Set Your Hearts On Things Above
Key Verse 3:1,2
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
The Colossian Christians have been truly converted to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They had heard the message of the Gospel, and had accepted the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on their behalf. They had confessed their sins, and received forgiveness through faith in Jesus’ death. More than that, they had been reconciled to God and made heirs with Christ Jesus. in other words they had become citizens of the kingdom of God. Paul assured them that “God had made [them] alive with Christ.” (2:13) Having been given every spiritual blessing in heaven and on earth, what more could they lack? What more could they want? Actually nothing! For they had been given fullness in Christ. (2:10) But somehow there were some false teachers who had clouded their minds with doubts that the Gospel they had received had been lacking the full message. These agitators had been somehow successful in convincing some Colossian Christians to embrace some laws in order to compliment and to complete the Gospel message they had believed in. They had been earthly Laws— laws that require a man to do this or do that in an effort to bolster faith and spirit. But the true Gospel requires nothing of a man except that the man rests his faith on the grace of God— on Christ Jesus who through his death and resurrection had accomplished the work of salvation for those who believe. And that’s where our story begins.
Paul who loved the church of the Colossians wrote them a letter in order to refute all the false teachings that had clouded their minds with doubts. And so after exalting Christ, and re-establishing the Deity and Supremacy of Christ above all things, Paul counsels the Colossian Christians in the Gospel they had once heard and believed. This Gospel had brought them forgiveness of sins, had reconciled them with God, and had made them the children of God that they now were. They had been purchased by Christ’s shed blood and had become the citizens of heaven. And Christ had now come to live in their hearts. And that was the greatest of all glorious things— that Christ now lived in their hearts. For that alone was their greatest and only hope! (1:27) That Christ lived in their hearts, their hope of glory! What more could a Christian hope for! “So then,” Paul had written them saying, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.” (2:6) The Apostle had worried when false teachers had come to shake their faith and confidence in the Lord. So he had counseled them to continue living in Christ as Christ continues to live in them. The Apostle had practically shouted at them “God made you alive with Christ”. (2:13) It was a blessing beyond their wildest imaginings, that they who were dead in their sins were made alive with Christ— that Christ had snatched them from the dominion of darkness and had brought them into his kingdom of Light.
Then some charlatans who pretended to be holy and righteous, who had a semblance of humility and the appearance of wisdom came by to rob the Colossian Christians of the freedom that they had had in Christ. But Paul warned the Colossian Christians not to be deceived by shows of humility nor by an appearance of wisdom nor by seeming acts of worship. Such things may appear to be religious on the outside, but in reality they are absolutely powerless to touch the heart of men, which is what really matters to God. Religion and religious acts, laws and lawful living, fancy words that seem spiritual and a show of humility and such are as nothing because they cannot touch the hearts of men. Only Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus has the power to penetrate into the heart and to change it and to make it fit and worthy of God and of his kingdom. Why? Because for the heart to change, it needs conviction; it needs rebuking; it needs repentance; it needs forgiveness; and it needs recreation. And only Jesus and the Gospel can do that for the human heart.
So Paul warned them, and cautioned them not to forget that it was the Gospel of Jesus that had touched their inner person and had changed them into men and women of God. They needed to remember the grace of God and the power of the Gospel which had turned their hearts to God. As he put it, “they died with Christ” (2:20) when they renounced their sins and had accepted what the Lord’s blood shed for them on the cross. But they had not only died with Christ! Paul tells them that they had also been raised with Christ. And through this, they had been made a new person. They had been given a new and changed heart and they had also been given a new and a changed life. And so begins the third chapter of Colossians. In it Paul teaches the Colossian Christians and Christians of all time many things. Mainly he teaches us how to live the new life which has been given us.
Chapter 3 begins with an exhortation to the Christians to set their hearts and minds on things above rather than on earthly things, to turn one’s heart and mind to heavenly things rather than to earthly things. He says: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (1-2) Let us read verses 1-2 together.
