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.
We have come to a turning point in the letter to the Colossians. We have walked through the parts of this letter where the apostle Paul refutes the error being taught in the Colossian church. He has just finished his argument, proving the power and sufficiency of God’s provision for His people in Christ. Everything God’s people need for life and godliness is found in Christ.
In this new section he will now be explaining the expected result of that provision in the life of one who has trusted in Christ. Paul is saying, “If what I have argued for is true, namely, that you already have everything you need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus, then here is what your new life in Christ should look like.”
Paul’s Summary Statement: you have been raised with Christ
Let’s work through the text.
Paul’s first statement here, summarizes what he has just finished arguing for:
“If then you have been raised with Christ…”
Paul has labored to show that when a person trusts in Jesus they are united to Him. And that union means that his death becomes their death and His resurrection becomes their resurrection and His life becomes their life. This doctrine of union with Christ is so deep and so precious and so practical, that I think it is important that we pause and think for a moment about it again.
What is life?
In biology people study living organisms. According to one dictionary, life is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”
We, who are not biologists, might not be able to articulate all the precise functions necessary for life but I think most of us would say we recognize life when we see it. We recognize the difference between something that is living and something that is dead. I think most of us consider life valuable. And I think most everyone would consider the life of another human being especially valuable.
But the secular world really has no way of accounting for why we would consider the life of a human baby more valuable than the life of ant or the life of a bacterium. The best the world can say is people tend to value things like themselves. But to say that, is simply to admit that there truly is no intrinsic value to human life, distinct from bacteria. It’s only preference.
What is life? More specifically what is human life?
Are we just physical matter, with no real difference from a slug or a leaf? If the only definition you have for life is a biological one, than you cannot begin to understand the message of the bible.
Jesus defines life in John chapter 17 and he does not use biological terms. Turn there.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
Is Jesus simply saying that He has been given authority to give perpetual biological function to all that the Father has given Him? No. Listen to verse 3
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Life, according to Jesus, is about knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Human beings are not just physical bodies and life is not just biological function.
Listen to Matthew 12:7 as it helps us build a biblical understanding of life.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Human beings have a spirit as well a body. We are not just a bundle of physical material. We have an immaterial part of us, which people cannot see or touch. But God can.
So it is not sufficient to look merely at the biological evidence of life. In fact, the bible says that there is a very real sense in which everyone since Adam is born dead.
We read in Genesis 2:15-17
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
But as we read on in that narrative, we find that Adam and Eve did not die physically on that day. In fact, God promised that one day a seed would come from the women who would crush Satan’s head (Gen 3:15) and we are told in Genesis 3:21 that God made them garments of skins and clothed them and then drove them out of the garden. They did not die physically that day. But they did die that day.
When Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God and chose instead to follow the word of Satan, they cut themselves off from life. They stopped giving God the honor and glory that He alone deserves as the Creator and Sustainer of their lives and instead, they fell in love with the idea of being like God. They fell into sin and cut themselves off from life. They died spiritually.
If you follow the OT narrative you find this description of dead humanity in Genesis 6:5
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Adam and Eve are the parents of a sinful humanity. And so they are the parents of a dead humanity.
And David testifies in Psalm 51:5
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”
The testimony of the Scriptures is that even our new born babies come into this world in sin and so in death.
This is why Paul say in Ephesians 2:1-3
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Paul makes some amazing statements here. He is claiming that all of mankind is walking around dead in trespasses and sins even as people have biologically functioning bodies.
(Though even our physical bodies illustrate this spiritual reality: our physical bodies unfailingly deteriorate and die. Everyone’s body, given enough time, will express the spiritual reality of being cut off from God and return to dust.)
So, Paul claims that all of mankind is dead by nature even while we live biologically. We are born into this world as children of wrath. We walk around as dead people – cut off from the life of God because of sin.
Why am I spending all this time unpacking spiritual death?
It is because I think we are so prone to forget, that to be truly alive is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. There are millions of people who think that they are living life. There are millions of people who think that life consists only in the experiences and pleasures and stuff of this world and of these bodies.
They think that the “good life” has to do with a safe community and a moral society and a healthy economy and opportunity for financial success and affordable health care and cheap and healthy food and the restraining of dangerous people in the world and a happy marriage and adjusted children. That is all they think about.
Well, you can have all those things without… one thought… for your Creator. Life is not first about anything you can put your hands on. Life is not first about peace between each other. Life is not about functional physical bodies. Life is about knowing God. See and loving and honoring God for who He is. We were created to behold the glory of the LORD. And without that, you do not have life.
Psalm 16:11 tells us the path to life:
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Life is to see and savor God, to be in His presence and at his right hand where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forever! God is the source of life and joy and fullness. To know God is to be alive, even if your biological functions fail.
Dead By Nature, Alive by the Gospel:
But the biblical testimony is that we are not alive by nature. We don’t see and love and honor God. We are sinners. Our thinking has become futile and our hearts foolish and our minds darkened by sin (Romans 1:21). We do not honor God or give Him thanks, by nature.
But Paul has labored in Colossians to show us that God has not left us in that natural state of death.
God has made a way to give life to those who deserve only death, in Jesus Christ. Paul has made the argument that Christians are those who have been united to Jesus such that when Jesus died He absorbed the wrath of God that was against us. There is no more condemnation for those in Christ Jesus; the sin nature has been rendered powerless to condemn us. And when we are united to Jesus by faith His resurrection from the dead becomes our resurrection from the dead.
We who were dead in trespasses God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.
