soul. Because of the sin of Adam, all people inherit a dead soul and a body full of sin. Since they have no life in their souls, unsaved people are dominated by the sin in their bodies. The lusts of their bodies draw unsaved people into sin, unimpeded by any resistance to sin which would come from their souls, which are dead. The Gospel changes that situation.
One result of the Gospel is that believers are “dead” with Christ. The simplest way to think about this is that death separates people from their bodies. People who become believers do not die physically, but the separation of believers from their bodies is just as real. This is important because it means believers are separated from the sin that is in their bodies in the sense that sin no longer has dominion over them. That is why Romans 6:2 states that they are dead "to sin," rather than dead to their bodies.
Another result of the Gospel is that believers are “risen with Christ.” (Col. 3:1). The simplest way to think about this is that believers’ souls are no longer dead but alive. They have experienced a spiritual resurrection in their souls. People who become believers have a new life, not just a restored life in the image of Adam, but an eternal life, a life described in both Romans 5 and 6 as Jesus’ own life. The life they have is not an independent life of their own. It is the life of Jesus Himself who is within them (John 14:6, Gal. 2:20, Col. 1:21). It is eternal life, not just in the sense that it is life without end, but especially in the sense that it is the life of the eternal God. That is, eternal life is a statement of quality as much as it is of duration. This is important because it means believers, who continue to live in their sinful bodies until they die physically or until the Lord returns, now have the power of Jesus’ life in their souls that enables them to resist the pull of the sinful desires in their bodies. They both can and want to do God’s will.
Therefore, the reason the principles stated in Colossians 3:1-2 are true is that Christians have died to sin, or rather to the power of sin, and have the greater power of the resurrected life within them (Col. 2:12,20). Again, they both can and want to do God’s will.
Colossians 3:3, adds that believers are “hid with Christ in God.” The word “hid” is used to highlight the fact that the blessings of a new resurrected life are not recognized or understood by unbelievers (II Cor. 4:3). The whole idea of dealing with sin makes no sense to people who are not saved. Anyone who willingly denies himself the pleasures of sin in order to serve God is strange in the eyes of unbelievers (I Peter 4:3,4), and is either pitied or mocked by them.
Colossians 3:4, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
This verse states the objective of the two principles given in verses 1 and 2. The objective is that when Jesus Christ “shall appear, ... then shall ye (Christians) also appear with him in glory.” How is that important in Christians’ struggles against their sins?
For one thing, verse 4 promises that Jesus shall indeed “appear.” That means believers will not struggle with their sins forever. Jesus will return to remove this sin-cursed world and replace it with a new incorruptible one (II Peter 3:13), which includes Christians’ glorified spiritual bodies (I Cor. 15:42-44). So their struggles with sins will eventually end in complete victory. Christians will be given victory in the sense that they will be free from the present demands of their sinful flesh, which annoys and grieves them. They also will be given victory in the sense that they will be free to honor and praise God perfectly, as He deserves, and they yearn to do, without the impediments and blemishes of sinful motives and actions. But for now, they must keep their focus on things above, as they deal with sin here on earth.
The present victories which Christians experience in this corrupt material world shows that their hope in the future appearance of Jesus is not misplaced or some “hope-so,” “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by” mental invention. Their present victories over their sins are witnesses to the reality of God’s promises and power, for anyone who has eyes to see. Jesus’ future appearance is as real as His power to give them present victories over their sins. Christians must not faint or grow weary in their struggles with their sins. The struggles are abiding, wearing and a source of sorrow for now, but the promised end is in sight and makes the struggles worthwhile (Heb. 10:36-39).
In addition to that, when Jesus appears, Christians will “appear with him in glory.” It is not that by gaining victory over sin, Christians earn the right to appear with Jesus in glory. Rather it is that, thinking back to verse 3, the victory reveals that their “life is hid with Christ in God,” that they have been “risen with Christ.” When Jesus appears, Christians will not be separated from Him as guilty criminals. Instead they will be with Him as dear children, sharing the blessings of His grace. They are people who have been made ready by God’s grace to meet Jesus inasmuch as they are in God as a shelter, hidden from the judgment that will come when Christ appears (Psalm 27:5, 32:7, 90:1, Rom 8:1).
