In our Sunday Morning Bible study classes, we’ve been venturing through the book of Colossians. It has really been an amazing journey, and I think all of us have learned some things about the Lord and about ourselves. This past Sunday, we hit chapter 3 – the part where Paul challenges us to put all of this new knowledge into practice. You’ve “heard” it… now “do” it! (James 1:22).
In our most recent time together, we spent some time discussing why we thought people make decisions for Christ, and then “fall away,” so to speak. I was amazed at how much insight my friends have into this – what an incredible group of people.
As we reflected on what Paul had been communicating to this newly-converted and under-shepherded group of Gentile believers, we discovered that before we are able to make lasting change, we first have to re-think our very existence. In Colossians 3:1-4, the prerequisite for living an effective Christian lifestyle is a positional awareness of our existence. Paul writes that we have “died.” That’s right – died… as my mother used to say, “deader than a doorknob.” And then he writes that Jesus “is” our “life.” I believe the lack of this awareness is the downfall of many an overwhelmed, under-accomplished believer in our day.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and take some heat for this, I know… but I believe we have over-simplified the Gospel message. In efforts to “win” as many for Christ as we possibly can, we have put our hopes in the repetition of a simple prayer and in the communicative/persuasive abilities of the witness-er. We have over-emphasized the one-time decision and underemphasized the lifelong commitment.
The reader can find in almost every one of the Pauline letters an implication or direct command to “die” or “put [something] to death.” Perhaps the greatest of these is Paul’s own witness in Galatians 2:19-20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives within me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Paul also speaks of being “buried with Christ in baptism” (Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12), having previously been “dead in our sin” (Ephesians 2:1), the potential argument that “what is good” may have “caused” his death (Romans 7:13), and of our being “dead with Christ” (2 Timothy 2:11). Paul is writing that there is an undeniable DEATH element which is a prerequisite for living the Christian life.
I have been taught and even taught others that Romans 6:23 describes what Christ has done for us. The wages of sin is death – that’s the death that Jesus paid for us, isn’t it? Yes. And no. “Wait a minute, Tony, are you saying that Jesus’ death isn’t enough to take away our sins?” Yes I am. That is exactly what I’m saying. If all it took was Jesus’ death, then we must believe a universalistic gospel. But that’s not the only element. Salvation involves not only Jesus’ death, but OURS as well. Oh, I can just see the fire in your eyes, and the smoke coming out of your ears now. Read on before you slam me.
Let’s take a simple, expositional approach toward the proper exegesis of Romans 6:23. Look at the context, Christian. Read verses 17-22. What is the main topic here? Jesus’ death? No… well, who’s death? Yours, my friend. Your death. The wages of sin is death – your death. Because of the sin in your life and in mine, we have earned death. That’s what it takes to be saved – death. Isn’t this consistent with the very words of our Savior Himself? Luke 9:24 – “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it.”
The first part of Romans 6:23 is about you. The second part is about Christ. Thank You, Heavenly Father, that although the wages of sin is death, “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You must choose to “put to death” the old man so that you may become alive in Christ Jesus. You cannot, no matter how hard you try, effectively and lastingly work out things that imitate salvation prior to your own spiritual death. Too many of us are living defeated lives – un-victorious, uneventful, un-beneficial, and un-impactful. Why? Because we’ve not understood what it means to be saved. First, we must die. Only then can salvation can be ours.
So what does it look like to be “dead?” Back to Colossians Chapter 3. Paul seems to indicate that it means a conscious effort to “put to death whatever is worldly” (verse 5): things like sexual immorality, lust, greed, malicious thoughts/deeds, anger, slander, filthy language, and lying. What do you do when you read a passage of scripture like this? What is your reaction? For the believer, there is an immediate conviction that takes place. But what happens after that conviction? What do you do with this? Well, the defeated Christian ignores it or justifies his actions. “I only cuss around my friends.” “It’s not slander, it’s just the hard truth.” “It’s not sinful as long as I don’t act on my lust.” “I’m not being greedy, I deserve this.” I hope I’m not the first one to tell you this, but if any of these responses belong to you, then you are headed nowhere in your Christian walk… and you’re probably getting there fast.
Contrastingly, Paul urges the believer to “put on” or “bring to life” the things that are Christ-like: patience, kindness, compassion, gentleness, humility, and love (verses 12-14). Your goal in life, as a Christian, must be to conform to the character of Christ. Anything else is inferior. Anything else is sub-standard. Anything else is pointless.
What do you do with the Word of the Living God when it brings conviction on your life?
Grace and Peace,