"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: April 2010 (Page 1 of 3)

Dealing Radically With Sin (Part 3)

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

The Apostle now lists just what it is we are to “Put to death.”  The five vices are common to other vice lists in Paul’s writings, though they are not all used together in any other place.  Each is in the accusative case, being either accusatives of reference (i.e., “put to death the members in reference to . . .”) or in apposition to “the members.”  The first here is “immorality.” The word refers to “every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse” (BAGD).  To this is added “impurity.” In the LXX the word is used to describe ritual uncleanness.  In the New Testament it can continue to carry this connotation, but widens out to include uncleanness in a moral sense.  It is often connected with sexual sin.  It is a broader word than the previous one, but it “denotes immoral sexual conduct” (O’Brien, 181).   It is paired with the previous word frequently (2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3, 11).  Then comes “passion.” It designates “a strong emotion of desire or craving,” (Friberg, 291) a “drive or force which does not rest until it is satisfied” (Rienecker, 578).  It is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Romans 1:26 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5, both of which confirm that a sexual connotation may be implied here as well.  Next is “evil desire.” The word “desire” points to any strong and overwhelming desire, but here clearly it is “evil” desire that is mind.  It can refer to everything from the desire to be told what one wants to hear (2 Tim. 4:3) to illicit sexual desire (1 Thess. 4:5).  To these Paul adds “greed.” The word literally refers to “a desire to have more.”  It can be variously rendered as greediness, insatiableness, avarice, and covetousness (BAGD, 667).  To this final, climatic, word Paul adds a relative clause: “which amounts to idolatry.”  The relative pronoun (“which”) may emphasize a particular characteristic quality (“which, by its very nature,” Harris, 147) or it may have a causal sense (“for,” BAGD, 587).  The present tense verb (“is”) emphasizes the ongoing nature of “greed.”  It is ever and always “idolatry.”

The latter term (“greed”) may seem out of place after four nouns that all relate to sexual sins.  But this disassociation is probably only apparent.  The word group from which “greed” arises can be associated with sexual sin as well (cf. 1 Thess. 4:6) and Plato and Aristotle both used this noun of sexual sin (O’Brien, 182).  Furthermore sexual sin is viewed elsewhere in the New Testament as a form of idolatry (Rom. 1:23-27).  Sexual sin—like so many other forms of vice—is subject to the law of diminishing returns.  What once titillated and thrilled has now become less exciting.  “More!” is required in terms of experience and expression in order to maintain the initial level of excitement.  Thus “greed” is an apt description of sexual lust.  And the all-consuming desire for “more” in terms of sexual experience begins to dominate one’s every waking moment, consuming every thought, every look, and every relationship.  Sex has become lord of every moment and as such is aptly designated as idolatry.  Thus by using these five nouns the Apostle may be developing a theme, rather than simply stringing random nouns together.  He seems to be moving from the more specific expressions of sexual sin in the direction of less specific expression and on to the core inner impulse that drives such sexual deviance.  O’Brien calls it “a movement from the outward manifestations of sin to the inward cravings of the heart, the acts of immorality and uncleanness to their inner springs” (178).  Paul begins at the broad end of the problem with manifold individual expressions of sexual sin (“sexual immorality”) and moves toward the narrows of the single impulse from which they arise (“greed”).

We must “put to death” all such impulses and actions.  We must do so with both each expression of sin and with the root disposition that gives rise to them.  Strategically speaking, however, we will never win the battle simply by addressing the “acts” or expressions of sexual sin (the initial nouns in the list).  We must discontinue these, but strategically we must go to the root of such acts and there deal death to those impulses and desires.  James is right, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (vv.14-15). To the end of such application, consider the following two instructive charts.



Dealing Radically With Sin (Part 2)

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . .” (Colossians 3:5a, emphasis added)


God’s command is radical and unnerving.  It makes us swallow hard and take a second look.  Just what—we wonder—is it we must “Put to death”?

The object of your execution is “what is earthly in you.”

This is a somewhat interpretive rendering of a difficult expression in Greek.  More literally this might be rendered “the members, the upon the earth [ones].”  The foundational part of this clause is “the members.”  The definite article is probably to be understood as possessive, so we should understand it as “your members.”

Things just get more difficult, don’t they?  Immediately this makes the object of our death-dealing something turned upon ourselves.  Gulp!

Paul frequently uses the word “members” in his description of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 6:16; 12:12, 18, 25, 26).  Perhaps for this reason The New American Standard Bible renders this “the members of your earthly body.”  Though there is nothing in the Greek text here corresponding to the NASB’s “body,” it seems an appropriate understanding of the Apostle’s intent.  Yet it is doubtful that the Apostle means the literal members of one’s body (i.e., arms, legs, eyes).  Rather, it probably refers to the kinds of sins that are committed by the “members” of one’s body.  O’Brien seems to have captured the idea when he says, “Here the practices and attitudes to which the readers’ bodily activity and strength had been devoted in the old life is in view” (p.178).

