On August 22nd, 2010, I had the privilege of preaching a message titled Be Heavenly Minded, It Only Leads to Earthly Good, at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. Sunday’s sermon looked at Colossians 3:1-4 and the necessity of keeping our focus heavenward.
Here’s the audio:
You can also download an MP3 here.
The original sermon notes follow:
The last time we were together, we looked at Psalm 63. And we learned what David’s inspired prayer teaches us about the heart of spiritual abundance—that as we seek God, as we worship Him, we become satisfied by Him and because we are satisfied by Him, we can rejoice in Him, regardless of our circumstances.
The key to all of this is being Christ-centered in our worship and our lives. That everything is to be focused on Him.
But since the last time we were together, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about one thing:
Do we really understand how important it is to be focused on Christ?
Let me tell you the story of a man named Martin.
Martin was the son of simple parents, and his father’s desire was that Martin should become a lawyer. Dutifully, Martin obeyed his father and began attending law school.
However, one day as he made the trek back to the university, Martin was caught in a fierce storm. And on that day, Martin made a vow: “If You will allow me to survive, I shall become a monk!” Sure enough, the storm cleared, and Martin was on his way home to break the news to his father. He gave up his education and felt the disdain of his father to become an Augustinian monk.
That man was Martin Luther.
Years later, as a university professor, Luther studied the Scriptures and was confronted by the disparity between what the Church taught and what the Bible said—that man was justified by faith alone, through Christ alone and not through works of penance.
And once again, he gave up everything—his position in the university and his standing in the Catholic Church and in his order—in order to pursue Christ.
Branded a heretic by the Church, plagued by spiritual and human opposition, and mental & physical illness, Luther kept his focus on Christ—his gaze was fixed heavenward. And he was instrumental in transforming the entire world.
Now, I’m not a guy like Martin Luther. I’m not likely to be transforming the Church anytime soon—I sincerely doubt that God has that in store for me. And the interesting thing is that Luther wasn’t a guy like Luther. He didn’t set out trying to start the Protestant Reformation—his desire was to point men and women back to the truth of Scripture and a life of ongoing repentance.
But sometimes God has other plans, doesn’t He?
There’s something important for us to grasp in all of this; that is, that there’s something significant about keeping our focus on Christ.
So going back to the question—do we understand the importance of being focused on Christ?
And what does Scripture have to teach us on this issue?
Let’s take a look at Colossians chapter 3, particularly at verses one through four. These verses are going to guide our time together and will teach us more about why it’s so important to keep our eyes on Christ:
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.
No doubt you’ve all heard the expression, “He’s too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” I don’t know about you, but usually when I hear this, I get this image of a guy with a pocket protector and tape on his glasses with his head stuck in his Bible, spending far too much time with charts and graphs devoted to discovering the exact moment of Christ’s return, and not nearly enough in the sun.
Why do I think like this? Besides the fact that I struggle with a horribly depraved—and creative—mind, I think it’s just the reality that I too often buy into the stereotype that those who frequently say things like “he’s too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” are selling.
That we’ve got to be focused on the immediate; live in the now! And anything else, well… you’ve got to get your head out of the clouds.
Yet, Paul’s teaching us something different here, isn’t he?
It seems to me that what Paul’s commanding us is this:
Be heavenly minded because it leads only to earthly good
That’s different, isn’t it?
So where do we start?
You Must Be Raised with Christ
Let’s take a look at verse one. Paul writes:
If then you have been raised with Christ—
Let’s stop there for a second. “If then you have been raised with Christ.” We need to back up a couple of pages in our Bible for some context.
The Church at Colossae is believed to have been founded during the Apostle Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus; according to Col. 1:7, a man named Epaphras who was a disciple of Paul and a Colossian, began sharing the gospel in his community. Although the church began strong, a dangerous false teaching took hold—one required Paul’s intervention.
So Paul writes to the Colossians, explaining to the church, in essence, the grand story of Salvation—focusing especially on the question:
Who is Jesus Christ?
