As you read through the first half of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, you find that Paul believes the Colossians are compromising on their beliefs and turning away from a life that reflects Jesus because they haven’t truly grasped the change that takes place in their lives when the gospel takes root.
I think this is a common struggle—we all face the temptation to compromise on our beliefs. And I’m sure that many of you, like me, have looked back on decisions that you’ve made with shame and disappointment because you didn’t accurately represent Jesus.
To combat that temptation to compromise—to truly grasp the change that takes place in our lives when we respond to the gospel—is rooted in a mindset. Throughout Colossians 2, Paul argues that if we stop following the wisdom of this world and start aligning ourselves with the wisdom of God because we believe that God has the ultimate authority over everything—when we do that, we avoid compromise.
But what does this look like practically in our lives? This is where Paul turns his attention in chapter 3—and what we’re going to see is that the rest of this letter ultimately focuses on showing us how several key areas of our lives should look different when we align ourselves with God rather than this world. But he starts by challenging us at the beginning of chapter 3, and it’s from accepting this challenge that our lives will change.
“1 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 will also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
What’s the challenge that Paul gives to Christ followers at the beginning of the passage? If you’ve been given new life through Christ, seek the things above—where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Paul is making some pretty significant points about Jesus here. The fact that he is above confirms for us one thing about Christ—that he is set apart from creation and is in a special position over it all (Colossians 1:15).
Try to get this picture in your mind—Jesus is above, everything else is below. So, from our vantage point, can we see everything that’s going on in creation? No! We’ll never be able to see and understand everything that’s happening. But what about from Jesus’ vantage point? Can he see everything that’s going on in creation? Yes! Jesus can see and understand everything that’s 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 people and to 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 only things that we can know to be true everywhere all the time.
Now, there’s a second piece to 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.
A few examples:
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 people from Egypt and establishes Israel 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 with it the authority of the king himself; it’s been sealed with his signet.
So, when Paul says that Jesus is not only seated above, but that he’s at the right hand of God, it tells us that Jesus has both the power and the authority of God over all creation. It’s Christ who has the authority to decide how things work, and the power to make things happen. 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 Paul is talking about here is the same change in mindset that helps us to avoid compromise: that we should pursue 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 we hear in the world and from the people around us. 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 and enable us to pursue a life like Christ’s—what’s happened to us in the past, what’s happening now, and what’s going to happen in the future.
What’s happened to us in the past Paul says right there 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 chose to follow Jesus is dead—we aren’t bound to a life stuck in sin; we are able to live differently than before, in a way that wasn’t possible until Christ saved us.
And that’s what’s happening now, which Paul points out in verse 3—we died, and our new lives are hidden with Christ in God. This tells us two things about ourselves: first, 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 hidden with Christ in God. But second, 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. We need to accept that power and pursue a life that is characterized by Christ’s life.
And that’s because of what’s happening in the future, which Paul addresses in verse 4—when Christ comes back, we are going to come back with him and share in his glory. Here’s what one commentator, Richard Melick, 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 principles 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 by God to live like Christ, and we know that it’s going to be worth the hard work in the end.
So, practically what does this mean we should do? That’s 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 think Tim Mackie summarizes it nicely: “live in the present as the kind of human that you will become.”
Here’s my challenge for you today: read through all of 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, read through all of the characteristics that we should put on in verses 12-17 and identify some things that you can focus on doing better.
Afterwards, talk to someone about your findings—pray with them, that they can hold you accountable to the things that will help you to live like Christ and avoid compromise.
Interim Student Ministries Pastor