A couple weeks ago I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is struggling with where he is at in life. He was worried about his employment, living situation, and struggling with the idea that life is just not making sense for him. When I reminded him of this text in Colossians where Paul is encouraging the Colossian believers to seek and set their minds on the things above, he let out a Gahhhhhh. He shared that even though he knew that focusing on Christ should be the most important thing in his life and to live knowing his identity I found only in Him, he confessed that he tends to forget this a lot. I was able to relate because I am in the same boat. We all are. In the morning during our devotional times we “get it.” And yet five minutes later, we go back to struggling with money issues, employment, issues with family, etc. We struggle with the desire to be known and get the recognition that we deserve, to please man. We look for pleasure to fulfill us here on earth. Why is this? It’s because we’ve forgotten the amazing truths of the gospel and our identity in Christ. We sometimes lose focus.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4
This letter was written to the church at Colossae by the Apostle Paul. Epaphras, the senior pastor of this church, had just visited Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul speaks of the faith in Christ and love that the Colossians have for all the saints because of this hope that they have laid up in heaven.
The aim of this letter was for the Colossians to continue in the faith, not shift from the gospel, and to strive for maturity in Christ. In chapter 2, Paul mentions some false teaching that had started to creep into the church that emphasized living away from grace and toward legalistic observances and visionary experiences. These false teachings were a threat to the gospel because they were trying to add on extra things. Paul counters these things by saying God has done everything that is necessary through Christ.
The Christian’s Aim:
Paul begins this section of his letter with if then, you have been raised with Christ and we just have to stop there. It could be easy to just gloss over this statement, but in fact, it is the truth that helps us understand what Paul is getting at. Paul is referring to salvation that those who have believed in Christ have died to sin and have been raised to life.
He is alluding to what is represented in the believer’s baptism. In chapter 2:12-13 he says that we have been buried with Christ in baptism and have been raised with Him through faith. When you go under the water it is a representation of dying to the old self and coming or raising up from the water to the new self. Paul is reminding the Colossians that the resurrection life that they are living was accomplished by Christ when he rose from the grave.
This is great gospel encouragement. You’re justified! There is nothing to do to earn God’s favor, Jesus has done it all! You’ve been raised with Christ! We must not forget these amazing gospel truths! And this was a danger to the Colossians when these false teachers started creeping into the church. They were trying to add to the gospel. There is nothing to add because Christ has done it all. When He said it was finished, it was finished!
Paul continues by giving the command to seek the things that are above. Since believers have been raised with Christ, their lives have to be lived differently. And to do that they must seek the things that are above. This is the Christian’s duty, this should be our aim. The word seek, is not referring to something you do once and it’s over, but it’s this idea of a continual ongoing effort. Seeking requires labor and work. We are to continually seek the things that are above.
So what are the things that are above?
Paul clarifies this by saying: where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God the Father. Here Paul is referencing Psalm 110:1 which says,
“The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Christ being seated at the right hand of God the Father points to the centrality and supremacy of Jesus in the heavens. He is the one who is in control and the one that believers should look to. Christians seek Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 6:33
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The things that are above also refer to the kingdom of heaven, righteousness, faith, love, holiness, etc. We should desire and love the things that God desires and loves. As often as we are troubled with earthly desires we should think of Christ sitting at the right hand of God and seek spiritual strength from Him.
Heavenly Things v.s Earthly Things:
Then in verse 2, Paul reinforces what was just said by saying set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Paul simply tells the Colossians to be heavenly minded and not earthly minded. But instead of using the word seek like in verse 1, he commands them to set their minds on the things that are above. Setting the mind on something is comprehensive. It involves thought and requires a great effort. Paul is reinforcing the main point of this passage, for the Colossians to center their lives around Christ.
If you live according to the flesh, your focus, your attention will be towards the flesh. To set the mind on the flesh means to constantly desire the things that express fallen, sinful human nature. The things of this earth such as riches, honors, pleasures, ceremonies, and observances center on things that are temporary. Paul is saying to focus on the eternal things!
Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 no man can serve two masters. It is either the things that are above or the things of the earth.And later on in the gospels when Jesus shared with his disciples that He was going to suffer, be killed, and raise on the third day. Peter spoke out and rebuked Jesus. Jesus response was,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” God’s ways are different. We must set our minds on the things of God and not the things of man.
Now don’t get me wrong here, Paul is not forbidding the use of earthly things. We cannot live without the use of them, but we must not desire them with our whole heart. Believers must desire the things that are above.
King David wrote in the Psalms,
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”
Are we like this? Do we thirst for God? Do we think His steadfast love is better than this life? Do we truly earnestly seek God and his kingdom? Or are we seeking lesser things? The things of this earth? Nothing is sought unless it is desired and loved. When we get off alignment with what Christ has done and forget our true identity, we won’t seek the things that are above because we won’t even desire them.
