Paul makes clear in Colossians chapter 2 that legalism in the church has the appearance of wisdom but in reality is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (vs 23). So how do we approach our struggle with the flesh and how do we win?
Our victory over sin is expressed throughout the New Testament as a laying aside the old self and putting on the new. “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22,24).
That is why it is so crucial that we understand the new man; understand the new creation we are in Christ. The New Testament writers constantly refer to who we are in Christ as the motivator for walking in righteousness. Paul captures this connection with, “Therefore I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). And, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col 2:6).
Seeing our new identity in Christ as our motivator, we return to Colossians 3 and Paul’s answer to the flesh. After again reminding us of who we are in Christ (Col 3:1-4), the apostle writes, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. (Notice the past tense here.) But now you also put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Col 3:5-9).
The answer to the flesh? Consider it dead and lay it aside. The attributes of the flesh are here described, and we are to consider ourselves dead to them (vs 5), having cast them aside (vs 9), because they represent our old self (vs 7). (One sentence does not nearly do justice to this powerful passage, but we must move on to our main point. A more detailed explanation of this passage can be found here.)
In verse 10, we move to the new self. “And having 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. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:10-14).
The instruction moves from the negative focus of laying aside the old man and his attributes and on to the positive focus of putting on the new self. And when you see these attributes that accompany the new self – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love – you realize they look a lot like Christ. The new self we are to put on is essentially putting on Christ. Putting on the new self is the answer to the flesh. And while we acknowledge that it is easier said than done, the key point is that it is not impossible. We have the power to rein it in. We will talk more specifics next time.