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Designer Spiritual Clothes or Knock-Offs. Doct. of Death Col 3:5-7


In just about every city we can find a counterfeit of just about anything we want, from watches to dresses to shirts, luggage, whatever. Some of them are rather obvious knock-offs, others are considered to be pretty good knock-offs. But these places are not the only places we find knock-offs. There are a lot of knock-offs in just about every church in town—spiritual knock-offs, spiritual counterfeits. We usually refer to them as places of legalism, places of asceticism, places of religion where the focus is on some sort of external superficial application of the Word in terms of following a preset list of rules of don't do this and don't do that. It is not unlike the problem the Corinthians faced with these false teachers who had come in emphasising rules like, as Paul says, do not taste, do not touch, do not drink. These kinds of things have always plagued Christianity because the biggest problem people have is trying to understand the difference when it may look the same on the outside between counterfeit spirituality and true spirituality.

The passage that we have been building up to as we talked about various things from the last part of Colossians chapter two through the opening part of Colossians chapter three starts to come together for us as we look at Colossians 3:5 NASB "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." This needs to be read within the general context which goes from verse 5 down through verse 11. Paul starts off with this command to put to death your members and he ends up going back to something he has introduced and emphasised continuously, and that is the baptism by the Holy Spirit. For Paul it is almost like whatever the problem is that we have in life, if we want to solve that problem we need to go back to what happened when we were saved in terms of our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. We need to go to the Word of God to find out what it was that transpired at that instant we trusted in Jesus Christ as savior.

A lot of different things happened. People have categorised these a lot of different ways. Some people have had lists as long as one hundred. Usually they are all the same thing, it is just a matter of organisation. The issue is that we really can't identify all of them or list them all in 30 or 40 or 100 or 150, that is a small number when the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:3 that we have blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. That is a big number, a lot more than 150. There are present possessions. We need to learn what they are and how to live in light of them. That is what the Christian life is all about and why Paul keeps on going back to this starting point of what happened when we were saved. What he always does is say, because this happened and you are now in Christ, therefore—and he ends up with certain behavioural mandates. That not to limit that to just external actions, but how we should think, how we should deal with certain emotional sins, how we should deal with sin as a whole, and how we should deal with overt lifestyle. These are all part of the package but it starts with understanding what happened in Christ. It often starts, too, with understanding that the real dynamic for the Christian life in this church age is that we have been given God's Holy Spirit who indwells us and who fills us. That filling ministry is essential to spiritual growth.

Paul uses other language to talk about that filling ministry. He says we walk by means of the Spirit, we are to walk in the light, and other phrases that he uses; but the dynamics of doing that somehow seem to elude a lot of people and what they end up doing is something not unlike what the Colossians did. That is, that they just come up with a list of things to do, a sort of code of conduct that if they just do certain things and don't do certain things (don't mention the Holy Spirit) then they will be okay and growing spiritually. What they have done is reduced spirituality in the New Testament sense and true spiritual growth to nothing more than just a system of ethics or a system of morality. This is what legalism is. What we have to do is learn a key principle, and that is that anyone can be moral and anyone can be ethical at a superficial level. Jesus talked about the Pharisees who were really the good guys. If we just stop for a minute and get rid of the ideas that we have from the Gospels and think of it as just culturally or Jewish living in the first century with four or five different religious groups out there, the good guys of the options are the Pharisees. They are the ones who really believed that the Torah was given and revealed by God, and that God is serious about obeying the Torah, that the disobedience of which is why Israel was taken out of the land in 586 BC and punished by God. So their ultimate motivation was, we have to be serious about obeying the Word. The trouble was they ended up, as so often happens, making that just sort of a superficial thing so that Jesus depicts them as whitewashed sepulchres. They looked good on the outside but on the inside it was just dead men's bones. So it was just a superficial or counterfeit sort of spirituality.

There are a lot of people who can on the outside appear to develop Christian virtues, but what Scripture teaches is that the only way to have these real virtues as established by God is when they are produced by God the Holy Spirit. If He is not making that transformation from the inside out then it is just something that is superficial. Having said that, there are theological groups that go in a couple of different directions and believe that there are, within Christianity, a number of different models or approaches to the Christian life. Within our tradition and orientation coming out of mostly a L.S. Chafer–C.I. Schofield background of Dallas Theological Seminary there are basically three views of the Christian life that tend to influence people from our tradition. One is the Calvinistic or Reformed view which really doesn't say much about God the Holy Spirit. It is as if you are following the commands of Scripture and the prohibitions of Scripture then that becomes spirituality. They confuse morality with spirituality. In reaction to that in the 19th century—known by different names: Keswick theology, holiness theology (which eventually developed into the holiness-Pentecostal movement)—were groups that recognised that God the Holy Spirit played a unique and distinct role if you follow the Scripture, and that you just can't put to death the deeds of the flesh, you have to, as Paul says in Romans 8:11, put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit. But they overemphasised the Holy Spirit to the point that they slipped into mysticism. All mysticism is nothing more than intellectual or spiritual licentiousness, because it ultimately deifies your own emotions as you try to identify those with promptings of the Holy Spirit—which involves a number of misidentifications, mistranslations, misinterpretations of Scripture.

