There is no masking or vaccinating sin–the only way to deal with it is to kill it.

Citylight Center City | May 30, 2021 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.


Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians and Philemon (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), G.K. Beale

Sermon Transcript

I’ve been thankful for our pastors’ expositional preaching on Nehemiah to show us how God might want us to rebuild the church here in Philadelphia through the challenges of the pandemic.  Then we learned how we can be a church that lasts through any challenge we might face in this world through Paul’s letter to Titus.  This morning, I have the honor to share a message on my heart as we prepare for a summer unlike any we’ve had before, because it follows a year like no other.   Praise God for answering our prayers for a vaccine, for its distribution, and decreased limits to gathering as a body!  As we begin wearing masks less, getting together with friends more, we may be ready to let our guard down.  


I’m vaccinated, so I’m impervious to illness right?  It’s been a long year, I’m ready to go to the beach, have a cookout and go to restaurants!  Certainly, let us enjoy these good things from God this summer.  But remember why we wear masks and remain cautious in social distance; because it still helps to prevent the spread of a virus that has not been eradicated.  And that’s really the only way to end the masks, the social distancing, the dividing issue of the vaccine:  it’s to kill this virus.  And even if we killed it, there’s all these variants that would need to be killed too!  Likewise, even though we have been reborn with Christ, our sin has not been eradicated.  It is crouching, waiting to pounce and devour us if we let our guard down.  So Paul tells the Christians at Colossae, and God tells us now:  Kill Your Sin.  In this passage, there’s three reasons why:  Kill your sin because you’ve been made alive, because it’s not who you are anymore, and because Christ is in all.


Because you’ve been made alive


He has not met the Christians in Colossae in person, but Paul has heard about them, and is glad they are faithful to their knowledge of the truth: that Jesus is Lord of all.  And he writes to them to both affirm that and to address their increasing fear of spiritual powers and man-made regulations, all which Christ destroyed in his death and resurrection.  Right before this passage, Paul points out that appearing to have wisdom doesn’t mean you’re living wisely.  Doing some things right doesn’t mean you stopped doing wrong things.  So he starts chapter 3 saying that those who are saved by Christ don’t just need to look at things differently, they need to look at different things; things that are above, heavenly things, worthy-of-God types of things.


This command is for the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of our minds, which we are always using to seek things to worship.  And then Paul tells us why in verse 3: “For you have died.”  Not something they probably heard often.  Not “You’re dead” – rather, you died and without ending the sentence he says, you are alive in a way that is hidden.  King David described this hiddenness in Psalm 27 when he was being hunted: “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.”  Paul is clear that because of Christ, who we are patiently and hopefully waiting to return, the Colossians have already died and been made alive by the resurrection of Christ; but their glory has not yet appeared.  It’s hidden, but it’s there.  So they need to start living the reality that’s there, and that Christ is one day going to bring in full, nothing hidden.  


When my dad was 20 years old, he had to run for his life when South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam’s communist regime.  With gunfire and bomb explosions everywhere, he made the split second decision to get on a boat in the middle of the night and sail into the black ocean.  A North Vietnamese soldier hacked the boat’s radio frequency and told them: “Come back right now!  We will not have mercy on you if we capture you!”  So they turned the engine off, kept quiet, kept still.  As they floated into the darkness, they were hidden.  Eventually a bigger ship came to rescue them, and Dad spent a few months in Guam before coming to the United States where he would eventually become an American citizen.  This meant that the Vietnamese government had no more claim on his life, and to this day, it still does not and never will.  He’s been back to Vietnam as an American citizen, visiting his family and he is free to leave.  I know the circumstances of this story are very sad, and I know my parents wish it never happened.  But when he tells me this story, I’m amazed by God’s provision that has in no small way led to me standing before you today.  That boat.  That darkness in which he hid.  The ship that rescued him.  All gave the opportunity to get new citizenship and rebuild a new life with his wife and son.  


Church family, the moment we believed, we received a new citizenship.  If then you have been raised with Christ, the sin to which you once belonged no longer has any claim on your life.  God says, you died and now live in a new reality.  A new country.  And Christ IS this new life that hides you in the safety of His Father because he has already come.  Christ is your new citizenship to the glorious city of God that he will return with one day.  And yet, too often, I forget this.  I forget to remind my wife and kids about this.  I forget to tell you and my neighbors this.  And that impacts how I spend my energy, my time, and my money.  


My dad didn’t know where he would end up getting on that boat; but you and I know we are hidden with Christ in God and we know we will end up above where He is.  So setting our minds on things above means being ready for every good work which we heard last week.  Giving our energy and time to serving others, when it’s convenient and when it’s not.  It means trusting God’s use of our money when we hesitate about how we might want to use it.   If my dad knew he’d be safe through that war, he probably would have planned a life for my family that was even better.  How much more can we trust being hidden with Christ in the goodness of our Heavenly Father?  It’s a fact the day you believed, and the Holy Spirit confirms it as you are sanctified:  Your soul is safe in the reality that Christ has made alive.  So stay hidden in that truth, but don’t keep your sins hidden.  We have to kill those sins because it’s not who we are anymore.


