Sin Nature: Reality Check, Col. 2:20-3:11, Rom. 6:1-14


Paul is writing to the Colossians because they have a basic problem that isn't any different from the basic problem that manifests itself for most Christians in the early 21st century; and truly through most Christians throughout the centuries. And that is the problem of learning how to fulfil the commandments in the Scripture so that we can experience that life that Jesus Promised. Jesus said in John chapter ten: "I cam to give life and to give life abundantly." Those are two distinct things. The giving of life there is related to what we normally refer to as salvation but more specifically to justification or regeneration when a person moves from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive, when they move from being unrighteous before God to having a state of righteousness of the declaration of their justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

But that is only when we move from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Unfortunately and sadly there are way too many Christians who are basically spiritual zombies. They are the walking dead. They have life but they are not living it. They don't experience the abundant life that Jesus promised because they are living just like they did before they were saved. They don't understand what was given to them, provided for them, supplied to them at that instant of salvation and giving them true freedom from the tyranny, dominion and mastery of the sin nature; and they continue to live under the control of the sin nature without ever experiencing the rich, joyful abundant life that Jesus promised. So a lot of the New Testament and the passages addressed to living the spiritual life are passages that are addressed to believers so that we can understand what we have in Christ, so that we can apply it in terms of our day-to-day life.

Every time Paul gets into this he ends up going back to the transactions that occurred first at the cross, and second when you and I first believed Jesus died on the cross for us. There is a spiritual event that occurred there that is described in Scripture as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, m ore correctly translated baptism by means of the Holy Spirit, and it is in the realities that took place in that transaction that we are set free from the tyranny, the dominion, the control of the sin nature. But for most people that doesn't seem to be much of a reality, and again and again Paul says the same thing in different words as to how to recognize that and it is basically a reality check. We have to understand the reality, it is not theological fiction, not just sort of a confidence in confidence, it is not just a mental attitude shift; it is a recognition of a reality that shifted, that changed at that instant that we trusted in Christ as savior. The problem is because a lot of Christians think that they should be experiencing joy and happiness and the abundant life that Jesus promised and it is not really theirs that they have somehow managed to rationalise certain other self-help techniques. Let's say for lack of a better term, and baptized those, so to speak, with Christianity. They bring this foreign material into Christianity, try to redefine it and say this is really the same thing that the Bible says when in fact it is not.

That is what was going on in the ancient world, what is usually referred to by the scholars of Colossians as the Colossians heresy. It was a form of teaching that had influence from Greek philosophy, early ideas that later became known as Gnosticism, certain ideas of asceticism from some fringe Jewish groups that may have been influenced by those who were down in Qumran. But it was the idea that Jesus isn't really enough, you also have to do additional things. In other words, it is the idea that you didn't get everything at the cross, you needed to get something afterwards and there needed to be additional revelation, additional information, additional insight. That manifests itself down through the ages in different ways in the church.

The way that Paul addresses this in Colossians 2:19 is that the basic problem was that they didn't hold fast to the head. The head is Christ, and we have to hold fast to the head because only the head is sufficient. This is the theme of Colossians: Jesus Christ is all-sufficient. When we let go of that absolute dependence on Christ as the head then we are looking to something other than the head to supply nourishment and to supply strength and spirituality to the body. We have seen that the problem basically was that they were seeking help for life's problems apart from Christ. Today we do that through various forms of psychology, various forms of self-help techniques. It is very popular to go to the mega-churches where the messages is are nothing more than motivational self-help techniques that have been given a very flimsy veneer of biblical allusions in order to convince people that somehow they are Christian.

What happens when we go through this spiritual decapitation where we cut ourselves off from Christ as the head is that we are rejecting the complete and full authority of Christ. We cut ourselves off from the nourishment that comes only from Christ, from spiritual growth that comes only from Christ, from the strength of Christ (Philippians 4:13); and then this is going to impact our rewards and blessing in eternity. It doesn't change our destiny but it changes the qualitative aspects of that destiny. It also impacts the quality of our spiritual life today.

The solution from Paul is that first of all we have to understand our position in Christ. This isn't taught a lot today because it is too abstract, people have to think too much. We have to understand our identification with Christ but when we fail to apply that we are out of fellowship and we have to understand how to get back in fellowship through the utilisation of 1 John 1:9. The solution, according to Paul is to live in light of the reality of what we have in Christ. That is our new identity. And we have been identified with Christ in a way where we are united with Him in His death, burial and resurrection, which is also what Paul describes as the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. We have to develop a mental attitude, a mind set, a focus, a revision of the way in which we think about ourselves in life based on this new reality of who we are in Christ. That involves actively putting to death sin in our life (Colossians 3:5) and putting off the sins (Colossians 3:8).