The best, most exegetically sound approaches to the spiritual life was developed in a stream of thought. Not everyone in that stream of thought is identical because there's a development and a clarification of the teaching came from Louis Sperry Chafer, C. I. Scofield and a number of others, emphasising the fact that it has to be done by walking by the Spirit. Mysticism tends to put so much emphasis on the Holy Spirit that it is almost like "I'm going to let go and let God." That was a big cliché, a slogan, a brand that was used. It sounds good but it became the slogan for the holiness movement and the Keswick movement. It was the idea that if I'm just in fellowship and let the Holy Spirit take over then He sort of automatically makes the decisions for me. Well what happened to my volition? A word that they used was the word "control." If we read both Scofield and Chafer they use this word because they were influenced. The early developers or theologians within our tradition were influenced because they spoke in the late nineteenth century Bible conferences and prophecy conferences together and they heard the "victorious life" teaching. They didn't really understand the spiritual life in the same way but they used some of the same vocabulary. So "control" is not a good word because the Holy Spirit doesn't control us, He influences us.

The command and control center in the human soul is our volition. We may be influenced by the Holy Spirit. When we are in fellowship and we are walking by the Spirit He is the one who is leading us and guiding us, but He is not the one who is making us walk. The command to walk by the Spirit is addressed to us, to our volition, to walk by the Spirit and we walk by means of or aided by God the Holy Spirit. Elderly people with walking problems are aided by a walker, but the walker doesn't take them anywhere. With the walker they are able to go wherever their volition directs them. It is like the Christian life. We are volitionally engaged at every point but the issue is whether we are doing it by means of the Spirit or not. The important distinction that we have to bring out is that the commands of Scripture that we see, e.g. putting to death your members which are on the earth, fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, etc, are a code of conduct that we have been given.

The Scripture has other passage where there are these kinds of lists. There is a list of positive things in Romans chapter five, 2 Peter chapter one, the virtue list. Often in those same passages there is a contrasted pattern which is the negative, which you don't do, and that is usually referred to as the vice list. So we have a way of teaching that should always characterise a church and that is teaching by contrast—this is what you do and this is what you don't do, identifying the differences. We don't learn what a counterfeit is just by studying what the genuine article looks like. 

We have to be able to look at our own lives and we have to determine whether or not we are actually wearing designer spiritual clothes, i.e. that which is produced by God the Holy Spirit, or if we have just fallen into one of these traps—the Reformed trap, the Keswick trap, or the holiness trap—and we have just fallen into the Pharisaical trap and we have whitewashed sepulchres where we just have knock-off spirituality. Really what we have here in Colossians 3:5-11 is what the true spiritual clothes look like.

We always have to be careful, though, of not slipping into legalism. Legalism is not what a lot of people think it is. A lot of people think that if you are a Christian you shouldn't do that (whatever it is), and that is legalism. Well it may be and it may not be. Legalism at its very root is the idea that a person's behaviour either influences, motivates or causes God's gracious actions in either our justification or in spiritual growth, and that somehow we gain approval with God on the basis of what we do. That is just flat wrong. The only approval that we have is that we possess the righteousness of Christ, not our righteousness. So legalism isn't the same as identifying oughts and ought-nots in the Christian life, it is making non-Scriptural mandates necessary and it is also removes the Holy Spirit from the process so that morality or ethics becomes identified with the Christian life apart from any work by the Holy Spirit. This is always a problem. As Paul says here they have cut themselves off from the head, which is Christ. So they are spiritually decapitated.

With a lot of Christians there is activity but because they have cut themselves off from the head, which is Christ, it is just producing a spiritual knock-off. They have cut themselves off from the authority of Christ, from nourishment from Christ and any kind of spiritual growth. And what we see here is Paul going into this solution where he emphasises that we are to put to death sin in our life. This brings up the whole issue of death in the Scriptures. There are seven different ways in which the Scripture talks about death. This is important to understand and some people don't always get this.

