Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (verses 5-11)
There are some memorable quotes from the 1987 movie, “Princess Bride.” Here’s one from Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal): “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”
The scene is laugh-out-loud funny because we know that dead is dead – full stop.
And yet, in the Christian life, it is true that what’s dead (and meant to stay dead) – namely our old self – can be allowed to stay “slightly alive.”
It was only a few verses earlier (Colossians 3:3) that Paul declared to us the new reality: “you died.” What’s dead is meant to stay dead. Paul speaks the same truth often in his letters – here’s a sample: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20); “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6); “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).
And yet, the “old self” – the “flesh” – can keep kicking. We need to stay vigilant. Knowing full well that we have “died with Christ,” Paul urges us: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” These include sins of the body, sins of the mind, sins of the heart, sins of the tongue, all of which need to be “put to death.” The list of possibilities, even though we’ve “died,” is huge: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, idolatry, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lies. And more besides.
On the one hand, we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter these things. Paul expects we will. Don’t beat yourself up when they intrude. But, on the other hand, get rid of them. Don’t let them take on renewed life. Indeed, put them to death. The language is violent but communicates life and death intensity. The flesh must not be allowed to stay “slightly alive.” It needs to be crucified, again and again. Changing the image to something more mundane, Paul tells us the old self must be stripped off like a set of soiled, tainted and irreparably stained clothing that is only suited for the trash bin. It may sneak back into our closet, ready for future wear. If so, strip it off again!
All of this sounds like work. It is. But it’s grounded in the new reality that our old self has already died, through the work of Christ. Lean into that reality. Further, be strengthened by the ongoing renewal that is at work within us – our “new self … is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator,” or, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, we are being “made new in the attitude of (our) minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Further, the elimination of the old is not meant to leave a vacuum. Rather, we “have put on the new self” (the very life of Christ himself, shaped within us) as we are “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Indeed, we discover that “Christ is all, and is in all.”
So, live the reality. Put to death what’s meant to be dead. Don’t let it remain “slightly alive.” Strip it off. Be renewed. Live the new life. In Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you that my old self has been put to death with you on the cross. Strengthen me, now, to live in that reality, to put to death, moment by moment, what belongs to the earthly nature, and to put on the new self as I am renewed in you. Live your life in me, O Lord.
Reflect: What part of your old self is most dogged in its pursuit to stay alive? How does it exert its pressure? What do you need to do to put it to death? Ask the Lord’s help.