1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.Colossians 3:1-4
Refresh & Restore Bible Study — May 18, 2023: When the Loving Kindness of God Our Savior Appears – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
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I love the way that Paul’s letter to the Colossian church builds and builds and builds. Where we see sections or passages, there was just a letter from an apostle to a church that needed help. Paragraph by paragraph the help he offers them is pointing them to Jesus.
In chapter 1, we see Paul presenting Jesus in a beautiful hymn highlighting how Jesus, God incarnate, is preeminent over all and yet cares for them enough to deliver and redeem them (and us) “from the domain of darkness” to His Kingdom (ch 1:13-14). Chapter 2 saw Paul helping them to understand what it is to be alive in Christ and helped them understand that receiving Christ and walking in Him (ch 2:6-7) is necessary to combat the false teaching attacking their church.
And, as we begin chapter 3 where Paul lays out for the Colossian church – and again, the church today – what new life in Christ is and is not, the final verse from last week’s passage (ch 2:23) strikes me a bit stronger: “These (human precepts and teaching) have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
We looked at it in the context of last week’s passage, and we need to look at it as the hinge that opens the door between last week’s and ours today. The “human precepts and teaching” (ch 2:22) were spoken of in the context of the false teaching plaguing the Colossian church – that people were trying to tack on additional religious practices to the gospel and distract from it. But, as we are about to begin looking at precepts and teaching given by Paul, it is fitting that we clarify the difference between human precepts and those “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Sins are going to be listed – not Paul’s interpretation of a religion but speaking from God as He was “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). So, as we talk about what is taught in Colossians, we must be careful to focus on and look at what God is saying to the church – then and now – through Paul. We must be careful to recognize the authority of Scripture to teach us what to believe and correct us when we are wrong – to teach us how to live and correct us when we sin – to give us everything we need to live this new life in Him.
There is temptation to blunt what God makes sharp regarding sin – to call good what God called evil (Isaiah 5:20). There is also a temptation to take God’s Word and use it to hurt people rather than to point them to Him. Both are dangerous. Both are trying for “human precepts” instead of the divine. God’s Word says what it says, and it has power. But the former, the man-made or man-twisted have “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”. Thankfully, Paul’s answer to both – the answer that has been consistent throughout Colossians and will continue to be through the end is Jesus.
If You Have Been Raised (vv. 1, 3)
The first word of today’s passage is “if”. As a parent and a high school teacher, I understand that this word carries the utmost importance.
Daddy, can I go to __’s house Friday? Yes, if, you clean your room. Mr. Harris, if we all make __ or above on the assessment, you should buy us donuts. I sure will if you hold up your end of the bargain. When Friday comes or the assessment is over both sides play the parts of expert lawyer explaining how I am bound to do this or how I should change my mind because of how close they got to the agreement. Yet if leaves extraordinarily little wiggle room. If is conditional. Any agreement containing if means that its completion is contingent upon whatever in-the-event-that occurs.
In the case of today’s passage – “If then you have been raised with Christ”, the condition is if someone is in Christ, whether or not they have been “raised with Christ”. One either is or is not. Think back to the way that Paul has presented this state of being in Christ throughout the letter: either in “the domain of darkness” or “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (ch 1:13), either reconciled to Him through “the blood of His cross” or “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (ch 1:20-21), either “dead in your trespasses” or “made alive together with Him” (ch 2:13). So, to say “If then you have been raised with Christ” is to say you are either dead in your sins or raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
It is important to the message Paul is communicating because the teachings are for those who have been “made alive…with Christ”, saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:5). These are not principles for a good or successful life. They are not suggestions or even a how-to manual for faith or practice. Look at the rest of that conditional statement: “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”. Basically, if you are in Christ, seek Him. Verse 3 clarifies it even further because, once one is saved, the former pre-salvation life is over and life is “hidden with Christ in God” – eternal life is contingent upon His life, His resurrection.
This is why the new life that comes from being in Christ is not simply a how-to manual or list of instructions – it is real and lasting transformation, life change that occurs when one goes from the “wages of sin”, which is death, to “the free gift of eternal life” (Romans 6:23). Seeking Christ is more than reading His Word or praying to Him as a religious exercise, it is seeking the One who rescued you and redeemed you – who saved you. If you have been raised with Christ, why would you not want to seek Him?