It’s no exaggeration to say that there is no question more fundamental to our existence than this one. So what does Paul tell us?
In v. 1:15, Paul says Jesus “is image of the invisible God;” this means that He—in His incarnation—perfectly makes known everything that can be known about God—because He IS God. It’s why he says in v. 19, that “in [Jesus] the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
This is Old Testament language, intended to remind his hearers of the glory of God filling the temple and the tabernacle. The reason that the fullness of God was please to dwell in Him—He is perfect, holy, sinless—He is God.
Paul also tells us that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation”—that term “firstborn” doesn’t mean He is a created being as some false religions, including Mormonism, would tell you; it’s a legal term referring to authority and inheritance.
All authority has been given to Jesus. Why?
Because all things were created by Him and through Him and for Him. “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Now just think about that for a second—everything you see right now. The person sitting next to you. The chair you’re sitting on. This room. This town. This planet. All of it.
Jesus is holding all of it together.
Nothing happens without His explicit permission. And Paul reminds us of this again in chapter 3:1 when he tells us that Christ is seated at the right hand of God. It’s a position of authority.
That’s what he’s getting at when he says that “in everything he might be preeminent.” It means there’s no authority in heaven, on earth or under the earth—nothing that can wield authority over Jesus.
Death has no hold on Him. Satan can’t defeat Him. We cannot, ultimately, defy Him.
In Col. 1:20, Paul concludes by saying that it was through Jesus that God “[reconciled] to himself all things… making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Because of all these things—that Christ is the image of the invisible God, that Christ holds all authority, that Christ is perfect, sinless, and holy… because of these things, Christ’s blood, shed on the cross, is sufficient to make peace between God and mankind.
So, back to Col. 3:1—“If then you have been raised with Christ…”
What is Paul getting at?
What he’s telling us when he starts off by saying “If then you have been raised with Christ” is this:
You must be raised with Christ to seek the things above.
You must be born again, to have, as Psalm 34:8 says, “tasted and seen that the Lord is good.” To be made a new creation in Christ.
Why? Why do I need to be raised with Christ? Why does it matter? Can’t I do what I want? I’m a good person. I’ve never murdered anyone. I don’t steal (much). I don’t lie (all the time).
That just seems to… exclusive, doesn’t it?
Why do I have to be raised with Christ in order to seek the things that are above?
In Colossians 2:13-14, Paul explains it this way:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Everything else hinges on this. You must be raised with Christ in order to seek the things above—in order to worship Jesus, to be made righteous in the sight of God. At the cross, Jesus took the debt that we owe God—our sin that deserves His wrath and an eternity in Hell—and He says, “It’s paid!”
Do you remember in John 19:30 how Jesus, on the cross, cries out, “It is finished!”
It is finished! Jesus says, “I’ve done it! You are clean! You are forgiven! I have taken the death you deserved so that you may have life!”
That’s why it matters so much! That’s why it’s such a big deal. That’s why you can’t seem to go more than a few verses in any of the New Testament epistles without Christ’s death and resurrection coming up.
So you must be raised with Christ to seek the things above.
If you are not, then you are still dead in your trespasses and you have no hope.
You Must Set Your Mind on Christ
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.
If we have been raised with Christ, Paul issues the following command:
Seek the things that are above. It’s so important that he says it twice:
…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.
Okay, so what does that mean? In seven words, it’s this:
You must set your mind on Christ.
The false teaching that Paul addressed in this letter appears to be a synthesis of Jewish and pagan folk belief; what scholars believe happened at Colossae was that a shaman-like figure was presenting himself as a Christian spiritual guide; a mystic likely claiming to have superior insight into the spiritual realm and therefore advising the Christians there to perform certain rites and rituals to protect themselves from evil spirits and for their deliverance from affliction.
They’re being told to practice asceticism; to deny themselves certain food or drink.
To practice the Jewish festivals and the Sabbath.
To worship angels.
To experience visions of spiritual things.
Paul gives us detail into this teaching in Col. 2 and says that the one passing judgment upon the Colossian believers for not practicing these things does so because he is puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.