Struggle with sin and assurance of salvation
When a verse such as Colossians 3:4 reminds people of the appearance of Christ, there are two possible reactions in their hearts. One is joy (Jude 1:24) and another is fear (Rev. 6:16). The reactions are based upon whether a person is saved or not.
It is a wonder that Jesus came to earth the first time to save His people from their sins. That work provided a certain and eternally secure salvation, that no one can erode or reverse. To that we can add another wonder, namely, believers can be absolutely sure they are saved. In other words, not only can believers know that God’s salvation is true, but also they can know it is true for them. That personal conviction is called assurance.
God’s people are not left to question if their Christian experience is a mental or emotional illusion. The message of the Bible is that “we know” (I John 4:13, 5:13). The assurance God’s people have is based upon facts. They have evidence that they have been transformed by God’s grace. According to Colossians 3:1 and 2, the evidence is that they can and want to obey their Lord. How is this evidence seen? The book of I John lists some of the ways. God’s people have dealt with their sins in Christ (I John 1:9, 2:12) and continue to live faithful, obedient lives (I John 2:3,5,29). They are able to recognize and endure spiritual attacks (I John 4:4, 5:18). They genuinely love their brothers (I John 3:14,18,19). And they have the Spirit within them, Who bears witness with their spirits that they indeed are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).
Every person struggles with his own personal sin problems. Those struggles can cause him to question his spiritual situation. If discouragement and doubt dominate a person, if fear persistently lingers in his heart, then it is appropriate for him to ask, “Why do I fear? Is it because I am not saved?”
A true believer can draw upon those things he has close at hand in order to keep his thinking straight about his own spiritual situation. A list of those resources includes the true propositional statements of the Bible, prayer, and his past record of obedience amid temptations, as imperfect as that record is. With the evidence in place that he is saved, he can welcome the promise that “Christ ... shall appear.” A person who is assured that God loves him as His child has inner peace, boldness before God and courage before men.
These verses develop the first principle. They show how the power of the resurrected life within believers overcomes the power of sin in their members so that they can obey. They do not have to sin (Rom. 7:23-25).
Colossians 3:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”
The word translated “mortify” in verse 5 means to put to death. The word “members” refers to the residence of sin, a person’s body of flesh. The counsel is that Christians who seek to gain victory over sin must kill their members (Gal. 5:24). There is no easy way out. We cannot escape this procedure. God expects His people to mortify their members.
This verse does not promote physical mutilation (c.f. Matt. 5:29,30). Besides, that would not help anyone refrain from sin. Only complete physical death would. Nor is this verse a call to suicide, which is self-murder. Interestingly, in the other two places where this form of the Greek word is used, namely the one translated “mortify,” it does not actually refer to physical death. Instead, the idea can be expressed as “a body that is alive but unable to function, as if it were dead” (Rom. 4:19, Heb. 11:12). To deny a sinful desire of the flesh is the same as killing it, because it is the same as if the desire were no longer there. A member of a Christian’s body may scream its desire, but by God’s grace a Christian will not listen. It is as if his member were dead.
We must keep in mind that sin is not an alien force that has invaded Christians’ minds and bodies from outer space. They are not victims of an evil foreign agent who has taken them captive. In fact, they initiate sin. It starts with them, in their members. They are willing participants in sin because in their flesh they enjoy sin. It is a delicious habit to which their flesh is addicted. So, they are not surprised by sin unaware. In fact, the tendency of their members is to look for opportunities to sin. They too easily study to do their own will in opposition to doing what God says in His Word.
The word “mortify” is a stern, decisive and uncompromising word. It implies that dealing with sin God’s way means to be ruthless. Christians must cut off any opportunity to think of sin and avoid any situation that would feed their appetites for sin. That means they must limit what they see, hear and do. They must always be ready to separate themselves from any person or deny themselves anything that might encourage them to sin. They must take firm and deliberate steps to mortify the members of their sinful flesh. Do they hear dirty stories or gossip? They must walk away. Does the TV or radio program use bad language or present scenes and situations to which Christians should not expose themselves? They must turn it off. Does their eye wander to a place or a person that it shouldn’t? They must look away, or avoid the person or place. As long as they live in their bodies on the earth, repentance is their full-time job.