Because it’s not who you are anymore


The Colossians are already made alive, but Christ has not yet appeared.  So there’s still some loading time; some waiting time; some in-between time.  And during that time, the power of sin is gasping for breath, and wants to reclaim its territory.  So Paul commands them to put to death the sin that still lives in them.  Don’t ignore it, or starve it, or hide it hoping it goes away–KILL IT.  And then he names the sins he’s talking about to really expose them, knowing the pagan culture of Colossae that condoned all of this.  First, sexual immorality.  The Greek word Paul uses here is porneia.  It meant “to prostitute” or “to sell,” leading to any sexual activity outside of God’s boundaries in marriage.  The word “pornography” gets its root from that.  Next impurity, the misuse of their sexuality or immoral sexual conduct.  Passion, or lust, and evil desires means sexual excess that leads to shameful longings apart from God.  And covetousness expands this to include greed for anything that does not lawfully belong to them, all of which takes the focus and eyes of worship off God– that’s idolatry.


In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them that the sexually immoral person is sinning against his own body.  So Paul is not taking any shortcuts to tell the Colossians that they need to get these five sexual sins six feet in the ground.  It’s that important to God, who is pure and holy, who made each person in his image, to honor the body and its sexuality.  This area of life, meant as a good gift from God, needs to be subjected to the lordship of Christ.  And any perversion of it needs to be killed.  


God gave His Son to free us from it, so Paul has to keep it real by reminding the Colossians that God’s wrath is coming for those who want to let it breathe.  Later in this chapter, Paul will set up rules for Christian households.  And while there are many things that threaten the Christian household, I recently heard (and agree) that the single most dangerous threat to Christian households today is pornography.  The challenge of putting to death these sins today is just as difficult for us as it was for the Colossians.  It’s everywhere; with smartphones, it’s in our pockets!  And I know that to be true because I was a slave to sexual sin.  It’s endangered my soul in the past as my fellow members may know, and even as my wife and I were expecting our 3rd child, I have to confess that I forgot God’s grace and mocked it by resusitating this earthly desire to look at pornography.  It only got killed when I confessed it to the Lord, confessed it to my wife, confessed it to my pastor, confessing it to you now, and put more accountability in my life. 


Really I need to kill the earthly desire.  I know I’m not alone in this, and the Enemy wants you to think that you are.  Especially when it comes to sexual sin.  So I urge you family, if you’re engaged in sexual sin, bring it into the light of God’s grace.  If you do it again, let your repentance be quick.  If you want to avoid that all together, kill it by getting accountability partners or software.  It may sound like a good idea right now, but in the moment of temptation, the desire to act out is really what needs to die.  We are always before God, right now here in church and at 11pm Friday night in your bedroom.  He loves you so much he wants you to kill the sin that remains in you, so he took the first step by taking the penalty for that sin to free us from the power of that sin.  That’s being hidden with Christ: how are you responding to Him now?  How will you respond on Friday?  If we set our minds on these things, we will hate what the sin says to God, and it will die.  And we’ll keep killing it as we continue to use the means of grace like our Bibles, prayer, worship, and fellowship with each other.  Because your heart for one another, and what you say to one another also matters to Paul.


After first addressing the sin against their own bodies, Paul tells the Colossians to also put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”  Another list of five sins to kill.  But these five were dangerous because they threatened the social relationships among those who believed.  So Paul called out the earthly heart that is angry towards others.  Wrath expresses the anger, malice keeps it burning.  Slander and obscene talk is quick to speak evil of others, using abusive, filthy language on top of that.  While sexual immorality is against your own body, Paul told the Colossians to kill these sins and stop lying to each other because they hurt the body of Christ.  


He illustrated how to do this with the everyday task of taking off dirty clothes and putting on new clothes.  The dirty clothes represent the grave, the dead you, the old self.  And just like you wouldn’t put on dirty clothes after taking a shower, you complement what the shower does by putting on clean clothes.  But notice he said, “you have put off the old self, with its practices,” meaning you already put the grave clothes and how you behaved in them in the trash.  Then he said, “and you have put on the new self,” which means you already put your faith in Jesus, so you have been showered in the righteousness of his blood.  You complement that washing with a new self; it’s done, new identity, new citizenship.  But what about the behaviors?  He says, the new self “is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator.”  Being renewed is not past tense, but is rather an ongoing present tense of transformation from one degree of glory to the next.  And as it continues, the behaviors more and more fall in line with the new identity as they learn and relearn the knowledge of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.


As a father of a 3 year old learning to use the potty, I can’t help but think about my son Jordan while talking about taking off dirty clothes and putting on new clothes.  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say, we tried to clean the underwear, run it through the laundry a few times, and still, there were stains and smells that just wouldn’t leave.  So what did we do?  We threw them away.  We gave the boy a bath, and gave him new underwear, and reminded him time and again that he knew how to use the potty.  So use the potty!  It may or may not be a helpful illustration, but I find it easy to relate to the Colossians.  During this past year, have you interacted with people you’ve disagreed with?  Maybe over politics?  Mask wearing, social distancing, getting vaccinated?  About race and racism?  Well, God is saying even through these challenges, Christ set us free so we have to kill the anger towards those who don’t agree with us, kill the malicious thoughts, kill the destructive speech, or slanderous texts or social media posts.  Because your thoughts and your mouth no longer rule you.  Throw that trash away.  You are cleansed by the blood of Christ, and you have put on a fresh new outfit, which comes with a new mind and certainly a new mouth.  So use them!


