Pastor Allan Babcock, the previous pastor of SonRise and the man whose shoes I’m now filling, told me many things as I arrived to take up his place and carry on the work. One of those things was this, “As a year ends and a new year begins I need, and my people need, a reminder of who we are and why we do what we do as a church. So, I begin each year with a small series on the church.” This was his custom for many of his years in ministry and it’s been a joy of mine to make his custom my custom by doing the same. Therefore, as a new year has dawned and before we jump back into 2 Samuel to finish it out, I’d like to remind us all of who we are and why we do what we do as a church. To do this I’d like to spend the next three weeks in Colossians 3:1-17, because in this passage we see many things both simple and profound, things both light and weighty, things both far beyond us and immediately accessible to us.
As we begin, we need to pray, But to foster a more communal feel to these next three weeks I’d ask you to look at the screen above and out loud and all together pray with me…“What we have not, give us; what we know not, teach us; what we are not, make us; all for the glory of Your beloved Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with You, together with the Holy Spirit – one God, forever praised. Amen.”
Well, our text today smells of heaven and teaches us that we should set our minds on things above not on things below, and that the Christian life is the Life Above Lived Below. Colossians 3-4 continues the argument Paul began in 1-2, he’s still tracing out the implications of our union with Christ he went over in detail in 1-2. Chapter 3 also marks an end of Paul’s arguments against the false teachers in Colossae and this passage functions as a bridge to begin his appeals to the Colossians to live a life pleasing to God. Which is itself a huge point because notice that Paul’s instructions for Christian behavior in chapters 3-4 come after all of his rich description of the redemption Christ secured for His people in chapters 1-2. Lesson? Living a life that’s pleasing to God (which we call obedience) is a response of gratitude to God’s favor already given, not a means of gaining His favor.
Let’s dig into this text. In Colossians 3:1-4 we find 4 points:
A Heavenly Pursuit (v1)
v1 begins by saying, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Immediately Paul reminds us of what he’s already said before. Back in 2:12-14 we learn that when we believed in Christ we were buried with Christ in baptism, and we we’re raised with Christ in His resurrection by the powerful working of God. By bringing these truths back into focus again Paul explains what being raised with Christ means for us in the present moment. v1 gets at this: in our death with Christ God severed the bond between our old sinful nature and us…and in our resurrection with Christ God creates a new bond – a bond with our new nature, a bond with the Kingdom of God, and a bond with the age to come, and most important of all, a bond with Christ who now rules from His throne at the right hand of God.
Do you see there is more at play in these verses than merely the death and resurrection of Jesus? Those two things are immense and infinite in their meaning for us, but Paul in v1 goes beyond the resurrection of Jesus to…what? His ascension. “…seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” His ascension to the throne was (and always will be) the most important political moment in history because when He ascended He ascended to a throne. And it wasn’t just any throne, it’s a throne unlike any other throne, it’s the throne of God, where He now sits at God’s right hand building His Church (Matthew 16:18), interceding for the saints (Hebrews 7:25), ruling and reigning over all creation (Psalm 2) until He comes again. This is what Paul is getting at – because Christ has ascended and is right now seated above, we’re to seek the things that are above.
See the message being given here: because believers have died with Christ and risen with the Christ, and because Christ has Himself ascended, our lives are to be marked by a certain kind of pursuit. What kind of pursuit? A pursuit of things that are above rather than a pursuit of things that are below. In the verses that follow we’ll look at what it means to seek the things that are above, to have a heavenly pursuit but before we do don’t miss what’s being said here, that we right now truly participate in the Kingdom of God. There is a belief certain Christians hold that says we’ve got to wait until heaven or Jesus’ Second Coming to truly be a part of the Kingdom of God. No. Jesus’ first coming marked the inauguration of His Kingdom and Jesus’ ascension marked the inauguration of His rule and reign at God’s right hand. This means His Kingdom has already come on the earth, and because His Kingdom has already come on the earth all those who are ‘in Christ’ are in His Kingdom already. We are a part of the new creation by virtue of our new birth in Him. This is the reality of what many have called ‘the already, but not yet’ or ‘the already, and more to come.’ By faith in Jesus we’ve already been welcomed into the Kingdom but for now we’re like children playing in the shallow end knowing there is a far deeper end of the pool close at hand. Christians are therefore not people who are waiting for the Kingdom, we’re people who right now live in the Kingdom as well as people who eagerly long for Kingdom to come in full. And as we wait in our life here below, our focus is to be fixed on Him who’s over us and over all things, on Christ.
How does God tell us to seek the things that are above?
