The Apostle Paul said: “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 yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Colossians 3:5-11)
When I was a youth, our youth group had an annual fall retreat. Part of this retreat included a half-hour hike up to a mountaintop overlook we called “The Ridge.” One year, after I had become an adult volunteer, one of the leaders sustained a leg injury. They were unable to make the hike. Much to my surprise there was another way to get to The Ridge. Instead of the half-hour hike, you could take a road right to the top, walk five minutes, and there you were. I drove up to The Ridge with this leader that year, but The Ridge seemed less majestic than previous times. There was something about the fall foliage around you, the rustling leaves under foot, and the camaraderie with friends, as you walked, that made the view that much more spectacular. To appreciate the view, you needed the journey to take you there.
The same may be said about this list of vices in Paul’s letter – and the list of virtues that follow. Unless you had made the journey through the earlier part of the letter, these vices may seem like just another set of rules. That is not Paul’s intention.
You need to remember that resisting these vices grows out of one’s union with Christ (Colossians 2:9-3:4). You need to remember that ceasing to practice these vices is possible because Christ has defeated all your foes (Colossians 2:13-15). These are not a list of neutral ethics. These are a sketch of what true life was always meant to be. They are born out of and made possible because of Christ’s work on our behalf. They are far from being a simple list of rules.
These negative ethics showcase the type of life lived outside of Christ. Now that you are in him, you can cooperate with the Holy Spirit to rid yourself of such things. What items on this list can you pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to resist?