The rest of the clause (lit., “the upon the earth”) may be understood as an adjectival phrase describing “the members” – “your members, that is to say the upon-the-earth [members]” (Harris, p.145).  This precise phrase is used three other times by Paul. The first two times refer to God’s intent to sum up all thing in Christ, whether things in heaven or “things on the earth” (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20).  But more telling for our purposes is its use in Colossians 3:2 where he said, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (emphasis added).

We died and our “life is now hidden with Christ in God” (v.3).  We eagerly look to heaven for the revelation of Christ “who is our life,” and anticipate the consummation of our greatest hopes at that time (v.4).  We are to seek and set our minds upon “the things above” (vv.1, 2).  Thus all “the things that are on earth” have nothing to offer us.  They are connected with our old, hell-bound life.  They offer temporary titillation, but cannot offer hope or on-going life.  Thus whatever is in “your members” that is connected to these time-bound, temporary matters, we must “Put to death,” considering them worthless to us and our ultimate desire and destiny.

Just what does this mean in practical terms?  How do I actually put this within me to death?

This putting to death involves both a negative and a positive action.  Negatively, it means that we resist all such temptations and impulses as Paul will begin to describe in the latter part of this verse.  We, to use his words from Romans 13:14, “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (NIV).  But a wholly negative approach to the matter may only leave one obsessed with the very temptations and impulses which he is trying to “put to death.”  There also must be a corresponding and dominate focus which is positive.  This is found precisely in what the Apostle has already prescribed: that we seek and set our minds upon “the things above” (3:1, 2).  We must resist temptation as it presents itself.  But ever and always we must seek and set our minds positively on Christ as the locus of our life and hope.  This is the path to victory.  This negative and positive approach is fleshed out as the chapter continues to unfold.  Negatively we are commanded to “put . . . away” (v.8) and “put off” (v.9).  This explains and expands upon what Paul means by “put to death” in verse 5.  Yet we are also, positively, to “put on” (vv.10, 12, 14).

And all this we must do – drastically, radically, and thoroughly.  We must deal ruthlessly with that earthly part which remains within us.  No mollycoddling.  No mercy.  No pity, leniency or compassion.  Thoroughly.  To the end.  All the way.  To death!  It is a matter of “it” or us, heaven or earth, light or darkness, God or Satan.

Dealing Radically with Sin (Part 1)

“Put to death therefore . . .” (Colossians 3:5a)

“Put to death” – a simple, succinct imperative.  It is a command.  But think about it.  Reflect upon what the Apostle is demanding.  Contemplate the course of action God has obligated you to!

The word it not complicated.  Its meaning is not nuanced, graded or hinted at.  It means simply “put to death” or “kill.”

May I ask: Have you ever killed anything?  Have you ever put anything to death?

Understand: the command is not to subdue something.  You are not ordered to corral something.  You are not asked to corner, suppress, restrain or control something.  You are ordered, by God, to KILL something.  You must end its existence.

Again I ask: Have you ever done this with anything before?  Is there any precedent in your experience for this kind of ruthless, steely-eyed, calculated, cold-blooded course of action?

Can you do it?  Do you have it in you?  Can you look it full-faced, in the eye and watch the life drain from its features, death envelop its being, and all hope vanish from its eyes as you keep your hands locked in a vice-grip around its throat?

What Paul asks of you builds logically (“therefore) upon what he has said in verses 1-4.  In view of what he is obligating you to, perhaps it would be well to go back and read those verses once again.  Check how much you believe what Paul has said.  Do you believe it enough to act upon it—in this fashion and to this extent?

What Paul tells us there is that the believer has been placed in union with Christ in His death (v.3; cf. 2:12, 20), resurrection (v.1), and ascension (vv.1b, 3), “Therefore” he should take the action prescribed here.  That action is to “Put to death.”  This clearly builds on Paul’s previous statement: “you have died” (v.3a).

The verb the Apostle employs here is used only two other times in the New Testament, both of which describe Abraham’s body “as good as dead” when God fulfilled His promise to give him a son (Rom. 4:19; Heb. 11:12).  It means simply “put to death” or “kill” (cf. esv, kjv, niv, nrsv).  The aorist imperative demands that our action be decisive, immediate, and without delay.  The nasb uniquely makes this a mental exercise (“consider . . . as dead,” emphasis added).  May I say: The command does not demand less than that, but it certainly is more than a simple trick of the mind.  That being said, the Apostle probably has something in mind very similar to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11).  Romans 6 states the matter as a fact: “our old self was crucified with Him” (v.6, emphasis added).  In Galatians it is phrased similarly: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24, emphasis added).  This states the matter as a fact to be believed and reckoned on.  Yet Paul also makes this a matter of our action, for we must “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead” (Rom. 6:13, emphasis added).  And it is “by the Spirit [that] you are putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13).

