Sin Assassins

Assassins in the movies are always portrayed as cool, smart, and prepared for anything. They’re always one step ahead of their target, usually with a sarcastic quip immediately following their deadly shot. You’ll never see a bumbling, unmotivated assassin in the movies. Movie assassins don’t tell dad jokes. That kind of character just isn’t believable.

In Colossians 3:1 Paul commands believers to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” He tells us to be sin assassins. We’re supposed to kill the sin that is a part of the old self, but which still hangs around tempting us to return to that worthless way of living. The assassins we see in movies provide an excellent example for how we should go about killing sin.

Sin AssassinsFirst, we have to be cool. Sin thrives when we are irrational, exhausted, or stressed. Staying cool, in this context, means staying under control, emotionally. It is akin to the spiritual fruit of self-control. Stressful situations wear us down, emotionally, which creates an opportunity for temptation. It is harder to resist temptation when we are worn out. That’s why it’s important to maintain self-control no matter the circumstances.

Second, we have to be smart. We need to understand ourselves and the sins we are most prone to commit. Just as importantly, we need to know the devil’s tactics and how he likes to tempt us. Knowing our weaknesses and the devil’s schemes allows us to effectively put to death the sins of our earthly nature.

Third, we have to be prepared. This means stocking up on ammunition, which is the word of God. You cannot effectively kill sin if you don’t have any bullets! We need to store up Scripture in our hearts and minds. This can be done by memorizing individual verses, doing daily devotions, or taking on a Bible reading plan. Knowing the Bible is the best preparation for attacking sin.

Sin is trying to kill you. It’s trying to drag you away from Christ and prevent you from living his life in your body. You can’t afford to take it easy on sin. You must be merciless. Assassinate the sin in your life by being cool, smart, and prepared for anything.

The Old Self – 3:5-11


5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

At last we arrive at the practical portion of the letter. Paul commands the Colossians to put to death anything that belongs to their earthly nature. However, he interjects a “therefore” into the middle of this sentence, so we must ask the question: What is that therefore there for? It is there because we are to put to death everything that has not been risen to new life with Christ. As always, practical application is derived from theological truth.


We are to put to death everything that has not been risen to new life with Christ.
The language here is strong: Be an executioner of your sinful nature. The Christian cannot be merciful to the old self. In fact, the old self has already been crucified with Christ. All the more reason for the believer to execute it! Whenever it rears its ugly head, chop it off!

Paul lists eleven things that belong to the earthly nature. (Similar lists can be found in Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, and elsewhere.) The first group is a list of five sins, four of which are sexual in nature. The first, sexual immorality (Greek porneia), is a sort of catch-all term for sexual misconduct. This is the term that Jesus used in Matthew 15:19 (a list of sins similar to what is found here), and that the apostles used at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. For faithful Jews like Jesus and the apostles, porneia would have been the summary word of the Jewish sexual code found in Leviticus 18. Whatever is listed there would have been considered porneia, or sexual immorality.

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What Is My Life?

Let’s play fill in the blank. _________________________ is my life.

What did you put in there? What is your life? Did you write in something that you love to do? If you’re a musician, you might have put in music, composing, songwriting, or your chosen instrument in the blank. If you’re an athlete, it could be competing, training, or playing the game. If you’re in ministry, like me, you might complete that sentence with preaching, evangelism, or coffee. (Let’s be honest, it’s coffee for a lot of people.)

There are as many answers to this question as there are people in the world. But is what we put in that blank worthy of being our life? If music is your life, what happens when you can no longer play? If sports are your life, what happens when you can no longer compete. (And what does this mean for Cleveland Browns fans?) If coffee is your life, what do you do when Starbucks’ prices go up, again? If something is your life, it should be greater than you, not less.

The apostle Paul provides an answer to this question in Colossians 3:4. “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Maybe he didn’t mean it the same way that we mean it, but the point is well-taken. Jesus is my life. That’s the answer of every Christian, whether they feel it is true or not. Your life is not music, sports, work, or coffee. Your life is Jesus.