According to verse 1, Christians don’t have to sin. They have the power of God within themselves to turn away. Christians can deliberately turn away from a focus upon sinful attractions and “seek those things which are above,” as they study to do the will of their King. The word that best describes the intent of verse 5 is “repentance.”
At this point it is important to set aside some common misunderstandings about repentance. Repentance is not a word that means Christians regret or feel sorry about the horrible consequences of their sins, which they and others must bear, although that certainly is a proper Christian attitude. Neither is repentance a word that means Christians seek to do something to compensate for their foolish disobedience. Instead, repentance means to make a U-turn in the road of life and go the opposite direction, with purposeful strides away from self-desires and toward God’s will.
In addition to that, the deliberate action which is the mark of repentance is not a virtue that makes Christians particularly endearing. They do not gain honor for turning away from something that they had no business doing in the first place. Recognizing the foolishness of doing something sinful and belatedly turning from it is an expected and obligatory action. Repentance may be a refreshing change from a former life of wickedness, but it does not change the facts. Repentance does not erase the record of the numerous and odious sins Christians commit, nor does it absolve Christians of those sins. Repentance may begin the healing process, but doing the right thing does not make someone a hero. Repentance is simply a necessary step in God’s economy for dealing with sin. Repentance begins with Christians’ eye-opening honesty about their own wickedness and continues with their deliberate steps away from it.
Despite the value of the wisdom that comes from verse 5, we must emphasize that repentance alone is not enough. A Christian may cease to do that which is wrong, but that restraint is not sufficient to gain victory over his sin. The complete picture is to replace the business of sin with the business of obedience. That means Christians must be busy filling their minds with anything that redirects their focus away from whatever tantalizes them to sin. We will visit these ideas again in our brief examination of verses 15 and 16.
Verse 5 also uses the word “your.” As we mentioned earlier, in any attempt to gain victory over sin, the spotlight must not be upon the sins of others, as obnoxious and numerous as they are. Nor should we dwell upon and crusade against the social injustices or the general moral depravity of mankind. That is just a ruse to take the blame off of our own sin. Besides, the sins of society or of mankind as a whole are nothing more than the collective sins of each person in that society, including “your” sin. As it turns out, Christians have no time to look upon any other person’s sins, because they should be too busy dealing with their own sins by means of prayer and Bible study (I Tim. 4:16). The emphasis must always be upon “your” individual personal sin. That keeps the effort to gain victory over sin simpler and more in focus.
We should also mention that the sins listed in verse 5 are all the same in the sense that they are all equally wicked. The word “idolatry” refers not just to “covetousness,” but to all the sins in verse 5. Any sin is idolatry because it puts that desire above the will of God. Capitulating is to serve that desire rather than God. Therefore, the need to “mortify” is not related to how bad the sin is. Mortifying is always an important and urgent item on our agenda for gaining victory over sin, because there are no little sins (James 2:10).
Related to the idea of sin as idolatry is the danger of incomplete or selective repentance. Perhaps we can understand this danger by means of the following example. Imagine that a person becomes aware of his sins, one at a time, over several years. Also imagine that, as the person becomes aware of each sin, he modifies his behavior to conform more closely to what he reads in the Bible. Then imagine eventually the person is called to repent of a particular sin which he repeatedly refuses to forsake. At that point he should ask the questions, “Why am I apparently willing to repent of so many sins, but unwilling to repent of this particular one? Is it because it means too much to me? Is it my idol, which I must serve at all costs? Is it possible that my former pattern of repentance was not real, but just something I did in my own strength just to please other people or impress God?” The danger is that a person could look back upon his previous pattern of “repentance” and think that all is well with his soul, when in fact his Christian experience was really just outward and self-motivated. He also could think that his stubbornness in one particular sin is not so important, inasmuch as he believes he has turned away from so many other sins in the past. In other words, a person could turn from many sins and yet face one that seems impossible to abandon. Whether he eventually repents of it or not reveals the true devotion of his heart, whether to God or to the idol of his sin.
