Christ Our Life: Colossians 3:1-4
1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (NASB).
Our passage is a “bridge” passage that joins the indicatives concerning our salvation in Christ (chap. 1-2) with the ethical demands that flow from these grace truths.
Colossians 3:1-4 provides the logic for putting to death the old man (3:5). As a bridge passage, our text connects the work of Christ with the implication of being raised with Christ (Col 2:10-13).
“For you have died,” (3:3) – our death by co-crucifixion with Christ severed our link with the old order (the old life; the former life of sin’s dominion).
“If then” you have been raised with Christ, “then” you are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6). IF refers to a fulfilled condition; THEN alludes to the change flowing from your union with Christ. That change must be realized in your lifestyle because in Christ you have died once for all to the world, and you are now living another life.
The change that resulted from union with Christ altered your whole nature – now your new life in Christ must pervade your whole life. The new life is to exert itself so that it dominates exceptionally in both the intellectual and practical sphere. (The false believer keeps religion in a compartment in his life. The truth of God in Christ does not dominate exceptionally so as to take possession of his affections producing universal obedience.)
True believers live in a new sphere. That means that the believer has been transferred from earth to heaven as far as purpose, position, destiny, relationships, and vantage point are concerned.
As a new creation, the believer’s whole standard of judgment has been changed – his new heavenly life is in Christ.
Colossians is pure Christology. Paul is exhibiting Christ as preeminent in all things, all-sufficient Redeemer, sovereign Lord, and God very God. As God-man and Redeemer, Christ entirely fills the infinite gap between God and sinful man.
Consider how expansive this chasm is between the self-existent, transcendent, holy God of the universe, and sinful, feeble, defiled humans made of dust.
The human race is created with a spiritual longing for the transcendent (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But carnal reasoning leads men away from Christ to religious philosophies of human invention (Col 2:8).
Paul has written Colossians to combat the errors that are troubling the churches of the Lycus valley in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). The false teachers have introduced doctrines and practices that prove to be an oblique attack upon the preeminence and sufficiency of Christ.
When sinful man leans upon his reason in order to attempt to partially bridge the gap between God and man, he always comes up with an “ism.” The book of Colossians destroys these dangerous “isms.”
Legalism, asceticism, ceremonialism, mysticism, sacramentalism, subjectivism, antinomianism, and Gnosticism are all refuted by the powerful Christology of Colossians which declares the absolute preeminence and perfect sufficiency of Christ.
The dangerous “isms” prove to be nothing more than will worship – that is man asserting his fallen will, telling God how he will approach Him and be commended by Him.
Five hundred years ago before the Protestant Reformation, sacramentalism (or sacerdotalism), had a strangle hold upon the Church. Through the Protestant Reformers, the blessed truth of the Gospel of free grace in Christ was recovered through the study of the Scriptures.
So also in first century in the region of Colossae, Gnosticism was harassing the churches seeking for a stranglehold. Paul exposed the false premises of his opponents. Paul thunders out in the book of Colossians, Christ completely fills the entire gap between holy God and sinful man! He is all and all. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him. The believer is complete in Him!
Everything in relation to God needed by the believer is to be found in Christ. In Christ the believer finds acceptance, favor, sonship, status, right standing, power, purpose, destiny, bold access, wisdom and knowledge. Our entire life is upheld and provided by Christ – none of our spiritual needs are provided by us. This is death to the “isms!”
(Example: Recently a Jehovah’s Witness woman came to my door; she was training another woman. I quickly challenged her as why the founders of her cult had changed the N.T. so as to make Christ a creation of God instead of God the Son. She answered back, “Then how do you explain Jesus praying to God as His Father?” I said to her as respectfully as I could, “Madam, if you could answer that question, you’d be a saved person.” The point is Christ lived the perfect life of a human believer and disciple for our sakes. His life as God incarnate completely filled the gap between God and man. His praying to the Father is an argument FOR the Trinity, not against the Trinity.)
The moment you read our text (3:1-4), it’s easy to see what God wants us to do. He wants more of your mind’s attention so that you meditate on the heavenly life.
The benefits of utilizing our mind to dwell on things above are manifold. When we do so, our fellowship with God increases; for when God is honored in our truthful and adoring thinking about Him, we are holding communion with Him and He manifests His presence to us. When you practice dwelling on things above, you’ll abide in Christ as a habit. Your perception of the reality of the heavenly sphere will become increasingly influential in your life. Your confidence and comfort in God will increase. And your love and devotion to Christ will be more consistent.