A Heavenly Mindedness (v2)
v2 continues on, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” So how do we do this thing called the Christian life while we live in this waiting room of the already but not yet? This is the question this text is seeking to answer. And Paul’s answer for us is this: set your minds on what’s above. The phrase ‘set your minds’ is one word in Greek, phroneo. This is one of Paul’s favorite words, in fact 23 of the 26 times it’s used in the New Testament it comes from the lips of Paul. This means we don’t just consider or give thought to what’s above…but incline, give your mind to, wholly entertain, make room for, and yield your mind to things that are above, not to things that are on earth.
Do you find this a difficult task? It seems so to me. We live in a world where it is crystal clear that there is a stronger pull downward than a push upward. I’m speaking in terms of a sinful or fleshly pull away from heavenly things toward earthly things. It’s the pull we all feel, making you and I naturally gravitate towards sin more than we desire to grow in righteousness. It is truly the pull between what is right and wrong but doesn’t it often feel more like the choice between what is easy and what is right? Do you feel it? Even now sitting in a church, a place that is to be marked by the worship of God, I’m sure some of you, though here, aren’t really here at all. Perhaps you’re wondering where you’ll go to lunch, or pondering how long is this sermon going to be, or thinking what your week ahead is going to look like. Maybe some of you without even knowing are being pulled right now, feeling encouraged ever so slightly to just let go a little bit and dabble in some secret sin. We’re being continually and constantly pulled away from Christ to the things of earth. In this we must remember our new address. Each day after work is over I go home to my house. A few years ago when we moved from Port Richey to New Port Richey I remember those first few weeks finding it difficult to remember that we’d moved. I’d leave church and naturally I’d begin heading to Port Richey, but then I’d remember, ‘I don’t live there anymore, our address is changed’ so I’d have to turn around a go the opposite way to our new home. The Christian life is the same. Becoming a Christian changes your address. This world is no longer your home, therefore we cannot set our minds on the things of earth.
But there is caution needed here. Does this verse mean that we rid our lives of all the ties and connections we have to things on this earth? We have various relationships, jobs, cars, homes, dogs, cats, bank accounts, clothes, lawn equipment, golf clubs, baby cribs, neighbors, social causes, HOA meetings, and a million and a half other things that exist here on earth. Does this verse teach that the Christian life is lived rightly by leaving all those things behind? Some have said so throughout the history of the Church, but we would say no, not at all. What’s it mean then? Rather than ridding our lives of all things earthly this verse is teaching that how we interact with the things of earth must drastically change. How does it change? By setting our minds on things that are above we recognize that out of all the things we have and all the things we’re involved in here below there is one thing that rises above all else – the Lord Jesus Christ. All else is to be counted as rubbish compared with knowing Christ. Out of all that we can be concerned with Jesus says one concern rises above all, “…seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). So, to set your mind on things above means that while we truly live here in this world and while we truly have already been spiritually resurrected in the heavens with Christ, it is our life above that must govern our life below. Or we could say it like this, as we go throughout life and encounter the things of earth, we must in our minds think of the things of earth in a manner far beyond earthly endeavors. We must think on them in a heavenly manner. I keep saying ‘the mind’ because that’s where Paul goes in v2 and he begins in the mind because that’s how we function. What lingers in the mind eventually makes its way south to the heart and then goes further to the hands. This is why he says elsewhere that it’s our minds that must be renewed because when it’s renewed much else within us follows suit.
Church, this is real life stuff. I’m not speaking in a figurative manner, this changes everyday of our existence. For example: if you have a boat this verse isn’t teaching you to sell your boat, no…use your boat in such a way that people know Jesus is your treasure not your boat. If you’re married don’t leave your spouse but live as a godly husband or wife with your spouse in such a manner where people know Jesus is your treasure not your spouse. So whether it’s children, jobs, cars, clothes, neighbors, or everything else under the sun that you have or possess, live with these earthly things in such a way that they and others know Jesus is your treasure, not them. So setting our minds on Christ is to see Christ as the supreme treasure and satisfaction standing over all of life and all in life.
