Previous article in this series: October 15, 2013, p. 32.
In considering the light that the New Testament sheds on the concept of the Reformed, that is, Christian, worldview, one of the passages that must be taken into account is: “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.”
Only in seeking the things above will we also have a proper understanding and perspective when it comes to our calling in this world.
The conditional statement “If ye then be risen with Christ” is what grammarians call a condition of fact—something we often find with conditional statements used in Scripture. The meaning is, “You are risen with Christ,” but the apostle uses a condition of fact to emphasize what follows. Being risen with Christ and seeking the things above always go hand in hand.
So we have inan exhortation, an admonition, to bring to expression who you are—those who are risen with Christ. Live in that consciousness! Then you will live out your faith in the proper way. Then you will teach your children to live out their faith in the proper way—seeking the things above.
When you look at the first two verses of Colossians 3, you might well ask the question: “Why even consider the Reformed worldview?” It might appear that the earthly is not even to be our concern.
The contrast in verse 2—“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth”—is so sharp that many don’t know what to do with it.
Some would downplay the contrast. Not understanding how to bring this to expression in their own lives, they take the position that Paul doesn’t mean we can’t seek the things of this earth, but rather that we must not seek them excessively. “Seek the things on earth; but more especially the things above. Do not let the things of this earth be such an object of focus that you have no time for heavenly things.”
Such is how some would interpret this text. But to do so is to make a separation between the things above and the things of this earth. Not seeing the relationship between the two, they do not understand the relationship of their own salvation to their place in this earthly realm.
But the inspired apostle does not say, “Seek the things above more than the things on the earth.” He says, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Others, also failing to understand the relationship between the heavenly life that is ours and the fact that we live on the earth, have taken this text to mean that things earthly are sinful in themselves, and therefore the Christian must separate himself physically, as much as possible, from earthly things. That can come to the more extreme expression of the strict Amish, who form their own separate communities without electricity, gas-powered equipment, and the like; or that can come to expression in a lesser form by those who would view as sinful the use of a certain product—the computer, for example—that the wicked might use for very evil purposes. The same error might come to expression by shutting oneself up in a monastery or convent, as if that particular place is holy, or by declaring that a priest cannot marry, because marriage itself detracts from a life of holiness.
That those interpretations of this text are erroneous is evident from the fact that Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, explicitly condemns the same, concluding in, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” Even in the last part of Colossians, chapter 2, the apostle warned the Colossians not to pay attention to those who came with their own ordinances, “Touch not; taste not; handle not.”
So the question remains: How then are we to interpret this sharp contrast between the things above and the things on earth?
To answer that question we have to remember the way God created all things.
At the beginning there was no such contrast between the things above and the things below. All earthly things were created good. John was even given to express in, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Nothing, therefore, has to be avoided as evil in itself.
In the midst of that good creation of earthly things God placed Adam. Adam, being made out of the dust of the ground and formed body and soul with a physical and spiritual aspect to his life, was given by God the calling to exercise dominion over all earthly things. He stood in royal majesty over all that God had made, ruling and using all things to the glory of God. Adam knew God also in the things that God had made. That was man’s blessing!
But sin came and destroyed this healthy relationship between the things above and the things on earth.
It is not that those good things that God created became sinful. It is not that they lost their sacred nature and that they are no longer pleasurable to God—to use the language of.
But rather man turned his mind away from God and forsook his calling to rule over and to use all things earthly to God’s glory. He no longer sought the things of this earth for God’s sake. He no longer consecrated those things to God’s glory.
With his mind turned away from God, fallen man would use everything to serve self. And so he broke the God-given relationship between the things above and the things on the earth. Those good gifts of God (whether material things such as silver and gold, iron and brass, or the things formed out of the good things of God’s creation as expressions of man’s mind, like the buildings made by man, instruments of music, and, much later, the automobile, the computer, and so on—many things that are not themselves sinful) these all have been embraced by man for his own possession and enjoyment, and in some cases to use in wickedness.
So the things earthly have been abused and seized for an entirely different perspective and purpose than that which God ordained and to which He called man.
To seek the things above, therefore, has to do with a proper perspective of the Christian life.