That is our purpose in studying this passage – that you might gain a greater perception of your life in Christ and as a result experience the benefits just named.
Our text falls under three points:
I. Our life in Christ is to be pondered (vv. 1-2)
II. Our life in Christ is presently hidden (v. 3)
III. Our life in Christ is to be revealed (v. 4)
I. Our Life in Christ Pondered (vv. 1-2).
(v. 1) -- If indeed we are members of Christ, we must ultimately
ascend to heaven (Calvin). (Application: If you are a Christian, you do not have to live in suspense about these things – begin “feeding” your faith, weak as it is, upon these grace truths found in the book of Colossians.)
It takes a strong faith to “see” Jesus enthroned as Lord of all. He who was made for a little while lower than angels is now Mediatorial King. He is our enthroned “Forerunner” – where He is, we are going to be (Heb 6:19-20). As members of His Body, we must someday join our enthroned Head. This is to be a controlling truth in our lives.
Every public thing done by the Son of God will from now on include His Church (whether Second Advent, Marriage Supper, Millennial Reign, or Final Judgment).
It takes strengthening of the inner man and an enlightening of the eyes of our hearts and a spirit of wisdom and revelation to be able to fully take hold of the remarkable truth that our destinies as believers are bound up in the Son of God (Eph 1:17-18; 3:16).
God is telling us in 3:1 to actively pursue a God-ward life in our thoughts. We must feed our faith in the Word of God. Our aims in life will ultimately flow from what we regard as reality. To keep on seeking the things above is to have our aims and ambitions shaped by the heavenly sphere spoken of in 3:1 (“things above”).
Therefore to abide above is to live with the awareness that we live as pilgrims and strangers – we are sojourners with a heavenly citizenship. The faith mentality of the saints who went before us is recorded in Hebrews 11:13-16. These men and women were not bound by things below. By faith, they saw the City of God with such clarity that they were able to abide in the heavenly sphere as their course in life.
“Things above” is where Christ is. He is at the right hand of His Father. Christ must rule until all of His enemies are put beneath His feet. These enemies pose a threat to His Bride the Church (Christ will bring her safely past sin, death, hell, the world, the flesh, and the devil.)
When we think of Christ in the heavenly realm, let us not think of Him as detached from the events of the physical world. In Colossians 1:15-18, Paul asserts that Christ is Lord of the cosmos, Lord of the Church, Lord of history, and Lord of every created thing, whether spirit or physical creature. Christ is ruling and reigning. He is holding all things together in the cosmos and He is active in all of human history.
By God’s design, He is preeminent in every realm. We are to live with His majesty in constant view. Whether the physical or spiritual realm; He has first place in everything. He fills the world.
This is the heavenly sphere – it is the invisible reality that the world is willingly ignorant of. We are to seek the things in this sphere where Christ is. We are commanded to see things from the divine viewpoint (DVP). This is ultimate reality – what we see by faith is eternal in the heavens. What we see with physical eyes is temporal; only the heavenly sphere is eternal (2 Cor 4:18; 1 Jn 2:17).
(v. 2) – Paul joins an imperative to the indicative in v. 2 (he links a command with positional truth just stated). Because of the fact that we are risen with Christ, therefore cogitate, set your mind upon (assiduously, with intensity), let your whole meditation be on this. Apply the abilities of your mind to holy thinking. Adore Christ in your minds – dwell with Him. Consider, give your mind to this. Judge, think upon as a practice.
A man’s thinking and life direction go together. They are reflected in his goals, his aims which he chooses for himself. To set your mind upon something is to be mentally disposed towards it. You move in that direction. (Example: That aim turns like a little radar, always seeking to fulfill the goal it is fixed upon.)
Paul’s exhortation is to have one basic aim, direction, orientation (Phil 2:5) – the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). This requires great effort. But God expects this of you. (Example: One of my seminary professors corrects his thinking by telling himself, “Higher thoughts Larry, higher thoughts.” Our thoughts, like water, naturally flow to a low level of merely sense perception and carnal reasoning (like a stagnant pond with no outlet). We are to engage our minds in the service of God’s revelation, especially His revelation of grace in Christ that they might be lifted to the heavenly sphere.)
All of God’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge are resident in Christ. In order to enter the heavenly sphere in our thinking, it will involve the diligent application of our intellects. Especially if those thought processes focused above are to give shape to our lives. The earthly sphere is always pulling at us.