Set Your Minds (vv. 2, 4)
There is good news in the command to seek Jesus, namely that He will be found! Look at this beautiful passage in Isaiah 55:6-7:
Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call upon Him while He is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
This is often viewed as an invitation – which it is – for those who do not know Christ but let us look at what it means for those who do know Him. If you have been raised with Christ, He will be found when sought and near when He is called upon. But also, if one’s wicked ways have been forsaken and unrighteous thoughts laid aside, one surely has sought the Lord and received His compassion and forgiveness – received His life – because human beings do not lay aside their wickedness of choice easily.
The command here moves from seeking Him, though, to setting one’s mind on Him. That word “set” means be mindful of, to be devoted to”. Think about it like we would set a thermostat or an alarm. A thermostat ensures that our house stays within the confines of temperatures that will keep us comfortable. An alarm ensures that appointments are kept and things that one really does not want to miss. As a resident of Mississippi in July, I am devoted to making sure my thermostat is set correctly as the humidity and heat would quickly overtake my home. Alarms are necessities for things I want to make sure I do not miss and things I must do and are set as needed – as often as needed, as often as I need to be mindful of a time or date. What about Jesus?
Paul tells the Colossian church to “set” their minds “on things that are above” – the same thing that he just commanded them to “seek”. The mind of the church, its members, should be set on Jesus “not on things that are on earth”. Set – like a thermostat – to keep one’s mind consistently where it needs to be, on Jesus. Set – like we would an alarm to remind us of where we need to be. Set.
Now, I have heard people say that there is a danger of being so heavenly minded that one is no earthly good, meaning that one can be so focused on “things that are above” that things below are forgotten about. They would have a sort of monastery view that would isolate them from the world.
I would argue that I am of no earthly good if my mind is not set on Christ. When we look at the rest of the larger section that today’s passage begins, what follows comes from setting one’s mind on Jesus. The sins that are crucified are because of focusing on Jesus and the life He gives. The behaviors that characterize the new life follow in the way that He lived – and lives!
This leads to the ultimate goal: meeting Jesus. If we look at verse 4, this is the goal – the expectation of seeking and setting one’s mind on Christ – “When Christ who is your life appears”.
This is the sort of expectant devotion that reminds me of my son. The first day I spend alone with my son, he was barely a month old. He screamed. He cried. He was upset. But everything changed when his mama called to see how everything went. As soon as he hit her arms when she got home, he was at rest. Now, I know it would be hard to say that as an infant he was thinking this or that. Yet last week while my wife – his mama – was chaperoning a youth mission trip for my daughter, every audible car noise from the street brought, “Are Mama and Keri home?” Every buzz on my phone brought questions whether it was his mama on the other end. And, as hard as he tried to play it cool when we picked them up at the church when they got back, everything was right in his world once his mama was home.
Expectantly setting one’s mind on Christ shows devotion. But, more than that, it is a connection between the one you confessed as Lord and the life you actually live. And when He appears – when He returns, He comes to take you with Him. And those who are His will be ready.
It is so easy to regiment our lives to fit everything that we want. We can schedule and plan. There are immovable commitments in our lives that will trump anything that comes up. I can be in the middle of something that has everything else in my schedule detouring around it and have it all upended with a single emergency call or text from my wife or kids. In that moment, everything else pales in comparison. The immovable becomes movable.
But how does God fit in my life? Is time with Him immovable in my schedule? I learned – and sadly later than I should have – that there are times that, if I do not schedule time with my wife I will run out of time – the same with my kids. I felt bad initially because it seems so impersonal to schedule things as important as time with my wife and kids. Then, I realized that it is better to schedule than miss something important and that was the reason I had a calendar in the first place – to ensure that important things do not get missed.
I must do the same with for my time with the Lord – in His Word and praying. It has become part of my daily routine (which I know also sounds impersonal). And, if I do not start my day in His Word and in prayer – if I do not set my mind on Him at the very beginning of my day, I will be off. I will be more like the old self than the new.
Important things are set. They are fixed.
And so, it must be for the minds of those who claim to be saved.
If you are reading this and find that you have no desire to set your mind on Christ or that you can make it through days or weeks or months or years without caring about spending time with Him in His Word or praying to Him, there is a problem. Remember that conditional if. If you are His, you will seek Him. If you are His, you will desire to spend time with Him. If you are His, there will have to come a time when you are set – fixed – on Him. It is conditional. Know I am praying for you. I am praying for you to have a desire to meet God in His Word and talk to Him. I am praying for His Spirit to help you set your mind on Him and seek Him while He may be found. And, if you come to realize that you are not in Him, know that I would love to talk with you and pray for you. I would love to introduce you to Jesus.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:1–4.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).