Motivation Part 1 – The Christian’s Past:
Moving on to verse 3, Paul says for you have died. Here we have a transition in this passage. Paul explained what the aim or duty as Christians should be which is to seek and set our minds on the things above and now here he gives us the Colossians the motivation for doing so. Paul first speaks to the Christian’s past. Look at verse 3, He says for you have died. Believers are dead to sin, to the world, and to the flesh. The Colossians are encouraged to think of the things of heaven because they have died with Christ and have been raised to participate in resurrection life!
Another part of the Christian’s past is that their lives are hidden with Christ in God. Not only have believers been united with Christ in his death and resurrection….. their lives are hidden with Christ. Their salvation and identity as children of God is hidden, secure, and unable to be touched.
John Davenant who was president of Cambridge University in the 1600s has a commentary on Colossians that is around 1,000 pages. And in this commentary, he gives an illustration on being hidden in Christ that I think is very helpful. He says,
“As the life of the branches is not extinct in winter, but is hidden in the root of the vine itself, so our lives are hidden now in Christ.”
Something that struck me as I read this illustration is that Davenant was doing exactly what Paul was telling the Colossians to do as he came up with this illustration. As Davenant looked out at the winter snow, he saw a vine and connected it to the fact that we are hidden in Christ. This can only be possible if Davenant was seeking and setting his mind on the things above. As we do the same, the way we see the world and the way that we live in it will change.
Motivation Part 2 – The Christian’s Future:
So Paul explained how the believers should be motivated by the Christian’s past: having died to the old life and being hidden with Christ, and now he switches to motivate from the Christian’s future. In verse 4 Paul writes, when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Since believers have died and been raised with Him, Christ is their life. In Philippians 1:21, Paul says for me to live is Christ. Christ is the life of all who are united to Him by faith! Do you live in this reality? Jesus is coming again. He is coming for his people. He is coming for us. This was such a comfort to the church at Colossae and it must be a comfort for us as well.
Paul also says that we will appear with Christ in glory. This means that one day Christ will come for His people and we will share in His likeness, we will be made like Him. Philippians 3:20-21 says,
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
This earth is not the believer’s home, heaven is. Our Savior Jesus Christ will come one day and make us like Him!
To be honest, I don’t think about heaven as much as I should. I get so focused on the stresses and pressures of this life that my eyes look toward the ground. Maybe on some days where I have just had it, I think about how great it will be to be free from all the pain and struggles of this life. But I still miss the point of heaven. It’s not a place where everything is going to go my way, it’s better than that! It’s the place where my God is! It’s the place where my Savior Jesus Christ will take me and where I will be made like him. Yes there will be no more pain and suffering and He will wipe away every tear, but even better we will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever. Wow! What a future we have in store for us. A future that is not based on anything that we have done, but what Christ has done.
Paul’s reasoning for sharing this amazing truth with the Colossians is to motivate them to seek the things that are above now! And we must do the same. True Christians seek Christ.
This letter was not only written for the Colossians, we know this because Paul mentions at the end of it that it was to be read at Colossae and then passed on to other churches. And this word is true for us today.
So what? Remember Paul begins this section with If then you have been raised with Christ. He is talking about salvation. If you have trusted in Christ. If you believe and confess that Christ is Lord and Savior. Then this is for you…if not then it is not for you. These promises that I have been writing about don’t apply to you. God’s Word is very clear that those who do not receive Christ will not go to heaven. You need to be saved. If you have not been raised with Christ, that means that you stand condemned in your sins. Romans 3 tells us that no one is good and no one seeks for God. Those who have not received Christ cannot seek the things that are above. Only a true Christian seeks Christ. But there is hope. By putting your faith in Christ alone you can be saved.
To the believer: We have not claimed our position and identity as God’s child as often as we should. We have to remember that due to the curse of sin. We do not naturally seek the things of God, rather we seek our own pleasure. We seek comfort in the affirmation of men and status. Even though we have died to these things, sin still remains in us and we have to fight in order to do the things Paul is mentioning here. Like salvation, we cannot do this on our own. We need God’s help.
We feel a longing for something and yet try to solve it by putting our eyes on earthly things material possessions, different circumstances, man made religion. But this will never satisfy. We must confess our sins and seek the things that are above.
Like the Colossian church, we too have false teachers among us. Bad theology permeates our world today. From the televangelist who says if you sow a seed you will be freed from cancer to those who say the Christian life is one of financial blessings and your best life in now. There are those who tell us that there are certain things we must do in order to obtain salvation, which is not the gospel message. So if someone is preaching a gospel of works, that there is something more than what Christ has already done, you must reject that false teaching! There are also some false teachers in our day that teach that we must have some sort of experience in order to be saved, such as speaking in tongues, or having visions, or dreams, or prophetic moments. This too is not the gospel. Our God is not a God of confusion. The gospel is clear and it is simple and this is what Paul was telling the Colossians and he is telling us, to not set our minds on the things of this earth and man made religion but to set our minds on the things above, to center our lives around Jesus!
