Text: Colossians 3:1-10
Would you open your Bibles to the book of Colossians, chapter 3. I am going to read the first ten verses. It’s a little book hiding right behind Philippians—a little book with a big message.
If then you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Practice setting your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth such as fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. For which things sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience, and in the which you also sometime walked in them, when you lived in them. But now you also, put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, out of your mouth. Stop lying one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with its deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.
I want you to take a little trip with me tonight. We won’t be gone long. I want us to go to a little town by the name of Bethany. When we arrive in this small town, the first thing that we notice is that there is something unusual going on. No body riding a bicycle up and down, blowing a trumpet, but there is a lot of commotion. Something unusual is happening in this sleepy little town. So we ask somebody, what is everybody all astir about? What’s going on? Oh, you must be a visitor. You haven’t heard. You know Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha? Well, he died a few days ago, and that prophet Jesus from Nazareth has just come. Rumor has it that he is going out there and raise Lazarus from the dead. We are all going out there to watch. Well, I know this much. I want to see that too.
So we fall in behind the crowd, and after awhile we find ourselves standing in front of a tomb with that crowd. The stone is rolled away. Jesus has prayed a very strange prayer. He said, Father, I’m asking you to do this, but I don’t really need to ask because you and I already have this settled. I am just saying this out loud so that everybody will know we are together on this. After he said that, he said, Lazarus, come forth! Everybody had their eyes fixed on the dark mouth of that tomb. You could hear, if you listened carefully, some movement. Suddenly, Lazarus appears. I don’t how he appeared. He was wrapped in grave clothes, so I’ve always wondered how he got of the tomb. He either had to hop out, or he floated out. He couldn’t walk in those grave clothes. Hopping out seems a little irreverent, so I feel like he kind of floated out there. Everybody was amazed. Jesus said, loose him and let him go. And they did; they unwrapped him. And there was Lazarus, dead four days, and yet restored to life. Of course, Mary and Martha are beside themselves, falling over Lazarus, falling over Jesus, loving them, thanking them. Everybody is so excited. Everybody wants to get close to Lazarus. Somebody picks up a few scraps of the grave clothes to take back as a souvenir. They can’t believe this. Jesus has raised this man from the grave.
After awhile, as people do, they tired of that miracle. They begin to drift back to their homes. Mary and Martha asked Jesus to come back with them, and they would fix him supper. Mary, Martha, and Jesus start walking down the road toward their house in Bethany. They haven’t gone very far when suddenly Martha asks where Lazarus is. Mary said she didn’t know, that he was there just a few minutes ago. They looked back toward the tomb and saw no sign of him. Martha said, he must be back there talking with somebody, giving his testimony. Mary, you go back and tell Lazarus to come on home because I’m fixing supper for the Lord.
Well, I don’t think Mary was all that keen on going back to that tomb, but she usually did what her sister said. She got back to that tomb, and there was no one there. She looked everywhere. Lazarus was not anywhere to be found. All of a sudden she heard some movement down in the sepulcher and cupped her hand and said, Lazarus, are you down there? From within came the dim little answer, I’m here, Mary. She couldn’t imagine what in the world Lazarus was doing in that tomb. So she very cautiously stepped down the steps into that sepulcher, stood there a moment so her eyes could adjust to the dark, and when they did, she couldn’t believe what she saw. There was Lazarus sitting over on the slab of stone rewrapping those grave clothes back around his body. Mary couldn’t believe what was going on. Mary said, Lazarus, what in the world are you doing? Martha sent me, and you know how sister is. She is going to be mad at both of us if we don’t get home right now. She is fixing supper. What in the world are you doing? And he’s just sitting there wrapping those grave clothes around his body. Lazarus said, well, I guess it does seem a little strange to you. I’ll try to explain. You know that I spent four days here. The first day I got here I thought I couldn’t take it, but you get accustomed to things. After being here four days you kind of settle in and begin to feel a little bit at home. I know these grave clothes aren’t the latest style, and, as a matter of fact, they don’t smell too keen. But you know I got so used to wearing the grave clothes, they kind of fit me. It’s like an old easy chair. I thought I would just stay down here for awhile and wear these old grave clothes. Maybe Martha could bring me some meals. I’ll be out after awhile. It’s hard to leave. I just ought to stay here for awhile.
Mary can’t believe what she is hearing. She is saying, Lazarus, Lazarus, don’t you understand? Jesus has raised you back to life. You are no longer dead; you no longer belong in this cemetery; you no longer belong in this tomb and those grave clothes. Lazarus, everything you are doing is inconsistent with the new life that Jesus has given you.
