Set Your Mind on Things Above (Colossians 3:1-4)
When I was a kid, my mind was firmly planted on things above. I loved–and still love–astronomy. Mom and Dad got me a telescope for Christmas one year–it wasn’t all that powerful, but I could explore mountains and valleys on the moon you can’t really see with the naked eye. Tammy got me a much more powerful telescope for Christmas one year–with it I could make out the four large moons of Jupiter. Mom and Dad got me a nice pair of binoculars for stargazing. Those binoculars are probably close to 30 years old. Yet, they’re in my bedroom closet, and they are such a good pair that the boys, although they would frequently ask, weren’t allowed to play with them when they were younger. With those binoculars I’ve seen detail on comets that was barely visible to the unaided eye.
I had big dreams of being an astronaut when I was a little kid. I was quite young when Columbia went on her maiden voyage. I believe we were at my grandparents’ home in Indiana on that April morning. Dad woke me up early so that I could watch the coverage, and I was hooked on the American space program. When I was in the fourth grade, I had a very eccentric teacher to put things mildly. Mr. Miller and I, in a collaborative effort, designed an escape pod for the space shuttle. We sent it to NASA, and we got a very nice letter back saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
There may have been times that you have had your eyes firmly planted in the heavens. Maybe you remember watching Walter Cronkite with bated breath as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Maybe you remember watching in horror as the Challenger exploded just over a minute into her flight on January 28, 1986. Maybe you remember watching in amazement as Comet Hale-Bopp danced across the night sky.
This morning’s text is about having our eyes firmly planted on the heavens. Obviously, it’s nothing about watching the stars or keeping up with the American space program. Instead, we look to the heavens with the eyes of our souls, and we look to where Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Paul says in this morning’s text that “You must set your mind on things above.”
Scripture (Colossians 3:1-4)
“If” should really be translated “since.” Paul is not speaking of a hypothetical situation. He speaks of a reality–the Christians in Colosse had been raised with Christ.
“Were raised with Christ” certainly speaks of these Christians’ baptism. In Romans, Paul had used similar language to speak of baptism: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). In Colossians, Paul has spoken of being raised in baptism: You were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12). At His resurrection, Jesus was raised victoriously over the kingdom of Satan; when we are raised from the waters of baptism, we are being raised with Jesus in triumph over the death grip of sin.
Therefore, we are to seek those things which are above, where Christ is. “Seek” is in the present tense here and, therefore, refers to continual action. The idea is that we are never to give up seeking those things which are above. This verb–in contrast to “set” in verse 2–refers to the practical pursuits of life; in other words, our lives are, in a very practical way, rearranged because we have been raised with Christ.
Notice that there is a clear identification with Christ in this verse: We have been raised “with Christ”–our being raised in baptism was a “joint” raising with Him. Therefore, we rearrange our lives to fit where He is, not where we are.
Christ is at the “right hand of God,” the place of honor and glory.
Not only do you “seek those things which are above,” but you’re to “set your mind on things above.” This refers to having our whole outlook of life, our entire thought process, centered on things above. Elsewhere Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
Our minds are to be focused on things that really matter–“things above”–instead of the temporary things on this earth.
“You died.” Throughout Christendom this morning, people who would ordinarily not darken the doors of a church building are sitting in pews so that they can remember that Jesus has been raised from the dead. You know that we remember Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday. We assemble on the first day of the week because that’s the day on which Jesus was raised back to life.
But, we are reminded in this text that not only did Jesus die and was He raised but that we died. Our old selves have been crucified with Christ. We are dead to sin.
“Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Paul speaks of the mystery that is our future life; we have no idea, really and truly, what heaven will be like. I know that Scripture gives us some ideas of what it will be like. But, now we see through a glass darkly. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be” (1 Jn 3:2).
Notice the “when” of this verse. This points to the certainty of Jesus’ coming–Paul says “when,” not “if.” We do not know when He is coming, but we can know with absolute confidence that Jesus is coming again!
Christ is our life–It is He who gives us life, both physically and spiritually.
We will appear with Christ in glory. Notice again the idea of joint participation with Christ. It’s not my glory. It’s not glory that I have earned for myself. It is glory that I will have because I have been joined with Jesus in His death.
Michael Bloomberg made me so angry this past week I couldn’t see straight. He was being interviewed about his push for gun control and banning sugary sodas and all those things he did as mayor of New York. He said about all that, “I have earned my place in heaven.” Baloney, Mr. Mayor! You earned hell. Only through joint participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus can you have heaven–you can never earn it.
We will be like Jesus in glory: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2).
“You must set your mind on things above.” How do you do that?
You must order your life around God’s throne.
That’s what Paul says at verse 1: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.” Throughout Scripture, we are reminded that life is really about heaven. Matthew 6:19-21. “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). The implication in both of those texts is that our lives are rearranged because of heaven.
How much are our lives ordered around God’s throne? To order your life around God’s throne, you need to do four things:
- You need to take a close look at your life and see whether or not it’s really ordered around God’s throne. What do you do on a daily basis that says, “Heaven is my home?” What would your coworkers say about the way you act at work? Would they be surprised to find out you were a Christian? Does the way you interact with them and with clients say that heaven is your home? Do your neighbors see heaven as a priority in your life? Would your family say that you live as though heaven is your home?
- You need to take a close look at Scripture to see how you can live a heaven-centered life. An excellent place to start is the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, Jesus describes what life in His kingdom is really all about. Read that sermon through several times this week.
- You need to remove evil qualities from your life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about several thoughts and actions which are incompatible with life in His kingdom–e.g., lust, worry, anger, and greed. Work this week at removing those qualities from your life.
- You need to add positive qualities to your life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about several thoughts and actions which are very compatible with life in His kingdom–e.g., being merciful, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and reconciling with our brethren. Work this week at adding those positive qualities to your life.
You must order your thinking around God’s throne.
I understand that for us to make heaven a reality in the way that we live we must first make it a reality in the way that we think. However, Paul, with his inspired pen, talks about life first and thinking second. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (v 2).
We are told to make heaven a reality in our minds. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things” (Phil 4:8).
If you want to make heaven a reality in your thinking, do two things:
- Take a close look at what you put in your mind. What TV programs do you watch? What books do you read? What songs do you hear? What thoughts do you invite into your heart? What thoughts do you allow to stay there long after they should have left?
- Fill your mind with good. Paul says we need to think about what things are true and noble and just and pure and lovely and of good report. You know that nothing fits that description better than Scripture. Spend serious time with Scripture this week. Fill your heart with it. See if you don’t find it easier to do right the more Scripture is in your heart.
Is heaven really your home? Do you need to come this morning and claim heaven for your home?