READ : Colossians 3:1-4
You may not realize it, but what you do with your body is in large measure determined by where your mind is.
The Apostles’ Creed is an ancient document (not quite as ancient as the actual apostles, but old nevertheless) which summarizes the heart of the Christian faith by describing, in a series of simple phrases, the career of the Lord Jesus Christ:
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. He rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God. From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Pay special attention to the verbs in that paragraph. Most of them are in the past tense, because they refer to things Christ has already done. He was born, he died, he rose again, he ascended into heaven – these acts belong to the finished work of Christ. The last verb in the sequence is in the future tense: he will come again to judge the living and the dead. This is the final remaining action in Christ’s work of salvation, following which the heavens and earth will be made over into a new creation and all the redeemed of God will live and reign with Christ forever.
That leaves one verb in the present tense. Jesus Christ is “sitting at the right hand of God the Father.” That is where he is and what he is doing at present, and this is the truth to which the apostle invites our attention in the opening verses of Colossians 3:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
WHERE HE IS
I wonder if you have ever thought much about where Jesus is right now. The fact is that, strictly speaking, according to the Bible Jesus isn’t here on earth. He is in heaven. That’s “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1). I know that as Christians we think of Christ as being everywhere and as being always present with us, and that is most certainly true. In fact, the very last promise he made to his followers was, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). “He is a gentleman of the strictest honor,” said the great missionary explorer Dr. David Livingstone as he contemplated this promise: “I shall take him at his word.” He was right to do so. But technically speaking (if I may put it that way) it is through his Spirit – that is, the Holy Spirit that Christ keeps this promise. The Spirit of Christ leads, guides, strengthens and comforts us, the Spirit of Christ dwells within and is Christ with us here on earth. But Jesus, in the resurrection body of his glorified human nature, is in heaven above, seated at the right hand of God.
This is not only the plain statement of Paul here in Colossians 3:1, it is also the implication of the remarkable event which brought Christ’s earthly ministry to its close. His disciples saw him ascend physically into heaven. The ascension is a sign from God to communicate that Jesus is now “above.” It is a sort of celestial body language to indicate that the risen Christ is now living in the glorious place where God dwells. We shouldn’t be wasting our time looking for him here below. His body is not deposited in any Palestinian tomb, his person is not being reincarnated on earth in any phony savior. Nor should we stand gaping into the sky after him, or – what amounts to the same thing – speculating endlessly about the manner and timing of his return. We are to be his witnesses, going out to all the world preaching the gospel and making disciples by the power of Jesus’ Spirit.
WHAT ABOUT US?
Now, though, we need to follow Paul in asking the basic New Testament question: “So what?” Christ our Lord is above, seated in majesty and power and authority at God’s right hand. So . . . what must we do in response to this great fact? Before we answer that, take careful note of the three-fold assertion of what is true for every Christian believer. First, an assertion about our past: “You died“ (v. 3), and “you have been raised with Christ“ (v. 1). By faith we are united to Christ in his death and resurrection, so that the saving merits of the one and the life-giving power of the other are both ours. We have died as far as sin’s curse and guilt are concerned, and we ought to die to its presence in our lives for we have already been raised to new life in the Spirit, and we await the consummation when our salvation will be finished.
Next, an assertion in the present tense: “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God“ (v. 3). Life is often hard for Christians, especially at certain times and in certain places. It was hard for the Christians who lived in the first-century Roman world, like the ones Paul was writing to. It is hard for Christians living in the late 20th Century, particularly in places where the majority are hostile toward those who follow Jesus Christ. The strains and uncertainties of ordinary life are tough enough: the struggle to make ends meet, worry about your job, or your marriage, or your kids, battling with illness or infirmity, grief over losing someone you love. But when you add to these the hatred, mockery, legal problems, physical abuse, discrimination, threats, imprisonment and even death that many face simply because of their commitment to Christ, you realize that life for Christians can be pretty daunting. You might even wonder if it’s worth it. But Paul reminds us of a wonderful truth. Whatever might be happening to us here and now, it can’t touch our real life, because our real life is in heaven with Christ, where it is perfectly secure. Right now this truth is hidden from physical sight. But it’s real. Heaven is where our true home lies; that is where Christ our life is now, and nothing can take this away from us or us away from him.
Finally, an assertion about the future: “You also will appear with him in glory“ (v. 4). The truth about heaven will not always remain hidden. One day Christ will come back to earth publicly and visibly. Then everyone will see him and everyone will know that Jesus truly is Lord. On the day when Christ returns, we will share in all the glory of his appearing, and what is hidden will be revealed, and the things that are invisible and eternal will be clearly seen.
SET YOUR MINDS
Now we are ready for the practical application: if all this is true, then what? Then “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is . . . set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (vv. 1-2).
It’s a very simple point: What do you think about? What kinds of subjects occupy your mind? What do you desire? What are the things you really long for and want? Do you pay much attention to Jesus Christ? Do you spend your time thinking about him, speaking with him, learning more of what he’s like? Or do you spend all your time thinking about having fun or making money or getting on in the world? Set your mind on things that are above.
The things that are above are the things of God: salvation, the gospel; faith, hope, and love; judgment, resurrection, heaven and hell, the world to come. The things that are above are the things that are higher, better and nobler. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). The things that are above are the things that are eternal. “We look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Christians are often accused of being “escapist,” too preoccupied with “spiritual things” instead of being concerned about the problems of what is popularly thought of as “real life.” We’re “so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good,” as the clich? goes.
Well, I frankly don’t believe it for a moment. I doubt if there has ever been an age when Christians, western Christians at least, have been more secular in their outlook and more earth-bound in their concerns than we are today. Indeed, one of the ironies of our time is that the criticism that we are escapists makes us shy away from the very duty we are already ignoring and most need to do. It is precisely because we fail to seek the things that are above, setting our hearts upon them and filling our thoughts and imagination with them, that we find ourselves so impotent in the battle against sin, so trapped in our own fallen culture and its secular mindset. C.S. Lewis has well expressed this truth in Mere Christianity.
A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth “thrown in”: aim at Earth and you will get neither. . . .
FROM BELIEF TO BEHAVIOR
Chapter 3 marks a transition in the book of Colossians. Up to this point Paul has been talking mostly about what Christians should believe about Jesus, and he’s been countering the false teaching of those who advocated a religion of secret knowledge and legalistic rules-keeping. Now Paul is going to turn from correcting error to promoting truth. Christians are not bound to the traditions of human religion, but they are bound to the Lord, and to a life of holiness in obedience to him. So the apostle now moves from Christian belief to Christian behavior. But before he says anything about the way we must act, Paul wants to make sure we understand how we must think. The first step in living Christianly is thinking Christianly. If we’re going to live the new life of Christ we’re going to need a new mindset, a new focal point for our thoughts, because what our bodies do is mostly determined by where our minds are set.
Are you concentrating your attention, and your desires, on eternal concerns and heavenly realities, or on the junk of this world? Is your mind and your heart set on Christ above? If our true life is Christ, if we really do believe in and belong to him, and if he is in heaven, then isn’t that where we should direct our interest?
So pay close attention to where your mind and heart are set, to the focus of your thoughts, hopes, and wishes. Are they on earth, or in heaven? Believe me, a very great deal depends on that.