Passage: Colossians 3:1-4
There’s an expression that you might have heard, or perhaps even uttered yourself, and it’s not a compliment- “They’re so heavenly-minded, they’re of no earthly good!” It’s often used to describe someone who wanders around with their head in the clouds and incapable of engaging with practical day to day living. Whilst this may describe some people, in many ways the opposite is true. CS Lewis wrote- “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.” Take for instance, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, who served the needs of the poorest in society in Victorian Britain, through visionary thinking, political wisdom and powerful advocacy. Largely through his efforts, children were no longer sent up chimneys to clean or down mines for coal. Near the end of his life he wrote this in his diary- “I do not think that in the last forty years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.” (Shaftesbury: The Poor Man’s Earl- John Pollock). The problem for many Christians and the church today, is that we simply don’t think of heaven enough, and as a result, we’ve become ineffective in society. To help us to be more heavenly minded and therefore more effective, we need to grasp what it means to be ‘united with Christ’.
Paul describes two things that have happened to the Christians in Colossae- “you have been raised” (v1) and “you died” (v3). This is true for all Christians, however we need to grasp how and when this resurrection and death occurred. Turn back to Colossians 2:20- “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” As Christ died on the Cross, so by faith all believers died with him. And in Colossians 2:13- “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” As Jesus was raised from the dead, so by faith all believers were raised with him. Whilst our physical death and bodily resurrection remain future events, through faith in Christ, the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection are already ours now to embrace. So through Christ’s death on the cross, we can know for sure that sin has been paid for once and for all time. That’s why Paul writes earlier- “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation.” (1:22) As a result of Christ’s resurrection, we can know for sure that his victory over death is our victory.
It is with such past spiritual realities firmly in our minds that Paul issues two parallel commands that should characterise our lives now- “set your hearts on things above” (v1) and “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (v2). The one whose death and resurrection we are united with by faith is now “seated at the right hand of God” in a place of honour, and by faith, we too are seated with him! That’s why Paul can write- “But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) We may be UK citizens or citizens of another country, but if we belong to the Lord Jesus, then we’re citizens of heaven, and heaven’s values and truths must direct our lives now. To “set our hearts on things above” is to have the desires and priorities in life that Christ would want us to have, whether that is feeding the poor, serving the church, making him known or being a voice for the voiceless. To “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” is possibly a dig at the false teachers in Colossae who were teaching the believers that Christ was not enough (2:16-23).The truth of the gospel is this- “For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fulness in Christ.” (2:9-10). If you have fulness in Christ you don’t need anything else!! It is also a reminder that the earthly things belong to our earthly nature and Paul’s about to explain in the next verses that this is what we are to put off, replacing them with the qualities consistent with our new nature in Christ. There is one more present-day spiritual reality that is true for all followers of Christ and it’s this- “my life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (v3) Whatever might happen in life and no matter how tough circumstances might become, to be united with Christ is to be utterly secure.
Having looked back in time to the death and resurrection of Christ, and then reminded his readers of the fact that Christ is at present seated at the right hand of God, Paul ends by looking forward to the promise of Christ’s return (v4)- “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” To be united with Christ by faith means that we can look forward with great confidence and certainly of future glory. This is not a case of fingers crossed or touch wood but we have his word on it, as he told his disciples- “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3) As followers of Christ, we look forward to a glorious future, of a new heaven and a new earth, where there is no suffering, pain, sin or death. All that frustrates, angers and disappoints will be gone forever. Now, we walk by faith, but then we shall see everything perfectly, not least the Lord Jesus, our life!
When I stand in glory
I will see His face
And there I’ll serve my King for ever
In that holy Place.
Thank you O my Father, for giving us your Son, and leaving your Spirit till the work on earth is done. Amen (Song- There is a Redeemer by Melody Green)