The things above are all defined by what it means that Christ sits at God’s right hand. The things above all are defined by the victory that is ours in the risen Savior.
Christ arose, not just from the grave, but from the earth, in His ascension. And in doing so, the Scriptures tell us (as quoting ), “He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
Victorious over sin and death, the devil and his hosts, Christ seized us as His own!
Having redeemed us, He led us into the treasure house of all those spiritual and heavenly blessings that are His, and that He now bestows upon us by His Holy Spirit. Wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption are ours in Him—never apart from Him. Fellowship with God in the covenant communion of His rich life and love is ours as those risen with Christ! His love has been shed abroad in our hearts!
And therefore, with the source of our life now in heaven, our whole perspective of the things of this earth has changed.
The things above and the things of this earth are not to be separated, but rather united in such a way that the things of this earth are totally dedicated to the things above, and more particularly to Him who has reconciled all things unto Himself (). The unity of the things earthly and the things heavenly has been restored in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He who became flesh and dwelt among us became the last Adam. He came as the Head of the covenant, the covenant that not only embraces the elect race, but the whole creation. The world that God loves, the entire cosmos with the elect church at its core, must be saved. That is the reason, according to, for which God sent His Son into the world. So Romans 8:21 tells us that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Which means, then, that with our minds set on things above, we must rule the things on earth as the stewards that God has made us, in the callings that God has given us.
Our perspective of earthly things must be entirely controlled by our seeking the things above.
In our home life, in our marriages and child-rearing and the exercise of our calling as husbands or our calling as wives; in our life as an individual at work; in the handling of our finances; in our various relationships; in our use of the things of this creation—our entire perspective must be controlled by that focus on the things above.
That is possible only by being in Christ, risen with Him who sits at God’s right hand. Through His Spirit He has delivered us from sin and death, which would not only bind us to things earthly, but would also use those earthly things to consume us. In Christ we are given to see Him who came to establish the new heavens and the new earth, where all are united perfectly. It is to that heavenly perspective that we are called as those who are “risen with Christ.”
To seek the things above, therefore, is to live, first of all, in the recognition of the spiritual tension within our own lives personally. There is no escape from that spiritual tension. Given the sinfulness of our natures, the devil and the world aggressively pressure us, attempting to remove from us a biblical, spiritual perspective. So we are naturally inclined to find our pleasures, our standards, our goals, our mind-set, our opinions, formed by an earthly perspective.
The things of this earth are very much alive in our way of thinking.
The world in the bondage of sin cannot stand it when someone thinks contrary to its accepted opinions. The world will not view things spiritually through the teachings of the Word of God.
The world would have me believe that “it’s all about me.” And so that temptation is always before us—and it takes only a mild pressure for us in weakness to conform—to think that what counts is what we have in our bank account, and what we have in our closets, and what we have in our garages, and what we have in our houses and property, and what pleasures we can find to consume our time.
But God says that what counts is those things that are above. What counts is the treasure you have in heaven. What counts is the hidden beauty of the heart, and the wisdom that seeks to look at all things in the light of the Word and that knows how to subject us and all things to the glory of God.
God would have us realize that what counts is that we live in the consciousness of belonging to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.
What counts is that we receive all earthly things as His good gifts and use them as our servants on the pathway to heaven. That is what it means, to use the language of verse 2, to “set your affection on things above.” It is to form your mind around the things above, to fix your thoughts on that which is heavenly, established by the Word of God, and not things on the earth.
This seeking is the positive expression of being risen with Christ. The new life of Christ in us now defines who we are and how we live!
Then inthe apostle makes that profound statement that is on a par with that which we read in , where the inspired apostle speaks of our being “partakers of the divine nature.” Here Paul says, “your life is hid with Christ in God.”
God has taken you into the fellowship of His own life! He has taken you into the covenant fellowship of His own triune Being!
That is the essence of all true religion, the heart of the Christian life. To know that your life is hid with Christ in God, to live in the consciousness of that union with the risen Christ, is the fountain of all godliness, the fountain of wisdom and therefore of a proper spiritual perspective as guided by God’s Word.