Earth and heaven are different spheres of living (DVP – divine viewpoint and HVP human viewpoint). If we obey the command in verse 2, “set your mind on things above.” it will protect us from being lulled into a state in which we are infatuated with the trivial, the temporal, the sensual, and the material.
Countless people around us would never for a moment consider themselves to be enemies of the cross of Christ – but Philippians 3:19 warns us that those who set their minds on earthly things are not friends of the cross of Christ. (Of course we know why. It is solely the friend of the cross who has died with Christ and been raised with Him to newness of life.)
The spiritual man or woman is known by his or her aspirations. Our aspirations arise out of what and where we set our minds upon. Romans 8:4-8 (Williams translation) states that the spiritual man thinks the thing suggested by the Spirit. The carnal, or fleshly man practices thinking those things suggested by the flesh.
Because of his union with Christ, the spiritual man rejects the orientation set by the lower nature.
(Application: Paul’s intent is that setting our minds upon things above will control both the definition and direction of our lives. We will behold Christ as “Source Person.” Our affections will be conformed to the heavenly sphere. The “mind of Christ” is cross-centered living that keeps us severed from the world. The Gospel is the believer’s “food.” He takes in the grace truths that remind him daily that his life is hidden in Christ.)
II. Our Life in Christ is Presently Hidden (v. 3).
“You died” to the old order, the old vantage point, the old values through your co-crucifixion with Christ (see 2 Cor 5:14). V. 3 points back to our union with Christ. (In the mind of God, who determines all reality, the death of Christ counts as our death to sin as much as if we had been hanging upon that cross ourself.)
(Illustration: A friend of mine who is a pastor as well as a mental health worker, visited a young man who was in lock up in Juvenile Hall. The teenager had been arrested for attempted murder. As a mental health worker, Patrick was one of the few men from the outside, other than an attorney, who had access to this young criminal. Patrick greeted the teenager by saying, “I come to you in the name of the Judge. The teen sighed. Then Patrick added, “The Judge of the universe.” “He does not hold your crimes against you because He has charged them to the account of His Son.” The teen had a puzzled look, but three days later the teen asked Patrick to come back and tell him the Gospel again. He was gloriously converted.)
Your life has been so closely associated with Christ that He Himself is designated, “Our life.” Because of union with Christ, the believer is spiritually alive in God (Rom 6:4-5).
All the blessings Christ has wrought for His people are inseparable from His Person (every salvation blessing purchased by Christ is only given to those who have Christ by union with His Person -- people want heaven, but not the lordship of Christ over them). We have eternal life solely because of our union with Christ.
(Application: Risen life in Christ is only for those who are first dead in Him. One must be dead to the world to live for Christ -- see Gal 6:14; 2 Cor 5:14. To abide above is to reckon the fact that your life is bound up in Christ – He is “source Person,” the world is no longer regarded as source. What He is doing in the world, in His Church controls the spiritual man. The man with the “mind of Christ” marches under Christ’s banner and totally identifies with His purposes. He uses his gifts to contribute his part in “presenting every man complete in Christ” – 1:28.)
Our life is “hidden with Christ in God.” God is faithful in carrying out what is committed to Him (2 Tim 1:12).
For the time being, we are frequently distressed by trials, sufferings, afflictions, and weaknesses. Our true identity is concealed from the world, and apart from faith in His infallible Word, it is frequently hidden from us as well.
Our true identity is hidden (1 Jn 2:28; 3:2; 4:17). We wait patiently until that day of revelation. For the time being we live between the cross and the resurrection (our lives are radically influenced by both looking back to the cross, and looking forward to the day of revelation.)
(Application: Believers are to “abide above” – Eph 2:4-7. Fellowship with Christ brings a greater sense of security. What could be more desirable than to dwell with the “Fountain of Life.” The world has no “spiritual eyes” to behold the object of our hope – Christ; the Source of all life. A recent trend in TV programming – “reality TV,” in which a harness and life line protects people from falling to their deaths. The viewer identifies with the risk-taker and feels a rush when death is cheated. The natural man attempts to minister to his fears; he knows not that spiritually he is a walking dead person who is about to leave the land of the dying to enter the world of the second death. But only the saint knows where life resides.)
