“5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” —Colossians 3:5–11 (ESV)
Religiously, man doesn’t care much about the plumbing; he just wants a shiny faucet. Shame may be felt once the faucet is turned on and the water spits, sputters, and leaks, but that’s tolerable compared to the idea of having a plain old faucet. Man’s religion is a shiny body covering an engine ready to blow. It’s a stunning mansion built on a defective and doomed foundation.
Many scholars have likened Paul’s vice and virtue lists to those of the Greek Philosophers. It seems likely that the false teachers threatening the Colossians had the very same list, it’s just that their asceticism was of “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).” Paul’s list is different not in what it consists in, but in what surrounds it and grounds it. Sin is to be killed because we have died with Christ.
This isn’t contradictory, but rather, it’s the only rational basis upon which to wage war against sin. It is only the free former slave who can really fight against his slave behavior. Those locked in the dungeon cannot fight in the battle. The Prince of the Puritans, John Owen, wrote, “Men must be gold and silver in the bottom, or else all refining will do them no good. Mortification is a refiner’s fire. Iron cannot be refined into gold. It must be miraculously transformed. Only then can the refining work be done.