Thank you, Whitney W., for your amazing ability to allow God to speak through you to the women you teach.
By Whitney W.
Today we are studying Colossians 3:1-4. This passage serves as a transition from Paul’s argument against the false teacher(s) and their worldly philosophy to the ethical demands of the new people of God who partake in the heavenly realm. In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul actually summarizes his previous argument from 2:9-23 (you have died with Christ) while simultaneously looking forward to the exhortations of 3:5-4:6 (now live for Christ). Thus, this passage is the pivotal point of the entire letter, making it an important piece in our pursuit to understand and apply the book of Colossians.
As we read/listen to it, pay close attention to the indicatives and imperatives throughout. Indicative = statement of fact; something that is true. Imperative = command; expresses an order (Remember—The Bible always tells you what’s TRUE before it tells you what to DO!). Also, pay attention to the past, present, and future tenses throughout. All of these pieces make for a very rich, full text!
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 will also appear with him in glory.
BIG IDEA: Your whole life is to be centered on the risen and exalted Christ because of your union with him in his death, resurrection, and return.
- Your whole life should be centered on the risen and exalted Christ…(v. 1-2)
- …Because of your union with him in his death, resurrection, and return (v. 3-4).
- Your whole life should be centered on the risen and exalted Christ (v. 1-2).
In verses 1-2 Paul commands believers (the Colossians then/us now) to “seek the things that are above” and to “set their minds on the things that are above” (this is the imperative). This naturally lends itself to the question, “What are the things above?” Does this mean Paul is advocating some type of pious, religious escapism? Are we supposed to be thinking solely about heaven at the expense of neglecting everything on earth? And if we were to do that, what are the things of heaven and how do we know what to think about it? If Paul was teaching this, how was it any different from the false teacher(s) that he is condemning? This is something to think about. I’ve had a lot of unbelievers or new believers ask me about this passage, “What are the things above?” and I think it’s a great question!
Paul clarifies exactly what the “things above” are—it is “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1) rather than those things that are “on earth” (v. 2). He isn’t making a point about spatial dimensions here nor advocating an escapism mentality in regards to this world. And he definitely isn’t commanding them to seek a “higher, mystical experience” as the false teachers were doing. Instead, he’s urging believers to center their lives WHOLLY ON CHRIST. They are to understand that their entire identities are bound up in Jesus Christ. Their thought lives, their attitudes, their values, their hopes, their goals, their dreams, their finances, their resources….their entire LIVES are to be oriented towards the risen and exalted Lord. His point in simplest terms is SEEK CHRIST!
And where is Christ? Paul says, “seated at the right hand of God” (v. 1). This speaks to Jesus’ ascension and exaltation; what theologians call his “heavenly session.” The “right hand of God” is like “Bible shorthand” for Christ’s absolute rule and reign over all the universe. We know from passages like Philippians 2:5-11 that Christ lowered himself and made himself nothing for a time, taking on the form of a servant and being made in human likeness to accomplish salvation for mankind. He lived a perfect human life, died a substitutionary death, and then rose from the dead in vindication of his message. Jesus then ascended and was welcomed into the Father’s presence, sitting down at his right hand—a dramatic sign his redemptive work was accepted and complete. He received a new honor and authority unique to his identity as the glorified God-man. At this time he became enthroned as the exalted King vested with divine authority to reign as Lord. He now rules over kings and kingdoms, over creation and chaos, over demons and darkness. No sphere of life exists where Christ is not Lord of all and Lord over all.
This is clear in the whole letter to the Colossians, isn’t it? We know that he is the firstborn over all creation, he is creator of all things (visible and invisible), he is before all things, in him all things hold together, he is head of church…he is preeminent over ALL things. Paul speaks several times to Jesus’ absolute rule and reign over worldly powers and demonic powers. He sits at Father’s right hand and rules over all realms, including YOUR life. Paul commands us to center our lives upon the enthroned Messiah! He possesses all power and authority and we are to look to him as our greatest source of life. We are to submit ourselves to his cosmic, sovereign rule.
This means that your entire life (your story, identity, relationships, sexual orientation, finances, goals, vacations, work, etc.) must be ordered around your confession that Jesus is Lord. So how’s that going? It’s a good practice to consistently check in: Is Jesus Lord over this relationship? Is Jesus Lord over this desire? Is Jesus Lord over this spending? Is Jesus Lord over these thoughts? Is Jesus Lord over my eating? Is Jesus Lord over my parenting? Is Jesus Lord over this work? ***TAKE TIME TO DISCUSS THIS IN YOUR GROUPS.
This submission stands in stark contrast to allowing earthly things to dominate our minds, hearts, and affections. Particular to the Colossians Paul surely has the worldly philosophy (of demonic origin) in view. However, I think the enduring principle is that ANY earthly thing that detracts from a Christ-centered perspective is to be brought into “check.” These could be good or bad things. For example: Loving your children is good but an all-consuming obsession to get them to behave a certain way or to get into a certain school or to date a certain person could become sinful. Wanting to get healthy is good but an all-consuming desire to have perfect diet, perfect body, perfect workout could become sinful. Wanting to better a relationship is good but an all-consuming desire to fix or save that person could become sinful. Paul isn’t saying don’t care about those things or invest time/resources into those things. Instead, in the midst of real life, he’s saying—FOCUS ON JESUS.
***The point is that every area of your life is to be captivated by and centered on Jesus Christ, our risen and exalted Lord, rather than being captive to earthly things.***
Why? Why should we seek to orient our entire lives around Jesus?
