Colossians 3:1-3 “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. For you died, and your life is not hidden with Christ in God.”
What’s wrong with earthly things? They are God’s gifts to us, his own creation. But we are all aware of the hold they can have on our hearts. Has the wild dive in the stock market made you feel woozy? Maybe you have been unsettled by the situation. Why is that? Perhaps the coronavirus has dominated our concerns. Why does this create so much anxiety? Is it not because we are fixated on our earthly standard of living and the quality of our present lives?
Let me ask you another question: How does this affect us spiritually? Does focusing on such things make us firmer in our faith, and draw us closer to God? Or isn’t it true that the more we fixate on our financial uncertainties, the less convinced we become of Bible promises like this one: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”?
There are subtler worldly traps into which we can fall. We Christians work hard to improve the morals or the living conditions of our neighbors. Then we despair when the world doesn’t cooperate and nothing seems to change. Do we show our love in such ways because Jesus’ love for us has moved us to care about others, or because we entertain some utopian dreams about creating a pseudo-paradise on earth?
The sin of worldliness is at work when we become obsessed with our own earthly identities. I want to be thought of as a paragon of virtue, even a hero of the Christian faith. Then my sinful nature gets involved. There is no virtue in flaunting our faults. But hiding shortcomings or denying sins as part of a desperate defense of our self-image spells trouble. It is true that the Lord wants us to fight our sinful urges. The goal, however, is not to appear a little holier than everyone else. There is nothing godly about taking a prideful ego trip like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
All of these concerns share this in common: they focus on earthly things. Paul doesn’t say we should never think about money, health, morals, or reputation. He says they are not the sorts of things for Christians to set their hearts and minds upon.
Why? Look at what has happened to your earthly life: “For you died.” Death is the great ender of all relationships. For obvious reasons, when you die your employer doesn’t expect you to show up at work anymore. Your family doesn’t expect you to come home anymore. No one has anything to do with you at all. All relationships come to a grinding halt.
And Paul says that you died. But what does he mean by that? He is referring to the way in which God has dealt with the problem of our sins. Since the wages of sin is death, we all had to die. That’s exactly what happened. But instead of having us die for our sins personally, God sent Jesus to be our substitute. He died for us. In God’s eyes, we died on the cross when Jesus did. God can forgive our sins because, in Christ, we died.
This profoundly changed our earthly lives. As we just said, death is the great ender of all relationships. Perhaps you have seen movies in which someone stages his own death to escape the law, or to escape the organized crime syndicate, or to escape some loathsome responsibility. After that the person took on a new identity. The law stopped chasing him. The mob stopped trying to assassinate him. He no longer had to do what he hated doing.
In our case, God didn’t stage our death. He had Jesus, our substitute, die for us. With this he also gave us a new identity. Now he sees us as righteous and holy saints who have no relationship with sin anymore, no longer desperately attached to this world.
And that’s the way he wants us to see things, too. By faith we died to sin. We died to this world. Those old attachments are broken. They can’t chase us, kill us, or control us anymore. We may still live in this world. We still interact with it. But it makes no sense for us to set our hearts on earthly things. We have better things on which to set our hearts, a better place to fix our attention. Set your mind on thing above!