We’ve seen Paul speak of our heavenly pursuit, we then saw him further clarify that by speaking of our heavenly mindedness, now see him begin to give reasons for this in v3…
A Heavenly Death (v3)
v3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” This third verse reminds us a real death has occurred, that with Christ we died to the ways of the world, we died to the old man, and to our old nature. Theologian and commentator F.F. Bruce on this says, “That we have died with Christ is so strange to us that Paul must repeat it again and again.” Just as Christ’s death was a real event, so too our death with Christ was a real event. The moment you turn from sin and turn toward Jesus a real death happens, but just as Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t an end but a beginning in His resurrection, our death in Him isn’t an end but a beginning because a real resurrection happens in the new birth. This means we are now not what we once were. The confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ ought to remind us of such reality. He is our Lord, He has bought us, He has purchased us, we are not our own, we have been bought with a price and that price was the death of Christ. He has purchased us, as it were, out of the market and He now owns us and we belong to Him. Or more simply, our life is Christ’s. It’s united to Christ, maintained by Christ, upheld by Christ, sustained by Christ, and as long as Christ lives so too will we His people live. Note how v3 begins, ‘For…’ Paul is grounding all he said v1-2 here in v3. All of our heavenly pursuit and heavenly mindedness is fueled by and exists because we died with Christ our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. This means what God has done for His people in Christ doesn’t only fill out the content of the gospel message, it’s the motivation for gospel living. Hid with Christ…in God…a double divine safety and security for every believer.
John Newton, the great hymn writer once penned a verse after reflecting on this passage. In it he sang, “Rejoice believer in the Lord, who makes His cause His own. The hope that’s founded on His Word, can never be overthrown. Though many foes throw down their rod, and feeble be your arm. Your life is hid with Christ in God, beyond the reach of harm.” The things of earth may pull us downward and tempt us to fix our minds on them, but nothing can remove us from being hid with Christ in God. In John Bunyan’s book Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners he describes his own struggle with his salvation and his despair over his lack of any true righteousness in him. But then he reflected on this passage and realized his righteousness wasn’t his own and that it is an alien righteousness (one that is foreign to us) which saves us, this righteousness of Christ is untouchable, laid up for him in heaven and is seated at God’s right hand. This brought him rest in his despair because though he lived on earth and was constantly ‘in struggle’ he knew he was ‘in Christ’ and already seated in the heavens, and that nothing could take him away from there. Church, learn from Newton and Bunyan: if you could lose your salvation you would, but you can’t because spiritually you’re already secure in heaven.
Paul has told us that our heavenly existence with Christ in God is real, but hidden. And that though this life above is hidden it should dominate our lives here below. In v4 he now says all of this will one day change. When? How?
A Heavenly Appearance (v4)
v4, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Here in v4 two things stand before us. First, Christ doesn’t merely have life within Him, and He isn’t merely the source of life, for those in Him…He is life itself. “Christ, who is our life” means for Christians life is found nowhere else. In Him is all our delight. In Him is our all our pleasure. Jesus is not the appetizer, or the main dish, or the dessert, He’s the whole meal! Second, we see the hope of Christ’s return is central to the kind of life presented in this passage. Yes, right now at this moment all believers are already present, spiritually, with Christ in the heavens, but on the day when He appears at His return the Kingdom we now experience in part we’ll enter into in full. Is this not wonderful? United with Him in His death, united with Him in His resurrection, setting our minds on Him, and seeking Him who has ascended above…since all of this uniting is true it is stunning to see what else is true, united with Him in His appearing. When He appears, we’ll appear with Him! That day, O that glorious day when the Son of God appears. It will be glorious because He is glorious, and it will be glorious because all those in Him will appear in glory along with Him.
As to when this day will dawn Paul does not tell, but the one thing we can know is its certainty – it will come.
A few years back, we got our dog Calvin a new squeaky ball. And my o my did he love it! He loved to chase it down when we’d throw it to him, he’d carry it around all day, he slept with it, and he was so obsessed with it we’d have to take it away from him so that he’d eat his food! Once the ball arrived it was everything to him, and none of his other toys mattered. For the Christian what’s above, all that’s heavenly, Christ Himself who sits in the heavens, is to similarly consume us.
Did you notice v1-4 begins with ‘If’? The glory of all the heavenly realities we enjoy here on earth we’ve just walked through are only yours if you’re in Christ. So, are you? Is your hope and trust and life above? Are you seated above in the heavens with Christ? Or do you merely exist here below? If you’re still settled into things here below, and in this new year you’re still aiming and planning to pursue the things of earth, we’d challenge you to lift your eyes higher. To seek Him who is above. If you do you’ll find what v4 speaks of here. Life in the One who is life itself, Christ.
 Grant R. Osborne, Colossians & Philemon: Verse by Verse (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016) accessed via Logos Bible software, 1/3/20.
 Osborne, accessed via Logos, see above citations.
 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians – NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 135.
 Bruce, 134.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon – PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008) accessed via Logos Bible software, 1/3/20.
 Osborne, accessed via Logos, see above citations.