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Living on Earth; Thinking Like Heaven (Colossians 3:1-17)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: The Need to Think of Heaven

From the book Moody's Anecdotes comes this illustration:

There is an old legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan alighted by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about seeking snails. For a few moments the crane viewed the swan in stupid wonder and then inquired:

"Where do you come from?"

"I come from heaven!" replied the swan.

"And where is heaven?" asked the crane.

"Heaven!" said the swan, "Heaven! have you never heard of heaven?" And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told of streets of gold, and the gates and walls made of precious stones; of the river of life, pure as crystal, upon whose banks is the tree whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the hosts who live in the other world, but without arousing the slightest interest on the part of the crane.

Finally the crane asked: "Are there any snails there?"

"Snails!" repeated the swan; "No! Of course there are not."

"Then," said the crane, as it continued its search along the

slimy banks of the pool, "You can have your heaven. I want snails!"

This fable has a deep truth underlying it. How many a young person to whom God has granted the advantages of a Christian home, has turned his back upon it and searched for snails! How many a man will sacrifice his wife, his family, his all, for the snails of sin! How many a girl has deliberately turned from the love of parents and home to learn too late that heaven has been forfeited for snails!

In Colossians 3 we have the Apostle Paul getting into the practical outworking of true faith in the life of the Christian. And that outworking of faith comes by focusing, not on earthly things which fade but on our heavenly destination where Christ, our Savior now dwells and we will one day share with Him.

Paul has spent the first 2 chapters battling the heresy of gnosticism that claimed that there was special knowledge needed for salvation which only a few could possess. Their teaching that flesh was evil and only spirit was good gave them a false view of Christ and of humanity. To them Christ could not have been God coming to us in the flesh, since God could not be associated with evil flesh and blood.

The Apostle Paul battled this heresy by pointing out that Jesus is the Creator of all things and the one who holds them all together ( 1:16-17). Further, He is the Head of the Church, the Body of Christ. This is that new humanity that He is establishing of both Jews and Gentiles that will spend eternity with Him at the consummation at the end of the world (1:18).

He further points out that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. In Him are all the treasures of true wisdom and knowledge (2:3).

In Jesus Christ all of the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (2:19). It is through Jesus that we have been made complete (10).

We died with Christ. We are now raised up to a new life in Him (2:12, 20).

If that is all true, then why do many Christians settle for a lesser life? Why do they focus on the snails of this world and not on the glory that we are destined to receive?

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Paul, in chapter 3, reminds the Colossians of what they have in Christ and then challenges them to live differently than the rest of the world. They should live as those who know and have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Lets look at this section and find out what Paul has to say to us today as Jesus' followers.

I. A Heavenly Focus (1-4)

First of all, Paul, in the end of chapter 2, just got finished telling the Colossians that they have died with Christ to what he calls the "elementary principles of the world". They include trying to become holy by doing things, or in this case, avoiding things that the world says are bad in order to gain God's favor.

The Christian has already gained the Lord's favor by trusting Jesus Christ and His death on behalf of their sins. He was our substitute for sin and therefore when He died in our place, God the Father saw us as dying along side Him. So the Christian solution to sin and the world that seeks to destroy us is to focus on our new life and not the old one from which we were rescued.

Paul says to "set your mind on things above." According to John MacArthur:

"This can be translated as "think" or "have this inner disposition." Just like a compass points North, the believer's entire disposition should point itself toward the things of Heaven."

The answer to being overcome by this world and all of it's heresies that lead us away from Christ is to have a proper focus. It is a closer relationship with Jesus and His plan for each of us. It is setting our mind on heaven and not the temporal things of this earth.

In Colossians 3:1-4 the Apostle tells us:

"Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory."

The verb translated as 'you have been raised' here actually means co-resurrected. Because of our union with our Jesus Christ all believers spiritually have entered into His death and resurrection the moment that we believe. Because of the fact that we are alive in Him we now understand spiritual truths of which we once were unaware. And it should cause us to desire to seek out those spiritual things which are above.

We understand that Christ, being seated at the Father's right hand, is at the place of greatest honor and majesty. He enjoys this exaltation that is due to Him as the Son of God and the one who carried out the Father's plan of salvation and reconciliation for the universe. Because of his position He is the fountain through which all believers receive blessings from the Lord.

Why should our focus be on this earthly journey which typically lasts less than 100 years when we know that Jesus has a future planned for us in heaven that will last forever? This. however, doesn't mean that we sit in a monastery all day isolated from all other human beings singing Kumbaya. It means that we live normal lives, that are, moment by moment, focused on how they can bring glory to the Lord and lead others to a knowledge of Him. It is living out our faith at work, at school, at play and even at home. All of life should focus on Jesus and His Lordship in our lives.

We, in Christ, have died to the sinful things of this world. Now our lives are totally hidden with Jesus and taken up by the new life in Jesus Christ and God the Father.

Further, one day when Jesus comes back and is revealed to the world in all of His glory, we too will be revealed and appear with Him because we belong to Him. So we need to start living now as if we are already there. How do we do this?

According to Paul, it includes two things. We need to begin putting off, or laying aside, the old man, or old nature. Then we need to start putting on the new nature. Let's look a little more carefully at what the Apostle means by this.

II. Putting Off the Old Man (5-9)

Paul begins this next section by commanding us to reckon or consider as dead the members of our earthly body to sin. These include immorality, or all forms of sexual sin ( i.e. sex outside of the marriage bond). It also includes impurity which goes beyond sexual acts to include evil thoughts and intentions. He goes even one step further to include passion and evil desire. These are similar terms that refer to sexual lust. Passion is the physical side of sexual lust. And evil desire is the mental side.

