14 Important Things to Know about Setting Your Mind on Things Above
There is nothing new under the sun.
Everything changes—nothing stays the same.
These are two adages that we regularly use to describe our world. We employ them when a fitting situation arises in our life. Yet, the commonness of these two proverbs only aggravates the tension between them—there is nothing new and everything changes. Which one is it?
Empires are borne and buried. People are known and forgotten. Summer wanes into winter. The newness of today is a remake of a forgotten yesterday. Even the new technologies we invent are the same old efforts to improve some aspect of life. Yet, amid all these cycles of sameness, there is one thing that is truly new.
This new event was a cataclysmic, cosmos-altering incident. It fundamentally modified the reality of the world, even if humans fail to recognize it. And this unique, one-of-a-kind act was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Christ’s resurrection a new world was born—a new age came into existence—and the apostle Paul wants to make sure that believers orient their whole selves around this new reality. Here are fourteen important things to remember about setting your mind on the things that are above.
1. We have died to the elemental spirits of the world.
Earlier in Colossians 2:16-23, Paul has been telling us what not to do. He exhorted us not to let anyone judge us in matters of diet, calendars, or the self-abasing rites of angel worship, as such self-proclaimed humility was really just a prideful technique of self-promotion. Moreover, we should not submit to these regulations, because it is to put ourselves back under the law of the world.
To heed all of these “do nots” is to act like we are still alive to the world and serving the elemental spirits and principles of the world (Col. 2:20-23). Yet, we have died to the world and its laws, so we cannot obey its rules. Besides, as Paul noted, all the regulations are useless to accomplish the purpose of which they boast.
The prohibitions to which Paul is referring in Colossians 2 were worldly laws to beat the body in order to progress spiritually towards God and true life and security. Starve the body to free your soul from its fleshy desires. Invoke angels to whisk you away to worlds unknown. But all this harsh humiliation doesn’t advance us one spiritual baby step. Instead, it only puffs up a person’s ego and draws lines of division across the body of Christ.
2. Having been raised with Christ, we should orient ourselves around the things above.
Because we have died in Christ to the things that we should not do, Paul now shifts to what we ought to do. Where he tied our not doingthe worldly laws to our death in Christ, he weds our dutyto having been raised with Christ:
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. (Col. 3:1-4)
Verse 1 takes us back to Colossians 2:12 and our spiritual resurrection by faith with Christ as we put off the corrupt nature:
Having been buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Our sin was forgiven as it was nailed to the cross. This spiritual resurrection of ours by faith unites us to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. By his resurrection, Jesus becomes The Beginning of the new creation.
3. In his resurrection, Jesus inaugurated a new creation—a new reality, a new age—to which we belong.
Jesus’ bursting out of the grave fundamentally altered the reality of the cosmos. His resurrection created heaven—and not merely as the place of God but as the heavenly mountain Zion, as the new heavens and new earth where God and the glorified church will dwell together in unending blessedness.
And to be raised with Christ by faith makes us part of this new creation. It alters our identity, our homeland, our family, and our destiny. Being raised with Jesus means we are strangers and aliens in this age. Our new family is the body of Christ. Our homeland is the Age to Come. The country of our new birth is the world above.
4. In our spiritual resurrection, this world is no longer our home.
We still look the same on the outside; we speak and dress the same, but we are no longer part of this age. This world is like an old home that we lived in ten years ago—we return to the house once so familiar and native, only to find it remote and bizarre.
So also, having been raised with Christ, this world is no longer our home, our identity. In Christ, we have been transformed to be princes and princesses of heaven living in a “Muggle” world. Do you ever look out at the world and feel like you don’t belong? Do you listen to the ideas of our society and it is like they are speaking a different language?
This is because you have been raised with Christ and made a heavenly citizen. Being a native of heaven, Paul exhorts us to seek the things above. Pursue the world above. To seek this other world is to desire and prize it as our true delight and home—to aim for it with all our energy and thought.
