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.
Colossians 3:1-4 ESV
As we now pass the midway point in the letter of Colossians, we must note that the letter takes a shift of tone and voice. The first two chapters have dealt primarily with theology. In them, Paul established the proper doctrines of Christ and salvation, so that the Colossians would be prepared to withstand the false teaching of the Gnostics around them. Chapters three and four, however, dive into the application of that theology. It is worth remembering that good theology that does not impact our daily lives is meaningless. We study the Scriptures because they reveal Christ and guide to Him. Doctrine without application is folly. Thus, may our study of the second half of Colossians lead us toward Christ-glorifying lives.
RAISE WITH CHRIST // VERSE 1
Paul begins the application portion of Colossians by showing how it connects to the theology of chapters one and two. The phrase “raised with Christ” encapsulates all major ideas of the first half of the letter. After all, we learned at the end of chapter two that by dying with Christ we are no longer bound by the legalism of trying to earn God’s favor and grace. Instead, the death of Christ cancelled our debt to God and purchased our reconciliation with Him. Though dying with Christ, we are also raised to new life with Him. Now the apostle intends to teach us what to do next. What actions do we take then if Christ has already accomplished everything for us?
The goal of the Christ follower is to do good works. We can never forget that fact. However, Christ’s atoning death changes how we do good works. The work of Christ on the cross transforms every aspect of our lives, including our hearts and minds. Thus, as Paul issues these commands, he wants us to understand that we do not do them so that God will love us more. The love of God for us is constant. He loves us just as much on the mountain peaks as He does in the darkest valleys. Therefore, our good works no longer come from obligation but rather out of gratitude. Jesus has purchased for us, with His own blood, a new life and a new heart; therefore, it only makes sense for us to “seek the things that are above.” If we have been given a new life in Christ, we must live in such a way that our life is indeed with Christ. But what exactly does Paul mean by seeking things above? Fortunately, the next three verses explain well the apostle’s intent.
THINGS THAT ARE ABOVE // VERSES 2-3
It only makes sense that if our life now is in Christ all of our thoughts should be centered within Him. For Paul, our state of mind informs our actions. Wherever our thoughts are, our actions are sure to follow. Therefore, we are to have a heavenly mind. Please note that this does not mean that we should be withdrawn from the world around us. Instead, if our minds are fixed upon the eternal glories of Christ, we will find in ourselves a greater passion for the things of earth, only in a Christ-centered way. Rather than trying to get as many possessions as we can, the Christ-filled mind longs to give to others. The Christian mind seeks servitude and compassion over power and control. We view reality from an eternal perspective, not the temporal, earthly perspective. This has implications upon every facet of our lives. Our jobs and careers are not simply how we earn money to live; instead, they are daily mission fields that God has sovereignly placed us into.
The reason for this change of lifestyle is once more stated as we have died with Christ. Interestingly, the Greeks had a common expression for referring to the deceased as being hidden in the earth (Barclay, 148). Thus, Paul is stating that Christians are hidden with Christ. Our very lives are encased within Christ and in God the Father. This speaks to the security of our salvation. If God is the author of our salvation, He is also its guardian. Like Russian nesting dolls, our promise of eternal life is protected by God the Father and God the Son and ensured by God the Holy Spirit.
WITH HIM IN GLORY // VERSE 4
Paul now concludes the opening thesis of this chapter by speaking of the consummation of our salvation. When Christ appears refers to the second coming of Jesus. His first coming occurred roughly two thousand years ago. At that time, Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died an undeserved death, and rose to life. Following this, Christ ascended to heaven, where He will remain until His return back to earth.
However, the first and second coming are quite different. Previously, Jesus came as a suffering servant who died for the sins of mankind. Next time, Christ will descend as a conquering king who will establish His reign on earth. Naturally, the image of a conquering king can be viewed in one of two ways: either terror or joy. For enemies of the king, there is nothing but terror because they know that their defeat is imminent, but for the servants of the king, there is joy in the triumph of their king. We find at one point the Israelite town of Ziklag was conquered by the Amalekites (1 Sam. 30). In response, David led an army against the Amalekites and defeated them. For the Amalekites, David’s coming was full of terror and sorrow, but for the Israelites of Ziklag, David was their king and defender, who rescued them from their enemy. So it is with the second coming of Christ. All people will respond with either terror or joy. The Apostle John received a vision of the returning Christ in Revelation (Rev. 19:11-21). The result is not pleasant for the enemies of Christ. However, for the followers of Christ, His return marks the consummation of our salvation.
Notice Paul’s wording here. Christ will appear, then we will appear also with Him in glory! The glory of Christ will be revealed to the world, and we will share in that glory. The word “glory” is closely related to splendor or shining. So when we say that the glory of Christ will be revealed, we mean that the splendor and majesty of Jesus will be on full display for the world to see. Though today “we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him, (Heb. 2:8)” we will in that day see with our physical eyes the kingly reign of Christ. What we worship and believe in by faith will be made sight. Therefore, we proclaim with the hymn, “Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight!” In viewing His glory, we too will be glorified with Him. Paul writes elsewhere, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). This is the hope of all believers in Christ as Lord: that we will one day appear in glory with our glorified King and Savior. “Now our eternal life is hidden (v.3), but then it will be manifest” (Constable, 48).
Though discussing verse 4, I have passed over four crucial words: “who is your life.” This phrase is the condition by which our appearing with Christ occurs. We will only be glorified with Him if He is our life. We must take great care here not to soften the impact of Paul’s wording. It does not say that Christ is the center of our lives or even the focus of our lives (though to be honest, I actively use wordings like Christ-centered and Christ-focused). Jesus is not merely the top priority of our lives. Jesus is our life.
Furthermore, Jesus does not seek to be the most important aspect of our lives; He aims to be our life. To be fair, we are not unfamiliar with this sort of language. Think of a person is entirely consumed with music and being a musician. Some might remark that music is his life. Other things of value can easily be inserted into the same example. For the Christian, this can only be Jesus. Christ is of such great value that He is our life, the entirety of our existence.
Ultimately, each of us must conclude the purpose and aim of our life. Whether we live for money, power, family, or self, it is only natural for us to make something the centerpiece of our existence. However, if Christ is not our lives, we have missed the very point of living. Everything, including us, was created for Jesus; thus, we can truly live by living for Him.