“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:1–2
In the closing verses of chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Colossians he had been rebuking the congregation for being involved in a form of self-willed worship. If they have died with Christ to the world’s childish, trivial notions, why do they submit to man-made ordinances—touch not; taste not; handle not? Such have only a show of wisdom and only serve to indulge the flesh. It leads away from Christ and the life of gratitude. The apostle calls us to live in conformity with the fact that as believers we have been raised with Christ. We must realize the significance of Christ’s exaltation! Our union with the risen and exalted Christ must transform our entire life! We are exhorted to seek the things which are above where Christ is.
How we need this exhortation! So easily we become absorbed in the here and the now. The temptations to worldliness, materialism, and self-seeking are many. We often have little time or concern for the things above. We too can lose sight of the significance of Christ’s resurrection and exaltation as regards our life and calling.
We must not misunderstand the conditional statement with which Paul begins this exhortation, “If ye then be risen with Christ.” The idea is that there is no question or doubt about this; our rising with Christ is absolutely certain. He speaks this way to emphasize what follows. Seeing it is reality that you are risen with Christ, it must follow that you seek those things which are above where Christ is now enthroned.
So what are “those things which are above”? Scripture describes them in various ways. The object of the desire of Abraham is called a “heavenly country,” a “city which hath foundations.” Jesus speaks of these things when He speaks of having treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot corrupt. We can think of them in terms of the promises of the Beatitudes—receiving the kingdom of heaven, inheriting the earth, being filled with righteousness, being called sons of God. We can look at these things from the perspective of the gifts of the Spirit from whom we receive love, joy, peace, long- suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. They are all the heavenly blessings which are in Christ Jesus—wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption!
It is evident at once that the apostle, in verse 2, sets forth an absolute contrast. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” There is a sharp difference here. The one is heavenly; the other is earthly. The one is out of God through Christ; the other is from the principle of sin. In order to clarify this, the apostle characterizes these earthly things. We read in verse 5: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (see also v. 8). In this light we see that these things do not simply give us the bad, the dark side of the lives of men, as if there were also another side that we could appreciate and admire. No, these are simply the former things of the flesh in which they also had formerly walked. They are the earthly in contrast to the things that are above.
This certainly does not mean that the various creatures of creation or material things as such are evil in themselves. Certainly all the things of this earth were good as the Creator formed them in the beginning. Trees and rocks, cars and computers, government, economics, and industry are all created and established by God. The various things of the earth are good creatures of God to be used in our lives.
But sin came and caused the breach, a spiritual breach, between the things above and the things on earth. Not as if the earthly things as such became sinful or evil. But through sin man turned his affection away from God and set his affection upon the things of the earth in the service of sin. He no longer acknowledged God and sought His glory in seeking the things on earth. Instead, he used everything on earth in rebellion against God. Wealth and pleasure, power and glory are sought as things in themselves apart from God. And as such they are vain, corrupt, and sinful.
Thus, the apostle exhorts us, “…seek those things which are above.. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Literally, the idea is that we direct our affection toward, mind, or strive for the things above. We are to set our hearts upon these things that are above. The things above are to be followed after with all that is in us. These things are to be our goal in life. These things must captivate our minds, our desires, our will, and all our activity. This implies that we appropriate those things for ourselves unto the glory of God.
The apostle uses very strong language. He is unmistakably clear. But we are inclined by nature to soften these words, to downplay the contrast here. We would argue that he does not mean to say that we may not seek the things on the earth, but that we may not seek them excessively, or even exclusively. There must also be some time and energy left for minding spiritual things, the things above. So, many insist that we may set our affection upon both. We will enjoy so much of earthly things as is possible in accord with a fair chance of salvation and of going to heaven. We will try to serve two masters—God and mammon.
Be not deceived! The apostle does not say, “Seek those things which are above a little, and for the rest, it will do no harm to mind the things on earth.” The apostle draws the antithesis here. He makes a sharp distinction and emphasizes, “Mind the things above, not the things that are on the earth!”
Now certainly this does not mean that we are indifferent to the things of this present life. We are not to just wait passively and indolently until we are called to heaven. We are not to live carelessly. This is not an excuse for laziness or negligence in our work and calling. This does not mean that we are to try as much as possible to separate ourselves physically from the things of this earth.
Rather, with our hearts and minds set upon the things above, we must use and direct the things that are on the earth in the service of the Lord. The things above must control us in the managing of all of our affairs here below. As Paul explains to Timothy, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with the thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer “(1 Tim. 4:4–5). In all that we do, in our home life, in our education, in our work, in our life in society, in our life in the church, with our money and our possessions, with all our talents and abilities we must be controlled by the things that are in heaven unto the glory and praise of our God.
But how is it possible to seek the things which are above? Is it not true that we are still so carnally-minded? By nature we focus upon ourselves, our pleasure, our success, our wealth, our popularity. We are still so sinful. How can we seek the things which are above?
Let us lay hold on the gospel that Christ is risen and we are risen with Christ! Yes, to the human eye Jesus appeared hopelessly lost on the cross. He was forsaken by His own, and the enemies, to all appearances, had triumphed over Him. He had been mocked, reproached, beaten, crowned with thorns, and led away to Golgotha. There they crucified Him. And Jesus appears utterly helpless. Even God seems to be against Him as the scene is suddenly enveloped in darkness. And out of the darkness comes His cry of amazement, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” Presently, He yielded up the ghost. And the grave made it all appear so final.
But, thanks be to God, Christ arose! He arose our glorious Redeemer. He showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs. He was seen by His apostles and many others for forty days. And then He ascended into heaven. There He is exalted at the right hand of God. All power and authority have been given into His hands. He has received the Spirit without measure.
Having redeemed us, Christ bestows upon us all the blessings of life and salvation. Yea, we are risen with Christ! By His Spirit He has raised us up with His resurrection life, even in regeneration. He has united us to Him by the bond of living faith, so that we are inseparably united with Him. That union was an eternal reality in the counsel of God as we have been chosen in Him. And by His Spirit He has made it a reality in time. As members of His body, when Christ was crucified, we were crucified with Him. When He arose, we arose with Him. When Christ ascended into heaven, we were given to sit with Him in heavenly places.
So it is that the apostle exhorts us: “Being risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God!” In principle, we are in heaven with the risen and exalted Savior. His love has been shed abroad in our hearts. Being risen with Christ we seek the things which are above.
Of course, if that spiritual principle of life within us was such that we were already perfect, we would not need this exhortation. Then our lives would always be directed to Christ. Then our eyes would always be fixed on the things above, upon Christ who is our life. But we know and confess that it is not yet so. From day to day we struggle with the weakness of our faith and the evil lusts of our flesh. Nevertheless, even now the new life of the exalted Christ in us defines who we are and how we live. And our treasure is in heaven. There is Christ our life, our all! Let us live in the hope of Christ’s appearance, for then we shall appear with Him in glory (v. 4).