Now, if you know your Bible very well, you’ll know there was a point in that story at which I departed from the facts, not the truth. Ridiculous! I’ll bet Lazarus was so glad to get out of there. I’ll be he was so anxious to get out of those grave clothes, you couldn’t see for the dust he was kicking up trying to get out of that place. He was gone. That’s what you would do. That’s natural. That’s what anybody would do. Anybody want to linger around in the grave and wear the shroud a little bit longer? There’s something wrong with that person. You have to say that is inconsistent with the new life Jesus has given you.
And yet that is exactly what Paul is saying to these Colossians in the third chapter. He says, if you then be risen with Christ, why do you go on living like you do. You need to put off all these things. There are very colorful words here. He says in verse 8 that we are to put off some things. In verse 9 we are to put off the old man. In verse 10 we are to put on the new man. It is the figure of discarding old, dirty clothes and putting on new clothes. What Paul is saying to these Colossians is if you have truly been saved, if you have truly been raised with Christ, then your mind, heart, and affections ought to be on things that are consistent with that new life. These things of the old life—those old grave clothes of fornication and covetousness, and those old grave clothes of anger and wrath, you no longer wear those. You put those off, and put on the new clothes of Christ-likeness. It is just as consistent for some of us to live as we are living and practice the things that we are practicing as it would be for Lazarus to continue living in the tomb from which he had been raised.
This is what Paul is talking about. I want to talk to you for a little bit about what I call graveyard religion. Now Paul is addressing a problem. At Colossae there are some teachers. There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to who these false teachers and this false system were, but it is pretty well agreed upon that there is something of the Gnostic about it, and that there were those who were trying to create an elitist type of Christianity that came because you were introduced to certain secret knowledge. You had seen certain visions, and you had gone beyond these other mere ordinary Christians. Having received Christ, they were still at the entrance way, but these had gone on to something greater. They were trying to complete their faith in something beyond the Lord Jesus Christ. So what had happened was there were those who had come in and said that it’s not enough just to worship Jesus. There are a lot of beings, angels, spirits, and hierarchies of beings. Some of those things have to be taken into account. Also, you must deny the body. There are certain rules and regulations you must follow if you are going to live for Christ. You can’t just go out here and live anyway you want to. What was happening was that these Colossian Christians were being judged and condemned on the basis of things that had absolutely no relevance with the Christian faith.
I want to go back to the second chapter for just a moment. I want to read beginning with verse 16 in the Williams translation:
Stop letting anyone pass judgment on you in matte5rs of eating and drinking, or in the matter of annual or monthly feasts or Sabbaths. (Now, folks as I read through this, I want us to listen very carefully. This was written about 2000 years ago, but it could have been written today because it is happening in our churches today. We are being judged on the basis of false standards.) These were but the shadow of what was coming; the reality belongs to Christ. Stop letting anyone, in gratuitous humility and worship of angels, defraud you as an umpire (act like an umpire and call you out), for such a one is taking his stand on the mere visions he has seen, and is groundlessly conceited over his sensuous mind. Such a person is not continuing in connection with the Head, from which the whole body, when supplied and united through its joints and sinews, grows with a growth that God produces. If one through fellowship with Christ you died and were separated from the world’s crude notions, why do you live as though you belonged to the world? Why submit to rules such as, You must not handle,” “You must not taste,” “You must not touch,” which refer to things that perish in the using, in accordance with human rules and teachings? (Here is the clicker.) Such practices (keeping rules and regulations, observing this day, this feast, not touching this, not touching that, not handling this) have the outward expression of wisdom (it looks like they are doing a good thing), with their self-imposed devotion, s their self-humiliation, their torturings of the body, but they are of no value; they really satisfy the lower nature.
Paul said that if we have died with Christ to the world, then we must not allow the traditions of man to bind us, and be judged on the basis of those things such as touch not, taste not, handle not. You can make all the rules and regulations you want to make.
I have to confess that when I started in the ministry, I grew up in the kind of church that preached fire and brimstone. Every Saturday night was youth night. As a young evangelist I would preach on the sins of the youth—as if they were different than the others! Of course, Samson and Delilah were my text.
At the end of that service, I would give this kind of invitation. All you young people who are willing to give up the sins of youth (and, of course, I would name them so there would be no mistake: drinking, smoking, going to picture shows, playing cards, and parking at the Fort Smith Reservoir)come and dedicate your life to purity. We had great results. Every kid in that building got down there. What are you going to do? Stand there and let everybody know you aren’t going down there and be pure, or stand back there and be filthy?