Once again we will go over the general structure. We have to have this sort of fly-over orientation to understand the flow or the structure of what Paul says here in chapter two. He gets into the main focus, the main body of this in Colossians 2:4 and as he focuses on the emphasis on what we have received in Christ at the instant of salvation—first introduced in 2:6—he introduces this topic in 2:11, 12 that "in Him [Christ] you were also circumcised"—spiritual circumcision. That was done by putting off the sins of the flesh—ekduo [e)kduw]. In 3:10, 11 Paul will conclude by making the statement "and have put on the new self." There he uses the Greek word enduo [e)nduw]. It is ekduo, putting off the body of sin in 2:11, 12 and it is enduo, putting on the new man in 3:10, 11. These are opposites. What happened at salvation is positionally we put off our old position, it is removed, like taking off an old suit. As we took that off we put on something else called the new man. But that is a positional reality and in between there is an experiential reality where we put off the sins of the flesh. 

In the middle of that Paul develops this argument by setting down two basic premises. Each of these begins with an if clause. But it is an if and it is true, it is a statement of reality. The first premise is in verse 20: "If you have died with Christ." The second is in 3:1: "if you have been raised up with Christ." This phraseology, dying with Christ and being raised with Christ, is what Paul uses in Romans 6 in relation to describing what happens in what is called baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. We put off the body of the sins of the flesh in the identification with Christ in His death. That is the connection. We put off the body of the sins of the flesh, Colossians 2:11, i.e. dying with Christ. So he is developing out that idea. We become alive in Christ: that is equated to be raised with Christ. The death of Christ is always tied in Scripture to our salvation, our justification, because it is at the cross that He as the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. It is at the cross that He died for sin; it is at the cross that the sin penalty is paid. Why didn't He just get down off the cross and walk away? After He said "It is finished," why didn't He say okay it is all over with and step down off the cross? Because salvation was done with, justification; the basis for justification was accomplished.

But that wasn't everything that was going to be accomplished in that whole transaction related to His death, burial and resurrection. He had to be buried, not just for fulfilment of prophecy, but because His resurrection from the dead is the picture in the New Testament of the new life that we have in Christ. It is the new life that has experienced the complete and total break from that which was prior to the death. So at salvation we are identified with His death, but that is not the end of it. We are identified with His death, burial and resurrection because of that identification with His resurrection. That is where we have the foundation for the new life that we have in Christ. This is why we have the basis for the abundant life that Jesus did—not just life eternal but qualitative life. When Jesus came to give eternal life that meant life without end. But there are many who will have life without end. In fact all will have life without end. Some will have life without end in heaven; some will have life without end in the lake of fire. It is not just life without end; it is a quality of life. And to experience that today means to learn the principles of the spiritual life.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the foundation for understanding and appropriating and realising in our daily life all that God has provided for us. So laying down the foundation for these two basic premises—therefore if you died with Christ, and you did (if you trusted in Him as savior); if then you were raised with Christ, and you were (if you trusted in Christ as savior)—if that is true then certain realities fall out from that. Therefore Paul says in Colossians 3:5 NASB "consider the members of your earthly body as dead." Wait a minute, I already died. Yes, but that is positional and has to do with your eternal position before God. But you still have this experiential problem with sin, so there is a commandment to put to death your members which are on the earth. Then in Colossians 3:8 he says you are to put off all these things, using another Greek word which is a synonym for the other two Greek words we have looked at which are all a part of the clothing metaphor that is used many times in the New Testament related to the spiritual life. NASB "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, {and} abusive speech from your mouth." Why? Because (vv. 10, 11) you have put on the new man. It is a different verb tense and he switches a word here because this is something that already happened. It happened when we trusted Christ. Because that reality is true that changes how we are to live today. You put on the new man.

Colossians 3:10, 11 NASB "and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—{a renewal} in which there is no {distinction between} Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all." Is he still Jewish. Yes, but in Christ that isn't an issue. Is he still Gentile, male or female? Of course, but in Christ that wasn't a factor in their personal relationship to God. That is what it means to be in the baptism by means of the Spirit. We see that same terminology in Galatians 3:27, 28 NASB "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." That doesn't mean that after we are saved we are no longer ethnically Jewish or ethnically a Gentile.

There is a ritual in the church that is designed to teach this. Sadly, when this ritual is observed very few pastors really teach why people need to be baptised by means of water. The baptism by means of the Holy Spirit is somewhat abstract; it is hard for people to get their mental fingers around it, depending on a lot of other factors. But when we look at water baptism, believer's baptism,' it is a concrete image what is being taught here. In water baptism you take a person and they are immersed in water it is a picture of cleansing and it is a picture of a break between what is after the immersion and what is before the immersion. The plunging into the water is a picture of identification with the death of Christ—which is our cleansing, justification salvation—and coming out of the water is a picture of our new life as a result of having been saved, justified, cleansed at the time we trusted in Christ as savior. So that in that new state after being cleansed, ritually observed and depicted by the water, there is new life in Christ. That is a powerful message and a powerful picture but it is so often reduced to just simply and observance of a ritual.

