“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
God wants us to put to death five areas that could attack our spiritual lives. If the goal of the Christian life is to bring our position into our experience, we should put these five areas to death. In our position, we are dead with Christ, but God wants us to be a corpse toward specific sin. If we do this, spirituality will flourish.
If we died with Christ (Co 3:3), how can we kill what is already dead? Verses 5-12 describe how we are to deal with the engine that produces sin: in verse 5, we are experientially “put to death” the capacity to sin; in verse 9, we strip off the old man; and in verses 10 and 12, we put on the new man to represent the life of Christ in us. The imagery moves from death to taking clothes on and off.
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth”
“Therefore” — based on your positional truth (Co 1:1-3:4), “put to death” the evil forces that pull you down. This paragraph extends from verse 5 to verse 11. In these verses, we are to “put to death,” “put on” (v.10), and “put off” (v.9). These are not suggestions; they are commands. The great obstacle to living for the “things above” is our “members which are on the earth” — the capacity within which causes us to sin (Rom. 7:24). These corrupt desires of the mind lead us away from God. God wants us to “put to death” or kill these members as we would kill a fly. God wants us to put the strength of sin out of commission in our lives.
“Put to death” means to cease completely from activity, with the implication of extreme measures taken to guarantee such a cessation — to stop completely, to cease altogether. God charges us with a mandate to radically deny the self-centered life. The Greek tense suggests decisive and urgent action. Since God has already done this by our co-death in Christ, we are now to make it part of our experience. We are to count it true in our experience (Rom. 6:5-14).
Metaphorically, “put to death” means to neutralize the proclivity toward committing a given sin. When we confess a given sin, we neutralize that particular sin. That is the start of the process of neutralization. Another way to neutralize sin is by displacing sin with a principle from the Word. When doing this, we replace the temptation toward that sin with a principle from God’s Word that controls godly living.
When a person becomes a Christian, something radical happens to him. Verse three announced that we “died” with Christ. We cannot continue to live as we have in the past. Our history as a non-Christian has come to a close; God has made us a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). We are not the old person made over; we have the life of God resident within us now. God expects us to put away the old life. God does not want us to go on living as if nothing radical happened to our sin. Everything we say and do is either an asset or a liability to the cause of Christ. We are either a credit to Christ or a disgrace to who He is.
“Your members which are on the earth” is a contrast to the “things above” (Co 3:1,2). These members are the sinful tendencies of our sinful nature (Co 2:13). We cannot live like we did because we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). The word “members” means the facets or faculties of our person. These faculties rule us. Our lusts pull us down (cf. Rom. 6:13; Rom. 8:13).
It is God’s will that we kill off base inclinations, these wicked propensities that come from the flesh.
God wants us to make a clean-cut break with sin.
God commands us to make a clean-cut break from ongoing sin. God demands a holy life. Salvation is free, but after becoming a Christian, God expects a return — a holy life. He is gratified to see His children walk in loving obedience to his Word.
When a person becomes saved, they are delivered from something. “I am saved from hell.” Yes, but what are you presently being saved from (2 Tim. 2:19; Tit. 2:11-13; Mt 16:24)? The Bible makes clear what is right and wrong, dirty and clean. We shortchange God when we walk in sin.
When we “put to death” the force that gives rise to sin, we must do it based on what Christ did on the cross. We execute our position (dead to sins in Christ) to the particular sins we commit as Christians. God sentenced the things of verse 5 to death; we are the executioners based on the ultimate execution of Christ on the cross.