The Apostle then goes on to tell us to get rid of greed, which is idolatry. The term means 'to have more.' It is an insatiable desire to gain more at any cost. That includes especially things that are forbidden. When people engage in this they are, in essence, following their own desires rather than God. They are putting things above Him. And that amounts to idolatry (5).

These things are what the Lord saved us out of and it is because of these types of sins that God's wrath is coming upon the 'sons of disobedience.' They are those unsaved men and women who have rejected God's offer of salvation. We used to all be part of that group until Christ saved us. Now He offers us the power to stop living in these sins and live different types of lives.

As new creatures in Christ, we are also to put aside such things as: anger, wrath, slander (or blasphemy when this word is referring to God), and abusive speech from our mouths. Also lying is included in the list of vices of which we should rid ourselves.

It is here that Paul tells us that we have put off or laid aside the old man. That is the old sinful nature. The picture is like one who takes off an old soiled garment to put on a new and clean one.

And, now, in Christ, we have put on a new self, a new nature that is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created Him (i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ), This new nature, or new self, is the essence of what believers are in Christ. We may still sin but that is not who we are. The sin comes because we still have these old fleshly bodies that haven't been replaced by the new body we will one day have. However, we can still make progress in holiness as we mature in Christ. That is why Paul can command us here to change. And Christ gives us the power to do so.

III. Put on the New Man (10-17)

In looking at verses 10-17, we could do a whole sermon just on this next section alone, and I will probably do that if the Lord allows me to in the future. But for right now, lets just summarize what the Apostle Paul is saying.

This new garment or nature that we are putting on is part of a new humanity where we are all equal in Christ. There are no longer any Greeks, or Jews, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all. We are all one in Christ. He is the all-sufficient Lord of us each of us.

Just to clarify one category you may not know, the Scythians were an ancient war-like nomadic tribe who invaded the Fertile Crescent in the 7th century B.C. They were known for their savagery and were the most hated and feared of all the barbarians of the time. Paul, was saying that in Christ, even these savage people became one with the rest of the Lord's redeemed. They now belonged to Christ and were unified in His Body, the Church.

We are all now to act like the type of people that we actually have become. We are in Christ and part a new humanity with new values. We are chosen of God, holy and beloved.

Next, the Apostle Paul lists some of the traits of the new nature that we are to put on. They include a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We have to learn to bear with one another, and forgive each other. If there is a complaint that someone has against any brother or sister, they need to forgive as Christ has forgiven them.

And above all of this is love. Supernatural love from God is what bonds us together in unity. It is the adhesive of God's church.

The next section tells us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to which you were called in one body and be thankful.

Peace here refers to both the call of God to salvation and the peace that we got by being saved. We were at war with the Lord because of sin. We now are at peace with Him and secure in His love. Also, we are at peace with our fellow believers, or at least we should be, because we are called in one Body, the Church.

And all of this should make us thankful people. Thankfulness is a characteristic of those who know where they were before Christ. and what great lengths He went through to bring about this new relationships that we now have through His sacrifice on the cross.

Paul next admonishes us to let the Word of Christ richly dwell in us. That is the Scriptures. Dwell here means to 'live in' or 'be at home' in us. It should permeate every aspect of the believers life. This concept is a parallel to being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). And the results of each are the same. This is true because the Holy Spirit fills the life that is controlled by the Word of God. This gives us true wisdom which only comes from the Lord.

This then leads us to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and singing with thankfulness in our hearts to the Lord. These things happen when we get together in a public setting such as a gathering of the church. In this gathering we open our hearts and lives to one another.

Psalms include the Old Testament songs of Scripture. Hymns may refer to songs of praise other than the Psalms. And the Spiritual songs are probably talking about songs of personal testimony expressing the truths of our salvation in Christ. All of these things come from a heart full of the Word of God and the Spirit who empowers us.

Our songs should be those of thankfulness for all that the Lord has done for us.

Paul ends his thoughts in this section on setting our minds on things above, and on putting on the new man, by saying these final words:

"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (17).

By this He means that we need to act consistently with who the Lord is and what He wants us to do as His people. We have been given so much. The very least that we can do is to show our gratitude to Him by obeying His commands and living to please the Lord Jesus Christ.


This section of Colossians may best be summarized by an illustration that someone once gave from a movie. It goes like this:

Toward the end of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is hanging perilously over a cliff, with his dad holding on to one hand. With the other hand, Indiana is trying desperately to grasp the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail has been the subject of his dad’s research, and most of his life has been spent searching for it. Now, it is within their reach. Indiana’s dad recognizes, however, that he can’t save him and get the cup, and so he tells Indiana Jones to let it go. Indiana ignores him, and his dad tells him, tenderly, again to let it go. It is a touching moment when Indiana’s dad is willing to let his life’s work go to save the life of his son. So often we give so much of our time—indeed, our entire life— over to something other than Jesus. But we only truly find life when we surrender our lives to Christ.

Let us not spend our lives, hunting snails, or seeking our own equivalent of the holy grail. Let's give up our old life that we had before salvation which will not last and will never give us satisfaction. Indeed, it will ultimately lead to heartache and shame eventually.

And may we grasp onto the new life in Christ and the new nature that is ours by faith in Him. That will not only be more satisfying in this life we are now living, but it also offers great rewards in the life to come. You have a choice. May you choose the Lord's path for you. Because He loves you, and He has only your best interest at heart.

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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