Our trouble with the flesh (Col 3:1-11)
Key Text: Col 3:1-11
The Christian walk is an interesting experience. For bound in it is this idea of dying to self, of putting to death of dealing with the old self etc. Anyone who has been a Christian for long enough and in fact many who have not been a Christian at all, seem to see that we are not perfect. We have this trouble with our flesh.
Who here among us has had a perfect week, where we have not sinned nor missed out on doing good. Where we have not struggled with our flesh at all? Who here has walked into Church feeling like they are okay to be here because they have lived a perfect week?
Strange that no-one put up their hands… you bunch of sinners. Okay so it seems we have a problem, or some trouble with our flesh! Paul addresses this in our passage this morning in Colossians 3:1-11. As we will see the goal is not behaviour modification; rather it is heart modification.
This is why so many Christians struggle with the Christian walk. They are stuck on behaviour modification; where God wants their hearts. And if fact if we get this morning right we can start a cycle of true Christian maturity if we get the basics right. It all starts in the heart. So let’s read.
Colossians 3:1-11New International Version (NIV)
Living as Those Made Alive in Christ
3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b]7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Paul commands the Colossi Church; in light of what Christ has done; put to death your flesh.
What does Paul mean when he says put to death (and the Greek is) cause to deaden (we get our word necrosis) your members.
Putting what to death?
He is not talking about flagellation (self-harm), Paul is talking about stopping the nature of flesh in your life. How do we do this? Repentance bound in faith.
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis on the door of the Gutenburg door starting the reformation his first thesis was; “All of the Christian life is repentance.” Why? Well we, be honest you do this as well, save our repenting for the bad times don’t we? We do something bad and then afterwards go to God and ask for forgiveness. Now this is not a bad thing, however, it fails to understand the struggle with the flesh that we actually have. And the wonder of what Jesus has actually done for us; how in faith He has lead us to a life of repentance.
You see if you understand the gospel (that Jesus is actually your saviour) then when you see your sins more deeply (for what they are: that what separates you from God) and repent this releases joy and hope in your life.
The message of Scripture and the reality of life is that you are not good enough; that sin has corrupted every part of your thinking and being. And because of this you are unable to save yourself. In this Jesus comes and dies in your place. He lives the life you could never do so that in dying the death you were never worthy to die becomes your substitute.
This all assumes that I am not good enough so when I discover that I am more sinful than I previously thought; I am driven to joy because I realise more deeply that I am desperate in need of this saviour who died for me. My world view is further confirmed and I am driven more into dependence upon Him.
Jesus illustrated this in Luke 7 with a parable saying there were two people who owed a money lender money; one owed a little the other owed a great debt. He forgave both people. Jesus asked who loved the man more? Simon, whose house Jesus was in, answered the one who owed more.
This the illustration of our own salvation; we all owe an unpayable and immensely large debt. None of us can pay; this is why when we see the depth of our sin; in the light of the gospel we are thrown deeper into love and appreciation of Jesus who died for us. We are not destroyed we are enthralled by His love. The presupposition is confirmed we are desperate, more desperate than we previously thought. We are aware of the size of our debt! In this our joy and love is deeper because our repentance is deeper.
It is the religious (whose hope of salvation is in their own good deeds) or the atheist (whose hope is in the fact that they are fundamentally good) when they are confronted with the depth of their sins (the darkness that dwells within them) that they are utterly broken. Because their whole world view is destroyed. What they have put their worth in is utterly destroyed. All these people are in the same boat; they don’t rest in the gospel; they put their hope on their own self-worth.
Now you might be asking what does this have to do with the passage: Paul says put to death the earthly nature and he lists some of these things and then quantifies what the real problem is; idolatry. Verse 5
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry
let’s ask this morning what is an idol? Tim Keller identifies an idol as:
Psychologically (What we feel an idol is); An idol is something that you get your identity from.
You have something in your life - that you believe if I can just get this I know I am not a loser. This is an idol - it is making something else other than Jesus Christ the point of your lifein thisit runs your life.
Theologically (what Scripture says): these are things that you are making your righteousness. They are your ‘god’ or that what is in your life that you hold onto to get worth and righteousness from apart from Jesus Christ.
Paul says I need to give these things up on these things in order to become a Christian.
Why because the gospel teaches us that we can only be made right through Jesus. We have to give up the other things in order to come to Jesus and have Him be where we find our worth and righteousness.
You might be thinking; if I only had that car, then I wouldn’t be a loser. If I only had a girlfriend or a boyfriend; then I would be worthy.
You have taken away from God what only he can give you.
You will never find your fulfilment, your worth, your righteousness in anything but Him. And this is why Paul commands the church to put to death that nature than longs to get its worth and righteousness and fulfilment from anything but God. That, church, is the earthly nature.
