Intro: The first part of our text this morning is a transitional part of the letter. For the first couple of chapters Paul has primarily been talking about who Christ is, what he has done and how it should be understood. Now, what he will do is go into an application of that understanding. The first 4 verses will be that transition and then he will talk to us about practical living and will do so for the remainder of the book for the most part.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
When Paul says “If ye then be risen” he is not questioning, he is saying because you have been risen with Christ we are to seek things above. So, let me ask. Who has been risen with Christ? Believers or non-believers? Believers, right? People who have a faith in Jesus and as we saw last week in chapter 2 have followed him in baptism. Paul is addressing people who are Christians. This is important because as we go through the text today and the idea of endeavoring to rid ourselves of sin, has to begin with the grace of Jesus. We work through grace, not work to earn grace. This is the distinction that will set the tone for what we talk about this morning.
Because of the gospel and our faith in Jesus we seek out the Holy Spirit to be freed from anything contrary to the Spirit of God. We change our outward behavior in order to conquer the flesh or our sin nature.
He begins, even, by telling us to set our minds on things that are above. He doesn’t give us a step by step checklist, rather, he gives us something to focus on. Think, meditate, pray and fellowship on the things of God. Focus on having Christ and a relationship with him. Don’t focus on status, power, prestigious or being seen as something good. Desire, seek after and exert your energy in knowing Jesus. When writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul said it this way.
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
There is a war taking place, a struggle in the Christian faith. Later in Ephesians Paul says we wrestle against principalities and powers. We make a mistake to think that there isn’t a struggle. That at the moment of our “conversion” we will have no more problems, everything is rainbows and butterflies and you have the perfect life. On the other end of the spectrum, you would be mistaken to believe that this life is a constant uphill battle with no respite and no relief.
In all wars there are moments of battle, there are moments of peace and there is rest for the wounded. We will have the mountain tops and we will have the valleys, it is all part of the journey. We should not glory in the mountain top and we should not despair in the valley, but we glory in Christ. When times are good, we glory in Christ. When times are bad, we glory in Christ, we remember the cross.
So, in verse 5 of chapter 3, Paul tells us to mortify our members which are upon the earth. What does mortify mean? Put to death. We are, by the spirit to put to death these things. He starts with the big list, the things that are bigger in our minds at least and then he tells us to put off some “smaller” or more accepted or less noticed things.
Keep in mind how chapter 2 ended. Last week Pastor Ulysse talked about it, but I want us to look at it again lest we think religious practice is the method by which we are to put sinful desire to death.
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
Paul is preaching against the notion that a person can achieve a high spiritual or moral state by practicing self-denial and self-mortification. It can’t be done. If it could the cross would be of none effect. There would be no point. Religious practice cannot justify us. It is only in the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross and our faith in Him that his righteousness is given to us and our sin and rebellion were poured out on Him.
A couple of things about putting to death sin. The first one being that the bible says that we are dead to sin, so how do we deal with the fact that we are dead to sin and yet need to put it to death in our members?
It’s about cutting ourselves off from sin because while we have died to sin, sin has not died in us. What has changed is our relationship with sin, we are no longer in slavery to sin. We are free to serve Christ. A couple of verses on this idea.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Have you ever heard the saying “you are dead to me”? Most of us right? Is that person actually dead, or are they now absent from that person’s life in such a way that they no longer have any impact good or bad? This is how it works with the sin that dwells in our flesh. We are new creatures in Christ, but we are still in this earthen vessel, we are still in this world and we still have an adversary (the devil) that we war with.
We are in Christ, but we are in Norfolk, if you get my drift. There are all these things pulling on our affections and we have to take them seriously. When we feel them rising in us, we have to cut them off completely. We cannot tame them and try to just control them.
