Off with the Old, On with the New
Colossians 3:1-17

Have you ever heard the old cliché “Off with the old, on with the new?” My methodical search for the origin of this idiom has proved unsuccessful. I have only been able to trace it back to a traditional Scotch folk song that was first printed in 1835. It goes like this:

It is good to be merry and wise,
It is good to be honest and true,
it is best to be off with the old love
before you are on with the new.

That is pretty good advice! I have heard this phrase used to describe everything from fashion designs and decorating schemes to political climates and sports trades (like last week when the New England Patriots traded away Randy Moss and this week they brought in Dion Branch). Perhaps, my favorite explanation of this cliché comes from the Urban Dictionary, which says it refers to eating while sitting on the toilet. Regardless of the context in which it is used, we all know that it means to exchange something that is old or worn out for something that is new or novel.

The rest of the book of Colossians is really about taking off the old and putting on the new. The first two chapters focus on doctrine—that is, who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. The second two chapters focus on duty—that is, how we are to live as Christians.

Today’s passage shows how a relationship with Christ leads to a new way of life—hence, off with the old life, on with the new life. The whole section is grounded in verse 1—“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” The Colossians had been spiritually dead because of their sins, but Jesus gave them new spiritual life through his death and resurrection. Their new identity in Christ required a new way of living that would affect their character and thinking. Verses 1-4 provide the motivation for the new life and verses 5-17 show the contrast of the old life to the new life.

Off with the Old Life, On with the New Life (1-4)

How was this new way of living supposed to happen? Paul commands them to set their “hearts” and “minds” on things above. In contrast to the false teachers who were demoting Jesus, Paul reminds them that Jesus is seated in a position of honor, majesty, and authority. Since Jesus is above, their minds should be focused on things above.

The “things above” are contrasted with “earthly things” or things below. What Paul means by this is that Christians are supposed to focus on spiritual things instead of physical things and eternal things instead of temporal things. It does not mean that believers are to live in some mystical fog or neglect the affairs of the earth. He is not saying that we should be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good! He is saying that believers are to possess heavenly values that are expressed in everyday life.

What are your values? Do they reflect your identity as a follower of Jesus Christ? Are your values more spiritual or physical? Are they more eternal or more temporal? Are they more heavenly or more earthly? Let us set our hearts and minds on things above!

1.) The Old Life (5-11)

After Paul lays the groundwork for the new life and challenges the Colossians to set their hearts and minds on things above, he paints a picture of the contrast of the old and new life. He describes the old life in verses 5-11. In verse 5 he launches into the description with another imperative command. When he say “put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature,” he doesn’t mean to carefully regulate sin; he means complete extermination. Christians are to focus on ridding themselves these things because they belong to the old life, not the new life in Christ.

The old nature includes a lengthy list of sins. They can be broken into three categories: perverted passions, hot tempers, and sharp tongues.

Perverted Passions (5-7)

The perverted passions are all found in verse 5. “Sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word “pornea” from which we get our English word pornography. It is a catchall term that includes any sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage. “Impurity” and “lust” refer more to sexual sins of the mind than they do sexual sins of the body. The “evil desires” and “greed” also carry sexual overtones in this context. God placed sexual desire into the human psyche and is not evil in itself. But he is talking about uncontrolled passion, misdirected erotic desire, and sexual excesses. Greed refers to the belief that everything, including other persons, exists for one’s own amusement and pleasure. (Garland 204)

Richard Exley comments on sexual sin:

Lust is not the result of an overactive sex drive; it is not a biological phenomenon or the by-product of our glands. If it were, then it could be satisfied with a sexual experience, like a glass of water quenches thirst or a good meal satisfies appetite. But the more we attempt to appease our lust, the more demanding it becomes. There is simply not enough erotica in the world to satisfy lust’s insatiable appetite. When we deny our lustful obsessions, we are not repressing a legitimate drive. We are putting to death an aberration. Lust is to the gift of sex what cancer is to a normal cell. Therefore, we deny it, not in order to become sexless saints, but in order to be fully alive to God, which includes the full and uninhibited expression of our sexual being within the God-given context of marriage.

Paul rounds off this first list with two more reasons why Christians must rid themselves of these behaviors. In verse 6, he says that these sins contribute to the coming wrath of God. In verse 7, he says that this type of behavior belongs to the old life. The warning of judgment heightens the seriousness of this type of conduct. Paul isn’t nearly as interested in moral improvement as he is in people avoiding God’s wrath.

