Colossians 3:1-4, Christ Our Life

9 Aug

One of the most important parts of a door is its hinge. Without the hinge, the door is not useful. Colossians 3:1-4 is like the hinge on a door, everything turns on this. The first two chapters of Colossians were mainly doctrinal, laying out truth about Jesus and warning the church at Colossae not to give in to the false teachers who are trying to take them away from Christ. After Colossians 3:1-4, Paul turns to how to practically live as a follower of Christ. So this paragraph we are looking at today is a turning point and is the key to the whole letter.

This paragraph is both a contrast and a reminder. Paul has just been warning us in chapter two about foolish attempts at holiness. These are man-centered efforts to make our way to God and they never work. We always come up short when we try to make our own way. Instead, Paul reminds us to fix our eyes on the One he had so powerfully talked about in chapter one, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom. This mystery revealed, this supreme Christ who is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer, He is our focus, He is our goal, He is to be our life. This is the message of Colossians 3:1-4 – Don’t settle for cheap imitations when the real thing is right in front of you. Don’t chase shadows when you can have the reality.

But we are good at chasing shadows aren’t we? People chase shadows in all sorts of ways, looking for real life in all the wrong places. Some seek the Special Experience. They look for one decisive, dramatic moment when the Holy Spirit will work bringing life-long freedom from sin and the fullness of God. It seems some in Colossians were seeking this kind of experience, a higher plane that opened the door to a deeper life. I do believe there can be decisive spiritual breakthroughs in our lives, but none of these experiences lift us to a place where we no longer have to battle sin or seek God.

Others seek the shadow of Special Knowledge. They believe if they can go beyond the basic teachings about Christ they can unlock a door of understanding that will lead to a fulfilled life. They are looking for a new idea, some new thought to open up everything. It seems some in Colossae were attracted by this kind of approach. This is also a common approach in cults. If you look at groups that are offshoots of Christianity very often they are claiming some kind of special knowledge that the Church at large has missed.  So we must be careful to not chase the shadow of special knowledge.

Another shadow many people chase is the shadow of Ritual Observance. We see this in Colossians chapter 2 with the warnings about keeping festivals and Sabbaths. Many people believe that if they jump through all the right spiritual hoops, they will have freedom and fulfillment in God. So they may be very cautious about their behavior and even go beyond the Bible in defining right and wrong. They challenge here is that these people very often are not only seeking a dead end through ritual but they also look down on anyone who doesn’t share their view. We could see the Pharisees of Jesus’ day perhaps as falling into this category.

Others go the way of Self-Denial. They focus on finding life through fasting, cutting off desires, and having a dim view of the material world. There is a desire to live on a spiritual plane and escape worldly corruption. The Colossians seem to have struggled with this as we saw in chapter two, but Paul was very clear that these efforts at self-denial in and of themselves had no power to restrain the flesh. The Gnostics chose to do so. Spirituality had to be found beyond the world of things and persons. And so the body and desires associated with this world had to be denied.

Finally, many people try to find life through chasing the shadow of Pleasure. Some seek life through partaking of all the pleasures life has to offer. So they indulge their flesh, adopting the motto, “You Only Live Once.” While this is an obvious dead end, many people seek to throw off restraint and do what they want, thinking this will make them happy.

Now these things: the Special Experience, Special Knowledge, Ritual Observance, Self-Denial, and Pleasure, they all have an element of truth to them. This is why Paul calls them shadows, they are reflections of the real thing. But they are also like shadows because they lack any real substance of their own. All of these pathways for living leave us cold and empty in the end. Life is found in the reality: Christ. And so for the rest of our time we will put our focus on the reality and find our life in Him.

 Εἰ οὖν συνηγέρθητε τῷ Χριστῷ, τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε, οὗ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενος· 2 τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε, μὴ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

“If therefore you have been raised with Christ.” Remember the words of chapter 2 verse 20, “If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world.” So you died with Christ and you have been raised with Christ. The “if” here in both cases is an “if” which is assumed to be true. Some translations will even translate this as “since.” The point Paul is making is that all who have trusted Christ have died with Him and have been raised with Him. When we trusted Christ, this happened. We died with Him and were raised with Him. See, it has already happened, “you HAVE BEEN raised.” As Paul said in chapter 1 verse 13, God, “rescued us from darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

In coming to Christ, we died to the sin that held us down and separated us from God. We died to an eternity of hell. We died to being enslaved by our earthly nature. And we were raised to a new life where we get all the benefits listed in Romans 8: no condemnation, power for living, adoption into God’s family, coming glory in the presence of God, God’s good guidance through every trial of life and no separation from God’s love.