We would go away and say, wasn’t that a great service? We had 75 kids come tonight to the altar and yield their lives to a life of purity. Isn’t that wonderful? Do you know how long it lasted? Til the next dance they got invited to, or until the next time the boy’s car pulled up at the Fort Smith Reservoir.
You can make all the rules and regulations you want to make. But I have news for you; they are of no value whatsoever in overcoming the flesh. They have no power whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the truth is that rules and regulations, rather than overcoming the flesh and lower nature, feed it because you get this superior attitude. We judge people on the basis of what they don’t do that we do, or what they do that we do not do. So we pump ourselves up and say, we are the finest Christians around. We know more than anybody else because we are adhering to rules and regulations.
The superstitions, the days and the moons, and all that goes on with the touch not, taste not, handle not, leave the Christian in bondage. I think that one of the great needs of Christians today is to finally throw off the yoke of legalism, conforming to somebody’s else’s standard and living in fear. It’s not a life of freedom; that’s a life of bondage, a life of fear that I may cross the line or say something ever so slight that will cause God to hit me on the head.
I never will forget a few years ago in Wichita, Kansas, I was preaching a Bible conference. A Baptist pastor came to me after the service one night and said, I hear you have a series of tapes on Wake Up to the Supernatural about the devil, demons, and the occult. I said, yes sir, I do. He said he would like to have a set of the tapes and asked how much they were. I told him they were $13 (you can tell how long ago that was; they are $30 now). He asked if he could write me a check fo9r $12 and owe me a dollar. I asked why. He said, he didn’t like to write checks for $13. I should have given him the tapes. If anybody needed them, he did. Instead I told him to write that check for $14, and let me owe him the dollar. And he did!
Folks, is that liberty? Are we going around today appointing ourselves heads of the church, making dispensations and saying that certain things have to be done and that you have to break curses and be afraid you don’t say the wrong thing? That’s not liberty; that’s bondage.
I have a friend whose wife went to one of these covered dish luncheons, and she walked into the kitchen carrying her culinary contribution. The woman in charge said, ah, what did you bring? My friend said I brought deviled eggs. The woman threw back her arms and said, I bind that in the name of Jesus Christ. She said, you can bind it all you want to, but they are still deviled eggs.
Paul said all these things look good. They are impressive—really look good. If you see somebody humiliating themselves, depriving themselves, that looks good. But I want to tell you the truth. It doesn’t help one bit. All it does is contribute to the pride of self.
Well, if you aren’t going to have rules and regulations, how are we to live? How are we to overcome these things? That’s what he tells us in verse 1 of chapter 3. In the last verses of chapter 2 he is saying that liberty in life, Christ-likeness, the Christian life does not come by rules and regulations, and by following the traditions of men. But if you then are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Practice keeping your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon years ago called The Expulsive Tower of a New Affection. Alexander McLaren tells about it in one of his expositions. Thomas Chalmers, who was normally a very gentle and humane person, was driving his horse and buggy. There was a friend of his riding along with him. Everything was going along just fine when all of a sudden Thomas Chalmers started beating the horse unmercifully with the whip. There was no reason to do it. His friend couldn’t believe he was doing this. The horse was doing great, but he just kept beating the horse. After a moment, he stopped. His friend said, I’ve never seen anything so cruel. Why were you doing that? Chalmers said, it was because I saw something the horse did not see. I saw a snake on the side of the road. If the horse had seen that snake, he would have bolted and run. When I began to whip him, all his attention was on the whip, and he did not see the snake.
It’s a simple principle, isn’t it? When I was in the seventh grade, I had to go to the dentist to have two teeth pulled. I was scared to death. I knew he would give me a shot so it wouldn’t hurt, but the shot was pretty terrifying, too. My mother said, son, I’ll tell you what you do. When the dentist starts to put that needle in, take your thumbnail and press it against your middle finger and bury it in the flesh. Really pinch yourself hard. You will be so concerned about the pain in your finger, you’ll forget about the shot in your jaw. I am a little embarrassed to admit that to this day, when I go to the dentist and they give me a shot, you find me doing this..
What is it? It’s the expulsive power of a new affection. I arrived in a town to preach a meeting and the pastor met me at the airport. I said, how are things going? He said, they are going fine now, but we had a close call. I said, what happened. He said, our daughter sometime ago got involved with man we did not really approve of. We felt like he wasn’t right for her. I said what did you do? He said, well, we did what parents do. We told her how we felt and that just seemed to make her that much more determined to be with him. I said what did you do? He said, we introduced her to a better boy, and they are getting married next week.
