Sermon preached on Colossians 3:1-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 04/17/2022 in Novato, CA.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has many benefits to the life of the believer. Today, we will consider how his resurrection calls us to be heavenly minded. There’s an old, even funny, quote that says, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr). While that may be true for some people, that is certainly not what the Scripture is advocating for here. Rather, this passage says that genuine heavenly mindedness has much good for how you live here and now on earth. This we will consider today as we remember the significance that Jesus Christ is risen! We’ll do so by working through the first four verses in order.
We begin in our first point to consider verses 1-2. “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.” There’s the call to heavenly mindedness. But notice that basis. Raised with Christ. That’s what these opening verses are basing this exhortation in. If you’ve been raised with Christ, then be heavenly minded. But that statement itself is based on a premise. The premise is that Christ is raised. That is a good premise because it is an accurate one. We celebrate again today that Christ Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. We affirm again today that this is not myth or legend or just some spiritual story unfounded in reality. No, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a physical and historically reality. He really died here on earth. He really rose again here on earth. Christ has been raised from the dead by the powerful working of God.
Now, if you take this word “raised” in verse 1 in the context of the verse, you might interpret that to refer to his ascension. Remember, forty days after Jesus rose from the dead he ascended up into heaven from the Mount of Olives. If you just had verse 1, you’d be justified in such an interpretation, because it speaks of Jesus being seated at the right hand of God in heaven which is the result of his ascension. In the ascension, Jesus was raised up into heaven from this earth. However, in the broader context, we can go back to the previous chapter in 2:12 where this language of raised is used there to explicitly reference Jesus being raised up from the dead. So, by the time you then get to verse 1 here in chapter 3, you are already setup to understand this language of “raised with Christ” as a reference to Jesus rising from the dead. So that means Paul is taking this idea of Jesus being raised from the dead and extending it to the ascension. Paul takes Christ’s resurrection and ascension as one big, sweeping idea together. Jesus wasn’t raised up from the dead just to have more life here on this earth and in this age. Jesus was raised from the dead up unto the exalted life of the glory of heaven and the age to come. Paul sees the resurrection and ascension closely connected. And that is important to understand because he’s bringing both to bear on us, on how we are called to be heavenly minded even while we are here on earth.
In other words, if we are united to Christ by faith, we are united in Christ’s resurrection and thus also in his ascension. Jesus was raised not just to more life here [on earth] but to a greater life there [in heaven]. Paul says that believers who are united to Christ are partakers in this. We’ve been raised up into heaven with him, so what we seek, what we aspire toward, should not be mere earthly and carnal things. No, we should seek heavenly and spiritual things. Our desires and passions should be elevated to a higher standard. Part of what comes out of this is the idea that the earthly and carnal things are here identified with sin and evil desires and passions. Like in verse 6 when it speaks of that which is earthly and then defines that in various terms of immorality and sinful conflict with others. Or like back in 2:11 which spoke of how in Christ we are putting of the body of flesh, being pictured as uncleanness that needs to be cut off of us. So, the language of earthly and carnal here is shorthand for this fallen world with all its sin and godlessness. Indeed, this present evil age is under God’s condemnation. But Jesus died and rose again not only to forgive us of our own sins, but ultimately to deliver us from this place of wickedness. That is why he calls us here and now to set our gaze heavenward.
Let us turn now in our second point to consider verse 3 next. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” This is directed to Christians who have put their faith in Jesus for salvation and eternal life. Let’s unpack this bold statement about our death, because he says “For you have died”. To point out the obvious, the Christians he was writing too had not yet physically died. As this truth is applied to us Christians alive today, we too have not yet physically died. So, Paul doesn’t refer to physical death here. Jesus physically died, but we haven’t yet. If this is not a reference to the death of our bodies, is there a reference to our souls? Well, there is a sense in which by becoming a Christian we have put to death the old man as we see in verse 9 when it says we have put off the old self. Yet, clearly in this passage we are reminded that there is still a battle between our new self and our old self, which is why verse 5 begins a section telling us all the things of our old self we need to still be looking to put to death. So, while spiritually, there is a sense in which our old sinful self is put to death, there is also a sense in which he is not.