It is your constants and never ending job as a Christian to identify these idols and put them to death. To disarm them and discredit them to take them in repentance to the all sufficiency of Christ and compare them with Him!
And so the proper question we should be asking now is how do I actually do this? Well, a level of mindfulness needs to be engaged here. We need to be asking ourselves constantly; what is motivating me, what is really driving me to do what I am doing; why am I actually feeling the way I am feeling; whether worried, fearful etc.
In all these we must ask have I let something else (maybe this drive, this worry this fear). Have I let it take the place of Christ in my life?
Let me illustrate; maybe you are driven to get through the bible (a good thing right?). However, your goal is not to discover the wonder of the sufficiency of Christ to in reading Scripture rest in the completed work of Jesus. It is to know more so that you can stick it to those people who have disagreed with you before. It is to prove that I am good enough; look at me I have read through the whole Bible! In this your own righteousness and knowledge have taken the place of Jesus in your life! Repent!
You see the act of repentance happens when we are succeeding or failing when we are doing religious thing (such as going to church) or secular (at work). It happens in the chaos and the quite times. To quote Martin Luther again “All of life is repentance.”
When Paul is saying put to death the earthly nature (or the flesh) he is not talking about the body. He is not even talking so much about what we normally associate with the flesh (the acts of our sins). No Paul is saying put to death the very thing that leads to the acts of sins.
So many of us spend our lives fighting symptoms rather than the cause of our sins. we struggle to get out of habits of bad language; or lust etc. these things are a symptom of the real problem: Your flesh.
When the bible talks about the flesh it is not talking about the body; it is talking about is Self (with a capital S) it is the part of your that is out there for your own glory; who doesn’t want to trust God for your salvation; the part of you that desires this life to be really about you rather than about Jesus.
This is why the flesh can still dominate while you are a Christian. And this is why we can find ourselves caught in a pattern of sinfulness that dominates us for years and years. And we cry out to God take this sin away from me. And God is saying back to us; the real problem is not your sin; it is you! You still want things your way! You still think life is all about you and not about Jesus!
Church, every one of us has a way which we are trying to patch up our own righteousness (idols that we are holding onto); the only way to overcome it; repentance bound in faith; trusting in the absolute sufficiency of Christ!
So with this in mind I want to encourage you with two things:
Keep on repenting it’s a sign of life
Moving forward in repentance
Take it to the cross
So many of us get frustrated at this flesh nature that is with us! We struggle and repent and then fall into the same sin again! I want to encourage you church. Keep on repenting! Don’t give up on throwing yourself at Jesus’ feet and asking Him to save you. For you; salvation was won by Him and is continued through Him!
The knowledge of our flesh is a sign that we have actually woken up and are alive to God! Let me ask you before you knew Christ as your Lord and Saviour before you felt Him in your life and came to Him in repentance; did any of these things really bother you? No, you were dead to them.
You would sin and maybe have a tinge of worry about being caught. You dishonoured God and it would not even cross your mind that you have done something wrong. For the flesh to thrive there needs to be an ignorance about repentance.
Why because at the heart of repentance is the death to self; I recognise that I am not the centre even of my own life; I recognise that I am desperate; in this I repent! It is here that the flesh, the self with a capital S is put to death!
When you begin to see that which is driving you and has taken the place of Jesus; then you are at the starting point! You are not defeated; you have woken up! It is here that you can know God is working it is here that you know there is life.
This is the starting block; how do I move forward in repentance
We should be doing this daily! We should be, in faith, constantly falling at the cross. This happens in two practical realities:
This is calling sin as it is; be ruthless with what your sin actually is; recognise the heart issues at play here! Identify the true source of your sin; and call it out! Be brutal with yourself! And then don’t try and fix it;
Look at your sin and repent for it. Move from self-pity to actually repentance.
The differences between self-pity and repentance; Self-pity is thinking about all the problems that your sin will cause (I hate the consequences of the sin) I have not learned to hate the sin. Rather, I have simply learned to hate myself and love my sin. Self-pity teaches us to love the sin but hate ourselves.
Real repentance is saying what has this sin done to Jesus; it asks how does God feel about my sin. When we take it to God when we take it to the cross and think of what we have done to him; we find that we hate the sin and we rest in ourselves.
Church, Jesus experienced all of our sin on the cross; so that we can be holy! Repentance is taking your sin; no matter how dark and distasteful; and it is taking it to the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is saying this act led Christ there; and then in love it is saying thank you! And this is something we should be doing every day because every day there will be things in your heart that want to take away from the sufficiency of Christ in your life.
Live in this church; identify your sin, see what it has done and take it to cross knowing at the cross it is finished! So leave it there!
I pray we as a church would move from self we would put Self to death and live in repentance!