Heavenly Minded for Earthly Good
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 3:1-4
Colossians 3:1-4 (NKJV) 1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Probably all of us at some point have heard the line by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good,” or at least some form of this statement. We typically use this line to make fun of someone whose head is in the clouds so to speak. He is so entangled in his thoughts about God, philosophy, or love that he isn’t in touch with reality and the practical concerns of life.
And so the line is typically a fun way to poke fun at a certain personality type. But from a biblical perspective, is the line actually true. Is it possible for someone to be too heavenly minded? And is there a conflict between a heavenly mindset and practical good? I would say that if we define heavenly minded based on our passage for today, there is no such thing as being too heavenly minded. And our text would go so far as to imply that you can’t actually be any earthly good unless you are heavenly minded. This is because you can’t maintain a proper perspective on the earth if you don’t see it in light of heaven.
Therefore, this text challenges us to lift our eyes off all the stuff of this world—the passions we pursue and the cares that weigh us down—and to focus our eyes on Christ who is seated at the Father’s right hand. Because only then can we think rightly about this world. And so if you came today weighed down by earthly dreams I pray that you will be challenged to see a higher dream, a higher reality. And if you came weighed down by worries, fears, or grief, that you will leave refreshed by a fresh vision of your eternal hope.
I’d like to divide this text into 3 challenges that I hope we will all take to heart. First…
I. Live for heavenly purposes (v. 1).
Colossians 3:1 (NKJV) 1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
This is probably one of the most familiar passages in Colossians. Because of this, it sometimes gets lifted from its context, but the opening to v. 1 ties this text very closely to what came before. Notice that 2:20 began with, “Therefore, if you died with Christ,” and 3:1 begins very similarly with, “If then you were raised with Christ.”
Remember that last Sunday we saw 4 problems with legalism in 2:20–23. Paul pointed both barrels at the worldly, legalistic religion of the false teachers. He says that it was hypocritical and ultimately useless. Verse 23 ends by saying that all their regulations “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” And so Paul has torn down the worthless structure of the false teachers, and now in 3:1–4 he supplants it with a far superior more useful path toward godliness. He begins by emphasizing that this path is rooted in the fact that if you are a Christian…
You are alive with Christ (read). As I said last week with 2:20, the point of these conditional statements is not to question whether or not the Colossians were really saved. Rather, the point is to cause us to really ponder the significance of what Jesus has done for us.
Paul wants us to really think about the fact that “I have been raised with Christ.” We talked a lot in chapter 2 about what this means. In particular, when I got saved, Christ did so much more than forgive me of my sin. He changed my heart and the entire direction of my life. I died to the old way of life, which was enslaved to sin and deceit, and he raised me to a new way of life in the power of Christ and with a clear vision of his glory and his purpose.
Paul is about to unfold the practical significance of this new life and of how it allows us to live with a heavenly mindset. But before we get to that, I want to emphasize with Paul that a heavenly mindset is only good for those who have been raised with Christ. Heaven is only the treasure of those who have been born again.
We are going to talk about some wonderful realities today, but it needs to be said at the outset that these treasures are only yours if you receive the gospel by faith. Have you been “raised with Christ”? If you have never have, I hope that you will listen intently today to the hope that is available in the gospel, and I hope that you will talk with me afterwards about how you can know this hope belongs to you.
And if you are saved, won’t you join Paul now in really pondering what God did for you through Christ. You were dead, but God raised you from the dead! You are alive with Christ; therefore…
You must live for Christ. God commands us to “seek those things which are above…” The verb Paul uses here describes actively pursuing a goal. Jesus uses the same verb in Matthew 6:33 when he commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The idea in both places is not just that I think occasionally about heaven or the things of God; rather, I chase them, I live for them.
And I don’t just do this on Sundays or when life is painful. Rather, Paul uses a present tense verb, so we could translate the command as, “Keep seeking (at all times) those things which are above.” I’ve got to clearly see the goal, and all of life must be focused on this pursuit.
So what goal does Paul have in mind? What are “those things which are above”? I believe that the “things above” entail three things. First and primarily, the things above is…
Christ: Verse 2 contrasts the “things above” with “things on the earth,” so in the most basic sense this phrase refers to heaven, but this passage continually beats on the fact that Christ is what makes heaven great. He is our great reward. Notice the emphasis in v. 1. God says, “seek those things which are above, where Christ is.” My life is in Christ; therefore I must live for the place where Christ is.
And where is that? Christ is “sitting at the right hand of God.” This is a common picture rooted in the prophecy of Psalm 110:1. After Jesus conquered sin and death, he was exalted to glory, and he sat down because the work is done.
