“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-4)
What benefit do we receive from the “resurrection” of Christ?
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Second, by His power we are also now raised up to a new life. Third, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
One of the great struggles for the true believer is having a firm sense that the power of God has truly transformed their life at the very time that they are contending in a world that they must live in. The Apostle Paul recognized and spoke in Romans 7 to this great challenge between living according to the Spirit and dealing with the weaknesses of the flesh. His conclusion reveals that with our minds we pursue the things of God even while our bodies are still subject to the fallen condition of the world we now live in.
There is, however, another great theme that runs through the writings of the Apostle Paul. It is a call for the Christian to live eschatologically. Now what that means is that once the believer has been called by God’s grace into the Kingdom of heaven, he is, from that point forward, to live in a progressively advancing course toward the life to come in God’s presence. In simple terms, he lives as an end times Christian, and by that I mean he lives as one who understands that he is destined for heaven.
In Colossians 3:1-4, the Apostle addresses this theme in a very powerful way. Namely, he seeks to set forth that all true believers even now have received resurrection power that enables them to throw off the influences of the sinful world and see all things in a new and life-changing way.
The Believer’s Condition
He first addresses the Believer’s Condition in verse one. He begins with that conditional word “if” – “if then you were raised with Christ…. ” Such conditional challenges are the essence of the gospel. They call us to examine ourselves to see if we are truly of the faith. And if we are unsure, to respond to the call to repent and believe. But even for the believer, such a conditional challenge is designed to draw our attention to listen closely to the call of God’s Word. The preaching of the gospel should always perk the believer’s attention and delight his heart with the confidence that “I am His and He is mine.”
But that is not the condition that is in view here. Rather, the condition is one that seeks to draw our attention to our union with Christ through His finished work upon the cross. Paul understood that the Christian gospel begins and ends with Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1Cor. 2:2). But for Paul, the cross encompassed the whole of Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world. He came expressly to lay down His life and then to rise again from the dead. The significance is not simply that Jesus died on the cross. Thousands did that. It is that this One was the Son of God who willingly laid down His life as our Redeemer, and that He had the power to take His life back up again. The power of the cross is ultimately revealed in the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. It is our being joined to Christ that brings us into union with this condition of the power of the resurrected life to which Paul draws our attention. In Paul’s thinking, to be raised with Christ is to be a partaker of Jesus’ resurrection power. Paul consistently declares that personal salvation results in a new condition, a condition that comes with transformational power, with the resurrection power of new life. You who were dead, spiritually dead, in trespasses and sins, He has made alive (Ephesians 2:1). All who have been brought into union with Christ have been resurrected spiritually. That is the first resurrection. The second death has no power over those who have received this first resurrection, (Revelation 20:6). Your condition has changed. You are no longer of the world, but of the heavenly kingdom.
Therefore, secondly, Paul sets forth a commission. Being those who have been raised with Christ, we are to seek those things which are above. He is very specific about the object of our seeking. They are those things that are associated with what is above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. In other words, he links our spiritual life of resurrection with a focus on the ascension and reign of our Lord. He further spells out our commission in verse 2 when he says, “set your mind on things above.” These are not options for believers but become the natural desire of our new life. The concept of “setting your mind” is understood as pursuing this with a mature mind-set. It carries the force of dwelling upon heavenly truth, always thinking about it, pondering it, making it the priority of your daily activity.
That begins to channel us into Paul’s primary concern in this text. Paul’s great interest is in the mind of the believer. He is not suggesting that we simply dream about heaven. Rather, his intention is that the believer commit himself to a pursuit of that truth that is of divine origin. We are to think God’s thoughts rather than killing time in the world’s interests. That is a great challenge in our entertainment-driven world today. How much time do you spend in the meditation of the Word of God in contrast to the vacuous entertainment that dominates so much of the world’s time? Television, movies, sports, the internet, and texting all absorb large amounts of our time. What advances would be made in the lives of believers today if they shut those things off for specific periods of time to meditate seriously on the Word?
Thirdly, Paul sets a contrast before the believer in verse two when he says we are to think upon things from above and not upon earthly things. The believer is to pursue an intimate, if not expert knowledge of spiritual truth, rather than the wisdom of this world. That does not mean that we are to be ignorant of a knowledge of the world we live in, but through spiritual knowledge the believer is better able to understand and not be deceived by the worldly thinking. This is a problem inherent with being in the flesh. The weakness of the flesh makes us tend to focus our time and attention on the physical realm. One must learn the power of the resurrection and trust in our union with Christ by the baptism of the Spirit. That is when he will begin to live consistently with being raised up to a new and better way of life. The Christian must teach himself to recognize the contrasts between this world with that which is above.