So through faith in Christ we have already died to sin and self and been raised with Christ to new life. But now we see here that we must seek the things which are above. We must become what we are. We must enter in to what we have already received. We must in our present experience pursue this life in Christ if we are to have the reality rather than the shadow.

It’s like someone who has a great talent and never uses it. It’s like a woman  who can really sing, just has a natural gifting, but never sings. She possesses the talent but she never enjoys it because she never puts it to use. The Christian life is intended to deeply shape you right now, today. But that only happens when we actively pursue what we already possess. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” “Ask, seek, knock.” There are all kinds of invitations in Scripture to seek God. What are we seeking today? Are we seeking shadows: ritual, pleasure, knowledge? Or are we seeking the things above?

The “things above” here are certainly not streets of gold or pearly gates or even beloved friends and family who have gone on before us. The “things above” here are kingdom things, rather than sinful things. At the heart of the book of Colossians is the question of what is at the center of our lives. Is your life Christ-centered or is it self-centered? To seek the things above means to increasingly have the priorities of God. To seek the things above means to walk in the behaviors given starting in verse 5, putting off sinful behaviors and putting on godliness in our attitudes and actions. So to seek the things above is not to become some kind of otherworldly, super-spiritual person, it is to live in this present world focused on Christ and dependent upon His power. As one author says, “Life in this world will be better if it is lived by a power beyond this world, the power of the resurrected, ascended, glorified Christ.”

You see, we worship the King of the Universe. Does it not follow that the One who reigns over all, who holds all in His sovereign hand, would be worthy of our allegiance, would be worthy to be the center of our lives? As John Piper has said, “Christ is like the sun, the blazing center of the solar system of our lives.” If the sun ceases to be at the center, the solar system is destroyed. And so for our lives. If we try to put the shadows at the center, all the little planets of our lives will fly off in a hundred directions and in the end our lives will crash into a million pieces.

We seek the things above because it is where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For the Christian, life is about Christ. Paul will say it later in this passage as he also said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ.” As the author of Hebrews urges us to throw off hindrances and run with perseverance fixing our eyes on Jesus. How much grief we bring ourselves by focusing on everything but Christ in the life of the church! We come as critics or judges or we come to elevate ourselves. We come for friendship but not for worship. And we wonder that our hearts feel cold. Focusing on Christ, seeking things above, is the key to everything. He is seated at the right hand of God. He has finished His work of redemption and the risen, ascended Jesus has taken His place on the throne. He is at God’s right hand, the place of power, the place of authority. Seek the things above.

In verse two Paul repeats himself, “set your mind on things above, not on the things of the earth.” Here we have a similar idea but with a slightly different focus. “Set your mind on things above.” Concentrate your concern, focus your energies, on things above. Why? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “Fix [your] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” So Paul told us here to seek the things above and to set our mind on things above. This is the picture of an athlete to me. There is the striving pursuit but also a deep concentration and focus.

When Paul tells us not to seek earthly things, he’s not telling us to avoid the world altogether. He has just told us in 2:20-23 that self-denial will by itself will never work to bring us to God. Again, Paul is saying here, don’t choose the shadows, follow the Son, Jesus.

One commentator says, “This command to set our minds on things above not on earthly things called the Colossians to focus on matters related to the rule of Christ in the world. Since he is the sovereign one, his concerns should occupy the Christian. While being a part of the fallen order, they were not to let that environment occupy their thoughts and minds. Their values were to be different. Creation will pass away; the things of God will remain. Before they pass away, however, they will again reflect the glory of Christ, their Creator. The Christians had the responsibility of seeking ways to make that happen here and now. Believers’ values and loves were to be focused on the rule of Christ, and consecrated energies were to be devoted to making that rule a reality on earth. In practice, this meant that the believers could not succumb to teachings which limited the focus of Christianity to this earth and its rituals. The task of the Colossian church was to call people to Christ and away from earthly things. It was to call people to life.”

So as followers of Jesus we get a new motivation and a new mind. So verses one and two are the command: seek Christ, set your mind on Christ. Verses 3 and 4 give us the reason for the command . . .

3 ἀπεθάνετε γὰρ καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν κέκρυπται σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ·

Set your mind on things above because you died. You died to the shadows of ritual and experience and knowledge and self-denial and pleasure and you have come to Christ. Set your mind on things above because your life is now hidden with Christ in God. This is a great mystery. We have died yet we live because our lives are hidden with Christ in God. What a turn of events that Jesus, who was the mystery hidden for long ages but now revealed, saves a people who are now hidden in Him. The “hidden” here of course is less about mystery and more about safe-keeping and protection. It is also about what we are yet to experience. Christ in you is the hope of glory. The glory that is to come is our hope. So being hidden in Christ gives us a foretaste of future glory and fills us with hope.