So when Paul says, in our passage this morning, “If then you have been raised with Christ…” he is not playing games with words. He is talking about a spiritual reality. If you have come to understand that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s wrath and you have renounced that sin in repentance and thrown yourself upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, if you have trust in Jesus Christ as your sufficient Savior, then you are… alive.
You have been given new birth. You are born from above. Paul is saying that you are a brand-new creation. Once you were a dead person walking around in a body that would soon follow. Now you are a living person – you have been given spiritual eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Your heart had been made new so that you are sensitive to the things of God – you have come to know God and to be known by God – you are alive. And even when your body fails it will rise again.
An Expected Result of Life:
Paul says if that is true, then there are expected results that come from that life. What does he say?
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
The heart of a believer is a heart made alive. We should not be among those who see the world in merely horizontal terms. We, of all people, should not any longer be among those who are passionately pursuing the pleasures and experiences and passions that this world can afford as if life where found here.
We are those who have been give spiritual eyes to see that there is a vertical reality, a spiritual reality – that life is found in God and from God and is for the glory of God. We know that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions on earth.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Paul says if you have been made alive, raised with Christ, seek the things that are above. Seek with your life the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. That is what Paul says here. “…seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
To be at the right hand of God is to be in the place of preeminence. Christ is the King of kings. He is the Lord of the New Creation. Seek the things of the kingdom of Christ with your new life.
Paul goes on in verse 2,
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
If you have been made alive by Christ set your mind, that is place your undivided attention upon, fix your priority on things above, not on things that are on the earth.
Is Paul here saying that we should not care about anything in this world? Is Paul saying we should all quit our jobs, move to a monastery, and care nothing for what goes on upon this planet? No. Paul is going to continue to tease these ideas out latter in this chapter and the next and he emphatically does not mean abandoning the earth. In fact he will say that if your mind is set on things above you will be a better wife, a better husband, a better son or daughter, a better father, a better bondservant, a better master. Paul says that this mind, which is fixed on things above, expresses itself here!
What Paul is talking about is fixing our attention upon the spiritual realities. Are your thoughts earthbound? Are your eyes fixed upon only what you can see here? Are you filling your mind with what the world has to offer? Or are your eyes opened and your mind set upon the spiritual reality brought to you by Christ?
This is where the rubber meets the road. Where is your attention fixed?
As Paul Tripp has reminded us: David did not compare himself with the size and strength of Goliath, rather he compared Goliath with the size and strength of his God – so we are to set our minds on things above not on things that are on the earth.
If you have been raised with Christ – the entire world must be reinterpreted in light of what you now know to be true.
Set your mind on things that are above and not on things that are on the earth…
…because, as Paul tells us in verse 3 and 4:
“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.”
The spiritual reality is this: if you are trusting in Christ, you, have already passed from death to life and your new life is safely hidden with Christ, in God.
Your life does not consist merely, nor even mainly, in the biological functions of your body – your life is in God! Hidden with Christ! And this verse says that when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Even if your physical body have been dead and buried for long ages you will appear with him in glory because Jesus Christ is the hope of glory and you are in Christ by faith.
Am I suggesting that our physical bodies don’t matter? Or that we should look forward to being purely spirit without any physical body? No. The Bible speaks about a new heavens and earth (Isaiah 65 and 66; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1) and it speaks about the dead being physically raised in the future (1 Cor 15). And listen to Paul is Romans 8:22-25:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience
No, Paul would not suggest that our physical bodies don’t matter. They do. We were created physical beings and it is these physical bodies that we are now eagerly awaiting the redemption of. But even as we groan in this fallen world and in these fallen bodies, it is here that we live out our new life in Christ. It is in the realm of the physical world and in these physical bodies that we now live as new creatures, awaiting the day when our Lord will appear.
The age to come has broken in to this age as you have been brought from death to life. Yes, there is an element of already we are fully alive, but not yet as we will be. We are waiting the redemption of our bodies, but we are alive.
Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
What have we learned? Well, Paul has argued in this letter that the false teachers were clueless about the depths of their problem and about the glory of God’s provision. Because they thought their problem was surface level and external they set about to fix the problem with surface level cures and external regulations. It seems that they though to added Jesus to their self-made religion.
But, Paul has called the true believes back to the truth about their infinitely deep need and about God’s infinitely sufficient provision in Christ.
And what Paul has done this morning is to turn the corner. He had been arguing for the truth of the gospel and showing the impotence of everything else to deal with our deep spiritual need. All that has been established. Here, in this section, Paul has described the expected result of the gospel.
“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.”
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation. Your eyes have been opened. Your heart has been softened. The expected result is that you and I will see the universe in terms of that spiritual reality. We will see that God is at the center of all things, that life is found in him. And so we will seek, not the passing pleasures this life, but the glory of God in all things. We must not fix our eyes upon this world as if God did not exist. Your life and all it’s circumstances should be seen, not in terms of the physical only – but in terms of who you are in Christ, in terms of where life and joy and fullness are really found, and in terms of where you are going when Christ appears.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (that is lasting only a short time), but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Brother and sisters, if then you have been made alive by Christ seek the things that are above.
Where is your attention fixed? What are you filling your mind with? What do you spend your time thinking about? What are you pursuing? Where is your treasure?
Fix your mind on who you now are in Christ. Fix your mind on where life and joy and fullness are really found. And fix your mind upon where you will be ten-thousand ages from now because of Christ Jesus. And then go face Goliath.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys. Visit Windham Bible Chapel.