Therefore, he is my hope and my strength. Verse 3 adds that my “life is hidden with Christ,” and if I didn’t get it yet, v. 4 notes, “Christ is our life.” And so if you are saved, Christ is everything to you. You must live a Christ-centered life. As 2:6 says, you must “walk in Him.” And in this particular context this means that the “things above” also means that I must seek…
Godliness in Christ: And this is an important aspect of the text that we can easily miss. Again, the false teachers had set up a path to godliness that was built on manmade rules and human effort. We need rules, and we need to work hard. But by themselves 2:23 says these things “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
Rather, my only hope for pursuing real godliness is that I must seek Christ. I must be born again through Christ, and then as 2:6 says, As I received Christ, I must “walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him.” In other words, after I’m saved, I can’t just give lip service to Christ, I must run to him and run to the gospel every day for strength to live the Christian life.
Do you do that? Have you meditated on the gospel today? Have you looked past your ability to be godly, and cried out to Christ for strength. You can’t do it by yourself. Keep seeking Christ. And then the 3rd idea in the “things above” is that I must keep seeking…
The Blessings of Eternity: Paul tells us that he has this idea in mind when he notes that the day is coming Christ will appear, and we who are in Christ “will appear with Him in glory.”
Let’s just ponder for a moment all that God has in store for us in eternity. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the things of this life. We get so passionate about a game or a hobby or a job or a place to live. And we dream of all the happiness this thing will bring. And oftentimes God allows us to enjoy the blessings of this world. These are good things.
But when Christ establishes the new heavens and the new earth, the most beautiful spot on this planet is going look like the dumps. And the greatest accomplishment is going to look like a waste of time, and all the money in the world is going to look as useless as monopoly money. Paul said in Philippians 3:8 that all of this world’s accomplishments will look like a pile of dung.
What are you living for? I am not asking you to just affirm the right answer. I’m asking you what gets you excited? What dreams do you think about while you are falling asleep at night? What do you live for on a daily basis?
And what will be the fruit of your life that you will have to present before God at the final judgment? Will you have joy in that day because you sought the things above, or will you grieve because you gave so much of your energy to things of no value? Christian, live for the things above. Pursue the beauty of Christ with all of your heart. Bathe your soul in the strength and encouragement of the gospel. And run after the eternal blessings of God, not the empty junk of this world. Live for heavenly purposes. To do this we must heed the second challenge of this text, which is…
II. Reprogram how you think (v. 2)
Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
The Command: It’s important that we recognize the difference between this command and the first command. The command in v. 1 describes pursuing a goal—how I live. But this command focuses on what I think. To “set your mind” on something means that it dominates your thoughts. You could say that the things of heaven must be a passion that is never far from the center of my thoughts and dreams and ultimately from my plans and my priorities.
I think it’s worth emphasizing that Paul is not simply describing a mental trick to help me get through hard times. He’s really talking about a complete transformation of how I think, what I love, and my perspective on all of life. Romans 12:2 is helpful here when it commands me, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” At the heart of spiritual growth is the fact that my entire way of thinking needs to be rebuilt.
The Contrast: In particular, God commands the Christian that I must not live my life focused on what is here in this world. I must not live my life based on the things I can see and touch right now or the pressures that are right in front of my eyes. To put it bluntly I must reject the way of thinking that drives unbelievers.
Instead, I must develop a transformed way of thinking that is very different. I must live with a heavenly orientation that is all about Christ, my new life in him, and the eternal reward he promises to his people.
My favorite passage that describes this kind of mindset is found in Hebrews 11:13–16. The author has just described the incredible faith that drove Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob to live their lives wandering around in tents with little tangible evidence of God’s reward (read). God promised Abraham that he would make a nation from him, but the only land Abraham ever owned was a burial plot, and when he died, the nation God promised consisted of two people, Isaac and Rebekah. But that didn’t matter, because Abraham wasn’t ultimately focused on earthly cities or riches or power. He was seeking a “heavenly country.” By faith, he saw that God had something far better for him in heaven than he could possibly obtain on the earth.
The Discipline: And the challenge for us in Colossians 3:2 is that we must transform our minds so that we have the same way of thinking. And folks, this is no easy thing to do. Every day of your life you are bombarded with pressures that try to pull your mind away from an eternal focus.
You’ve got kids pulling on your pant legs, and you’ve got a boss pushing you to get things done. T.V. commercials are telling you that this thing is necessary to your happiness, and then theirs pressures coming from your own body and your soul. You’re hungry, you’re tired, it’s cold, it’s hot. And we could go on.
With all of these things tugging on your attention, you are not going to accidently focus on the things above. No, God commands you to “set your mind on things above. This takes real discipline both in the moment by moment struggles of life and in the habits you establish.
First, if you are going to obey this command, you must continually forcibly turn your mind to the things of God, because again, it’s not going to happen accidentally when 5 people are screaming for your attention at work. Young person, it’s not going to happen accidentally when the world is doing everything it can to persuade you that sex and partying will fulfill you.