In these verses Paul commands the Christians not to dwell on earthly things, but rather to dwell on heavenly things. To make it a point to— to set their hearts and minds on— to pursue and to seek those things that are heavenly by nature. And at the same time to subdue— to let go of— to put aside the things that are earthly or worldly by nature. We will talk a little about his exhortation here to think on things that are heavenly rather than to remain earthbound and fixed on the earthly or worldly things. But before we talk about this, look at the rest of the chapter, mainly the passage we are considering today, that is, up to verse 17. When we read it, we see Paul also explaining and giving examples of what are the things that are earthly and what are the things that are heavenly.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Paul commands the Christian to set his or her heart and mind on things above, where Christ is, and not on earthly things. He commands that the heart and the mind be diverted from the earthly things and set on he heavenly things. The heart and mind encompass the whole man or woman. In other words, the entire being must be diverted from the earthly things and set on the heavenly things. The mind— the intellect— the thought world— the imagination. As well as the heart— the emotion— the feelings— the passion and more. All these things must be set on the heavenly things because that being had died with Christ and had been raised with Christ. And because that being had been changed in his or her inner man to become a child of God. And when we have been changed and given a new life, then that new life can no longer live as it did in its old self, but must now live in its new self as it says A New Life.
To live a new life— a completely new life in Christ is demanded of the Christian. The reasons are obvious why a man or woman touched by the Gospel must live a new life. In verse 1 Paul tells us: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” In verse 3 he says: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” And in verse 10 Paul says: “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” The reasons a Christian must live a new life in Christ after receiving the gift of the new life are obvious. We died with Christ. In other words, whatever we were before dying with Christ is history, and is gone, a memory of old, a life that was sinful and offensive to God. No one who had embraced the death of Christ and who had his or her sins washed by the blood of Jesus must continue to live the life he or she lived before being redeemed and forgiven by God. Also we were raised with Christ. In other words, the old self that offended God and was worthy of death had already died and was buried in Christ, and a new opportunity and life had been given to us that we might now live for him. We were raised with him, means that in the old self we were dead, and dying. And if we had died in our sins it would have been the greatest tragedy of all time. For those who die in their sins will rise, but not to Christ. they will rise to a hell and to living in hell forever. But we were raised with Christ is the gift of God to his children, a taste of what would one day come. (verse 4) But until that day comes, we must strive to live a new life— the new life given to us to live while we are still in the flesh. Paul also tells us in verse 10 that we must live a new life because we have put on the new self. What a glorious declaration! That self is not complete the moment it is given to us. It is an infant that needs to be nourished and grown. And the promise is that the new life will most certainly grow and mature in the knowledge of God and in the image of its creator Christ. What a glorious truth is given to us here. We must live the new life, and we must live it for all the good reasons that Paul tells us. And we must live it because it has been prepared for us to live, and to grow into all the Christian which God would have us be.
We must live the new life. And we must grow. But why does Paul encourage us to set our whole being, our hearts and minds and all that there is within us, on heavenly things? Because we may not do so. The new life is given to us. But we must make something of it. We must maintain it. More than that, we must grow it, and see that it matures within us until it can glorify God. Set your hearts, set your minds, are responsibilities we are given on what to do with this new life and new nature that has been given to us. Christians cannot receive a new life and imagine that all will be well from there on, that miraculously we would fight and overcome temptations. That miraculously we would always choose the good and wholesome things of God. that miraculously we would grow a spiritual inch every day until miraculously one day we wake up as spiritual giants who can take on the devil hands down. What foolishness is this! What foolishness is it for a man or woman given a new life to imagine that we become all that God wants us to become without fearing a set back. What foolishness it is for a Christian to also believe that since his physical nature is so strong, much stronger than his spiritual nature, that it is wise to give in and let the sinful nature takes its course. That there is nothing he or she can do about that strong and sinful nature, and that giving in is Godly wisdom. Don’t be surprised at this. There were many in Paul’s time who deemed the spiritual nature to be beyond reproach and therefore might as well give in to the demands of the physical nature since it will perish any way. That is heresy!
That is precisely why Paul commands us to set our hearts on heavenly things and not on earthly things. He demands that we fight with every breath we have the sinful nature that desires the earthly things and encourage the spiritual nature which is usually too weak to seek after the spiritual things, the heavenly things. What must we set our hearts and minds on? Or another version the word is seek, so what must we seek? How must we live the new life that has been given to us? We must set our hearts and minds on heavenly things. We must seek them. Paul relates what these earthly things are in this chapter, and he also relates a little of what the heavenly things are that we must seek and set our hearts on. But we can also understand this command from the many examples that the Bible gives us.
