And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.. — Colossians 3:5-11
Every time I see these “sin lists” in Paul I am struck by two things.
First, I am struck by the communal nature of them. Did you notice that? The issues raised are, by and large, things that we experience in the context of community. We are social creatures for good or for ill. Our greatest joys are rooted in community but so are our greatest experiences of brokenness.
So often, I think we think of sin in the abstract. But, it’s not an abstraction. It has real impact in the world. I was reading the other day in a book called, Learning to Speak God From Scratch by Jonathan Merritt. In his chapter on sin he uses a definition from a theologian friend that defines sin as “anything that robs us of the fullness of life — or something we’ve done that robs others of the fullness of life. (p. 140)” This really seems to jive in my head and makes a lot of sense as I consider the way that the writers of the New Testament talk about sin.
Second, I am struck by the connection of the sin list to “idolatry.” In the more literal translations the sins are rooted in idolatry. Peterson describes idolatry in his translation this way, “That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.” When we place ourselves at the center of things then so many of these issues will develop. If we have God at the center, understanding that we are united with Christ then we will be more intentional about taking off the “ill-fitting clothes” of the ways of the life-stealing-sin.
I love the imagery of God putting on us custom made clothes. When something is made custom it is one of a kind and perfectly designed for the recipient. In John 10:10 Christ says that he came to give abundant life. This abundant life is a life that is custom made for each us in the limitless creativity of our Creator. This is what gets hinted at in Ephesians 2:10, “No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Each of us are called to join in the work that God has created for us to do, and it is custom made for you and me to experience the fullness of life.
But, to experience this fullness of life we have take that old life thief, sin, and deal with it. Paul says, put it off like we do old clothes. This means that living and experiencing the fullness of life will require us to be intentional and active in its pursuit. Clothes don’t just fall off. They have to be intentionally removed. Clothes don’t just appear on us. They have to be intentionally put on.
As you go into the weekend consider, in what ways is the thief-of-life stealing life away from you or how are you joining in the thief-of-life to steal life from others?