Kill Sin, Or it Kills You
Colossians 3:5-11 Part One
Last time we met we discussed the key to holiness—falling in love. We discovered the expulsive power of a higher affection. In other words we discovered that the more enthralled you are with Jesus the less appealing sin will be. We also have learned about the situation at Colossae. The false teachers are concerned with having a full experience of Christianity. They proposed that it comes through obedience to certain rituals and practices; or as we said “by building fences”. We have learned that the gospel declares just the opposite. As we saw a few weeks ago people are not changed by fences. Building fences cannot create holiness, and as we saw last week if we are to experience the fullness of Christ or to be holy it will come through having a higher affection in Christ. But this begs the question, “how do we do that”? If the key to holiness is falling in love with Jesus then what do I do to cultivate this? How do I fall more in love with Jesus. In the coming weeks we will discuss this. Our text for the next two weeks, Colossians 3:5-11, will discuss it negatively. Then we will look at Colossians 3:12-17 and will discuss this positively. So, we turn now to Colossians 3:5-11:
Does it ever feel like you cannot get a hold on certain sins? Do you ever feel absolutely defeated by sin and almost want to give up the fight? Maybe you have already given up the fight against some sins and now you are in the process of rationalizing them. You want to grow and have a vibrant relationship with Jesus but it seems like there are big barricades in the way. Some of you that went to camp have probably already experienced this. Camp always seems to be a time when you “rededicate” your life to Jesus. That’s great. But often what happens is that once you get back into the “real world” it all seems to slowly fade away? Why is that? Why can you not maintain the fervor that you had while you were at camp? Why does it seem like your love for Jesus dwindles and your passion gets choked out? If the key to holiness if falling in love with Jesus then why do I have such a hard time staying in love and growing in love?
Imagine planting a beautiful rose in a garden. To plant a rose I need to put it in a sunny well-drained location. Also, when I dig my hole I need to cut off the broken branches in the ground and try my best to prevent the rose from getting crowded out from other roots. I also need to fee it. This flower begins to grow up beautifully. It has that wonderful fresh smell of a rose. Its petals are forming and it is beginning to blossom. This rose, when fully grown is going to score me lots of points with my wife.
Now, we all know that planting something is only half the battle. Getting it to grow is only half the battle. You also have to care for it once it begins to grow—you have to cultivate it. What happens if I get lazy and ignore this part of the process? Weeds grow up. What happens when a bunch of weeds grow up around my beautiful rose? The rose begins to wither and die because it is choked out by all of the weeds around it. What was once a beautiful rose, has now become a withered and ugly rose. Why? It was not cultivated and the weeds around it sapped it of life.
That rose is our affection for Jesus. It is our measure of love for Christ. If sin in our life is not cut out then it will grow, like the weeds, and choke our affection for Jesus. Weeds are always trying to grow up and compete for our affections. The greater the weed grows the smaller our affection for Jesus becomes. We get distracted. Sin—those other affections—must be cut out. This is what we call mortification.
Mortification is a big word that means to put to shame by injuring one’s pride or self-respect. But it can also mean “to kill”. That is the way we will use it tonight. It is synonymous with Paul’s command in verse 5 to “put to death”. As John Owen explained mortification by saying “to kill a man, or any other living thing, is to take away the principle of all strength, vigor, and power, so that he cannot act, or exert, or put forth any proper action of his own.” What we are talking about tonight then when we discuss mortification is the killing or uprooting of sin in our life. We will look at two things the need for mortification and the power for mortification.
I. The need for mortification
A. Kill sin or it will be killing you
The Puritan John Owen in his book The Mortification of Sin said it well when he said, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” That is the first reason for mortification. Kill sin or it will be killing you.