It is true that dealing with sin is a life-long occupation. On a Christian’s last day on earth, there will be many sins in his life of which he should have repented but did not, either because he never became aware of them or because he died before he could deal with them as he should. And it is true that a Christian takes time to repent of some sins, resisting for a while any change in a sinful behavior which his flesh cherishes. However, when God brings a particular sin to a Christian’s attention and calls him to repent of it, under normal circumstances he eventually will repent of it. The reason is that God is the source of true repentance (Acts 5:31,11:18, II Tim. 2:25). He creates in His people the desire to call upon Him for all things (Isaiah 57:19), including the desire and power to repent from sin. And He then answers their request (Matt. 7:7-11).
Colossians 3:6, “For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:”
These words in verse 6 provide motivation for repentance. They remind us of the threat of condemnation and, by contrast, the relief of a future life without it (Rom. 8:1). In other words,
as an encouragement to repent, verse 6 reminds us of “the wrath of God.” A great deal is at stake as people struggle with sin. Christ, the supreme authority, will appear. What will those people do, people who despise His authority and show it by their abandonment to their carnal desires?
If a person’s sin causes him to wonder about his spiritual situation, great! He must deal with it now before it is too late. Believers are distressed by their sin. They especially grieve how they have treated God. It is not that they feel sorry for Him or that He needs protection and cannot take care of Himself, but that they love Him and are ashamed for the personal insult to Him that their sin is. So, fear is really a good sign. It is the evidence that wisdom has entered into a person’s life, wisdom that a true believer will heed and put legs on (Job 28:28). In contrast to that, if sin is not accompanied with fear, horrors! For unbelievers have no fear of God (Psalm 36:1, Rom 3:18).
The word “wrath” also provides a practical tip in dealing with sin. It reminds us of God’s attitude toward sin, an attitude which Christians must share. It is hard to repent. Sometimes we are afraid that if we give up our sin we will miss something special, some kind of irreplaceable joy. Sometimes other people encourage us in sin and we do not want to lose their fellowship. It is so easy to feel sorry for ourselves, and say, “Poor me. I deserve a little indulgence.”
But verse 6 puts things in proper perspective. We must look at our sin the way God looks at it, namely, with hatred, as the word “wrath” implies. We must despise and loathe it for what it really is (Jer. 36:31). If we do not have that holy hatred for sin, then our battle against sin must begin there. We must ask God in prayer for the eyes to see how disgusting and repulsive our sin is to Him and ask for the hatred that He has toward it. It is easy, too easy, to be angry at the sin of others. But only God can show us the nature of our own sin and create in us an emotion that matches His.
In support of this idea, we read in Ephesians 4:26, “be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” This verse is not an accommodation to people’s natural propensity to lose their temper. The verse is not saying, “I know that you are going to get angry. But at least don’t get so angry that you lose control and sin. Make sure that you resolve your anger before the day is through.” After all, anger is sin, as we read in Ephesians 4:31. That is, all anger is sin except one kind, the kind which this verse points out. What kind of anger is that? According to Ephesians 4:26, it is the anger that leads us to “sin not.” We recognize that to be anger against our own sin, the same anger mentioned in Colossians 3:6.
Incidentally, hatred toward our sin does not mean that we focus upon it and brood over it. That tactic leads to more sin and is really a form of pride. No, we must have a cool deliberate hatred that translates into a swift and decisive action. Then we can move on to “seek those things which are above,” in order to do God’s will in our lives.
Our hatred for sin is related to shame. Believers represent the Holy God in this world and are saddened when their sin dishonors Him. Our hatred for sin also is related to fear. Believers tremble at God’s Word (Isaiah 66:2), knowing with great relief the disaster they escaped and knowing the terror of that awaits all the unsaved.
Colossians 3:7-9, “In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;”
The words, “in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them,” found in verse 7, provide some additional motivation for repentance. They remind a Christian of his horrid past life of enslavement to sin (Rom. 6:21). And, by contrast, the words highlight the joy of obedience that marks a Christian’s present life of salvation (Rom. 6:17). Altogether, verses 7 through 9 remind us of the difference that can be expected between those who do not live under God’s authority and those who do (Eph. 2:2,10).