Because Christ is in all


Now that it’s clear that everyone has put on the new self, Paul starts the final verse of this passage.  He says, “Here…” Wait, where?  Here, not in the world, but here in the church at Colossae, where they all put on the image of Christ, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free.”  Paul once again knew what divided them and kept them from seeking the things above.  Jews focused on how Greeks were unclean and did not follow ceremonial laws like circumcision, and Greeks kept looking at the outdated Jewish customs and saw their culture as superior.  Barbarians and Scythians didn’t measure up to Jewish OR Greek culture.  Paul is pointing out that these differences among the Colossians were earthly, and not something to separate them as the new people of God.  


Meaning no one had a special claim on God; no Christian was superior to another.  Because if they put on the new self, then the image of Christ was all of them together.  They had to put to death the sins against their own body because the image of Christ was on all of them, and His Spirit was transforming each of them into his image.   They had to kill the anger and hateful speech among them, because the barriers that separated them were broken down.  A Greek Christian, a Jewish Christian, a barbarian or Scythian Christian were fundamentally equal in the eyes of God: holy and beloved children.  The issues that divided them were no longer an issue.  


Growing up in a mostly white neighborhood, I didn’t really embrace my Vietnamese identity until adulthood.  And that’s a good thing: to embrace who I am; and I want my kids to embrace their Asian identity as soon as possible.  But I confess that for too long my ethnic identity has been the center of my identity, even after becoming a Christian.  Irwyn Ince is a Black pastor in Washington DC, and he teaches that, “Only Jesus is able to bear the weight of the center.  Your Blackness cannot.  Your whiteness cannot.  Your American-ness cannot.  Your Whatever-ness cannot.  God alone has the wisdom, power, and grace to weave the tangled threads of different people, with different cultures, customs, and languages, into a single tapestry of glorious beauty.  The Spirit does not remove our diversity.  Rather he enables us to love, hear, seek, understand, and pursue one another in our diversity.”  In other words, when Paul says “Here there is not Greek and Jew” it doesn’t mean that they stopped being Greek or Jewish when they put on Christ.


I stand up here and I see your dark brown skin.  I hear your accent.  You have not stopped being the glorious image of God that you were born with now that you are raised with Christ.  In fact, it is because of your unique ethnic and cultural characteristics that reveals the body of Christ more fully and beautifully.  HERE, the barriers created by the sin of racism are destroyed, and the barriers have become blessings: here in Citylight Church, and here in the church that will one day gather before the throne with every tribe, tongue, and nation bowing before the Lamb of God.  


If I ceased to be Vietnamese when I became a Christian, then Christ would not be supreme; he would be “a mere tribal deity” as John Piper once said.  Jesus reconciled to himself all things, and redeemed a new humanity that gloriously reflects his beauty.  So as we gather with each other in person this summer, let us examine and put to death the sin of racism in us.  Let’s put to death the malice we feel towards those who disagree with us.  Let’s put to death the barriers that we put up between people who don’t share the same background, battles, or burdens as us.  There’s ease and comfort talking to members who share my race, but to seek things above means to see each of us.  To see that those who have distinct gifts and characteristics from our own, bear the image of Christ, which is being renewed in the knowledge of the gospel.  And we need to kill the sin that wants to put anything but Christ at the center of each of our identities because Christ is all, and in all of us.  He is the wisdom, power, and grace by whom God weaves all of us together.


As summer arrives, I often question God about why he made mosquitoes.  And this is the closest I’ve come:  to make this point.  When you see a mosquito on your body, what do you do?  You smack it dead!  You don’t wait.  It can spread disease, it leaves these itchy marks on us that bother us days later, and it’s much worse if it’s been there for a while without you even noticing it.  Sure, smacking it might sting a little, but better than watching it take my blood and wreak havoc on my body.  Sin, whether sexual sin or slanderous sin or racist sin, is doing infinitely worse to your soul – so when you see it, when you see it in each other, smack it dead!  Kill your sin, because it is sin that brought death into the world.  We rejected God and disobeyed his laws.  But God says that for our sake, he made Jesus Christ to be sin even though he did not sin, and he was killed so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  The penalty of sin has been dealt with, and if you believe that today, your old self and its practices have died.  God raised Jesus from the dead, and if you believe that in your heart today, His life is your life.  And this never-ending life is there but hidden for now, but He is coming for us in full, majestic glory!   Until then, you have put on the new self so that you would seek the things above while here on earth.  If confession and repentance is agreeing with God about our sins, then let’s keep doing that and killing our sins because Jesus has paid for us a glorious reality where they are already dead.