So then, what does Paul mean when he speaks of us having died with Christ? Well, this is union language. Much can be said of our union with Christ, but one thing we can say here is that Christ died in our place so we didn’t ourselves die but its as if we did. His death is as good as our death. Because of his substitutionary death for us, there are then benefits and ramifications that come to us. For example, his death paid the price for our sins, as 2:14 describes that the record of debt that stood against us was canceled, having been nailed to the cross of Christ. That’s because it’s as if every Christian themselves has borne God’s wrath for sin and died on that cross. Yet, we didn’t. But Christ did for us. So, if we trust in Christ by faith, then the Scripture says that we died with Christ.
Now in a similar way, not only does it talk about us already dying in verse 3, but it also speaks of our being alive – that our life is hidden with Christ in God. This was already mentioned in verse 1, when it said “if you have been raised with Christ”. So verse 3 has in mind not only that we have died, but that we have been resurrected too with Christ. Christ, who is not only raised up from the dead, but raised up into heaven, there, in heaven, is our life with him too. Again, clearly this is not a physical reality for us right now. Christ is physically there. Christ physically rose up from the grave and he physically rose up out of this earth into the heavenly places. Christ, is physically right now there in heaven at the right hand of God. He’s raised up there. We are not physically raised up to there with him. So, if this is not a reference to a bodily resurrection, is there a reference to our soul? Well, there is a sense in which by becoming a Christian we have been spiritually raised from the dead of sin into newness of life in Christ Jesus. That’s what we call regeneration, and it’s described in 2:13 when it says that we were dead in our trespasses but now have been made alive together with Christ. But that resurrection of our soul is not yet complete, which is why verse 9 can say that we have put on the new self and yet it is being renewed (present tense). So, while spiritually there is a sense in which our souls have been raised from the dead, there is also a sense in which that renewal is still happening.
So then, what does Paul mean when he says here that our life is hidden with Christ? What sort of resurrection for us is her referring to? Well, this too is union language. Again, much can be said of that union with Christ. One thing we can say from here is that Christ not only died in our place, but he also rose in our place. This is so that we too now have the hope of a future bodily resurrection. It is important to understand that if Jesus only died in our place, but did not rise from the dead, we would not have that hope. As Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” The idea here is that if Christ had only died but not then been raised from the dead that would mean he hadn’t conquered sin and death. If he just died and stayed dead, then would mean Jesus was defeated by our sin. It would show that our sin had not been fully dealt with. But no, Jesus died and rose from the dead, showing himself victorious. So then, he died in our place and rose in our place. So as Jesus then right now is up in heaven, because of our union with him, it’s as if we are up there with him. We’ve not yet rose from the dead and ascended into such glory. But Christ has for us. His resurrected life is our life. So then, if we trust in Christ by faith, the Scripture says of us that we’ve been raised with Christ and our life is thus hidden with Christ up in heaven.
Let us now in our third point for today turn to verse 4. Verse 4, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Here that union language looks to its significance to the future. I already mentioned how the idea that we are raised with Christ is union language that speaks to how we will in the future be bodily raised up like Christ. Now verse 4 tells us when our future bodily resurrection will happen. It says it will happen when Christ appears. In other words, Christ is coming again from heaven. He will one day return. In ascending up into heaven he was taken up into the clouds. And he will one day return in the same manner, as the Son of God coming in the clouds back to earth. So then, while we don’t know the day or hour of what that will be, it is the time when our own resurrection will take place. When Christ appears.
Verse 4 then tells us that Christ will come again to bring us to glory. Notice more union language there. Christ will “appear” here on earth so we can than “appear” with him in glory. He will come back down to earth to take us up to glory. Think about that idea of glory a little more with me. Right now, Christ is ascended up to a place of glory. This earth is not such a place of glory. But Jesus in the heavens is in a place of glory. He will bring us to enjoy such glory when he returns, when he ushers us into the age to come. Elsewhere we are told more of how that will happen. At the end, on that final day of this age when Christ returns, that is when our bodies will be raised anew. Our bodies themselves will be transformed into something glorious, as they will no longer get sick, no longer get injured, no longer wear out, and no longer die. Then at that time the heavens and earth will also be transformed into something new and heaven will come down to earth and setup that glory on earth where God and the Christ will live with us there forever. That is the glory that awaits us who are united with Christ through faith. And it is made possible for us to enjoy this because Christ died and rose again for us and for our salvation.