God’s wrath has been a controversial topic in modern times. Many people think that the concept is out of step with God’s love. A survey on faith maturity in Christians discovered the following beliefs: God is forgiving (97%), God is loving (96%), God is judging (37%), God punishes those who do wrong (19%).

Don’t be deceived! God’s wrath is real! He does punish sin! His wrath is rooted in his holiness. His justice demands punishment for sin. If God did not punish sin, he could not be God. So, how can he be a God of wrath and love? This is where the miracle of Jesus Christ comes in. To remain holy, God has to punish sin. To show his love, God became human in the person of Jesus Christ and took the punishment that we deserve upon himself. Do you believe in God’s wrath? Do you believe in God’s love? I hope you do!

Hot Tempers and Sharp Tongues (8-11)

In verse 8 Paul introduces a second list of behaviors that belong to the old life. He begins with another imperative command “rid yourselves of all such things,” and then he mentions hot tempers which include anger, rage, malice, and sharp tongues which includes slander, filthy language, and lying. “Anger” is a smoldering feeling of opposition that slowly boils to the surface. “Rage” is a quick, sudden outburst that flares up and burns with intensity. “Malice” is the deliberate and vicious intention to harm someone.

You can easily see the logic in Paul’s order; hot tempers often lead to sharp tongues. “Slander” is defamation of another person’s character. “Filthy language” doesn’t just mean curse words; it refers to abusive language that people use to hurt each other. “Lying” is the attempt to gain the advantage over someone else by manipulating the truth.

There is a little poem that describes the destruction of a lying tongue:

First, somebody told it,
Then the room couldn’t hold it,
So the busy tongues rolled it
Till they got it outside.

Then the crowd came across it,
And never once lost it,
But tossed it and tossed it,
Till it grew long and wide.

This lie brought forth others,
Dark sisters and brothers,
And fathers and mothers–
A terrible crew.

And while headlong they hurried,
The people they flurried,
And troubled and worried,
As lies always do.

And so evil-bloated,
This monster lay goaded,
Till at last it exploded
In smoke and in shame.

Then from mud and from mire
The pieces flew higher,
And hit the sad victim
And killed a good name.

Perverted passions, hot tempers, and sharp tongues are part of the old life. They have no place in the new life with Christ. God wants us to get rid of these practices. He wants us to do whatever we can to put them to death. Which of these do you struggle with? What are you doing to get rid of them?

2.) The New Life (12-17)

Well, after Paul challenges the Colossians to rid themselves of the practices of the old life, in verses 12-17 he commands them to actively pursue a virtuous life that is worthy of Jesus Christ. In verse 12, he says “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves…” After you take off the sin stained garments of the old life, put on the clean and virtuous clothes of the new life.

A couple of weeks ago I went through some old clothes in my closet and realized that some of them didn’t fit me anymore. I put them in a bag and donated them to the Salvation Army. As I was walking out, I noticed a rack of men’s clothing. I wasn’t in a huge hurry, so I browsed for a few minutes. I came across a pair of L.L. Bean khaki dress pants. They were virtually brand new, my exact size, and they were only six dollars. I have them on today. What do you think?

It was off with the old and on with the new. Just as my old clothes didn’t fit me and I needed new ones, Paul says that the practices of the old life don’t fit us anymore. It is time to be clothed with the character of Christ.

So, what exactly is in Jesus’ wardrobe? The list in verses 12-17 includes compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patients, forgiveness, love, unity, peace, thankfulness, and gratitude. These are the traits that should fill Christian minds and guide Christian hearts.

Paul concludes this section with an overarching summary command of the new Christian life “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” The life transformation process is to include any and all activities of life. In all places, in all ways, the believer is to honor the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jimmy Sanchez, one of the 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped for over two months in the San Jose copper-gold mine, wore the character of Christ. He testified, “There are actually 34 of us,” the nineteen-year-old miner wrote, “because God has never left us down here.”

Whatever happens in the aftermath of their rescue, Jimmy Sanchez wants to hold on to the lessons he’s learned in the past few months. “God wanted me to be here, I don’t know, maybe so I will change from now on,” Sanchez wrote.”

Yes, God uses all sorts of things so that we will change from now on!

Today is the day to take off the old and put on the new! It is time to put the old life to death and clothe ourselves with the character of Christ. If there is sexual immorality in your life, get rid of it! If you have a hot temper, take a chill pill. If you have a sharp tongue, tie it in a knot. Put on the character of Christ! Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it for Jesus!

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