I’m a big fan of the Apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament—I admire him, really, because Paul has a way of communicating that is simultaneously encouraging to read, but also straight to the point when it comes to the hard facts about what it takes to see your life changed. Let me give you an example—Colossians 3:1-4:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
It’s hard to describe exactly how I feel when I read this—Paul is saying something that’s really encouraging! But at the same time, there’s a difficult challenge within his words that for some of us might cut to the heart: if you’ve been given new life with Christ, seek the things above—where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
It’s not just, “seek the things that are above”—Paul makes a point to tell us that Christ is above. I get this picture in my mind: Jesus is above, everything else is below. So, from our vantage point, can we see everything that’s going on throughout the world? No! We will never see and understand everything that’s going on. But that’s where Jesus comes in—from his vantage point, he can see and understand everything that is going on because he is above it all! And so, if we want to know the right decisions to make or the best way to live our lives, it doesn’t make sense to look to other people and things that don’t have a full picture of what’s going on. We need to look to Jesus and the truth that has been revealed from his vantage point—the guidance of his word—those are the things that we can trust.
Now, there’s a second piece of this idea that Christ is above—that he’s seated at the right hand of God. The right-hand idea is a metaphor that’s used throughout the Bible, and there are two things that it represents: power and authority. For example, the Psalms use the phrase when they’re talking about the mighty works of God:
All the things that happen in the Exodus as God frees the Israelites from Egypt and establishes them as a nation—those are attributed to his right hand.
Salvation itself the Psalmists say happens by the right hand of God.
But the phrase is also a reference to authority that we see throughout the Bible. Think, for example, about a king—how would a king make a royal decree valid? He stamps it with a signet ring that he wears on his right hand. Something that comes from the right hand of the king carries the authority of the king himself; it’s been sealed with his signet. So, when Paul says of Jesus that he’s not only seated above but that he’s seated at the right hand of God, it tells us that Jesus has both the power and authority of God over all. It’s Christ who has the authority to decide how things work, and the power to make things happen. So, we need to align ourselves with the authority that comes straight from God, because it’s the only thing that has the power to truly change our lives!
What a challenge—are you pursuing the truth revealed by God, the guidance of his Word, and a life that aligns with Christ’s rather than being swayed by the things you hear in the world? It’s verse 2—set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Now, Paul doesn’t just leave us hanging and say, “You need to do this,” without giving us any help—there are three reasons that motivate us and enable us to pursue a life like Christ’s:
(1) What’s happened to us in the past.
Paul says this right in verse 1—we have died and been resurrected with Christ when we put our faith in him. It’s the idea that we have been made into a totally new creation of God. That means everything that characterized us before we were saved is dead—we aren’t bound to a life stuck in sin; we’re able to live differently than before, in a way that wasn’t possible until Christ saved us. And that’s what’s happening now!
(2) What’s happening now.
Paul points it out in verse 3—we died, and our new lives are hidden with Christ in God. This tells us two things about ourselves: we are safe and secure in our salvation—nothing is going to take our eternal life with God away from us because we are already with Christ in God. But we also have the same source of life that Christ does—God energizes Christians and gives us the power to be able to be and do what we should. So, we need to accept that power and pursue a life that is characterized by Christ’s! And that’s because of what’s happening in the future.
(3) What’s going to happen in the future.
It’s verse 4—when Christ comes back, we are going to come back with him and share in his glory. Here’s what Richard Melick Jr. says about this idea: “Often Christians suffer for their faith, but they continue with a life source unknown to those who do not know Christ. Someday, however, Christ will be revealed. When he is, the source of Christians’ lives will become apparent to all people. The reason Christians have had the values, outlook, and service to God and others will be clear. Our hidden life with God will be manifested.” At the end of the day, everyone is going to know that Jesus is God and all will be confronted about how they lived their lives—either based on the things of this world or based on Christ. This is why we are motivated and able to pursue a life like Christ—because we aren’t bound to a life of sin, we’re empowered to live like Christ, and we know that it’s going to be worth the hard work in the end.
This is Paul, encouraging, but challenging as always! So practically, what does this mean we should do? Read on, verses 5-17. If you died to this world, put away all of the things that characterize people of this world. If you’re alive through Christ, put on all of the things that characterize Christ. I love how Tim Mackie puts it—everything comes down to this: “live in the present as the kind of human that you will become.”
Sometime today, look through all the characteristics that we should put off in verses 5-11 and identify some things that you can work on eliminating from your life. Then, look through all the characteristics that we should put on in verses 12-17 and identify some things that you can focus on doing better.
If you’ve put your faith in Christ you’re free from sin, empowered by God, and the effort is going to be worth it!
Middle School Pastor