1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 ESV
Paul’s opening statement in chapter three is meant to convey an assumption that Paul has made regarding the members of the Colossian church. He is not questioning their salvation, but instead, he is stating that because they are believers, they must have a completely different perspective about life. The opening verse might be better translated, “Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…”
Their new relationship with God the Father, made possible by the atoning work of Jesus Christ, should give them an eternal, rather than temporal, outlook on life. Their hearts and minds should be focused on all that the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished on their behalf. They were no longer of this world. In fact, what Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi was true for them as well: “…we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).
Paul was constantly encouraging Gentile believers to embrace their new identity as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. – Ephesians 2:19 NLT
No matter what their ethnic identity may have been, they were now members of God’s family and shared in the glorious inheritance reserved for all His children.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:15-17 NLT
But Paul knew that the Colossian believers were struggling to accept and adapt to their new identities in Christ. Because of their earth-bound existence, they were prone to view life through the lens of the here-and-now. They were stuck on an earthly plane and having a difficult time visualizing the spiritual benefits of their relationship with Christ. But Paul reminded them that their Lord and Savior was no longer on earth but was “seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1 ESV).
Paul’s mention of Jesus’ presence at His Father’s side was intended to remind them that this present world was not their final destination. Peter would have told them that they were nothing more than “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT) in this world. According to what Jesus told His disciples, God had a far better destiny in store for His children.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 ESV
Peter described this place as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). And the apostle John recorded in the book of Revelation the vision he received of this future residence for God’s people.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 22:2-4 ESV
So, when Paul writes, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV), he is attempting to focus their attention on the glorious future God has in store for them. They were not to confuse this present world and their current lives with the coming Kingdom of God. And like the apostle John, Paul wanted his readers to reject the temptation to live as if this world was their home.
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT
Paul knew how difficult it was to live in this world while maintaining a healthy distance from all its temptations and allures. That’s why he emphasized having a “heavenly” perspective that focused on the reality of things to come. In a sense, Paul is describing the life of faith. As the author of Hebrews describes it, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith is living with a future-focused perspective that believes in and waits on the final fulfillment of all the promises that God has made.
And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently). – Romans 8:23-25 NLT
Paul constantly repeated this refrain to the various flocks to whom God had made him a shepherd. He told the Corinthians Christians:
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT
And Paul reminded the Colossians believers: “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3 ESV). This rather enigmatic statement carries a profound truth that Paul thoroughly embraced and constantly taught. And in his letter to the church in Rome, he expounded upon the profound nature of our union with Christ.
…have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. – Romans 6:3-8 NLT
Christ didn’t save the Colossian believers and then abandon them to fend for themselves. They were united with Him in His death and His resurrection. His death broke the chains of sin that had once held them captive and trapped in a life of slavery. They had died with Christ and were now united to Him in His resurrected state. That is why Paul could so boldly and joyfully state, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).
Paul states that the Christian’s life is “hidden with Christ in God.” The Greek word is κρύπτω (kryptō), and it conveys the idea of concealment. He is trying to let the Colossian believers know that their lives are being preserved by Christ in heaven. They were to live their lives as if they were already seated by His side in heaven. Their destiny was assured. And while they were temporarily stuck on earth, they could live as if they were already citizens of God’s eternal kingdom. From a faith-based perspective, they were as good as there. Their sins were forgiven, their future resurrection was assured, and their eternal state was fully secure. All because of the matchless love of God in Christ.
…God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-6 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.