The expulsive power of a new affection. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot remain in the same place. You don’t overcome the love of the world by telling people how ugly the world is. It’s not all that ugly, folks. You overcome the love of the world by telling them how beautiful the Father is. It is our love for God that shoves out and pushes out the love of the world.
Paul says instead of submitting yourselves to rules and regulations that are not going to do a thing for you except make you proud and selfish, set your mind on things above. Practice putting your mind, your heart, your affection on Jesus and his glory. When you do that, then what you need to do is to cast off those old clothes and put on some new ones. That’s what we are going to look at in the next few minutes.
You’ll notice in verse 5 he says, put to death your members which are upon the earth. In verse 8 he says, put off all these. In verse 9, put off the old man. In verse 10, put on the new man. . . . I think the sequence here is very important. You have to put off before you put on. You cannot put on the new man, the new clothes of Christ-likeness, until you have taken off the old clothes that are not like Christ. I think the reason many of us feel uncomfortable trying to act like Christ is because we have him on over the old man.
I remember some years ago about midnight I was lounging in some new pajamas that my mother-in-law had given me for Christmas. Kaye informed me that she needed a few things at the store, and asked me to run up to the 7-11 a few blocks away and pick up two or three things. I didn’t see any need to get out of my pajamas and get dressed so I just took the silk pajama legs and pulled them high above the knee and put on my slacks and shirt. Now you have to understand in the Dallas/Fort Worth area a lot of these clerks in convenience stores are a little nervous about late night customers, as you can well imagine. So I went in and was going up and down the aisles trying to find what I needed. I noticed this woman behind the counter was watching me everywhere I would go. She kept looking down at my feet. I looked down and those silk pajamas had come undone, and they were coming out my pants legs. I looked like a suspicious character. I really felt uncomfortable in those clothes.
The trouble is that sometimes you and I try to put on acting like Jesus without ever having put off the old clothes. No matter how hard we try do dress it up, sooner or later, brother, that old nature is going to peek out. No, first of all, you put off—then you put on.
Now there are two lists of things of things that we are to put off. I like to think of these as the grave clothes. Go to the closet and see what all these old grave clothes are. There is one list in verse 5. We will call these the sins of desire. There is another list in verses 8 and 9. We will designate these as sins of disposition.
First of all, look at verse 5. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth. Now, simply, what that means is this: you have died with Christ. As far as Christ is concerned, as far as you are concerned, you are dead to this world. Now live like it. Live like you are dead to the world. Take everything in your life that smacks of the old life and you do away with it. You write death over it. You put it to death. The idea is that you do it right now, once and for all, no tapering off. It is an ugly list: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. You can sum those up in two words: impurity and greed.
A thought occurred to me some time ago. Has it ever struck you a little strange that when Paul writes to the Galatians, writes to the Ephesians, and writes to the Colossians, a lot of times he is telling them to stop committing immorality? Think about that for a moment. He is writing to a church of converts. These are Christians. He is saying, you need to stop your acts of fornication and immorality. How do you explain that? Well, these were Gentile pagans. They came out of a pagan society. If you have ever studied much history, you know the characteristic mark of a pagan society is the exaltation of immorality. To them, immorality was as natural as breathing. There was no such thing as chastity among those people. It was normal to them. And here are people born into that kind of culture, and when they got saved, they didn’t immediately lose all thought thoughts and principles. There had to be an education process so here is what Paul is saying. Now, those were things you did when you were out there in the world, but they won’t do now. You need to put them to death—have nothing at all to do with them.
I said a moment ago that the characteristic mark of a pagan society is exaltation of immorality. If you take that at its face value, you will almost have to say that you and I are living today in a pagan society because of the exaltation and normalization of immorality.
Let’s move on now to verses 8 and 9, to the second list. These we will call sins of disposition. But now you also put off these—anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Stop lying one to another.
Let’s look at anger. What does this word mean? What kind of anger. Several words are translated anger. This word I believe can best be translated or understood as “anger suppressed”. The next word wrath is “anger expressed”. The first word indicates the kind of anger that doesn’t show. You are burning up inside because of what happened, but you don’t show it. You smile and act nice, but inside there is a volcano erupting. The truth of the matter is that just because we don’t show our anger doesn’t mean that we have not sinned against God in being angry. It is that kind of anger that never expresses itself, but cherishes it in the heart. It begins to poison the system and go deeper and deeper.