We have died to all the shadows: ritual and special knowledge and pleasure and special experience and self-denial. We know none of these things bring life apart from Christ. We died. Our focus is not self-effort but the person and work of Jesus Christ. Because of this reality, we can’t go back to the things we died to, we must focus our eyes on Christ, seek Him and set our minds on Him.

The second reason we must set our minds on Christ is in verse 4 . . .

4 ὅταν ὁ Χριστὸς φανερωθῇ, ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν, τότε καὶ ὑμεῖς σὺν αὐτῷ φανερωθήσεσθε ἐν δόξῃ.

We must set our minds on Christ because He is our life and because He is our destiny. The point of verse 3 is restated here in verse 4 . . . you died, your life is now hidden in Christ. So Christ is your life. So this passage is telling us to look upward to Christ and to look forward to His return. The Bible constantly tells us to look upward to God and forward to God’s plan and often it tells us to look back to what God has done. The one thing the Bible rarely tells us is to look within. But this is what our culture and all the shadows we looked at earlier tell us to do all the time. So we become self-focused and self-obsessed even in the pursuit of holiness. So I want to say to you today . . . stop pursuing holiness. Pursue Christ! And holiness will come. I know the book of Hebrews tells us to “strive for holiness” so I sound like I am contradicting the Bible. But remember the rest of Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” The point is seeing the Lord. The goal is seeing Jesus. So don’t get caught up in constantly taking your spiritual temperature or comparing yourself to other Christians you know. Just pursue Christ and live.

Eternal life is Christ and this life is Christ. Read the gospel of John and you will see those truths everywhere. Christ is our life. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12).

Someone has said, “Life is what you are alive to.” What makes your eyes light up? That’s what you are alive to. For some it is grandchildren, for others it is a romantic interest, for others it is a hobby or a sport, for others it is cooking or crafts. When you start talking about it you become excited and you could talk about it all day long. This is not wrong. Every good and perfect gift is from above. God has made this world for us to enjoy. But as a follower of Jesus, what should make our hearts beat above all else, what should bring a sparkle to our eye and a spring to our step is this: we are hidden in Christ and He is our life. So when we have this opportunity to meet together for worship, our hearts should be moved, we should be excited. That we could sit unmoved is a bad sign for the inward state of our soul. Have you really died to the world and live with Christ if you can hear all about His glory and goodness and be unmoved?

If you are not moved by the magnificence of Jesus Christ, you will be. One day Jesus will return to this world and when He returns every eye will see Him and will be confronted with two truths: Jesus is real, and He is greater than we imagined. We who have been hidden in Him will be revealed as His and the whole thing will be glory. And every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Four times in four verses, Paul mentioned Christ. Jesus is central and supreme. Paul doesn’t want believers to forget that. Jesus Christ is what life is all about. So how do you make Him first place in your life? First, you’ve got to trust Him to save you. You’ve got to turn away from the shadows and embrace the substance, Christ. Have you ever repented and believed? Are you born again, trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection to cover your sin and God’s wrath against you? If you have trusted Christ, you can see Him reign supreme over your life by seeking Him. Daily spend time carefully reading and meditating over His Word. Talk to Him daily and often through the day. Hide His Word in your heart by committing favorite passages to memory. Put yourself under good teaching and preaching of God’s Word. Worship with God’s people. While doing all this, set your mind on things above by putting off worldly living and embracing godly attitudes. Focus on relating to others in ways that glorify Christ, starting with your own family. And finally, as Paul models for us personally and challenges His readers too as well, let us join God in His work of taking the gospel to all nations, starting right here with our own families and community and spreading to the ends of the earth. All this is what we will see in the rest of chapter 3 and the early part of chapter 4. I believe the rest of this letter is for the most part just an explanation of how we set our minds on things above, putting off sin, putting on holiness, loving others and sharing Christ. All of that flows from a life seeking Christ. Nobody does those things if they’re not connected to a living relationship with Jesus. But when He is the One we seek, then all the shadow pursuits fade away and He is everything to us. Are you seeing this pattern of life unfold in your life? Maybe it once did and now does no more. Today you can be restored. Jesus is ready to welcome you home. Come to Him today. Everything else you are resting in will let you down. Jesus will become more dear to you as the days go by and when you die He will become more precious still. Don’t waver today. Come to Him. No matter your age or station in life. Come to Him to find life.

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