What all of this amounts to, this insistence on asceticism, the worship of angels and going on about visions… These are all attempts to justify oneself.
To earn salvation through man-made effort and through ecstatic experience.
This still exists today, and sadly, it’s still masquerading as Christianity. There are charlatans who pose as men of God, but instead of pointing men and women to Jesus, put on a big show talking about how they punched a demon out of a person and visited Paul’s cottage in the third heaven.
Yet these guys draw a crowd. Why?
Because this is the fundamental bend of the human spirit—we don’t want to seek after the things above, because we’re too busy trying to be our own gods.
To be the masters of our own destinies.
It’s the lie from Genesis 3—the lie that Satan told our first parents, that led us into the sorry state we find ourselves in.
So we deprive ourselves physically or we indulge ourselves in all sorts of excess, and try to whip ourselves up into a sort of spiritual frenzy… all to try to justify ourselves before God.
But, again, Paul says, “seek the things that are above… Set your mind on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
For us, this means that we pursue greater knowledge of Christ; we grow in our affection for Him. We seek to live like Him and for Him. We see this elsewhere in Scripture where Jesus tells us that we are “to seek first the kingdom of heaven.” Where Paul tells us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).
So what does that look like for us? How does the command to set our minds on Christ play out, practically?
First and foremost, we read our Bibles. We study the Scriptures, seeking to know, not simply what God wants us to do, but who God is. In Joshua 1:8, God commands, “You shall meditate on [the Book of the Law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”
Elsewhere in the Psalms, the imagery presented is consuming the Word as though it were the finest of food.
As we do this, we grow in our love for Christ, we want to be like Him. It transforms how we live. And it allows us to turn away from earthly things.
So, you must set your mind on Christ.
You Must Know That You Have Died with Christ
Paul writes in verse 2-3:
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.
As we’ve talked about, when we set our minds on the things that are above—when we set our minds on Christ—we begin to realize that not only has Christ died for us, but we have died with Christ.
That’s the next thing that Paul is telling each of us:
You must know that you have died with Christ.
That sounds like a strange thing, doesn’t it?
You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
But we’re all here. We’re breathing. We’re all able to get up and move and think and speak.
Yet, Paul, who earlier said that we were dead in our trespasses, tells us that we are dead.
What does he mean?
When Paul commands us to not set our minds on things that are on earth because we have died, he is telling us that sin no longer has power over us if our lives have been hidden with Christ.
More simply, where we were once dead to God, because Christ has died for us, we are now dead to sin.
Now if that’s true, does that mean that we no longer sin?
Obviously that’s not the case. Every day, in thought, word and deed, we sin in countless ways. First John tells us that if anyone says he does not sin, he is a liar and the spirit of God is not in him. So being dead to sin, doesn’t mean that we are no longer capable of sin—what the Scriptures call “the flesh,” our sinful nature—it’s still with us, tempting us to sin every moment of every day.
But knowing that we have died with Christ allows us to turn from sin and to pursue Christ.
Jump down to Col. 3:5. Here Paul gets really practical in what he means when he tells us to turn away from the things that are one earth—
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
What Paul says here is that when we set our minds on the things above, when we understand that we are dead to sin in Christ, we can now put to death sin in our lives. And he gives us this laundry list of sin:
Sexual immorality. Impurity. Passion. Evil desire. Covetousness, which, he says, is idolatry. And he goes on: put away anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk, and do not lie to one another.
Here’s the big idea: All sin, no matter how big or small it may seem, is worthy of God’s wrath. And all of us were subject to condemnation. But because Christ has died and risen again, we are free from wrath.
More than that, we are free to pursue righteousness! In verse 12, Paul writes:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
This, friends, is where being heavenly minded bears fruit—when Christ is our focus, when we seek the things that are above, when we are consumed with Him and He is preeminent in our lives—it leads us to not simply put sin to death, but to pursue godliness. Increasing knowledge of Christ—and of our position as God’s chosen ones—leads us to become compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient and forgiving.
