On Sunday at Grace Alameda I got to preach from Colossians 3:5-11, which Paul opens by saying, “Put to death what is earthly in you.” To follow Jesus, we have to kill our sin. As John Owen put it 500 years ago, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” In other words, the Christian life is like the Hunger Games—kill or be killed.
So, what does it look like to go Katniss Everdeen on your sin? Paul tells us three essential truths (call them arrows in your quiver) that give us what we need to kill sin. He tells us: 1) sin is idolatry; 2) God hates idolatry; and 3) I’m not my idolatry. In what follows, I’d like to show how these truths have worked in my own life.
For a while, I have been waking up in the middle of the night, and can’t fall back to sleep. I wake up at 2AM. I tell myself I’m not going to think about work. I inevitably think about work. The rush of all I have to do overwhelms my heart. The adrenaline kicks in, and I lie awake in bed for the next hour or three until I’m able to calm down again and fall asleep.
There’s nothing sinful about insomnia. But my sleeplessness is an indication of something that’s going on deeper in my heart. My sleeplessness is the fruit of a poisoned tree that has idolatry at its root.
Paul gives an indication of this pattern in Col. 3:5, when he tells us the “earthly” things we must put to death include, “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” In this case, sexual immorality (anything that’s outside Jesus’s plan for our sex lives) is the fruit, and everything that comes after it—impurity, passion (lust), evil desire, and covetousness—are the sins that lead up to it. They are states of heart and mind that produce the sinful behavior. And at the root of them all, Paul says, is idolatry. (See what Jesus says about this in Luke 6:43-45).
Last time I woke up in the middle of the night, I asked myself the question, “What’s at the root of this insomniac fruit?” I knew it was thinking about work that was stressing me out. Why?
Because I am a control-hungry perfectionist. I want control of my circumstances—in this case, of the church God has called me to serve. I want control so I can be perfect. So that others will see my perfect work and give glory to me, Jeff Locke, the successful pastor. I have set up a graven image of myself in the temple of my heart. I am an idolater.
The trouble is, I’m not in control. And I’m not perfect. And so my idol, my false god, is being threatened. And that freaks. Me. Out. And so I sit up in the middle of the night, worrying about not being perfect, stressing that I’m not in control, trying to come up with the perfect solution—the perfect sacrifice—that will satisfy the angry gods of performance and control.
Nothing works, because I can’t satisfy these gods. They have made me their slave. I need Someone to set me free, to liberate me from slavery, and smash my idols. The first step is acknowledging my idolatry. My problem is not circumstance, but false worship.
What is it for you? What keeps you up at night? What keeps you from enjoying life? What puts a strain on your relationships? What keeps you from peace and joy?