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Putting to Death the Dead

October 9th, 2019

Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. When you lived among them, you also used to walk in these ways. But now you must put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:5-8 BSB)

Once the principle of the crucified and risen life has been accepted, that we identify with Christ in His death on Calvary and with His resurrection, we must then apply it in our lives. We must take the bits and pieces of our fallen nature, and one by one, put them to death. 

The Principle of the Christ Life

A “principle” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as a “proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief.” The Principle of the Christ Life in the believer is that we died with Christ on Calvary and that we are risen with Him in a new life. This is taught in several places in scripture, none clearer than in Romans:

“We therefore were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” (Rom. 6:4-5).

But a principle must have legs to walk and hands to touch, and it must be empowered by a will to act. 

For example, we may teach the principle of the chemical reaction between different kinds of soaps and dirty things, how the soap bonds with the particles of dirt in the process of washing. We may explain these things in the utmost chemical detail, and even draft concrete plans on the best way to wash any and every thing. Yet nothing will get clean until someone uses his hands and soap and water and begins to wash it. 

Putting the Principle to Work

So Paul in these verses quoted above turns now to the instructions of how to put the Principle of the Christ Life to work in our lives. And, like washing, it can be tedious and filled with many details. There are specific sins, weaknesses of the flesh, bad habits, wrong attitudes, that must be dealt with. One cannot wash dishes in principle only. He has to get his hands wet and get involved in scrubbing and rinsing and drying and putting them away. And one cannot live the Christ Life in principle only. He must deal with individual and specific problems.

To die to sin cannot be merely done in principle. You must choose to put to death “the components of your earthly nature.” The words “put to death” or “mortify” (KJV), mean to consider dead, to “cut off” or “sever” this thing from all that energizes it. It carries a similar power to the word of Christ: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29).  The application means to inventory our souls, our thoughts, our habits, and to deprive the works of the flesh of any help that sustains them. 

A point worth mentioning is how Paul links them all together as “components of your earthly nature” and that they invite the “wrath of God.” The various sins he mentioned are: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5) and “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (3:8) and lying (3:9). There are, of course, more sins than only these, and it seems logical to assume that these were the more known sins among the Colossians. And it is clear that these sins, wherever they are found on earth, tend to “hang together,” being evidenced in the same fallen lives. 

No matter what sins exist, they may all be traced back to the fallen nature of mankind. Sin by its nature is a perversion of good. Sin and evil must feed off of good. One can have good without evil, but evil cannot exist without good. 

Going to work on your life

We cannot die to sin in the abstract. We cannot mortify the components of our earthly natures in theory only. We must take the sins and the problems and the sinful tendencies and habits that we have — that I have and that you have — and deal with these. We can confess our “sins” to God and in this context “sins” means the individual wrongful acts that we do and the unholy thoughts that we think. 1 John 1:9 promises us that “if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” 

Sin as a principle or sin in the singular, refers to the sinful nature, to sin in us, with which we were born with as descendants of Adam, “through one man sin entered the world” (Romans 5:12). Jesus said that everyone who commits sin “is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, see Rom. 6:20).  In Romans Paul wrote that “Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9). And when I (or you) commit sin, “it is sin living in me that does it” (Rom. 7:17).   

The forgiveness we receive in Christ is for our “sins” (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 13:38). “Christ died for our sins, according to scripture” (1 Cor. 15:3). And the lost are judged not for their sin but “each one was judged according to his deeds” (Rev. 20:13), or according to his sins. We commit sins because of the presence of sin in our lives. Christ’s work on Calvary was not only to pay for our sins but to also demonstrate a principle whereby sin may be defeated in our lives. He has put sin to death in the cross, and sin in us has has been cut off from its source of power. 

In the working out of this principle we must apply this to each sinful weakness. We must take these individual weaknesses and sinful tendencies and “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). If you have an anger problem, then anger in your heart and in your habits of speech and action must be put to death. If you have a sexual lust problem, then sexual lust must be put to death. If you have a gossip problem, or a problem with greed, or with lying, you must put that to death. The “life” of all sin (which is actually a principle of death) has been cut off in your life, Christian, in your salvation. But the habits remain, and the old sinful nature is still there within you. Now you must bury what is already dead.

Living in the Spirit

The Christian life is much more than dying to sin. It is also and especially living in the Spirit. As Paul will go on to explain in Colossians, the act of receiving must follow the act of dying to sin and self. Christ died and rose again. We now are to live in the Spirit. 

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:5-7) 

We will speak more about this in the days ahead, but we cannot effectively enjoy the new life in Christ until we have confessed our sins, and put them to death. 


  1. Of these sins mentioned in Colossians 3:5-9, which do you have the bigger problems with. Rank them according to what is your weakest areas if your life.
  2. What can you do to avoid getting caught in those sins? What actions can you take to bring freedom to your own heart?
  3. What other sinful weaknesses do you have in your life that are not mentioned here? 
  4. When did you first learn about these sins? The bad examples of your parents? Or the bad influence of other relatives or friends? 
  5. Renouncing sinful ways is an important step for a Christian. Paul wrote: “We have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not practice deceit, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by open proclamation of the truth, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). Have you renounced sinful ways?