We are to be like a POW whose heart always aches for home, and the thought of getting home never fully departs from his active thoughts. Our serious thoughts always rest in heaven; our dreams fondly lay in the age to come. We don’t suppress our feelings of foreignness with the world; rather, we express them. We let them out, giving them air to breathe.
5. We should seek to be near the enthroned Christ—to see him and to worship him.
Our seeking of the things above is not an impersonal pursuit of heavenly delights but rather is immanently and entirely personal. We seek the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. This is a pursuit of Jesus—to be near him, to see him, to worship him. It is focusing the lens of our hope upon the enthroned Christ.
Indeed, Christ at the right hand of the Father is in his position of enthronement and authority. This is where Christ rules and reigns over all things above and below, and he reigns for us:
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Ps. 110:1)
In Psalm 110, the right hand isn’t just the position of a king—it is also the posture of the priest. And as our priest, Christ continues to intercede for grace and mercy to be poured out on us. Moreover, the eternal oath of Melchizedek that Christ fulfilled to sit at the right hand ushered in his eternal reign and realm. The things above where Christ is enthroned belong to the permanent, the imperishable, the forever that does not change.
6. We find solace and quiet around the throne of Christ without any shadow of change.
The constant of our lives in this age is that things are always changing and passing away. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall with all the emotional swings of human pride. The dream house we finally finished can be burned to the ground in a moment. About the time you get used to one thing, it is time to move on to another.
And the constant shiftiness of our lives injects us with insecurity, fear, anxiety, and instability as the good today may be gone tomorrow. Yet, around the throne of Christ, the solace and quiet of the permanent resides without any shadow of change. The weather of our lives here may be foul or fair, but our true home is found secure in the everlasting peace of Christ in heaven.
7. We not only seek the things above, but we also set our minds on them.
To seek the things above is to rest in the forever of Christ’s love and glory; it is to let his grace pour into our hearts like rivers of living water from Mount Zion above. Indeed, Paul encourages us to not only seek the things above, but to ponder—or set our minds on—the things above, instead of earthly things.
While this pondering of heaven isn’t some Eastern meditation of altered states of consciousness, it does have an intellectual part to it. In Scripture, proper thought and action are always two sides of the same coin. This setting of your mind has the force of orienting yourself. Are you oriented around the matters of the earth or the realities of heaven? Orientation has to do with identity and priorities—what is truly valuable and important.
Earthly duties and business are always trying to consume us: pay the bills, get to work, fix the house. Such tasks covet the top places on our priority list. The necessities of the day constantly demand our full attention, but Paul says to set our minds on the things above. Let Christ, heaven, and his will always be numbers one, two, and three on our priority list.
8. Our orientation towards heaven doesn’t follow an escapist tendency.
Setting our minds toward heaven is not a flight from reality that abandons society, neighbor, food, fashion, piano lessons, or 401Ks. No, that tendency belongs to fleshly asceticism. No food, no enjoyment, so the body will be raptured into visionary heights—this method of bodily denial only ends up making food and days into idols of ultimate importance.
If eating or not eating is essential to spirituality, then we become ruled by earthly laws—the things of this age—but this is not a heavenly mindedness. Rather, with our thoughts resting in heaven, we treat the things of this world as they truly are—impermanent, disposable, and made for use. The things of this age are like a fresh raspberry, which will go bad in a few days. We might as well eat it now while it is still fresh. If we don’t, however, it’s no big deal. Likewise, we serve our neighbor not to build heaven on earth, but because it is good and pleasing now. Indeed, since we belong to heaven, we are free from the tyranny of the earthly laws as ultimate.
