The Fullness: Colossians 3:1-4

Things Above – 3:1-4

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Paul is making a transition in this short section. For the first two chapters he was laying the foundation of his theology – the centrality and supremacy of Christ. From here through the rest of the letter he will be working out the practical implications of that doctrine. The revelation of the mystery of God – which is Christ himself – effects sweeping change in the lives of those who believe. One cannot simply hear the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus and go on as if nothing has happened. The whole world has been turned upside-down! The appropriate response to the Gospel is repentance – to turn around and follow the way of Jesus.

The resurrection is both the beginning and the direction of the way of Jesus. For Paul, the resurrection is an event in which all true believers participate. While Christ has been raised from physical death, Christians are raised from spiritual death when they confess and are baptized. Baptism is the physical symbol of the spiritual reality that the Christian has been brought from death to life.

The resurrection is both the beginning and the direction of the way of Jesus.
Believers participate in the full story of the Gospel. We have died with Christ (2:20), and now we have been raised with Christ. The way of Jesus is participatory. It is not enough to say that Jesus has died for us; the true story of the Gospel is that, by faith, we have died with him. We have died to the old way of life, which, according to Colossians 2 comprises all the pointless toiling of Christless religion, and which, according to Colossians 3, is steeped in sinful desire and behavior. The new way of life – the way of living that we experience when we are raised with Christ – is centered around Christ and abounds in virtue, freedom, and hope.

In the context of our resurrection with Christ, Paul issued his first command: Set your hearts on things above. To put it another way: Desire the things of God. While the Greek does not contain the word “hearts,” the context makes it clear that Paul is commanding believers to love what God loves. And what does God love? First and foremost, God loves the world. God loves people, and he wants all people to receive the forgiveness of sins he has offered at the cross of Jesus. To set your heart on things above is not to disassociate yourself from the earth or your neighbors. Quite the contrary! Only when we desire the things of God do we begin to love our neighbor as ourselves. To love God is to love your neighbor. To love your neighbor (with the love of Christ) is to set your heart on things above.

Only when we desire the things of God do we begin to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Paul uses the word “above” to refer to heaven. The essence of heaven is the presence of God. Heaven is “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” The “right hand of God” is a metaphor for divine power, glory, and honor. The risen Son of God possesses divine power, glory, and honor because the Father has lovingly bestowed them upon him. Paul is, perhaps, drawing upon the ancient Christological hymn he quoted in Philippians: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” Because of his great sacrifice upon the cross, the Father has exalted the Son to the place of greatest majesty. Because Jesus occupies the most exalted position possible, we can do no better than to set our hearts on him.

Likewise, Paul encourages believers to “set your minds on things above.” Both our desires and our thoughts are to be directed toward the things of God. We must think how God thinks. The life of the mind is as important as the life of the heart. This means that we must never give into fear, anxiety, foolishness, or deception. Neither should we consume our thoughts with trivialities and distractions. Rarely does one find the things above whilst scrolling through Facebook.

The reason that we must direct our inward life toward heavenly things is because we have died to earthly things. By faith in Christ, we have died to the old way of life that is bound to existence in this fallen world. A Christian’s life has become disassociated from sinful patterns of living, thinking, and desiring. Self-centered thoughts, desires, and actions belong to the world. But we are dead to the world. The Christian must be able to judge the ideologies, truth claims, belief systems, and cultural norms of the world in the light of the truth that is Christ. We can only do this if we have made a break from the world. We must be able to, so to speak, judge the world from above. But this is impossible if one is immersed in the thoughts and desires of the dominant culture.

The Christian’s true life – the one that will go on forever in infinite joy and glory – is hidden with Christ in God. This is a fascinating concept! But what does it mean? N.T. Wright describes it this way. “Here we have a full…description of the Christian’s true status. With Christ he has died, he is risen, and he will appear in glory. There is a perfect balance here between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet.’ …The new age has dawned, and Christians already belong to it. The old age, however, is not yet wound up, and until they die (or until the Lord ‘appears’ again in his second coming) their new life will be a secret truth, ‘hidden’ from view.”[i] The true life that will never die, the one that is superabundant with all things good, true, and beautiful, will appear when Christ himself appears, for it is presently hidden with him. Though we don’t see Jesus now, we will see him then. Though we don’t experience the fullness of this life now, we will experience it then.

As death is the inevitable reality of life on earth, so Christ is the inevitable reality of life in heaven and the new creation.
This life, in fact, is Christ himself. As he himself declared to his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus is the life. When Jesus said he came to give life to the full, he meant that he came to give himself in his fullness, for he himself is the fullness of God, the Creator of life and light. As death is the inevitable reality of life on earth, so Christ is the inevitable reality of life in heaven and the new creation. Today, all things naturally devolve toward death. Tomorrow, all things will naturally grow toward Christ.

The Takeaway

Jesus has the power to change you in your inner being. He can transform your thinking. He can educate your desires. You are not a slave to the perversion of your thoughts or the wickedness of your desires. You can change because, by the power of the Spirit, you are being changed. Your responsibility, however, is to actively participate in the Spirit’s change process by thinking God’s thoughts and loving what God loves. When Paul says to set your hearts and minds on things above, he means to do this as a response to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus has died and risen again, and because you have put your faith in him, you also have died and risen again to the old way of thinking and desiring. You are free to think anew. You are free to desire afresh.

Many are those who go unrecognized in this life, even in the Church. Many are those who struggle to satisfactorily enter into the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection symbolized by their baptism. Many are those who fail to claim the new life they have in Christ. Despite all this, and despite the harsh realities of living in a fallen and broken world, they will appear with Christ in glory. Though you struggle, you will be released. When Christ appears again, you will be fully and finally released from the shackles of sin that keep you enslaved. Jesus is your true life. He will come again in glory. And when he does, you will appear with him, radiating with the light of his glory that indwells and overflows from within you.

[i] Wright, N.T. (1986). Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon (p.137). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

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