A few years ago Siegfried and Roy had an act in Las Vegas that involved a tiger and one day after the course of a long time of working with this tiger, it bit Roy in the neck, that was in October of 2003. At the time it was shocking to people. The tiger had been a part of the act for a long time and no one expected the tiger to lash out. People were saying that tiger went crazy and were freaking out a bit. But, in the famous words of Chris Rock “that tiger didn’t go crazy, that tiger went tiger”.
You can’t try to put your sin in a little box and think you have it under control and try to use it in any way. It doesn’t matter how much control you think you have, sin is looking to devour us and the thing is we don’t have to have it happen. When we think what is missing, what will finally bring that spritual awakening or what have you, is to keep the feasts, to keep the sabbath, to keep kosher or to have some special connection with the name of God.. We have deceived ourselves into believing we can tame the flesh through putting the flesh into religious subjection. Put it doesn’t work that way. In fact as Paul was writing to the church in Galatia, he said this.
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
Earlier in the book he even expresses how good he was at religion. He was more “exceedingly zealous” of the traditions of his fathers than his peers. You want a guy who followed the law and had religious practice down? There was no one better than Paul and yet he knew it to be lacking when he encountered Jesus. If we are free, why would we go back into bondage?
We have an advocate. We have a God who joys over us, who loves us and wants to see us thrive. He is looking down not in exasperation in our failing attempts to follow him. He is not frustrated by how slow our progress is. He looks down as a loving Father watching his child learn and grow.
The beautiful thing about this walk with God is we are absolutely assured victory. It is not a probability, it is a certainty.
But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Who will perform the work? Who began the work? The Holy Spirit did. Why would we think that trying to work through the flesh after being brought to life by the Spirit would complete us? We find our completion in Christ. To try to put to death the works of the flesh by self-denial or by our own might, is to grieve the Holy Spirit. It frustrates the grace of God. He wants to bless you, he wants to grow us, but if we leave the Spirit and begin to try to find perfection through the flesh, it grieves Him. He can’t work with it.
So the question then becomes, how do I kill the works of the flesh? How do I put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy and filthy communication? There are a lot of things that can work and are helpful and they will all be rooted in some way in a few things.
First by the reading of the word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Now I want to be clear, its not a hearing with the ears as much as it is a hearing with the heart. I had a lady tell me one time, “I put on a CD and listened to the bible all day and my faith wasn’t increased at all”. It’s more than just reading some words on the page. Which brings me to the next thing.
Meditation on the word. Fill your heart and mind with the things of God and just dwell on them. Ponder them, maybe even journal them. Think about true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report. Stop filling your mind with garbage all the time. You can’t run a marathon on junk food. You can’t have a spirit filled life without communing with the spirit.
Pray. Talk to God. Really talk to him. Come to Him like a young child would come to a loving father. My boys tell me all the time “I just want you daddy”. That’s all they want is just to be near me and have me hold them. Tell your Father “I just want you daddy”. Tell Him everything, leave nothing back. Open up the darkest recesses of your heart.
The last one we will talk about, but not the end of the list is consider death. Think about the end of your life. The proverbs say “teach me to number my days”. Solomon said that “it was better to go into the house of mourning than the house of feasting.” Meaning its better to go to a funeral than a party. Why? Because we take stock of what is really important.
We have been given a free gift. We have been entreated as children when we were enemies. There is no work you have to do to earn God’s love or grace. You have it. Live like it. Believe like it. And tell other about it.
We have nothing of ourselves to glory in, we can’t boast in anything. No matter how good we think we are, every one of us has failed. That is what the law teaches us. It’s a diagnostic. It identifies the evil, the wrong, the problem. It doesn’t offer solutions. When my brother got a chest X-ray a few years ago it revealed spots all over his lungs. They said his lungs looked like dalmatians. The X-ray did its job. It showed the sickness, but if offered no cure.
So I encourage you. Make your glory in Christ alone. Not in your ability to keep yourself in check. Boast in the work of the cross. Point to Jesus in all aspects of your life and you will live a life well pleasing to the Father.