Every year my wife plants a big garden, and we look forward to all the fruit of that garden throughout the summer and into the Fall. She plants lettuce and tomatoes and peppers and whole lot of other things.
But we also know that if we’re going to eat the fruit of the garden, we need to actively be dealing with the weeds in the garden. Because weeds will steal light and nutrients from the plants we want to grow. Weeds crowd out space you want for the crops to flourish.
Dealing with weeds is a struggle. It’s work! But it’s worth it.
In Colossians 3:5-11, the Apostle Paul tells us to make sure we're dealing with the weeds in our garden. Listen to what he says:
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality,impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
In other words: Deal with your weeds. Deal with your sin. Is it a struggle? Yes! But it’s worth it if we’re growing to build godly character (which Paul gets into in Colossians 3:12-17).
And then we all know that when we’re dealing with weeds, we don’t just cut off what’s above the surface of the ground. If we’re going to deal with the weeds, we need to get beneath the surface and deal with the root of it.
We need to do the same with sin. We don’t just deal with the surface of sin and the external ways it plays out. We need to get to the root of it - not just thinking about what we do but what we desire. This is exactly what Paul does in Colossians 3:5: He doesn’t just say “don’t be sexually immoral” (the external manifestation). Notice how he traces it backwards, through surface action to the level of desire: sexual immorality, then impurity, then lust (now we're getting beneath the surface!), backwards to evil desires, greed, and ultimately to idolatry.
So as you deal with sin, deal with the root. Jonathan Edwards, a pastor and theologian from the 18th century, said this about dealing with the root of sin in one of his famous "Resolutions":
Edwards is doing what we need to do: We get beneath the surface of our sin and deal with it at its root.
Before we move on, let me share one more thing about this that's important to cover, as we talk about the struggle against sin: Dealing with sin is a lifelong struggle. I talk with people all the time who are discouraged by their sin and they feel defeated by it
I've felt this way. I can relate to how discouraging it is when sin wins a round. The struggle against sin can feel like taking three steps forward and two steps back, uphill all the way.
And so I want to make sure you hear that all of our hope as followers of Jesus isn’t in how clean we make ourselves or what we do. It’s what Jesus HAS done! (If you want a whole sermon on this, check out this link.)
The Apostle Paul gets this. A few years AFTER Paul writes Colossians and this command to “put sin to death,” look at what he writes about himself in 1 Timothy 1:15-16: 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
Did you hear that? At the end of his life, Paul is still so aware of his sinfulness. But look at what else he says: Christ came into the world to save sinners. Paul shows us that however bad our sin is, God’s grace is greater. Paul is aware of the gravity of his own sin, but he's more aware of the greatness of God's grace.
So we fight sin - yes! But as we struggle against sin we do so with patience, and hope, and grit, and gratitude for grace.
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