Good Friday: Putting Sin to Death (Colossians 3:5-11)

I love Martin Luther! I don’t know what it is about him (should I say his writing!) that warms me! Perhaps it is the grainy character, sharpened time and time again by the ups and downs of the Reformation! Perhaps it’s his zeal for salvation solely by grace through faith! Not immediately Eastery I hear you say! I know! But a statement from Luther came to mind as I prepared for this article. It goes something like this:

“It is not imitation that makes sons; it is sonship that makes imitators.”

Faced with the cauldron of 1st century religious and moral values bubbling over into their lives, Paul writes to Christians in Colossae (modern day Turkey) to remind them of the pre-eminence of Christ (Col. 1) and our relationship with him as sons and daughters (Col. 2). Colossians 3:5-11 transitions from “theological statement to practical precept” (Carson, p.79) & as we read it, we should do so in light of Luther’s words that, “It is not imitation that makes sons (or daughters); it is sonship (or daughtership) that makes imitators.” As sons and daughters of God , we have been “raised with Christ… [having] died [with him]” (Col. 3:1, 3) and as a result we are now “alive together with him, having [been] forgiven… all our trespasses, by the cancelling [of] the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).

Simot Vouet's The Crucifixion
Simot Vouet’s The Crucifixion

Reading the list of things that Paul encourages (commands?!)  Christian’s to put to death was a bit overwhelming without the cold cloth of Luther’s statement! Then I thought to myself ‘why did this statement come to mind?’ Apart from the Luther bit, it was probably because it resonates with the foundation that the Apostle is trying to stamp in the minds of the Christians here in Colossae before they begin the work of putting to death their sinful desires and actions. It probably came to mind as well as I thought about our typical Easter gatherings (more of that later!) This illuminating little section is filled with a Gospel/Easter/Christ centred foundation for Christian living. Sonship (cf. Galatians 4:1-7) before imitation! Christ’s death and resurrection before our dying to ourselves and living in him! Christ’s life in us before our living for him!

We must put to death things like sexual immorality, idolatry, anger, obscene talk, lies, racism, to name but a few (5-11). However, we can only do this in the reality of the old/new transition that illuminates this passage. Paul repeatedly makes this foundation clear. Apart from 3:1-4, he says….

“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them” (3:7)

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self” (3:9)

“…but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11b)

The Apostle didn’t leave us with a to-do-list for Christian growth, no, it is centred on the reality of Christ’s Easter victory and our hope of participation in that! Will power does not spur us on, Christ does! As Tullian Tchividjian writes, “Christian growth happens by working hard to daily swim in the reality of what you do have.” This is a good observation! Easter reality solicits Christian growth! The Christian’s position because of Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation for any putting off of things that steal our affections away from Jesus! Again:

“It is not imitation that makes sons; it is sonship that makes imitators.”

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not normally identified with Christian Growth! Contemplation is often encouraged (and rightly so!), but not transformation! No doubt our hearts are stirred as we contemplate Christ’s accomplishments, but do the events of Holy Week shape our foundation for Christian living? Does our union with Christ enable us to fight against the things that shift our gaze from him? We should work hard to not just reflect at Easter, but to react!

Let’s leave the last word to Luther, who captured this truth beautifully:

And from this very gift of His I derive my name and am called a Christian. There is no other reason. My sin and death hung about His neck on Good Friday, but on the day of Easter they had completely disappeared.

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