No, setting your mind on things above requires throughout the day, you must consciously choose to set your mind on “things above.” Psalm 1:2 says that the blessed man “delight(s) in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” You’ve got to consciously choose to do that. But the more you do it, the more natural it will become. Small choices to think on eternity will turn into habits.
But I want to also add that if you are going to live this way, you must plan to fill your mind with things that will promote an eternal mindset and not promote a focus on “things on the earth.” You must plan to read the Bible. You must plan your life around being in church and having lots of Christian fellowship. When you’re driving or working around the house, rather than turning on a talking head on the radio, listen to sermons or good audio books. And if you are constantly filling your mind with junk through T.V., movies, and music, get rid of it, because you are a fool if you think that you can constantly fill your mind with junk and have a heart for God.
Folks, v. 2 touches on the very heart of spiritual growth. If you want to honor God and experience his grace, you’ve got to “set your mind…” The third challenge of this text is…
III. Remember where your hope lies (vv. 3–4).
Colossians 3:3-4 (NKJV) 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
These verses give us a wonderful, succinct summary of why it only makes sense for a Christian to live with an eternal mindset. First…
I died to the vanity of this world. Verse 3 is pretty blunt about my relationship to the system of this world. I am dead to this world. That’s not to say that it doesn’t still appeal to my heart because as long as I have a sin nature, it will.
Rather, the point is that the gospel has fundamentally changed the orientation of my life. I’m going to heaven someday, so I have a far greater hope than anything in this world. And I’m alive right now with Christ. I can see the beauty of God, and I have the power to obey his will. Therefore, when I got saved, I “died.” As Hebrews 11:13 states, I am now a “stranger and pilgrim on the earth.” As the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” As such, I’ve got better things to do than to live for the vanity of this world. This is because in place of the vanity of this world...
I gained an invaluable inheritance. I’ve had the song “Before the Throne,” which we will sing in a bit, stuck in my head all weak because it quotes this incredible statement. The idea is that Christ killed my old way of life, and he replaced it with a brand new life, which he has “hidden” in himself.
There’s an obvious contrast in vv. 3–4 between the fact that my life is currently hidden, but someday it will be revealed. And so the idea is that Christ has provided me with a wonderful inheritance. Someday, I am going to rule and reign alongside Christ for all eternity. I’m going to walk with God face to face in the New Jerusalem without any suffering or pain. God is going to so reward my service to him that every sacrifice is going to look insignificant and small.
This is my life, and it’s incredible. It’s not visible right now because it’s hidden. Right now, life is hard, and serving Christ is hard. But I have to remember that what I see and feel now is not the end of the story. This isn’t my life. My life is hidden with Christ. But it’s not going to stay hidden forever…
Someday my hope will be vindicated. Verse 4 looks forward to the second coming of Christ (Rev 19:11–16). Jesus will not come the second time as a humble, helpless baby. He will come in glory and power to rule and reign on the earth. Christ is going to reveal his glory to the world.
But it won’t just be the glory of Christ that will appear. The saints will follow him on their own white horses. God’s people who so often suffer in this world on the fringes of society will also appear in glory, and the world will see that what they often saw as foolishness in our Christian witness was not the whole story.
While they were experiencing the best they will ever have in this world, our best was hidden. But in Christ it will be revealed, and it will be far better than anything this world could ever offer.
Application: Christian, I want to urge you today to lift your eyes toward heaven and see with eyes of faith the full glory of your life in Christ. God has an inheritance awaiting you that is truly incredible. It is beyond your comprehension. And so see it clearly today. Your life is in Christ.
And with that perspective, take a fresh look at life down here. Maybe you need to be saved today. Maybe for years you have turned away from the offer of the gospel because you think that God demands too much. The truth is, that he does demand a lot. He demands it all. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” But then he adds in v. 26, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” There is nothing in this life worth sacrificing your soul, so come to him today and be saved. If you have questions about how to do that, I want to talk with you afterwards.
Or maybe you are a Christian, but you have been blinded by the blessings of this world. You are hoping in material things, material comforts, and the approval of people. In light of heaven, it’s all just a shadow. It’s a ruse of Satan that is of no consequence. Don’t waste your life on vanity.
Or maybe you are tired today from running the race. The battle against sin and for obedience has you worn out. Or ministry with people has your heart breaking. Or as you stare at the cost of discipleship you feel overwhelmed. Again, I want to urge you to lift up your eyes from the brokenness of your heart and the brokenness of this world, and see your reward. See with eyes of faith, your Savior looking at you someday and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt 25:23).
Many of you are familiar with the story of Jim Elliot. He was a gifted young man. He was an intelligent, gifted leader who could have done so much in this world, but he was passionate about taking the gospel to a people in Ecuador who had never heard of Christ. When he was only 28 years old, the people he loved killed him in a panic. From a worldly perspective, it looks like such a waste. But Jim Elliot didn’t see it as a waste. He is famous for having said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” May God help us to live with that same eternal mindset.