9. Our true and real life is hidden in Christ.
As Paul puts it, “You have died” to the things of the earth. We are dead to this age and its realm, which includes its sins, perversions, and its elemental laws. Yet, this mention of our death stands out here, for it is contrasted with the place of our life:
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3)
And of course, Christ is in heaven at the right hand. Think about this juxtaposition. We are dead on earth; we are alive in heaven. Paul labels our present existence as touched by death while our true and full life is in heaven. When we look at the fellow saints in faith, we see dead people. What a radical break this is with this age!
10. Our heavenly life is hidden to us at present.
We are as the walking dead to this age—where we are dead on earth, our true and real life is hidden with Christ above. Now, the term “hidden” connotes safety and security. As we know all too well, life on earth is so fragile—our cord can be snapped in a flash. Yet, our true life is safe with Christ—untouchable by the boney fingers of the Grim Reaper. “Hidden” also stresses unseen. What is hidden is secret, behind closed doors, invisible to the eye. We cannot see our heavenly life. Presently, we can feel our pulse, listen to our breathing, and watch ourselves in a mirror, but this is not our true life.
Rather, like a body double, our life is concealed behind the heavenly veil where Christ sits. The life won and purchased for us by Christ’s righteousness is tucked away in that heavenly land, and this life is more real, sweeter, and more eternal than anything we experience within this age.
11. Our lives are invisibly lodged in God.
And, as if hidden with Christ isn’t enough, Paul adds “in God” (Col. 3:3). Our life is invisibly lodged in God. The high point of the new covenant is the Emmanuel reality: God with us, and us with God. Having been raised with Christ, our true life enjoys being in God within the celestial realm above, and in God is the safest place imaginable. In God is the vault of heaven where no sin or demon can break into.
As a new creation in Christ, our life securely resides in heaven in God. We live in, with, and under God. As aliens here on earth, we will feel like a part of us is missing. We not only don’t fit in with the world around us, but we lack something. It is like a phantom limb sensation—it feels like the limb should be there, but it is missing.
12. We have not yet been glorified.
This is because having been raised with Christ, our true life is camped out in God within the heavenly realm. Presently, we are not complete—the benefits of our salvation are not fully enjoyed and known. And this incompleteness longs to be made complete. Paul said we are full in Christ, but this fullness is not seen. The fullness is found in glory, and we are not yet glorified.
Thus, Paul points us to glory: “When Christ appears, who is your life” (Col. 3:4). Our life is explicitly identified with Christ. Our life is not just with Christ—it is Christ. We live by the life of Christ and Christ is our life. Of course, Christ sits within the undying realm of heaven. We don’t experience his bodily presence in the present. Yet, Christ must return; he has to come a second time.
13. Christ will bring with him our resurrected bodies—our everlasting and glorious existence.
The Christ we don’t see must be made visible. And when that last trumpet is blown to disclose the majesty of our Savior, so our life too will appear. Christ will not be riding upon that Glory-Cloud alone, but our true life will be nipping at his heels. He will come to bring us home. Then, the impermanent will give way to the permanent. The sinful will be replaced with the holy. The turbulent will die to the peaceful. Faith will turn into sight, and we will dwell bodily with the host of saints and with God.
Indeed, seeking the things above is another way of saying we live both by faith in Christ and by hope for Christ’s final revelation. And such a hope means that we are completely taken by the perfection of Christ and his returning glory.
14. So perfect is Christ that we will not settle for any of the things on this earth.
Because Christ’s final revelation is certain, we can live by hope, knowing that the days of this life—be they full of tears or laughs—are only for a time. In fact, the more days we spend under the sun, the easier it is to keep our minds set upon the things above. For these days of our being aliens here have more than enough evil to raise our eyes to Christ who is at the right hand of God.
We can enjoy good things now; we can do good works that are a blessing. Yet, no matter how good things may be here, they cannot measure up to the glorious perfection of Christ who is our life. By Christ’s infinite love, we have been made new creations in him. And by his supreme grace, Christ will bring us to the resurrection shore of heaven, when we will enjoy our true life with Him and live for his glory forevermore.
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