- …Because of your union with him in his death, resurrection, and return (v. 3-4).
This is where we look at the indicatives—those things that are TRUE. Paul bases his imperative command upon several indicatives. He doesn’t give a command and then tell us to “try our best.” He presents the commands as the only logical conclusion of our new life in Christ. We have been united to Christ and because of that union our lives will be different! Paul says we are united with him in his death, we are united with him in his resurrection, and we will be united with him at his final appearance. These indicative statements are the basis for or grounds of his exhortation to seek Christ.
You have died with Christ (v. 1, 3).
Why does Paul tell us to seek things above? “For” (purpose statement) you have DIED with Christ (v. 3)! Not only that, you have been raised with Christ (v.1). At conversion, when you put your faith in Jesus, you literally died to the old self, the old man. That person no longer exists. Paul reasons from this logic. We live for the things above because you can’t continue to live for something you already died to…You cannot live for things you already died to. That’s his argument back in 2:20. He asks them why they were submitting to worldly ways that they had already died to!
Have you ever thought about that in your own life? When you go back to old habitual patterns that aren’t Christ-centered, you are trying to live for something that you already DIED to. When you take on a perspective other than a Christ-centered perspective, you are living as if you haven’t already died to the old man. When you start falling back into old sinful patterns— lusting after another person, coveting your friend’s life, yelling uncontrollably at your children, being cutting to your spouse, you have to stop and think, “Wait, I died to that.” It’s a whole mental shift from the ways of the old person to the ways of the new person in Christ.”
You have been RAISED with Christ (v. 1).
You seek the things above because you have been raised with Christ. This is pretty amazing theological reality. The NT testimony is that we have LITERALLY, not symbolically, been SPIRITUALLY raised with Christ. Upon conversion, you are spiritually resurrected to new life NEVER to die again. Of course, we will die physically and experience a physical resurrection at Christ’s second coming. But-that doesn’t mean our new life in Christ (being “raised”) is symbolic. This is the “already/not yet” tension of the NT. The idea of having new life at the end of the age was very common belief. This was called the eschaton or the end of this age, the final cataclysmic day when Yahweh would do away with death forever and bring about the new age. However, what wasn’t understood was that the new age would break in before the final (capital D) day. When Jesus came the new age broke into the present age. The new age or the resurrection life has already broke into our present through Jesus’ work! We’ve experienced the inbreaking of that eternal kingdom (although it has yet to be consummated at his second coming). At the time of conversion, we are raised to new life and seated in the heavenly places even NOW.
This has massive implications for how you live your life—We have resurrection power to center our lives on Christ in this age! Oftentimes, we are a very defeated people. We are “dirty sinners” who can never do anything right. I think sometimes we even feel more pious for acting like horrible sinners. But this isn’t NT testimony. The witness of the Scriptures is that we have been raised to life and now have the power to life for Jesus. When Paul tells us to seek the things above he isn’t giving some lofty command we’ll never be able to obey. He is saying “because you have resurrection life in Christ, seek Christ!”
Of course it doesn’t always feel like we have been raised with Christ and that we’re seated at the right hand of God. I think this is why it says we’re “hidden in Christ” (v. 3) During this time, in the tension of the already/but not yet we still struggle with sin. We still struggle to focus on Christ. We don’t always look like we’re sons of God who have been raised from the dead. We’re conditioned by the old man to think we HAVE to sin. But the beautiful thing about the resurrection life is that even now we are hidden in Christ. In the age between the ages, our lives are hidden or kept in Christ. When God sees us, he sees his perfect Son and his perfect work on our behalf. This is our identity now. Even when we stumble and fall we are in Jesus and the Father always look upon the Son with absolute love and acceptance.
But this isn’t forever. One day we will finally become who we were always meant to be.
We will appear with him in glory (v. 4).
We learn to center our lives on Jesus because one day we will appear with him in glory. This is the future truth that sustains us as we seek to work out our new life in the age that is passing away. Sometimes who we are in Christ is obscured, isn’t it? We struggle with the fact that it doesn’t look like we’re new people, it doesn’t look like we’ve been raised. This future truth gives us great hope that even though we don’t always center ourselves on Jesus or even though we don’t always live like we have resurrection power, we know that one day, at Jesus’ second coming, we will finally be (in every sense) who we are. We will be perfectly transformed into the image of Jesus and we will receive new, glorified bodies like Jesus. Right now what we are is hidden in Christ but there will come a time when it is revealed. When Jesus returns and we cast off these old broken bodies forever and our old sinful habits forever and we become glorified sons of God.
This same idea is expressed in Romans 8:19 when Paul says that the creation longs for the revealing of the sons of God. It’s also what John means in 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” Could be there any sweeter news? There is coming a future day when this old body of sin will be cast off forever and we will finally be like Jesus, transformed into his image with a new heart and a new body that will never sin again. We will be revealed as the renewed humans God always intended us to be. I love a quote by Peter O’Brien, “The day of the revelation of the Son of God will be the day of the revelation of the sons of God.” That day is coming.
It’s true and that future Day shapes our present days. That’s the point of the passage! Because of our union with Christ in his death, resurrection, and return we center of entire lives on him…Because we have died and been raised with Christ, because we are hidden in Christ, and because we will one day appear with Christ in glory, we daily choose to center our entire lives on Christ, our risen and exalted Lord.