Paul is demanding that we become in experience what He has already declared us to be in fact.  God has ruthlessly, thoroughly, absolutely put our old self to death in union with His Son on the cross.  Now we—like God—must be as thoroughly ruthless in making certain that we make true in our experience what He has made true in our stead in Christ.

Next time we will look more specifically at just what it is we are to “Put to death.”  But for now, may I ask: Are you up to it?

Living in Light of the Resurrection (Part 4)

“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)

Paul continues to make all things orbit around Christ, now referring to Him “who is our life” (lit., “the life of you”). Whereas verse 3 says our life with hidden “with Christ,” Paul here declares that Christ “is our life.” The deep nexus of Christ and our new life is represented by placing “our life” (lit., “the life of you”) in apposition to “Christ.”

Paul has been emphasizing our present union with Christ in His death (v.3a), resurrection (v.1a), life (vv.3b, 4a), and glory (v.4b). Yet the bulk of this verse speaks of future events. He speaks of “When Christ . . . is revealed.” The conjunction (“When”) is used to designate an indefinite time (i.e. “Whenever”). When used with the aorist subjunctive, as here, it indicates action preceding the action of the main clause (“you also will be revealed”). Christ will be revealed and then we “will be revealed with Him.” The verb (“is revealed”) is used frequently throughout the New Testament and depicts the act of making visible that which has heretofore been unseen. In this letter Paul uses it to describe the revelation inherent in the Gospel (1:26) and also to solicit prayer that he might make “the mystery” of the gospel plain in his preaching (Col. 4:4). Here the same verb is used to refer both to the second coming of Christ and to the revelation of believers in their new glorified state at that time. Elsewhere the verb is used to describe the first advent of Christ (Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 1:2; 3:5 and eight) and is also used, as here, of Christ’s Second Advent (1 Pet. 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 3:2).

Whenever that takes place “then you also will be revealed with Him.” First Christ’s unveiling at His return “then” our glorified state “also” will be made known. Once again our experience is inextricably bound up “with Him.” Once again note the frequent use of the Greek preposition sūn, either in compound (2:12; 3:1) or independently (2:13, 20; 3:3) to describe our union with Christ. The future tense of the identical verb used to describe Christ’s unveiling is now employed to speak of our unveiling. All our hope watches in hopeful anticipation of Christ’s revelation. Our hope is inextricably bound to Christ. For all the mystery what we do know is that our manifestation at the time of Christ’s coming will “in glory.” At His return Jesus “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:21). We are to live a life worthy of God “in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. 1:12). Christ’s present indwelling of the believer is his “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Indeed, we wait for the time when the dead in Christ will be “raised in glory” (1 Cor. 15:43).

Living in Light of the Resurrection (Part 3)

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Paul now states the grounds (“For”) for seeking “the things above” and setting our hearts upon them (vv.1-2).  The Apostle gives a two-fold reason for these exhortations.  First, Paul asserts simply that “you have died.”  This echoes Paul’s earlier statement in Colossians 2:20, employing the same verb.  Here he speaks of this death as an accomplished fact for the believer (aorist tense).  It is not an experience to seek, but a fact to be reckoned on by faith.  As he stated in Colossians 2:20, so he asserts again that this death took place in union “with Christ.”  Previously this death was said to be pictured in one’s burial “with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12).  We should compare this “with Christ” declaration with verses 12 and 13 where the preposition (su.n) is found repeatedly both in compound and standing independently.  Paul says elsewhere that the believer has died to sin (Rom. 6:2-8, 11), the Law (Rom. 7:4-6; Gal. 2:19) and “to the elementary principles of the world” (Col. 2:20).

The second reason for Paul’s previous exhortations is now added (“and”).  Alternatively, the conjunction may denote the result of their death with Christ.  That reason is that “your life is hidden.”  The expression “your life” surely refers not to our earthly, human, physical life on this earth, but to the eternal life we have in Christ.  Indeed, the precise phrase (“your life”) appears again in verse four where we are told that Christ “is our life.”  Thus Paul says both that our life is hidden with Christ and is Christ.  The perfect tense of the verb underscores the completed nature of the action with a resulting state of being.  The passive voice makes clear that this standing was not self-produced, but is brought about by God’s gracious hand.  The aorist tense of “have died” makes that a singular event.  The perfect tense of “is hidden” emphasizes the ongoing state of believers in the present.

Our life is thus hidden “with Christ” and “in God.”  The preposition (“with”) signals a symbiotic relationship between Christ’s risen, heavenly life and the spiritual life of the believer.  God the Father has in fact “raised us up with [Christ], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).  We are thus in union with Christ and our essence, our very life is tucked away secretly and securely “in God”—beyond the prying eyes of voyeurs and the accusing threats of opponents.

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