One day when John the Baptist saw Jesus for the first time, he pointed him out to his disciples saying: “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” At these words, two of John’s disciples, John and Andrew, began to follow Jesus. when Jesus saw them following him, he asked them, “What do you want?” It was one of the most poignant and heart piercing question God can ask any man. Hat do you want, what is your desire, what do you really want in life? What are you seeking? This question is hard to answer because the heart harbors many wants and desires as it is the seat of our desires. What do we want? What do we really want from life, or from Jesus, or from God! the right answer to this question has always been: “Lord I want you, and nothing or no one else.” Set your hearts and minds on things above is really to set our hearts on Jesus, to have Jesus at the center of our wants and desires. The heart is so corrupt, even for the Christian who has been given a new heart and a new life. He or she need to continuously set their hearts on Jesus, as the main desire of their hearts.
One time when Jesus openly told his disciples that he would obey the difficult will of God and surrender himself to the cross, and to death, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, telling Jesus that he must not think like this. That he must not think of surrender his life, that he should rather fight against those who would capture him and crucify him, and Peter gave his allegiance to Jesus to fight next to him. But Jesus turned around and rebuked Peter, saying to him to get behind him, naming him even Satan, that Peter did not have in mind the things of God, but of men. What Jesus meant was that the things of God or the heavenly things as Paul names them, are so different from the things of men, or the earthly things. Men in their earthly nature desire life and riches and popularity and fame and they avoid suffering and pain absolutely. And God’s things and heavenly things as Paul calls them are self sacrifice and obedience to the will of God, and suffering and many times it is costly to man. In other words, to set our hearts on things above is to desire what God desires of us, to empty ourselves of our own plans and desires for life and future, and to give it to God being ready to do as the Lord wills. To set your hearts on things above, you must begin to learn the heart and mind of God, so that you may mature into an obedient child of God rather than a spoiled Christian who flinches at every discomfort.
Jesus taught the crowds saying: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” To set one’s heart and mind on heavenly things is to seek the kingdom of God in every day life and living. The world is too strong and vibrant and flashy so that even the children of God, those who have been given a new heart and a new life cannot escape from the lure of its temptation. Even strong Christians can get easily entangled with the world and its endless intrigues. But to live the new life God has given us, we must strife, we must struggle, we must fight to seek first his kingdom. To have the kingdom of God and God’s precious righteousness is not easy. We must change our priorities. The priorities we have in this world often conflict with what God really wants of us. God wants us to put God and his kingdom and his word and his benefit first in our lives, over and above even the dearest things that we cherish in this world. That is why so many good Christians even fail in this area, not growing in their inner man as long as their priorities become things that the Bible considers “earthly things”. We must love and serve others, and we must guide our hearts to do what is right as Christians. But not at the cost of God and his kingdom. When God calls the Christian to do something he does not like to do, or to give something he does not like to give, only the heart and mind that are set on heavenly things, on God and on Godly things, can please God in this matter. Only that heart actually matures in the knowledge of God and in the image of his Creator.
The Bible is full of examples and teachings and exhortations that can teach the sincere Christian how to set his or her heart and mind on heavenly things. But unless that Christian is willing to obey this basic command of “Set your hearts and minds on heavenly things where Christ is seated— seek the heavenly things”, that Christian cannot hope to achieve all that God would have him or her achieve in their spiritual life. we need not be stunted in the new life which God had called us to live. He has given us a new life, but there is a responsibility we must fulfill, and that responsibility includes “setting our hearts on things above”. A glorious teaching. It is also wondrous that Paul gives us hope that we can grow in this new life when we set our hearts on things above. When we make up our minds to seek that which is heavenly rather than that which is earthly. The earthly things around are too many and too attractive making it hard. But it is absolutely possible to when we embrace his command and begin to seek those things. And the more we do, the more we grow into formidable Christians who can actually defy the world and its endless temptations and pitfalls.