There is physical death, simply the separation of the mortal and immaterial soul from the physical body. When we come to that point where we die physically and the soul and the spirit, the immaterial part of man, are separated from the physical body. And this is a consequence of the death that God talked about with Adam. When God said that the day Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil He wasn't saying Adam was going to die physically. He said that there was going to be a death that occurs and there are a lot of consequences to that death, one of which became physical death. But the death that was there was spiritual death. Spiritual death describes that state of death of all mankind at physical birth which is the legal penalty of Adam's original sin. So we are all born physically alive but spiritually dead. How do we know that? Because Paul references that in Ephesians 2:1 when he alludes back to the condition of the Ephesian believers before they were saved: NASB "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." And that phrase, "in your sins," is used about half a dozen times in Scripture and always refers to the status of being spiritually dead. 

The problem is that when we read through certain passages of Scripture that talk about death in the life of a person we automatically think it is spiritual death when it may not be spiritual death, it may be another category of death. We are identified with Christ's death on the cross, and that is what we call positional death. This is explained in Romans 6:1-14—we are identified or united with Christ in His death. His substitutionary spiritual death in our place on the cross is what we are identified with at that moment.

But for those of us who are regenerate so that we are spiritually alive, we are still going to die physically. There are aspects of death that still apply. We can be alive in Christ because of our position, but still living like we were dead. We refer to this as carnal death, or sometimes temporal death. Scripture talks about believers this way: that we can be out of fellowship because we are living on the basis of the sin nature and are carnal. So we are dead in that sense: we are not living to God, we are living as if we were dead. We are still spiritually alive but are living as if we are dead in terms of our experience. Being out of fellowship and being in carnal death is not necessarily a long term situation. But if it becomes a long term situation where we are not walking by the Spirit and are walking according to the sin nature then our life is going to take on the trappings of a dead person, because we have cut ourself off from the head which is Christ and have cut ourself off from the source of power which is God the Holy Spirit. One term that has been used to describe this is operational death but a word to add to that which may make a little more sense is sanctification death. This is alluded to in a number of passages and we have to come to understand this: this is the opposite of living the abundant life. Too often when we read passages of Scripture that talk about the fact that we were saved and we get eternal life we only think of that in terms of its quantity, it is ongoing life without end with God. But there is a qualitative sense to that phrase as well, and sometimes the emphasis in the context has got to be on the qualitative aspect rather than the quantitative aspect.

Some of the verses that talk about this are John 10:10; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 5:6; Hebrews 6:1 and James 2:26. In John 10:10 NASB "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have {it} abundantly." The first "life" has to do with what we normally think of as eternal life, i.e. life without end with God. But Jesus adds a second dimension to that. He said at the cross we get eternal life in terms of life without end but there is another dimension which is the expansion of that life into the present which gives us an abundant life. But if we are a disobedient carnal Christian and we stay there, walking according to the flesh instead of by the Spirit, then we begin to live just like an unbeliever and are operationally dead, and this leads to a lifestyle where we are miserable and never have the kind of happiness that we think we should have or that God promised because we are dominated by the sin nature.

This is the idea of Romans 6:23. This is a verse that many of us have used again and again and again to refer to salvation, as a witnessing verse. But the Romans 6:23 context isn't talking about becoming justified, about moving from being an unbeliever to a believer. How do we know that? Because we know that in Romans Paul is extremely logical about his explanation of the basic doctrines of Scripture and how we become righteous. He talks about justification in Romans 3 & 4 but in chapter 5 he starts to talk about the implications of what a justified person has. Romans 6, 7 & 8 is talking about how a believer experiences (as Jesus put it in John 10) the abundant life. So he is no longer talking about how to become righteous before God but Romans 6 is about learning how to live apart from the dominion of the sin nature. It is not phase one, being saved from the penalty of sin, it is phase, two being saved from the power of sin. So in context Romans 6:23 isn't talking about eternal death here, it is talking about the present experience of a death-like life instead of the abundant life. It isn't talking about being spiritually dead in the sense of an unbeliever; it is talking about being miserable in life because of continuing to walk according to the sin nature. And what are the wages that are paid for that? Life will turn to misery and it will not produce the kind of life that Jesus characterised as the abundant life.

Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 7:10 NASB "For the sorrow that is according to {the will} {of} God produces a repentance without regret, {leading} to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death." The NKJV translates this, "For godly sorrow produces repentance…" That is how most English translations translate that, but that is not a good translation. As we look at this in English the noun is "sorrow," but the English word that is in front of that that ends with an 'ly' is in English grammar and adverb. There is no adverb in the Greek text. The Greek text literally says "a sorrow according to the standard of God" – kata [kata] plus the accusative. This something which we have all experienced when we go out and commit some sin. It shocks other people and even shocks us, or we get caught at something and there is embarrassment and sorrow, not always because of what we did but because we got caught and because of the exposure of sin and the embarrassment. It is the word metamelomai [metamelomai] which is a word for emotional sorrow. But the word is not always a negative. It sometimes refers to a sorrow that comes genuinely because you have sinned and been caught or exposed, even if it is just to yourself. And so there is a genuine sorrow that can go with it. It doesn't have to go with it but it can, and it is a sorrow according to the standard of God. We commit some sins and we recognise that this is wrong and there is an emotion that goes with that. We don't have to have the emotion with it for confession to be genuine, but sometimes it is. Godly sorrow is when we recognise we are wrong and there is a genuine emotion that goes with this. But the trouble is that if we have certain sin patterns that are ours that we have been committing since we were old enough to commit the sin, whatever it is, we know that by the time we are forty, fifty or sixty we have committed this sin so many times that it just doesn't have the same emotional impact on us that it did when we were very young. We can't manufacture it because that is just a counterfeit too. Godly sorrow sometimes accompanies something; sometimes it doesn't. It is not necessary for confession to work.

But Paul says "For godly sorrow" because some of the Corinthians truly were sorrowful over some of their wrong behaviour. He said, "For sorrow according to the standard of God produces a change [repentance]…" And that is not metamelomai, it is metanoeo [metanoew] which is a true change. "… leading to salvation." He is not talking about justification here. As in many cases it is talking about experiential sanctification. Paul is saying that godly sorrow according to the standard of God can play a role legitimately in that it leads to change, which leads to salvation—a realisation of what Paul talks about in Romans 6 and Colossians 3 of putting to death the deeds of the sin nature. It leads to a changed life and spiritual growth, in contrast to the sorrow of the world which is just that superficial emotional pattern which produces death. Spiritual death? No, he is talking to believers. He is saying to them that if they think that emotion is going to be the key to the spiritual life, it is not. Emotion is just going to continue to produce operational type death; it is not going to ever get them out of that constant cycle of sinning and feeling sorry, going on an emotional jag and trying to convince God that they are really serious about it this time. That is no different from how worldly religions operate.

There is sexual death, which describes the loss of sexual or procreational ability as it was applied to Abraham and Sarah. Then there is the second death, which is the long-term condemnation and spiritual death that continues on out into eternity where the unbeliever is eternally punished in the lake of fire.

When we look at Colossians 3:5 where Paul says "consider the members of your earthly body as dead," this fits a pattern from 2:11 –"therefore if you died, if then you were raised with Christ, for if you died (3:3)," and this is all of us, we died at that instant that we were baptized by the Holy Spirit. But because that is our position, now we are to put to death our members. What does that mean? It has to do with the fact that it is through our physical body that bring our lust patterns in our sin nature to fruition, in one way or another. Not all of them end up in overt sins but usually if we have an emotional sin of anger it is expressed overtly, as with jealousy and bitterness. It often culminates in some sort of overt sin and is expressed through our physical body. What Paul is saying here as he looks at the end product is that we need to put to death the whole process. When he says "put to death" he is not ignoring the Holy Spirit; that is not the focal point here. Here he is dealing with believers who are operating on pure legalism with false values. So he is saying they need to quit that false value system, here is the true value system and you need to put that false one to death.

Over in other passages, when we compare Scripture with Scripture, as in Romans 8:11, it is that you put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit. That is how we grow. But it comes out of an understanding of who we are in Christ. So we are to put to death our members which are on the earth. See, it is all earthly, it is all temporal; it is all related to who and what we are ion Christ. Paul says in other places that we do this because we have put on Christ; that is our new identity. We have been given an identity card and with that a number of new things. We died with Christ; we were buried with Christ; we were raised to newness of life (Romans 6:3). We have a new nature (Colossians 3:10). We have a new life, an eternal life, a spiritual life. We have a new family; we are in the royal family of God. All of this is the result of being baptised by means of the Holy Spirit. We have a new leadership—Christ is the head. The Holy Spirit leads us, Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18. We have a new way of thinking, Romans 6:11; Philippians 4:8. Then there is a new code of conduct, a new dress code. We got rid of the old uniform. We cleaned out the closet in justification and we positionally put off all those clothes. Now we must put on this new wardrobe, the issue here. We don't do it apart from the Holy Spirit, we do it by the Holy Spirit; but we still have to engage our volition to put it on. We have to dress according to the new standards, the new dress code of the new family. That is what Paul talks about here when he gives this list of the things we don't do and the other things we do. He is just expressing the new code of conduct.