Life would be much simpler if it was comprised of a moral checklist. Do this. Don’t do that. But neither Paul nor Jesus Christ relegates the Christian walk to a mere set of rules. Instead, something much more is required—a transformation of desire.

Throughout the New Testament, we see lists of actions and attitudes that a follower of Christ must abandon. These characteristics are part of our sinful nature. They include sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, and slander, to name a few (Mark 7:21-22; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5). On the other hand, Paul offers additional lists of virtues that a believer should aspire to demonstrate (Galatians 5:22-23). However, there is a problem with changing the fruit of our lives. An orange tree cannot produce apples simply by determining to do so. Instead, something must happen at the root level.

Paul challenges the church at Colossae with this very thing. The Colossians were determined to live their best lives by following a set of manufactured rules. In a sense, they had created a moral checklist. Paul, however, calls them on it. While their actions (e.g., fruit) may have changed, their desires (roots) had not. The fruit they were producing was only artificial. Paul tells his audience that they have whitewashed a rotten building. While the building may look clean, the wood is crumbling—a fresh coat of paint does not change the underlying condition of the structure.

Paul writes that self-discipline, while a noble virtue, does nothing to change one’s actual desires. Jesus also says the same thing twice. All of one’s evils come from one’s heart (see Mark 7:20, 23). The actions are not the problem (nor the solution). Instead, there needs to be a radical change of heart.

With our rules and checklists, we, the Church, have become masters at pretending. While our actions may seem spotless, our desires tell a different story. We must expose the roots of our sin, confess them, and seek God’s transforming grace to crucify our sinful nature along with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). Then, our actions would no longer be some religious performance but a natural byproduct of God’s work within us.