Verses 7 through 9 are both humbling and encouraging. They are humbling in that they remind us of our shameful heritage (Titus 3:3). We always have a previous record that should check our tendency to boast in our present victories over sins and motivate us to be sympathetic and patient with other people who also struggle with sin. But the verses also are encouraging in that they speak of things gone by that no longer dominate us. We are never totally free of any of these things until we leave this earth, but they are no longer our master, a fact that is food for praise to an amazingly gracious God.
These verses develop the second principle. The verses show how the power of the resurrected life within Christians shapes their affection so that they do not want to sin (Rom. 6:17-19, 8:5).
Colossians 3:10-14, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
According to verse 10, Christians are expected to put on a “new man.” One way to think about this is to recognize that the “new man” is Jesus Himself (Col. 3:27). It is Jesus within them (Col. 1:27). That is, Christians display a life that is “the image” of Jesus (Rom. 8:29), so what He wants is what they want. That is why they do not want to sin but want to do God’s will.
Another way to think about this is to recall that a Christian is a new creation (II Cor. 5:17), created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). As a “new man,” a Christian has a new “want to.” Being a new man does not mean being a different person. God uses the word “new” in the Bible to mean fulfilled, especially in connection with the Gospel. The Old Testament is the Gospel promised. The New Testament is the Gospel fulfilled. Both testaments describe the same Gospel. It is just that the New Testament explains something new about it, namely, that it is completed in Jesus. Similarly, a Christian is new in the sense that Jesus dwells within him so that he can fulfill the purpose for which he was originally created. A Christian is free to serve God as the new life, that has been implanted within him, desires (Gal. 5:1,13-16).
According to verse 11, the expectation that a Christian wants to do God’s will is independent of his background or life situation. All true believers, “raised in Christ,” will want the same thing. What they now want as a “new man,” or as an “image of him that created (them)” is described in verses 12 through 14.
Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
The command “let the peace of God rule in your hearts” can be obeyed only by the people for whom Jesus is the supreme authority. Since Jesus, the Peace of God (Eph. 2:14), is the authority of all believers, they will not seek another. Jesus is the “peace” who rules over a Christian’s heart and its affections by virtue of His redemption. In a way we could entitle Colossians 3, or the whole book of Colossians for that matter, as The Exposed Heart, or The Revealed Heart.
According to Luke 6:45 and 12:34, the kind of heart a person has is revealed by who rules over it. And that rulership is displayed through the life that he leads. That is, we can tell our own heart. We cannot necessarily tell another person’s heart (I Cor. 11:28, II Cor. 13:5). After all, would we include David, who committed fornication with Bathsheba and was responsible for her husband’s death, among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:32)? If we did not have God’s personal statement that he was a “man after God’s own heart” (I Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22) or if we did not read that his heart was smitten when the prophet Nathan accused him (II Sam. 12:13, Psalm 51:1-4), our verdict would probably be that David was unsaved.
But whenever sin comes into a person’s own life, either because he listens to the rival authority of his own desires or the words of another person, he must always ask, “What is the matter with my heart that I don’t love and serve God? Who is ruling in my heart?” As we mentioned before, the fact that sin bothers a believer is a good sign. It is a sign that sin is alien to his new nature; and he will once again, with God’s power and wisdom, be set on the right way to walk.
The words in Colossians 3:15, “and be ye thankful,” that is, “thankful to God,” remind us of the importance of prayer in the business of dealing with sin (Psalm 19:13). The moment a believer begins to think about sin he should pray, especially prayers of thanksgiving.
The prayer of thankfulness means that a believer recognizes he is dependent upon God’s care and has found God’s supply in every needful occasion (Phil. 4:6-7,19). A believer recognizes that, in his struggle to turn from sin, he must walk one step at a time. Sometimes, as he seeks to stop thinking of the attraction of a particular sin, he must earnestly pray for God’s help to take him through the next hour, or even the next minute. Then, as he finds that God has given him the victory for that span of time, he continues to pray for strength during the next hour or minute. Each succeeding victory gives him the confidence to continue through the present struggle and the gratitude for God’s faithfulness. His success in dealing with sin vindicates his trust in his Lord to lead him moment by moment safely through each challenge.