Sin is not something that we can play with. Sin is deadly. This is why Paul says to put it to death. Look at what verse 6 says. After listing a few of the sins of the flesh Paul says, “on account of these the wrath of God is coming”. What is the “wrath of God”? The wrath of God is his settled intense hatred and disposition against sin. Now that is not a very concrete definition, in fact it is very difficult to picture God’s wrath. It, like all his other attributes, are so intense and majestic that we as finite sinful human beings cannot full grasp. But I will try by giving you a picture. Imagine with me a family that lives on the side of this very large dam of water. If anyone has seen the Smurfs, picture the Smurf village. On the other side of this dam is a massive amount of water, if the dam breaks it will wipe out the entire village without hope of restoration.
Now, go back for just a second to our text. Notice the tense of verse 6, it says that the wrath of God “is coming”. That is in the present tense. It means that it is something that is now taking place—we can see the effects of the full fury of God’s wrath. It means that we get a sampling of what is to come even today.
Back to the village. Imagine that every few weeks the dam starts to spring some minor holes. It causes a little bit of flooding and is enough to cause serious concern in the community. That is what this text is talking about, with the wrath of God “coming”. It means that we are already seeing evidence of God’s wrath but even that is a sampling of what is to come. Even that is gracious. It causes the village to consider where they live and if they are wise they will move out of the village because eventually this dam will break and they will be consumed. Unrepentant sinners are living in that village and as long as they live there the dam could break any moment and they are in danger of being consumed.
God graciously brings glimpses of his wrath to cause sinners to turn. God is today graciously holding back the dam of his wrath. But someday he will no longer hold it back. The dam will break and unrepentant sinners will be consumed. This is why we cannot flirt with sin. As John Owen said “kill sin or it will kill you.” I think we can see this even more clearly by our second principle.
B. Sin always aims at the utmost
Again I quote John Owen, “Sin always aims at the utmost: every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of that kind…But sin is still pressing forward; and that because it hath no bounds but utter relinquishment of God, and opposition to him.” Let me put that in contemporary English—sin always aims to dethrone God. Every “little sin” aims at this. It aims to go as far as it possibly can. That little passing thought of lust, if not weeded out will lead to adultery. Adultery will lead to addictions. Addictions will lead to worse addictions and on and on. Ask an alcoholic or a drug addict if this is not true. What started with smoking pot occasionally—if not weeded out—will lead to an addiction to crack.
I know I sound like one of those old sticks in the mud right now. And I know as teenagers you often think that sin will not catch up with you. It does. It leads to addictions. The serial killer Ted Bundy began his downward spiral when he found some “dirty magazines” in a trash bin close to his house. It then spiraled downward into more violent fantasies. Eventually it continued spiraling downward from fantasy to reality. By the time Bundy was arrested he had sexually molested and brutally murdered at least 28 females.
I will let Bundy speak for himself: “Once you become addicted to it, and I look at this as a kind of addiction, you look for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder and gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far - that jumping off point where you begin to think maybe actually doing it will give you that which is just beyond reading about it and looking at it.”
In other words sin always aims at the utmost. And this is confirmed by our Scripture here as well. Let’s look at this list of sins that Paul mentions here individually, and then lets tie it together.
The first vice in this list is “sexual immorality”. The Greek word is porneia; it is where we get our word pornography. Now this is not talking about the viewing of sexually explicit material. This word refers to any sexual activity outside of the divine bounds established by marriage and thus includes the ideas of unlawful sexual intercourse, unchastity, and fornication. This is having sex before marriage and it includes much more than intercourse. This is speaking of oral sex and the like. It is speaking of any type of sexual stimulation that happens outside the bounds of marriage.
The second vice in this list is “impurity”. The word refers to filth or refuse. It is that which makes one defiled to enter God’s presence. It is the stain of sin. It is the defiled heart. It is the very opposite of purity. This is directly opposed to God. God is pure. God is holy. This stands in direct opposition to that. This is the perverted mind. This is the heart that laughs at fornication. This is the life that calls “okay” and “clean”, something that God considers and abomination.
The third vice in this list is passion. It is the Greek word pathos. This is a desire that does not rest until it is satisfied. It is an inward emotion that is aroused by an external object. It is the soul’s diseased condition out of which evil lusts spring. It is the condition of the heart that longs for things that it should hate. And this longing is not satisfied until it is quenched or killed.
