My soul was eternally secure, though doubts and fears raged at times. I believed my theology was sound, though I still had many questions. There I was on my knees again in tears because of the brokenness of my life and the sinfulness of my heart waging war against the new self that I was certain that was embedded within me. I tried to cling to the words of David in Psalm 51, pleading with God to restore the joy of my salvation, begging for God to create a new heart within me, hoping against hope that someday I could lay these sins aside.
Then, by God’s grace, I read Colossians 3. Up to that point, my war against sin had started a declaration of war. A declaration of no more. A vow, a statement, a bold repudiation of a former way of life. A firm desire, hope, and confidence that I could be free. Time and time again the cycle repeated itself. Vow, law, work. Yet, time and time again, the end was the same. Failure. Sometimes epic, sometimes mild, but always failure.
That was until Colossians 3 set me free to fight my sin with the truth of the Gospel. You see, Colossians 3 reorients the sin fight into a pursuit of Christ! I do not mean sin is not to be fought. John Owen was right, we must be killing sin or sin will be killing us. The question though is how do we kill sin? Do we kill sin by vows, declarations, and hard work, which is a modern disguise of the Old Testament law and sacrifice? It cannot be!
The thought that I can kill sin is actually sin itself. For it puts the responsibility for the defeat of sin upon me. That thought is a rejection of Christ. This is not the way of the Gospel. Sin was defeated in the past, is defeated in the present, and will be defeated in the future only by the cross of Christ and our participation in it. In this truth is the hope of the Gospel. The old covenant has passed and the new has come.
Paul says,  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you… seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. … Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)
Killing sin begins not with law and self-control. Killing sin starts with the Gospel. Our pursuit, our aim is not the defeat of sin, but as Paul says, “the things that are above.” The aim of the heart is to be purity in relation to Christ. We will only find that purity when we are dwelling where Christ is. So God’s aim for us is a re-orientation of our hearts toward Christ. Then in Colossians 3, it is after a re-orientation of the heart that the command to put sin to death is given.
Consider this, if our aim is only to defeat sin and somehow, by some self-sourced sense of self-control, we achieve a temporary victory over one of the sins in our life. What then have we achieved? Victory and freedom? Not hardly. We have become a morality warrior who may not be enslaved to an external sin, but are just as enslaved to an internal sense of self-righteousness.
Fellow struggler, if the victory over sin for all time was secured by the death and resurrection of Christ, it must follow that our victory over sin for all time happens in the cross and resurrection of Christ. So the fight to kill sin is a cross and empty grave shaped fight.
It is a fight that demands death as our aim. Like Christian walking toward the Celestial City, we must cross the river of death finding our faith in Christ alone as the only bottom upon which we can stand secure. It is a fight that demands resurrection for victory. It is a fight that demands the pursuit of another world to endure.
The fight against sin must start and end in Jesus and our participation in him. Only after a reminder of our death and our resurrection with Christ does Paul say anything about putting our sin to death. My friends, the death of our old self is inextricably tied to the flourishing of our new self.
This is the beauty of following Christ, our pursuit of new life is exactly what puts to death our old self. We kill our sin not by laying hold of its throat to choke it out, but by grabbing onto the blood-soaked hands and feet of Christ. We kill sin not by conquests of self-control with morality as the aim, but by daily death and resurrection in Christ.
As Christ is formed in our hearts, his presence pushes and squeezes our sin to the surface. He brings it there to expose it and cast it as far as the east is from the west. The kingship of Christ will not tolerate the poison of sin in his kingdom. He will bring that sin before his throne and he will cast it out. For his presence as King demands purity in the kingdom.
Your final victory is not a life free from sin, but a life full of Christ. So Christian, by God’s grace lay hold of Christ. Pursue Christ and you will find him in plenty and in full. For by his grace he has drawn us near to himself and nearness to Christ is where the death of our sin is found.
It is in nearness to Christ that the joy of our salvation is restored. It is in nearness to Christ that we are able to run with endurance the race that is set before us. May you and I put our sin to death by drawing near to Christ.