The complaint of those who say “he’s too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” is that those who focus on Christ aren’t paying attention to the needs of others or the daily affairs of the world. But what Paul says here is that it’s only when our focus is on Christ that it’s even possible for us to care for the needs of others!
In other words, earthly good only, truly, comes from being heavenly minded! Is that not a glorious truth?
To be heavenly minded—to pursue Christ, to seek the things that are above, you must know that you have died with Christ.
You Must Look Forward to Life with Christ
Finally, there’s one more way these truths bear fruit in our lives. Take a look at verse four:
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
If we have been raised with Christ, are to be set on the things that are above—Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father. Because our minds are set on Christ, because we have died with Christ, we can put aside sin and actually pursue righteousness—but there’s a reward. There’s a hope, a promise that comes with all of this:
Christ is coming back. And if we have been raised with Him, we will stand with Him in glory at the end of the age.
This is the final thing that Paul teaches us in this passage:
You must look forward to life with Christ!
Remember when Paul said that Christ was the firstborn of the dead? He’s reminding us of the promise. Christ’s resurrection is a tangible reminder that sin has been defeated and there is no condemnation for those who believe in Jesus. When Paul says in Col. 3:4 that Christ is our life, this is what he’s talking about—Jesus is our hope and we can wait in confident expectation of His resurrection.
It’s why we also read in John 11:25, before the resurrection of Lazarus, that Jesus declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
If Christ is your life, your hope, your joy, and your reward—you can look forward to Christ’s return with confident expectation. Why?
Because we will be resurrected as well!
We will have eternal life, free from sin, free from sickness, free from death and free from the wrath of God.
In Philippians 3:21, Paul writes that at the end, when Christ returns, He “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. “
We will be like Him, with resurrected bodies that will never die.
We will not be subject to the futility of this world any longer.
We will see Jesus face-to-face.
And we will be with Him in glory.
You must look forward to life with Christ—it drives everything we do. Without this hope, without this promise of being resurrected with Christ, we can expend all the effort we want. We can deprive ourselves of all the wonderful gifts God has given us in creation. We can indulge to excess. We can go on about visions and all of our accomplishments… but in the end, it will all fail.
It leaves us without the hope that comes only from knowing that Christ is coming back, and we will be with Him.
It’s this hope that the Bible, in its final passages, leaves us with. The book of Revelation is one that’s hard for us to understand—we don’t understand the imagery and sometimes it’s easier just to avoid it than to really look at what it says. But here’s the thing: Surrounding all the peculiar imagery surrounding the end of this world, the second coming of Christ and the day of Judgment, we are shown pictures of great multitudes of believers dressed in white, all together crying out, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
He tells us of the new heaven and the new earth, with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven where we will live in glory with Christ forever. And Jesus from his throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new!”
John records the final words of Jesus in Scripture. Here’s what he says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
“I am coming soon,” says Jesus.
And what is John’s response?
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Does that fill you with excitement? He’s coming back! Will we join John in saying, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”
Friends, that is to be our hope. If we have been raised with Christ, pursue Christ; if Christ is your life, you must look forward to life with Christ.
By way of conclusion, I want you to consider the following questions
- Are you raised with Christ? Have you truly been born again—been made a new creation in Christ?
- Are you seeking the things that are above, or are you content to focus on the things of this world?
- Do you understand that because you have died with Christ, you are dead to sin? Is there a sin that I need to confess today? That I need to put to death?
- Are you looking forward to life with Christ? Are you filled with confident expectation and joy at the thought of eternity with Christ? Does your heart long to say, “Come, Lord Jesus”?
Friends, this is what it means to be focused on Christ. This is what it means to be heavenly minded.
And being heavenly minded only leads to earthly good.
So pursue Christ. Know that, if you have been raised with Christ, you are free from the futile pursuits of this world. Know that you cannot earn your way into salvation; that Christ has paid for it all and you are free to pursue righteousness. And look forward to life with Christ in eternity.