Even though as believers we sometimes fail to set our minds on the things above, God extends his grace and mercy to us and encourages us to continue to seek Him. The immature believer sins and runs away from God, but the mature believer sins and runs toward God.
Charles Spurgeon the great English Baptist preacher from the late 1800s said:
“Oh! how often we need to be called to this, for the flesh is groveling, and it holds down the spirit; and very often we are seeking the things below as if we had not yet attained to the new life, and did not know anything about the resurrection power of Christ within the soul. Now, if it be that you, believers, have risen with Christ, do not live as if you had never done so, but “seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.”
We must center our lives around Christ. Is there a seriousness in you for the things of God? What stirs up your affections for Christ? How can we, with the Lord’s help, set our minds on the things above? Practically how is this lived out in our lives?
Remember the motivations Paul gave us for seeking and setting our minds on the things above. You’ve been risen with Christ. You are now living a resurrected life. A new life. So center your life around Christ. Christ is exalted and is a place of power at the right hand of God. He is in control. Don’t seek small false gods that cannot do anything for you, seek the God who keeps His promises. You have died to the old self. You are no longer a slave to sin, so seek the things that are above. You are hidden with Christ. You are protected, safe, secure. Seek the one who shelters you. Christ is the life of the Christian. One day Jesus will return for us and we will be with him in glory. These realities should motivate us to seek and set our minds on the things above. Is Christ your life? What fills up your thoughts throughout the day?
True Christians seek Christ. They continually set their minds on heavenly things, because earthly things are temporal. As we heard before in Romans it says that unbelievers do not seek God. But for those who have died, been raised, hidden, and who have a future hope we can now, with God’s help, seek Christ. True Christians seek Him. This is not a one and done thing. This is a continual seeking.
I don’t know about you but I love the Discovery channel. There is something about all the travel and adventure that just excites me and they have so many shows that draw me in. For example: The hunt for the great giant squid or any sort of show that is looking for sunken or buried treasure. And Discovery channel is smart. In the previews, they lead you to believe that at the end of this episode you are going to see a giant squid or a new discovery of treasure. We all know they’re not gonna find anything, but we still watch. Throughout the show, there are “experts” who are seeking these things. They are setting their minds to find what they are in search for. They discover hints that lead themselves and me to believe that they are truly onto something. And yet, as you probably already know, it’s just a rabbit trail. All the episodes end the same way. No giant squid….no treasure, but hope for the next episode.
The Christian faith is not like that. When Paul tells the Colossians to seek and set their minds on the things that are above, he knows that God will bless that type of seeking. Why? Because we are basically saying, God you are our God, and your ways are higher and better than ours. Teach us to love what you love and to desire what you desire. God will not keep us from these things, and will never make us wait til the next episode.
Hebrews 11:6 says that God rewards the ones who seek Him. And in Matthew 7 Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
When Christians seek they find. Christians seek Christ not because they are forced to, but because they want to. They have experienced and know the great realities and promises provided to them by Christ. They remember they were once lost, dead in their sins and trespasses, not able to seek God due to their spiritual blindness. But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. He has removed the blinders to see His Son, Jesus. The one who has saved us from our sins and has given us new life. In response to this amazing gospel news, Christians Seek Christ! And when we seek Christ and the things that are above, we will find what we are looking for.
To the proud, repent of your earthly thoughts and seek Christ who forgives you and offers grace. To those struggling with financial issues, seek Christ the One who can help free you from the love of money but also the One who provides. To the one who feels guilty, seek Christ who has taken away your sin and guilt. To those who are hurting and broken, seek Christ who will meet you in your brokenness and sympathize with you. To those who are anxious, seek Christ who will give you peace. True Christians seek and set their minds on the things above. They not only seek but they find.
Christians seek Christ.
J.C Ryle a famous British pastor in the 1800s wrote in his book Holiness:
“A holy man will follow after spiritual mindedness. He will endeavour to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand. He will not neglect the business of the life that now is; but the first place in his mind and thoughts will be given to the life to come. He will aim to live like one whose treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim travelling to his home. To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of His people – these things will be the holy man’s chiefest enjoyments. He will value every thing and place and company, just in proportion as it draws him nearer to God. He will enter into something of David’s feeling, when he says, “My soul followeth hard after Thee.” “Thou art my portion.” Such is the outline of holiness. Such is the character which those who are called “holy” follow after. Such are the main features of a holy man.”