Jesus is your life in a way that is different from those other things. Those things aren’t your life, but they might be your obsession. Jesus, on the other hand, is the One who sustains your life. He is your life because he gives you life. He is your life because he has conquered death, and can never die again. He is your life because he promises to give you a glorious resurrection into eternal life. You can live without a lot of things, and you can probably live without that one thing that is your obsession. But you cannot live for eternity without Jesus. He is your true, eternal, and abundant life.

Our society has come to believe a very funny thing: Desire is immutable. That’s a fancy word that means unchangeable. We believe that desire, and especially sexual desire, is not only impossible to change, but is fundamental to our identity. The person, then, is not simply a slave to desire, but is indistinguishable from it. And the person cannot change.

But the Scriptures tell us a different story. While the Bible affirms that we are desiring creatures, and that desire is an important part of who God created us to be, it also affirms that desires can change. Paul tells us that before we came to know Christ we were, in fact, enslaved to the desires of our wicked hearts. But now that Christ has revealed himself, we are, through faith, slaves to Christ. This means that we are set free to love what God loves.

The Education of DesireFar from being immutable, desire can be educated. Your heart can be taught to love what God loves, to long for the things of heaven. Your heart is transformed as Jesus lives his life through you.

The first lesson of the education of desire is to replace personal satisfaction with the glory of God. You need to learn to take a back seat to God. When you become a Christian, the aim (the telos) of your life changes. You no longer pursue the fulfillment of your every wish. Instead, you seek first the kingdom of God and the good things he desires for the world.

The second lesson of the education of desire is to find contentment in any circumstance. This is Paul’s hard won lesson. He experienced trial upon trial, but he learned to place his contentment in Christ, who stands above every circumstance. Circumstances are in a constant state of flux. If your contentment is dependent on how good things are in your life, you will never be truly content. Instead, learn to be content in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The third lesson of the education of desire is to set your heart on things above. You must learn to direct your desires heavenward. This means that you must desire the joy of heaven and the justice of God above the pleasures of earth. It also means that you must root your desires in the things of God – human salvation, relational reconciliation, self-giving love, resurrection hope. You must long for these things, and you must long from these things. The heart of God is the only reliable source for the desires of men and women.

When it comes to the education of desire, we are all pupils of the Holy Spirit. He is at work in you to give you a new heart, one that is malleable in the hands of God. He can change you, and he is changing you. Your responsibility is to work with him, not against him. When wicked desires spring up in your heart, surrender them to the power of the Spirit and ask him to make you new.

Things Above – 3:1-4


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Paul is making a transition in this short section. For the first two chapters he was laying the foundation of his theology – the centrality and supremacy of Christ. From here through the rest of the letter he will be working out the practical implications of that doctrine. The revelation of the mystery of God – which is Christ himself – effects sweeping change in the lives of those who believe. One cannot simply hear the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus and go on as if nothing has happened. The whole world has been turned upside-down! The appropriate response to the Gospel is repentance – to turn around and follow the way of Jesus.

The resurrection is both the beginning and the direction of the way of Jesus. For Paul, the resurrection is an event in which all true believers participate. While Christ has been raised from physical death, Christians are raised from spiritual death when they confess and are baptized. Baptism is the physical symbol of the spiritual reality that the Christian has been brought from death to life.


The resurrection is both the beginning and the direction of the way of Jesus.
Believers participate in the full story of the Gospel. We have died with Christ (2:20), and now we have been raised with Christ. The way of Jesus is participatory. It is not enough to say that Jesus has died for us; the true story of the Gospel is that, by faith, we have died with him. We have died to the old way of life, which, according to Colossians 2 comprises all the pointless toiling of Christless religion, and which, according to Colossians 3, is steeped in sinful desire and behavior. The new way of life – the way of living that we experience when we are raised with Christ – is centered around Christ and abounds in virtue, freedom, and hope.

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