Putting Sin to Death
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5-6).- Colossians 3:5-6
Christian living is frustrating when we forget Scripture’s basic ethical imperative: “be what you already are.” Our repeated sins lead us to conclude that we are fundamentally unholy, as opposed to righteous in Christ. This often leads us to think that we must simply work harder. Such moralism pushes true sanctification far away, and it breeds discouragement, apathy, and the lowering of God’s standards. To view holiness as entirely future highlights the gulf between where we are and where we want to be, making real spiritual progress seem impossible. Believing the principle that even those in Christ are not already in some sense holy, we may give up killing our sin — why bother if God is disgusted with us all the time? The downward spiral of sin and discouragement can make us redefine sin, calling evil “good” or prizing external righteousness to convince ourselves that we are growing in grace.
Of course, it is foolish to believe God ignores our thoughts and deeds. Sin’s presence remains until we are glorified, and we need to repent of our transgressions daily (1 John 1:8–10). We are not yet perfectly holy in practice, and passages like Colossians 3:5–8 that call us to put sin to death exist because disobedience is a reality for us. Still, the Bible defines Christians as already holy, “sanctified … in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). In Christ we have made a decisive break with unholiness. Our Creator declares us holy in His Son — we are saints of God Most High, and He sees us as pure through Jesus’ blood (Col. 1:2; Heb. 9:13–14).
God’s message to Christians is not “you are not yet holy, work on it until you get there,” but “you are holy, be what you already are in Christ.” This viewpoint fosters confidence, passion, and a true understanding of sin. Knowing our Father sees us as holy in His Son, we are encouraged to make real, though fitful, spiritual progress. God by His grace declares us holy, so believers cannot fail utterly to make what we do line up with who He says we are. Understanding that we are holy citizens of a holy kingdom, we are eager to fulfill our civic duty to mortify sin. Finally, knowing that we are now saints reminds us of the gravity of evil. Sin is so horrendous and powerful that the only way we could ever be pure was for God to intervene and do the work needed to declare us holy. We underestimate sin at our own peril.
Understanding that we are already holy in Christ should not be confused with the perfectionism that we often see in other theological traditions. We will not be free from the struggle with sin before we are glorified, but knowing that God sees us as holy in Jesus encourages us to live according to what we already are. It makes us realistic about the sin that remains in our hearts and more eager to purge it by the power of the Spirit.
Passages for Further Study