You have put off the old man and you have now put on the new man. It is a past tense reality. But we know that although we have been saved and are a new creature in Christ, and all things are new, we still sin. We still struggle with temptation, we still realise that in our experience don't have the abundant life. Something somehow isn't connecting. This is because it wasn't a magic thing, that we got baptized by means of the Spirit and so experientially we are different. The reality is we have to now learn what that means and all that it implies and now live on the basis of that. When we are walking in the light we are walking by the Spirit, we are being filled by the Spirit, and this is the arena Paul is talking about when he says because you have put off the old man you need to put off certain sins. Because you have put on the new man you need to put on certain characteristics. That isn't done by bootstrap spirituality, it is done "by letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within you." We have to know the Word; it is not apart from knowledge.

The results of letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within us—which relates to singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs, and being thankful to the Lord for all things, and learning how to be in right relationship with various authority structures and members of the human race: parents, wives, husbands, employers. All of that is the result of letting the Word of Christ dwell richly within you. In Ephesians 5 the command is "be filled by means of the Spirit," and the results from 5:17 down through the middle of chapter six it is the same thing. By being filled by means of the Spirit and being filled by the Word are two aspects of the same kind of action. Walking by the Spirit He fills us with His Word. It is that filling of His Word and implementing it that is letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within us.

So we have this positional identification reality that is ours the instant we trust Christ as savior, but we have to learn what it means and put it into practice. Colossians 3:8 emphasises this. We are to "put off"—apotithemi [a)potiqhmi] which means to put off, take it off like dirty clothes and throw it away. Then there is a list of sins. That is the application of the Word to do that under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Verse 9 NASB "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its {evil} practices." So there are positive things we are to do and negative things we are to do because of this positional reality.

The first principle: Colossians 2:20 NASB "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees…" Why are you still living as if you are a spiritually dead person? You are just the walking dead; you are like a spiritual zombie; you are not experiencing the life that God gave you. You are alive but you are still acting and living as though you were dead.  

The second principle: Colossians 3:1 NASB "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." That is an imperative, a command in the Greek. So you are to do something. If this is true, that you were raised with Christ then you have to do something. You have to seek, make a priority of seeking the things which are above where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of the Father. That is referring to the whole doctrine of the ascension and session of Christ. (How many times is that actually taught today?)

Colossians 3:2 NASB "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." So again, it relates to a mental focus. We need to focus on the things above—not that we are so heavenly-minded we are of no earthly use, but we need to focus on the eternal truths as defined by God. [3] "For [because] you have died…" We have died, and it happened at the instant we trusted Christ as savior. We have died to the old life. It is a break, "…and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Romans chapter six is where Paul really develops and unpacks for us this whole doctrine related to the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. He is not talking about water baptism in Romans chapter six. He begins using a couple of rhetorical questions. Romans 6:1 NASB "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" In the previous section in Romans 5:12-21 Paul has been explaining what we have now in Christ, that we are now alive in Christ and that the death penalty has been removed. But unfortunately there are too many people who are living as though they are still dead because they are not understanding and appropriating the reality of what happens at salvation. So they continue to sin and in response to what Paul says at the end of chapter five where he said [20] "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase [became more evident]; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Sin leads to a death-like experience. He is talking to believers here. He is not talking about spiritual death at this point, he is talking about the fact that as believers we can live in what is called carnal death or temporal death—out of fellowship and have a death-like life because we are not appropriating the abundant life that is Christ but living like an unbeliever, walking in darkness and not experiencing that life. Paul is going to explain how we do it.

Romans 6:3 NASB "Or do you not know…" implication: you should have been taught; this should have been very clear to you in  the first three months after you were saved. "… that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized [identified] into His death? The word "baptism" is a Greek word which literally means to immerse, to wash, to dip, to plunge. It talks about taking one object and immersing it into another object. But there was a figurative meaning to that. It is a literal reality but there was a figurative significance to it. In the ancient world a newly trained soldier about to enter an active unit would plunge his spear into a bucket of pig's blood. It is a picture of identification with death. He is now ready to go into war and to kill the enemy. His spear is identified with death through this identification with blood, which stands for death. The picture is of identification. So when we read this sentence in verse 3 we can catch its significance. There is a real transaction here in the unseen spiritual realm, not in a seen, felt experiential realm. [4] "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism [identification with Him] into death [a death of our former existence], so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." The resurrection isn't tied to justification here; it is tied to newness of life, a new quality of life. So in the resurrection aspect of Christ's work during those days between the crucifixion and the resurrection each element has different significance. What He did on the cross paid the penalty for sin and is the basis for our justification; His resurrection is the basis for our new life that is free from the dominion of the tyranny of the sin nature.