The fourth vice in this list is evil desire. This is actually not as strong or at least as “settled” as the third vice. This refers to the longing or craving directed toward an object. The word desire can actually be neutral. But in our case when married to the word “evil” we know that it is not neutral. It is having a bent and a craving toward things that are offensive to God. This is actually the fruit of pathos.
The fifth vice in this list is covetousness. It does not seem to belong. These others are more sexual and physical in nature. Covetousness is anxious greed. It is a lack of contentment. It is the wanting of something that is not yours. John Piper defines it as “desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God”. Paul gives us another definition of it. He says that it is idolatry. Covetousness is the worship of something that is not god as if it were God. It is exalting something to the status of God in your heart. It is dethroning God and putting something else there. Remember what John Owen said, “sin always aims at the utmost”.
Let’s try to tie all of these together to see how they are connected. I think we can look at this like a cycle. Look at it from the top to bottom and from the bottom to the top. From the top we see the act of sexual immorality. What does that lead to? Impurity. Impurity then leads to having messed up passions. This leads to rationalizing the sin. And the sin spiraling further down. I know this from experience. This is not some philosophical understanding here. I have went down this spiral myself. Our desire gets messed up and then we start clinging to that treasured sin—which is idolatry. So, what happens? Our relationship with God gets really messed up. And the spiral continues.
I think we can also look at it from the bottom up. I think in some sense Idolatry is the root of all of this. Why do we struggle with sexual immorality in the first place? I think it is because we struggle with idolatry. Why are we idolatrous? Because we are not wholly satisfied with God. Why are we unsatisfied with God? Because we are too distracted by all of the weeds in our life to enjoy the rose that could be growing.
If you look at this list from the bottom up you see that the root is idolatry. That leads to covetousness—that is the fruit of an idolatrous heart. What happens when you start desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God”? Your heart gets distracted and your desires get messed up. What happens when that takes root? It leads to a settled disposition and you heart becomes totally distorted. A distorted heart leads to an impure and defiled heart. And out of an impure and defiled heart what do we see? Things like sexual immorality. We could easily deal with different sins the same way. As Jesus said, out of the heart of man, comes “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness”.
All of this to say that sin is often a tangled up spiral that keeps feeding and fueling itself and each time leading to a dethroning of God and a death to our soul. Sin always aims at the utmost—our death and God’s dethroning.
C. Sin is always working
Again we turn to John Owen as he says, “Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone: but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our [plans] against it to be vigorous at all times, in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.” And later he says, “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so, while we live in this world.”
Simply put either sin is winning or you are. Either weeds are cropping up in your rose garden or you are constantly plucking them up. They, like stupid dandelions, will always keep coming back up. Not much more needs to be said on this point. We only need to mention that as long as your heart is beating you will be fighting this battle. But I do not want to stop there. Let’s ask our second point.
II. The power to mortify
Some people have really tripped over Colossians 3:3 and Colossians 3:5. In Colossians 3:3 Paul says that “you have died”. Then in verse 5 he says, “put to death”. It is active in voice meaning it is to be something that we do. It is also to be a settled attitude. How can it be then that it is something that Christ has already done and now it is something that we must do?
I think that is pretty obvious actually. Notice the word “therefore” in verse 5. That tells me that the grounds or the motivation for our action in verse 5 comes from what just happened in verse 1-4; namely the work of Christ. It is as if Paul is saying “the old man is dead, now put him in the morgue so that he doesn’t stink up the joint”.
If you kept a corpse in your house even though it is dead it can do considerable damage. Honestly though I think Paul is talking about something a little more active than simply scrubbing your floors and getting the dead man out of your house. It seems from experience and other place sin Scripture that sin is something that is active that we must keep away and put away. But I think this work is a duel work. It is cleaning up the dead man in your house and it is also keeping evil out of your house. So that it is both active and dead in two sense of the word.