So verse 4 promises us this glory. But our passage also warns that not every human will know such future glory. In verse 6, it speaks of how the wrath of God is coming against the evils of this earth. You see, when Christ appears, when he comes again, it will be not only to save believers but to bring a mighty judgment on the wicked. At that time, Jesus will bring a final day of judgment for all. Those who have been united to Christ through faith will be commended and ushered into this glory. But the rest will be condemned and face the terrible wrath of God for their sins. They will be cast into the lake of fire and experience an eternal punishment. This is why it is so important for us to continue to proclaim the hope of Jesus Christ to the world. While there is yet time, the Bible calls each of us to acknowledge that we are sinners who deserve such death and damnation. But if you look to Christ to save you, then his death and resurrection will be yours, as we’ve discussed today. We can all be saved from the wrath of God to come if you will look to Jesus for salvation. We preach this Christ again today. Jesus Christ died and rose again on the third day. Look to him and be saved.
In application then, I return to the point that this passage says we should be heavenly-minded. We should have hearts looking heavenward, toward the glory that is coming for us. But starting in verse 5, we see how that has very specific application for how we live here on earth. I’m referring to the dynamic of looking to put to death evil earthly things and looking to put on the glorious and good things of Christ. We’ve focused today on verses 1-4, but see how verses 5-17 really illustrate everything we’ve been talking about. They take these heavenly-minded concepts and explain how they are to be lived out here and now on this earth.
Think about the call to put these bad things to death. It calls these bad things in verse 5 as the earthly things. In other words, not the heavenly things that we are supposed to be embracing. It says we are to put them to death, just like how Christ died and we with him. So, because of that now being our state, “having died with Christ” to these evil earthly things, we now look to put them to death in our current day to day living. These things touch both on our hearts and our actions. We are to mortify lusts like sexual immorality and impurity, and illicit passions, and evil desire, and covetousness. We are to put to death the unrighteous anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk that results in sinful conflicts with our neighbors who we are supposed to be loving. To be heavenly minded means that we look to put these things to death. Why? Because we’ve already died to such earthly evils in our union with Christ. That’s why being heavenly-minded will look to put them to death in our actual living here and now on this earth while we await that glory.
So then think of this call starting in verse 12 about what we should put on instead. If we put to death these evil earthly things, there are good things we should put on in their place. In context, if the things to put off are described as earthly things, then surely these good things to put on are to be understood as heavenly things. They are the good heavenly things of glory that Christ would have formed in us, because that is our future. Here and now on this earth, we are to seek to be alive with compassionate hearts, with kindness, with humility, with meekness, and patience. We are to seek to be alive with forgiveness and grace toward others. We are to seek to live with Christ’s peace and his word in our hearts, singing to God with thankfulness in our hearts. To be heavenly-minded means that we look to put on these things right now. Because we have been made alive in Christ, here is how we are to adorn that new life. We look to live heavenly and in anticipation of glory.
So then, the things we are to put to death and what we are to put on, give us a final picture of this glory that is coming for us. This passage reveals how this glory will be a place where there is no more of these evil earthly things that are described here. Instead it will be a place where love and righteousness and peace dwells. What we are to put to death here and now won’t be there anymore in that future glory. And what we are to put on and live out here and now will be there in the full in that future glory.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, today we’ve thought about heavenly-mindedness and its relationship to our earthly living. But more so, we’ve been talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what is behind all our passage today. Christ died and rose to live again in heavenly glory. We are to daily die to sin and live to righteousness in light of our coming glory. See the correlation there. Our sanctification is rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our pursuit of heavenly mindedness is also a daily illustration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Let us seek to daily display this in how we look to live. Praise God for the many wonderful ramifications of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.