We’ve seen that we have died when we were baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit (2:11-14). Now our lives are hidden in Christ; the world knows nothing of our new life. Christ is our life; our life is not just shared with Christ. He is our life in every sense of the word. He is our “Source Person.”
Christ is the “north star” so to speak; the whole celestial existence revolves around Him. Positionally, we are seated with Him in this heavenly sphere. Our lives are shut up – hidden in Christ until the last day; then our lives will be manifested when Christ is revealed.
III. Our Life in Christ is to be Revealed (v. 4).
Our life in Christ is to be fully manifested when Christ returns. Then we will share His glorious epiphany. It was for this great cause that He called you, “that you might gain the glory of Christ” (2 Thess 2:14). (How incomprehensible apart from the Spirit’s illumination that we shall “share His holiness” – Heb 12:10.)
What is secretly present now shall be revealed on that day. Our secret existence now is a mystery (Col 1:27). As we meditate upon these things, we dwell in this heavenly sphere.
This was Paul’s practice -- his convictions are captured in Galatians 2:20 – those convictions ought to be the persuasion of every true Christian. For those who set their minds on things above are ever more cognizant of their shared life in Christ (a shared existence that will someday soon be revealed).
The glory shared, spoken of in v. 4, has a special reference to being made like Christ in moral likeness and in the likeness of His resurrection body (1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:20-21).
(Application: Colossians 3:1-4 sets before us an “already, not yet” tension of life lived between the cross and the resurrection. Now, all grace flows from Christ. Because of His cross, intimate, personal union with Him is already a reality. We are already crucified with Him, buried with Him, united with Him, and raised with Him. Therefore we are to pursue the things of the heavenly realm. We are dead to the old order – the old orientation of self and the world. So now we must center our whole outlook on Christ so that our mind, ambition, and aims belong in the heavenly sphere or ‘realm’.)
CONCLUSION: How are we to follow the Lord’s command found in our text? First there must be realism – the ongoing effort for the mindset enjoined in our text requires labor. The mindset is not automatic.
But consider that the exhortation in 3:1-4 is associated with taking delight in eternal things. In order to seek the realm above diligently, we must make it our practice to “preach the Gospel to ourselves everyday.”
May I suggest that in order to set your mind upon things above, you must be able to take delight in all that God is toward you in Christ. To be able to do take delight in God and enjoy Him is a function of fresh acts of faith in the Gospel each day.
When you wake up in the morning, you again take Christ as your righteousness. You “preach the Gospel to yourself” saying, “By my Savior’s life, and death, and resurrection, I am fully accepted by God the Father. By my union with His glorified life, God has cleared away every obstacle to a love relationship with Himself.”
In order to develop this mindset, we will need to feed our faith upon these heavenly truths. For the time being, our life is hidden in Christ. But when He appears (He who embodies life), we will appear with Him.
This truth of shared existence and shared glory is wonderful beyond words. God will literally synchronize the glorious appearance of Christ with the glorification of His people and the renovation of the universe (Rom 8:18-25). On that day, the “sons of God” will be revealed publicly to the rational universe.
God will turn the tables on the false values of this world (1 Jn 2:17). The world with its temporal vantage point will be swept away like a dream. This generation worships youth, beauty, sensuality, materialism, pleasure, leisure, power, and earthly security. But a day is coming when the lusts of deceit will be shown for the poison they are.
On the Day of the Lord, God will put the myth of ownership to the lie. When Christ returns, everything loaned to man will be returned to God for an accounting (life, breath, the faculties of soul, mind, and body, talents, time, affections, everything).
Dear reader, what we regard as ultimate reality will be the sphere in which we dwell. Our aims will flow from what we regard as having lasting substance.
In order to diligently pursue the things above, we must stay centered on the Kingdom of God. The believer is to focus upon things of the new order. We must stay centered upon the exalted Christ.
Our Savior is currently hidden from view, but God’s Spirit will strengthen you and open and enlighten the eyes of your heart to behold your Lord enthroned -- if you will be make it your occupation to meditate upon things above in Scripture.
The truth of Colossians 3:1-4 is inescapable – the sphere in which we live is the one in which our thoughts dwell. The benefit of seeking the things above is immeasurable: “[that you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19).
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries
William Hendrickson, NTC, Baker, 1962
J. B. Lightfoot, Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians
Peter T. O’Brien, WBC, Word, 1982
Fritz Reinecker, Linguistic Key to the N.T., Zondervan, 1976
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the N.T., Baker, 1931