So, how do you do that? How do you follow what God’s word is saying here in verse 5? How do you mortify sin? This is such a profound mystery. It is indeed the Spirit that works this in us so that when we boast it must be in God. But the Spirit works in such a way that it can be rightly said—you do it. As John Owen said, “Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work.”
This notion of “let go and let God” is not biblical at least in this sense. This is not something that we sit by and passively hope happens. No we are called to put sin to death? How are we to do that? This is where it gets tough—it’s not really something we can do. It’s something that God has done and something that God is doing. It is kind of as simple as me opening a jar of pickles for my wife. She cannot get the jar of pickles open. It needs opened. She can be prideful and try and try and try to get that jar of pickles open and do it to no avail. Or, she can swallow her pride and give the jar of pickles to me—so I can find somebody strong to open it. It is the same way with us in our mortification. We give it—very actively—to Christ.
Again I turn to John Owen. He stands wholeheartedly in agreement—and more importantly Scripture stands wholeheartedly in agreement that this mortification is ultimately something that Spirit works in us. How, asks Owen? By:
1) By causing our hearts to abound in grace, and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh and the fruits thereof, and to the principles of them.
2) By a real, physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away.
3) He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death, and fellowship in his sufferings.
Let me modernize that? The Spirit does it by pouring in us grace and the things that will fight sin. He does it by taking our heart of stone and turning it into a heart that treasures Christ. He changes our affections. And lastly he does it by sitting us down in front of the Cross.
How do you mortify sin? You mortify sin by sitting at the foot of the Cross. You mortify sin by putting yourself at the feet of Jesus. He is the one that can heal. He is the one that takes your burden. Rather than going off on a holy quest trying to kill sin—you sit at the feet of Jesus. In fact there is one sense in which Jesus has already crucified your sin. There is one sense in which the victory is already yours. Christ has saved your soul and when you died with Christ your old self died as well. This is what enables your victory today. But it is not a victory that you accomplished— or is this as if what God is saying is, “I did this now you do this”. No, every blessing and victory we have today was already purchased by Christ on the Cross.
Oh, you actively go to the Cross. A war will be raging within you, attempting to distract you from the gospel. Everything from without will be tempting you to either ignore sin or try to pay for it yourself. So you must actively every day put yourself in a position at the foot of the Cross. This is how you mortify sin—you give it to Jesus. You take it to the Cross. You preach the gospel to yourself daily and you give it to Jesus.
But, this must be done. We cannot trifle with sin. Sin will kill your soul and it will spiral downward. Do not hug and cherish sin—deal with it. Take it to the Cross and beg Christ to slay it. Do everything within your own power to slay it. This will be painful. I like what a preacher from the 1800’s named Andrew MacLaren said about mortifying sin:
“Picture a man who while working at a machine gets his fingers drawn between rollers or caught in the belting. Another minute and he will be flattened to a shapeless bloody mass. He catches up an axe lying by and with his own arm hacks off his own hand at the wrist.... It is neither easy nor pleasant, but it is the only alternative to a horrible death.”
Taking sin seriously is neither easy nor pleasant. It hurts to look at your sin. It hurts to admit to pride. It is sometimes not pleasant at first to give up those choice sins. But it is the only alternative to a horrible death. Sin will kill your soul. Are you going to take it serious enough to take it to the Cross?I close by quoting Owen one more time and then giving a brief word advice to those not saved:
“Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conquerer, yes, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.”
In other words take heart and trust in Christ some day your sin will be dead at your feet because Christ will indeed slay it.
Now a brief word to say that mortification is not something that an unbeliever is to set about doing. This call in Colossians 3 is something for believers. Unless you can claim Colossians 3:1-4 you do not have the power nor the call to follow 3:5-11. If the “therefore” in verse 5 is not true of you then you cannot put away sin because you are still living in it. Sin, though, is still just as deadly and it will kill you. You are like those in that village that are living your life on the other side of a dam that will burst. Someday it will burst and if you are still in that village it will be to your peril. Therefore, you are encouraged to do about the same as the believer—go to the Cross. Come to Christ for healing. If this is something that you are desiring I would like to talk to you later about this.