Grace For The Journey
Ever since my high school days I have had to correct my vision for nearsightedness. To be nearsighted means you have difficulty focusing on things far away. I have had to wear corrective lenses in order to help me focus and see clearly things that are in the distance.
I have always found physical nearsightedness to be a helpful parable for spiritual nearsightedness. Jesus certainly believed so. Remember John 9? After Jesus heals the blind man, the Pharisees get all worked up about His having healed on the Sabbath so Jesus tells them in verses 39-41, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees…said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ And Jesus responds, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.’”
In essence, Jesus was telling them, “You may be able to see physically, but you don’t see so well spiritually. Your physical eyesight is good enough, but your spiritual eyesight is poor.”
The gospel corrects our spiritual vision.
Sometimes we can see only
What is up close and miss the reality
Of the things in the distance;
Things in the future, the eternal.
The gospel restores our focus,
Ensuring that our spiritual eyesight
Is sharp and clear.
Recall that false teachers in Colossae had clouded the believers’ vision.
The false teachers were trying to get
The Colossian Christians to look beyond Christ.
They had tried to get their eyes off Jesus and tried to get them looking in other places for the “deeper,” more spiritual life.
Paul writes this letter to get
The Christians looking at Christ.
In some sense, Paul is writing this letter to correct the vision of the Colossians, to restore their focus, to help them, as the writer says in Hebrews 12:2, “fix their eyes on Jesus.”
Before we jump into Colossians chapter 3, let’s recall the structure of the letter: the first half of the letter (Chapters 1-2) is doctrinal information and the second half (Chapters 3-4) is practical application. This is Paul’s style in much of his writing.
Doctrine comes before duty.
Right theology informs right living.
Proper learning precedes proper living.
In Romans, for example, Paul writes eleven chapters about new life in Christ. The first eleven chapters contain so much great doctrinal information about the believer’s new life as a follower of Jesus. And it’s only after those eleven chapters of doctrine that Paul writes in the first part of chapter 12: “Therefore,” offer your bodies as a living sacrifices …” See the pattern?
That same pattern is found in Ephesians. The first half of the letter (Chapters 1-3) contains doctrinal information and the second half (Chapters 4-6) contains practical application. Paul uses the same pattern here in Colossians. Before he tells the Colossians to “Seek those things which are above (Duty!),” he writes two chapters of correct doctrine. Doctrine precedes duty.
Here’s the point . . .
You can’t live a life that pleases God
Apart from receiving a new life in Christ.
New lifestyle requires new life. Anything else is pure legalism; just trying to keep a bunch of rules and regulations apart from the grace of God.
But remember . . .
Rule-keeping does not save a person.
Believers do not keep biblical rules
In order to become Christians.
Believers keep biblical rules
Because they are Christians.
Believers live their lives as a “Thank You Note” to God for His grace.
Now, let’s begin our study of Chapter 3.
Verse 1 says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.”
The word “if” there is better translated “since.” The grammar is such that what is stated is assumed to be true. Because the Colossian Christians had, in fact, died with Christ (recall Colossians 2:20), they have also been raised with Christ (verse 1).
When Paul writes, “Since then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above.” The idea is to fix one’s gaze upward. Look up!
1) Seek Those Things which are Above.
If you have a dog or cat, you can understand what the phrase “seeks those things which are above” means. When you get them a treat out of the cupboard you have never seen the dog or cat so fixed upon those things which are above! Their focus is unbroken. They will not take their eyes off of the prize until you give it to them. This is the idea. Paul is like, “Look upward. Fix your eyes upon those things which are above. Keep your focus steadily upon your reward.”
Why does Paul say this here? Why does he seem suddenly to say, “Seek those things which are above?” Well, the context shows us that Paul is teaching us how to live a life that honors God. We cannot walk in holiness by sheer determination. The false teachers offered only legalism and self-determination.
They gave those rules at the end of chapter 2, verse 21: “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” And Paul concludes chapter 2 by saying in verse 23, “These (religious rules) indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body,” – and this is key here – “but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
In other words, legalism, moralistic rules, and self-determination are powerless to keep one from sin.
Religious rules have no power
To change a person’s heart.
Sheer force of discipline
Is not enough to live
A life that pleases God.
Godly living requires
A new life in Christ.
Godly living requires
That a person
Be buried with Christ
And raised with Christ.
Have you ever tried to conquer sin by sheer determination? You don’t get very far. And this fact applies not just to our trying to conquer sin before becoming a Christian, but it also applies to our trying to conquer sin the same way after becoming a Christian. A lot of Christians are going around trying to conquer sin by sheer force of determination and discipline.
Make one holy.
What we must do is remember that Christ is in us and we are in Him. We must remember this regularly and we must keep on seeking the things above. When we do this, we are able to live the lives God has called us to live.
So . . .
The key motivator to living out
This new life in Christ,
The key to walking in holiness
And growing in holiness is to
“Seek those things which are above.”
And it is not just a looking for, but a longing for.
2) Set Your Mind on Things Above.
Verse 2 says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” This phrase carries the idea of “being totally wrapped up in” the things of the Lord.
I love how John MacArthur describes this mindset: “As a compass points north, the believer’s entire disposition should point itself toward the things of heaven.” This looking upward, requires continual action. The imperative “Set your mind on things above,” is a verbal phrase in the present tense and active voice. It may be better to translate it as “Keep on thinking about.”
It is so easy for “the things of earth” to steal our gaze. It is so easy for the temporal things that will not last to rob us of the joy of being in Christ. Sometimes when we suffer it’s hard to see beyond our suffering. If we are suddenly diagnosed with a health condition, it is easy to lose focus. When our family goes through a trial of some kind or other, our spiritual compass may suddenly point south.
We have a tendency
Not to focus
“On things above,”
“On things on the earth.”
So, Paul gives us this imperative to help our spiritual focus. It is the same intent as he writes to the church in Corinth where he encourages the Christians not to lose heart as they suffer: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
So set your mind on things above . . . and you will see clearly.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”