The Necessity of Mortifying the Flesh

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them” (Colossians 3:5-7).

This document is an excerpt taken from: Henry, M. 1991, 2008, Commentary on Colossians 3:5-7 in “Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible”, publ. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA.

The apostle exhorts the Colossians to the mortification of sin, the great hindrance to seeking the things which are above.  Since it is our duty to set our affections upon heavenly things, it is our duty to mortify our members which are upon the earth, and which naturally incline us to the things of the world: “Mortify them, that is, subdue the vicious habits of mind which prevailed in your Gentile state.  Kill them, suppress them, as you do weeds or vermin which spread and destroy all about them, or as you kill an enemy who fights against you and wounds you”: Your members which are upon the earth; either the members of the body, which are the earthly part of us, and were curiously wrought in the lower parts of the earth (Ps 139:15), or the corrupt affections of the mind, which lead us to earthly things, the members of the body of death (Rom 7:24).

He specifies:

I. The lusts of the flesh, for which they were so very remarkable: Fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence – the various workings of the carnal appetites and fleshly impurities, which they indulged in their former course of life, and which were so contrary to the Christian state and the heavenly hope.

II. The love of the world: And covetousness, which is idolatry; that is, an inordinate love of present good and outward enjoyments, which proceeds from too high a value in the mind, puts upon too eager a pursuit, hinders the proper use and enjoyment of them, and creates anxious fear and immoderate sorrow for the loss of them.  Observe – Covetousness is spiritual idolatry: it is the giving of that love and regard to worldly wealth which are due to God only, and carries a greater degree of malignity in it, and is more highly provoking to God, than is commonly thought.  And it is very observable that among all the instances of sin which good men are recorded in the scripture to have fallen into (and there is scarcely any but some or other, in one or other part of their life, have fallen into) there is no instance in all the scripture of any good man charged with covetousness.  He proceeds to show how necessary it is to mortify sins v. 6-7.

  • Because if we do not kill them, they will kill us: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience v. 6.  See what we are all by nature more or less: we are children of disobedience: not only disobedient children, but under the power of sin and naturally prone to disobey.  The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies (Ps 58:3).  And, being children of disobedience, we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3). The wrath of God comes upon all the children of disobedience.  Those who do not obey all the precepts of the law incur the penalties of it.  The sins he mentions were their sins in their heathen and idolatrous state, and they were then especially the children of disobedience; and yet these sins brought judgments upon them, and exposed them to the wrath of God.
  • We should mortify these sins because they have lived in us: In which you also walked some time, when you lived in them v. 7.  Observe, the consideration that we have formerly lived in sin is a good argument why we should now forsake it.  We have lived in by-paths, therefore let us walk in them no more.  If I have done iniquity, I will do no more (Job 34:32).  The time past our lives may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness (1 Pet 4:3) – When you lived among those who did such things (so some understand it), then you walked in those evil practices.  It is a hard thing to live among those who do the works of darkness and not have fellowship with them, as it is to walk in the mire and contract no soil.  Let us keep out of the way of evil-doers.