The prayer of thankfulness also means that a believer recognizes all that the Lord has done for his salvation to prepare him for the hazardous Christian walk. Cheer replaces self-pity, as he focuses upon the blessings of God. He discovers the wisdom of the counsel that his mind must not be sin-occupied but full of the words and love of his Savior. He also discovers that he must be looking, not for an excuse to fulfill his own desires, but for an opportunity to complete God’s will for his life (Matt. 6:10, Col. 3:23).
The prayer of thankfulness maintains the genuine peace and joy that sin cannot provide and that the world neither understands nor can take away. Above all, a believer is relieved and thankful that God is the supreme authority in the universe and that He is the Lord of his life. Knowing what a mess he has made in the past and could make in the future, he is happy that now Jesus is in charge.
Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
These verses state two excellent strategies for dealing with sin. One strategy is found in the words, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Again, where does sin begin? It begins in our minds. We always think about the sin we commit. It doesn’t ambush us. The counsel is that as soon as the thought of sin pops into our mind, we must ask for God’s mercy to focus on His Word. Like a pot full of sand, that has no room for anything else, a mind full of God’s Word crowds out evil thoughts. The idea is we must meditate upon God’s Word when sinful thoughts assault our minds (Psalm 37:31, 119:11, Prov. 7:1-3).
Bible study and memorization is what a Christian does as part of his preparation in advance, before going out into the world and struggling with a particular sin (Rom. 13:14). It is not wise or possible to strap on a sword and armor when in the middle of a battle. Therefore, by means of prior Bible study and memorization, a Christian acquires abiding attitudes which can check his impulsive reaction to follow the appeal of his flesh, a reaction that may be hard to control in the press of a temptation. Also, through the Bible a Christian gains the insight and skill to make correct decisions in a complex and messy struggle with sin.
Another strategy is found in the words, “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Christian songs are wonderful devices to train our minds to think about holy things, especially in the passionate, stressful and confusing times of temptation. The idea is that as soon as sinful thoughts enter our minds, we should replace them by “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Psalm 51:14, 61:8).
However, according to verse 16, the music must both teach and admonish. And in I Corinthians 14:15, we learn that we must sing with “understanding,” that is, with an understanding of the Bible. In other words, to be most helpful, the lyrics must be faithful to the Bible and be more substantive than simple repetitive choruses. The songs not only must be uplifting, as music often is, but also must include the darker reality of the consequences of sin, namely warnings about judgment (Psalm 101:1).
Our songs must be sung “to the Lord.” That means, we sing songs that He would want to hear, rather than songs that are popular with the world and that satisfy our own carnal tastes. That is why our songs should be shaped by the Bible, for His own words are sweetest to His ears. The words “to the Lord” also mean that what we sing is a prayer. If we have “risen with Christ,” the desire of our hearts should be, “Oh, may we not join the world that sings its wild and foolish melodies. May we join the host of heaven that sings praises of and to the Lord, the Creator and Savior of the universe!” (Rev. 5:9-10)
Colossians 3:18-22, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:”
These verses illustrate the two principles. The passage shows how believers behave in different life situations, which reveals they can and want to do God’s will. The everyday events of life will show that they have been “risen with Christ” and are under His authority. We can see the power of the resurrected life in believers’ relationships to their marriage partners, to their children, and to those in the hierarchy of human authority above and below them. A Christian’s own flesh affords numerous occasions to sin. To that we can add the many human relationships that either provide opportunities to sin or to demonstrate resurrection power. Let us briefly consider the examples these verses present.
First, let us think about the counsel of verse 18. Husbands can be foolish and abusive. They often do not deserve the submission of their wives. That fact could encourage the tendency of wives, as all people, to heed their fleshly desire to feel sorry for themselves and lead them to take more control of their lives. Yet the counsel of the Bible is that a wife “submit” to her husband. A Christian wife’s submission to her husband reflects her submission to the Lord, and is a witness that she really is “in the Lord.”