Let me make this observation. With the first list, the sins of immorality, Paul started with the final act of fornication and led back to the desire: evil concupiscence and inordinate affection. In this list he reverses the process. He starts with the desire, the inclination, and carries it out to its logical consequence.
So first of all, there is anger suppressed, but you cannot forever suppress that anger. Sooner or later, it is going to get out of control. That’s wrath—anger out of control. It is the outburst of temper.
I learned something when I was a very young boy. I learned that losing your temper costs you your testimony. I was working for my uncle and dad in their service station. I was a young preacher boy. The head mechanic there was as lost as he could be. I had witnessed to him, and witnessed to him, but he didn’t care. One of those muggy, humid days in July or August in Fort Smith, Arkansas, I had changed a tire on a car, fixed the flat, and had the wheel back on, and had put the bolts on, and was trying to get the hub cap on there. I was having a terrible time getting the hub cap on because you would beat it in down here and it would pop out up here. I was sweating, and the sweat was falling in my eyes and burning. I was squatting down and getting tired. I lost it. I took that hub cap and flung it as far as I could across the wash bay and into the grease rack—and felt pretty good. Then I looked around, and there was my lost buddy—watching me. He only said one word to me, and said it with a smirk: preacher! I had never known such condemnation.
But notice that it moves on. From wrath there comes malice. Now malice is a little different than the others. Malice indicates a spiteful, vicious attitude. It is acting toward another person in such a way as to be vicious and wanting the worst thing to happen to them. And you don’t mind hearing about bad things happening to them. It bothers you a little to hear they are doing well. First of all, you are angry at a person. Then you express that anger. Then there is born in your heart a spiteful attitude toward them. The next one comes out blasphemy, or slander. That is simply giving somebody the idea that so-and-so may not be all that he claims to be.
I used to always be bothered by the words of Jesus over in Matthew, chapter 5, where he says if anyone calls another a fool, he is in danger of hell fire. Were you scared of that when you were a kid? I was scared to death of that. I would call them anything, but I wouldn’t call them a fool. Did that scare you? I knew I was going to slip one day and say fool when I didn’t mean it, and I was going to go to hell.
A friend, John Paul Hundley, and I were having a fight in the kitchen. Mom had a big iron pot of cabbage cooking on the stove. He was bigger than me, and always won. In the process, we knocked that big pot of cabbage all over the floor. I wanted to say the meanest thing I could think of. I said, you fool! It was a long time before I wasn’t afraid to go to sleep at night. I thought, boy, I have said something and God is going to send me to hell.
No, that’s not what he is talking about. When Jesus warns us against calling somebody a food, I think he is actually warning us against casting doubt or suspicion on a person’s moral character. It’s the idea of a moral fool—a man who is a fool in his morals. Jesus said that if you cast a person into that category (by the raising of an eyebrow, or the winking of an eye, or a shrug of the shoulders) you give the indication that somebody may not be what they seem to be, and you don’t know for sure. You don’t care too much about this person anyway. You are a little angry at him. You have a vicious attitude toward him so it comes very easily just to let people form the wrong impression.
Then comes filthy communication. We’ll not go into that. And then he says to stop lying one to another.
Let me finish by summing this up. Verses 12 through 14:
Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion and kindness and humbleness of mind and meekness and longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on love which is the belt of perfection.
Paul says, once you have disrobed the old clothes, you need to dress up. Here is what the well dressed Christian wears. He wears a heart filled with compassion. He wears humility of mind. He wears gentleness and meekness. Perhaps, the most attractive thing about him (maybe it’s the tie he is wearing), is that he is forbearing and he is forgiving.
What does it mean to forbear with somebody? It is closely akin to longsuffering and patience. Basically, it means “to hang in there” with a friend, stay by their side, support them, prop them up, stand by them. You don’t like what they are doing, and it is maddening the way they seem to be messing up their life. They are so slow in coming along. But you are going to be forbearing. You are going to stick with them, stay with them. You are not going to desert them even though they fail. So you stay with them, stick with them. What are you doing in the meantime? Well, the word is gracing them. You are forgiving them, covering them with grace, while all these things they are doing are so stubborn and irritating to you. Yet, at the same time, you just continue to cover that with grace. You grace them. Paul says this is what the well-dressed Christian wears.
I wonder tonight if any of us have any old grave clothes hanging in our closet at home. You hate to throw them all away. You never can tell; one of them might come back in style some day. I’ve had a minor victory this week. I’ve worn an old tie, 25 years old, so out of style, so ugly looking that it is in style now. Listen, you hang on to those old clothes long enough and you will find an occasion to put them on once in a while.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005