Fourthly, we are presented with the essence of our conversion. In verse 3 Paul describes the Christian as one who has died. Again the reference here is to the spiritual realm. We were raised spiritually and simultaneously have been made dead to the world. Jesus made clear that if anyone “desires to save his life, he would lose it, but whosoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) The way that we are made right with God, that is how we are justified before God, is through faith in Jesus Christ. When we believe the gospel call we are then justified by God and ultimately our glorification is made sure (Romans 8:30). But our justification is not based on our believing. Our justification before God flows from the finished work of the cross. The benefit of the work of Christ on the cross becomes ours when we are brought into union with the Lord and His death, through the Holy Spirit raising us up unto new life.
For Paul this new life requires within the believer a change of perspective. No longer is he to be a slave to the passions of a passing world. Rather the believer’s true love and passion will be for the things of God, the everlasting things. He is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then Jesus promises that the things needed in this world will be added unto him (Matthew 6:34). The believer is pulled along by his knowledge and understanding of God’s promises regarding the ultimate end of this world. He lives not for the here and now, but everything he does is built upon where he is going. For 40 years Israel lived in the wilderness, but always their mind was set upon God’s promise to bring them into the promised land. They lived in expectation, and the Christian today lives in anticipation of the day when this life is left behind and there is entrance into God’s presence, freed from the corruption of this current world. That understanding influences the way the Christian is to think, to act, to live in relationship to others in his service to God here and now.
But, fifthly, Paul understands the concealment of the Christian life in this world. The Christian continually struggles to comprehend the significance of his conversion in relation to the way the Bible presents the contrast that exists between the believer and non-believer. Paul says our life is hidden with Christ in God. Hidden from whom? Hidden from the people of this world. In the same way that Jesus’ true, divine nature was hidden behind His humanity, so the believer’s true spiritual nature is hidden by our fleshly nature. We struggle like all people with day to day challenges. We sweat, bleed, tire and get frustrated. We share in the infirmities common to everyone. We have jobs, homes, and families. We look just like everyone else. So those around Jesus said, “Is this not the son of the carpenter?”
The point is that we are creatures who often believe more with our eyes and physical senses then we do with our spiritual insight. The similarities that are so obvious cause us to wonder if there really is that big a difference between the believer and unbeliever. Not only is our new condition hidden from the world, but to a large degree it is hidden from ourselves. We focus on the fleshly struggles rather than find confidence in the resurrection power that now drives our lives. To allow the flesh such sway in our lives is to entertain the notion that our lives are not capable of doing great things for God.
Some of that is because of our definition of what constitutes a great deed for God. We fail to see things from God’s perspective. Every time we say no to sin, resist the devil, and turn from the world’s temptations we overcome the weakness of the flesh. All of these small victories are nothing short of demonstrations of resurrection living. Our sanctification, that is the process by which God’s Spirit causes us to grow in our Christian lives, is a progressive work. We are justified at a point in time by the work of Christ, and also at the moment that the Holy Spirit works faith into our hearts. But that point of conversion triggers the process of our life-long sanctification – of seeking things above.
Our comfort is that God assures us that while our spiritual life may be hidden from others, and even somewhat obscure to ourselves, it is not hidden from God. In the same way that the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ is hidden from the world, so our identity as Christians is truly not understood by those around us. But that in no way minimizes our life in God. Moreover, this hiddenness is only a temporary condition.
Lastly, Paul appeals to the day of our Consummation. That is the day when all of God’s plan of salvation is to be brought to its final completion. In verse four Paul turns the believer’s attention to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This “when” is the crux of living eschatologically. The believer continually lives looking forward to the return of our Lord Jesus. The Christian’s life is a life of hope in a world that has no sense of hope for a life to come.
Notice how Paul draws our attention to the comfort of the believer. He says, “when Christ who is our life appears…. ” At the heart of living consciously aware of our being raised with Christ is that Christ has become our life. One who is truly born again by the Spirit of God will not live a half-hearted life for God. The Christian life is an all-in proposition. It must be so because of the very nature of our conversion. We who were dead in trespasses and sins have been raised unto newness of life. That is a radical conversion. That is the nature of resurrection power. The Christian cannot and will not live a zombie life. We are alive in Christ and Christ becomes our life.
As such, Paul calls the Christian to live consistently with his new condition, to recognize that we are no longer of the world, even though we are in the world. He proclaims, “for our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
Rev. Hank Bowen
Faith RCUS, Anderson, CA