We are "buried with him [past tense] through baptism into death." This occurred at the moment that we believed that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But it didn't stop there. That is the beginning of something, the new birth we talk about. New birth means that it should be followed by new growth. A new baby needs to grow to adulthood. It needs to be fed, nourish so that it can grow [spiritually]; and it needs to learn how to walk like any infant, to walk in the light and to walk by means of the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 6:5 NASB "For if [and we were] we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death…" Another way of saying we were baptised into His death; we are identified with His death. "… certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection." It moves from the death related to what happened at the cross to the new life which is related to what happens afterward at the resurrection. Then in the next verse he starts off with a causal participle which should be translated not just simply "Knowing this" but "Because we know this." [6] "knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." We can implement this walk in the likeness of His resurrection because we know something. We know it to be absolutely true.

When we look at the terminology in verse 5 the Greek word ginomai [ginomai] means we have become something that we were not before. It is a perfect tense grammatically and that is very important. When Paul says we have been united with Christ the perfect tense indicates an action that has been completed in the past. It is not ongoing, it is completed in the past and we are experiencing today the results of this past completed action. Some time in the past a completedness occurred in relation to being united with the likeness of His death. On the basis of that completed action Paul says, "we shall also be [future tense of eimi/ e)imi which indicates a state of existence] {in the likeness} of His resurrection."  It is stated this way as a future tense but it has an imperatival sense. It probably should be translated "we should be united in the likeness of His resurrection" because that is related to realising our new life in Him. And that is based on what we know. We should live out experientially what we have in Him.

Again, verse 6: "knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." The body of sin is our old sin nature; it is not done away with at the instant we are saved but its power is gradually eradicated in our life. The sin nature isn't eradicated, its dominion over us is broken but the realisation of that brokenness gradually comes into reality as we apply His Word and as we grow—but only as we grow and apply His Word; it is not inevitable, it depends on our volition.

Romans 6:7 NASB "for he who has died is freed from sin." The words "he who has died" is an aorist participle, which means that action of dying has to precede the action in time of the main verb. The main verb though doesn't mean "has been freed." The word that is translated there is dikaioo [dikaiow] and it is not a word that means to be free. This is a word that means to be justified; it means to be declared righteous from your sins. The verse says "for he who has died," and that occurs when we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection; "has been justified by sin"—perfect tense, and it is completed action. Again Paul is talking about the moment we trusted in Christ as saviour. We were identified with Christ in His death, we were declared justified, and there is a complete and total break spiritually from everything we were before we were saved. So this should be translated, "Because the one who had died [positionally through the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit] has been and continues to be declared righteous before God." That is our positional reality.

What Paul says in verses 5 & 6 is the same thing as what he says in Colossians 3:9 NASB "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its {evil} practices." Because this happened in the past— we put off the old man at the cross—that changes what we are to do; it changes our standards, our ethics, our procedures, our priorities, now that we are saved.

Paul builds on that. Romans 6:8 NASB "Now if we have died with Christ [and we did], we believe that we shall also live with Him." What does that mean? [9] "knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him." That is the point. Because death no longer has dominion over Christ Paul then makes this fabulous transition to indicate that the sin nature, because we died to that, no longer has dominion over us. It is does it is because we let it, not because we have to. Before we were saved we didn't have an option, but now we do. This is why Paul says in verse 11, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." This is a mindset. Consider yourselves dead or separated from sin. He draws a conclusion from that: [12] "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts." He doesn't give a command that can't be accomplished. He gives a command that can be accomplished, first because of the break that occurred at salvation, because of the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit, identification with Christ in His death; and second, because we are now given the Holy Spirit who is the one who enables us to do this. [13] "and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin {as} instruments of unrighteousness [don't participate in sin]; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members {as} instruments of righteousness to God." These are present active imperatives which means they are to characterise all of our life after salvation.

Why? Romans 6:14 NASB "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." Imperative: "You should not let sin have dominion over you," is the best translation because the emphasis is on our decision. Every day we have decisions. Am I going to live in terms of who I am in Christ or who I was before I was saved? Every time we sin, whether we consciously realise it or not, we are saying: I am going to live like I was before I was saved; I am going to live like a dead person. If we choose to live like a dead person we are not going to experience the abundant life. We are only going to experience that life that Jesus promised us if we are going to live it on the basis of the reality that changed at the instant we trusted in Christ. We have to give our sin nature a reality check, and that come only by realising these foundational truths that occurred at salvation.