Next, let us think about verse 19. Wives are sinners, too. It is as easy to find a reason to be “bitter against them.” That fact could encourage the tendency of husbands, as all people, to heed their fleshly desire to selfishness and impatience, and lead them to abrogate their responsibility to sacrificially care for their wives, as well as seek the sympathetic companionship of other women. Yet the Bible commands husbands to “love” their wives, not just in word but in deed. A Christian husband’s love for his wife reflects the love that has been given to him in the Gospel.
Now, let us turn to verse 20. Parents can be hypocritical and unfair. They may be right in some things, but not in “all things.” That fact could encourage the tendency of children, as all people, to heed their fleshly desire to rebel and lead them to both question and challenge authority. Yet the counsel of the Bible is that a child “obey.” Christian children’s obedience to their parents is not just to their parents, but also is a reflection of the fact that they are under the control of Jesus Himself and should seek to please their Lord.
From verse 21, we gain the following wisdom. Children can be immature, exasperating and unthankful. They often operate in a thoughtless and self-centered manner. That fact could encourage the tendency of parents, as all people, to react in kind, and lead them to set a poor example, which would encourage their children to sin even more. Yet the counsel of the Bible is that a parent “provoke not ... to anger.” The word “anger” is not in the original Greek text and should be left out. The Greek word translated “provoke not,” is used only here and in II Corinthians 9:2. It means “do not create a zeal by example.” Parents must not set an example that will encourage their children in their natural zeal to sin. They must not react to their children in a way that would discourage them from following Jesus. Christian parents who are careful about their own walk with God before their children, show that they have been “raised with Christ.”
Finally, we are given the example in verse 22. Masters can be unreasonable and tyrannical. They often can forget that their servants also are people, created in God’s image, and order them about in an insensitive and even abusive manner. That fact could encourage the tendency of servants, as all people, to lazy indifference to duty or service that is motivated only by self-preservation. Yet the counsel of the Bible is that a servant “obey ..... in singleness of heart.” Christian servants’ obedience to their masters is not superficial but from the heart, and shows that they “fear God,” who is their real Master.
Colossians 3:23-25, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.”
These verses describe the proper motivation that must be behind the application of the two principles.
Verse 24 teaches that Christians do not seek victory over their sin because they hope for some personal gain. There are no extra inducements, honors, or rewards dispensed to Christians in Heaven for anything they do on earth. Christians receive eternal life, the gift common to all believers, that is bestowed according to unmerited grace. The “reward” mentioned in this verse actually refers to God Himself, as we read in Genesis 15:1. That is, Christians do not just receive the blessings of salvation; they receive Jesus Himself (Col. 2:6). We must also notice that the reward is an “inheritance.” That is, it is something bestowed upon them independently of anything that they have done in the past or do now. It is a blessing of sovereign grace.
Verse 25 teaches that Christians do not obey their Lord because they fear retribution or embarrassing exposure for their failings in dealing with sin in their lives. There are no reviews on Judgment Day for anything Christians did not do properly on earth. After all, the purpose of standing before the Judgment throne is always to pronounce innocence or guilt (Rom. 2:5-11, Rev. 20:12,13). Since all men are guilty sinners in themselves, anyone who must stand for judgment will be condemned and will experience God’s wrath. Therefore the word “he,” found twice in this verse, refers to unbelievers, for whom dealing with sin now is unimportant and unsuccessful. The relief for Christians is that Jesus has already withstood that judgment for all of His people (Gal. 3:13, I Pet. 2:24). Their efforts in dealing with sin are their offerings of gratitude to God as part of sacrificing their bodies to Him, which is their reasonable service (Rom. 12:1,2).
Therefore, as verse 23 states, whatever Christians do, particularly to remove sin from their lives, they do “heartily.” That is, the only true and acceptable motivation for serving the Lord is out of a right heart. Christians do not serve because they think they will be graded for their effort and then either gain or lose some blessing based upon their performance. Instead, they serve out of the love they have for their wonderful God and Savior (Col. 3:14), whose sacrifice is completely sufficient for all that they need. As we read in Romans 13:10, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Anything less is sin.
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