What then are some of the earthly things we should not set our hearts and minds on? What things of the earthly nature that we must banish and put off from our lives as we struggle to live the new life God has given us in and through Christ Jesus? Read verses 5-9. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”
We need convince no one, not even the worldly man that all that is mentioned in these verses belongs to the old nature, to the earthly nature we were born into. All human beings are born to sin and in sin. They are born with an earthly nature that is completely devoted to the physical elements of this world. Perhaps that is why the world, when it does not know nor acknowledge Christ and the grace of God, consider that such things as sexual immorality natural and at times they even consider it healthy. Greed is another element of the earthly sinful nature which seems to be completely acceptable to those who are not touched by God. Greed seems to be health to men and women who need to strive for more of what the world originally has given them. They want more money, more comfort, better jobs, higher positions, and such. All come from greed and from not being content with what God has given to each of us. This is the old nature, the nature that every human being is born into. Paul tells us that in the new life we must not live like this anymore. In other words, we must view these things as repulsive to God and part of a nature that was under God’s wrath, and part of a nature that eventually caused the Son of God to be crucified for. We must examine all the details Paul gives us of the old nature he has mentioned here, and we must not be presumptuous considering that we are above being caught fixing our hearts on them or seeking them in our life. even as a Christian full of the grace of God, these elements of the world can find their ways easily into our hearts and cause us in a moment to desire them. Rather we must repent of them. We must treat them as enemies of our hearts and minds. And we must do as Paul says— Set our hearts on things above. It is his wise advice that we do so. We must decide to put them aside, to want them no more, to abhor them and cast them out of our lives as that which originally polluted our hearts and made them remain hell-bound.
On the other hand, what are the things above, the heavenly things that Paul urges us to set our hearts and minds on? Read verses 12-17. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
These are some of the heavenly things— the things of God— we must set our hearts and minds on. They are holy and wholesome and perfectly in tune with the new life we have been given as Christians who had died and risen with the Lord. Paul appeals to the Christians of Colosse, pointing to the love of God for them, that in his great love he had done for them what they could have never done for themselves, which is to change into noble and precious human beings worthy of God. A man or woman who is engrossed in sexual immorality and in greed and in slander and gossip and complaints and such is really not worthy of God. God did not create us to debase ourselves and to submit to the most ignoble and filthy practices that even the beasts of the earth would not practice. God created us to soar above the earthly and the mundane, above that which is of this earth, and to be as he who redeemed us is, a heavenly being destined for glory. So we must set our hearts on those things that make us children of God. it is a struggle. It is a fight. It is a battle that we must fight every day and win. Bearing with others and forgiving them is truly noble and heavenly. An earthly man wants to hold grudges and condemn those who offend him. But the man whose heart is set on heavenly things, on Christ, wants to be like his maker, loving and forgiving, bearing with others who are weaker. It is heavenly. A man or woman who live a new life in Christ also cherish love above indifference. They cherish peace above anxiety that comes form the world. They cherish love as something to grow in during their pilgrimage because the Lord their Lord had loved unconditionally. Gratitude, and thankfulness, patience and service, sacrifice and all are all part of the new nature that we are called to participate in and to set our hearts on living and growing in. It is a beautiful thing to be commanded to set our hearts on heaven, on Christ, and to grow in his knowledge and in his image. What else can we want? It is what we must seek with our whole hearts. God bless you.
* [The earthly things come from the earthly nature, part of the earthly nature which we are born into. And the heavenly things come from the heavenly nature, which is the new nature, the new life that has been given to us in and through Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul tells them that they had been given a new life. But this new life is not like the old life they had. They had been very much at home when they were in the old self, the earthly self they born into. For years they had given in to the old self, the earthly self, and for years they had been familiar with their own earthly nature such that they had been comfortable with it. Everything they did in their old nature had come naturally to them. But now that they had died with Christ and risen with Christ through what Christ had done for them and through their faith in him, Paul tells Christians that their old nature had died and they had been reborn into a new nature. But even though they had died to the old nature, it does not mean that they had been completely free of it. In other words, as long as they live in this body on earth, they are still susceptible to the temptations of the flesh that are around them. And even though they had been given a new heart and new life to live in Christ, it does not mean that they would naturally and easily begin to live the new life with power and no hindrances. In fact, Paul knows that the new life in Christ would be difficult— as he calls it elsewhere it is a battle to be waged every day of one’s life. But even though it is not going to be easy living it, it is certainly within their grasp to live it. Their new nature was like an infant who needs to be fed and nurtured and matured until the infant grows into a strong adult able to walk on his or her own two feet.]