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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Seek Those Things which are Above!
Text:Colossians 3:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2,3                                                                                   

Ps 135:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]                                                                                      

Reading – Colossians 2:11 - 3:17

Ps 24:1,4,5

Sermon – Colossians 3:1-4

Hy 44:1,4,5

Hy 41:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, our minds are always busy. We’re always thinking, planning, and reflecting. A lot of the time, of course, our minds are busy with what’s right in front of us: this duty in the home, this project at work, this person I’m talking to. But there’s many other moments where our minds are free to wander. We’re walking around the lake, we’re driving to work, we’re sitting back in the lounge. What’s on our mind then? What fills our thoughts?

That’s important, because our thoughts have so much to do with the kind of people we are. Our direction in life is being shaped by what we desire. Our priorities are driven by those things that we hope for. Whether for better or for worse, we are molded by our mind. There was an American writer who said, “You become what you think about all day long” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Jesus had his own wisdom on this matter, when He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” The goals that we set before us, the objects that we make our treasure—these shape our heart, which in turn sets the tone of our life.

So what are we setting our minds on? Where are we always looking? Consider the direction of your thoughts, and if they are heaven-ward, and if they are Christ-centred. For in our text the Holy Spirit says that Christ’s ascension into heaven needs to give us a new perspective on life: “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). The Spirit wants us to look up, and to view all of reality under Christ our ascended King.

If you’ve ever used a compass, even the one on your phone, you’ll know that the needle always points north—whichever way you’re facing, you always know where north is. Like that, our thoughts should always be directed toward Christ in heaven, because then that’s the way our life will be directed too. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

Seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated:

  1. you are living in Christ
  2. so you should not seek what is on earth
  3. but set your mind on things above


1) you are living in Christ: Who is the “you” in our text? “If then you were raised with Christ…” (v 1). The first “you” reading this was the Colossians. Paul is writing to the church in Colosse, in Asia Minor. We don’t read in Acts that Paul ever visited this town on his missionary journeys, but he did go to nearby Ephesus. Colosse was in the same river valley as Ephesus. And during Paul’s time there, one of the new believers was keen to share the gospel. So this fellow, Epaphras, had brought the good news to the Colossians. And they received it gladly.

The years went by, and Paul found himself in jail somewhere—probably in Rome. But there wasn’t much that could stifle his deep care for the churches. He was still their pastor and teacher. So from prison he sat down to write a letter.

If we glance over this letter, we see that there are two things Paul is trying to do, and they’re closely-related. The first is to warn the Colossians against a heresy or false teaching that was floating around town those days. We don’t know all the particulars, but one part of it was that favourite old heresy called legalism. What is legalism? That God will be good toward us because we stick to some code of conduct, and we honour a set of guidelines or traditions. God loves us because we’ve been keeping the rules!

Legalism, or a righteousness based on our own works and contributions, is a dangerous idea for all kinds of reasons. But there’s one especially terrible side-effect: it makes Jesus Christ unnecessary! Who needs Christ on the cross, if you can basically pull yourself out of the muck of sin through a mighty effort and a strict life? Who needs the good news, if you’ve got goodness of your own?

So to counter the false teachers, and to emphasize the truth for the Colossians, Paul does a second thing in this letter: he puts the spotlight on Jesus Christ! He insists on the centrality of Jesus, as the one basis for our redemption. In chapters 1 and 2, Paul heaps up praise for Christ. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the sustainer of all things, and in him all things hold together. Christ is the head of the church. He is the fullness of God in bodily form, because all that we need to know about God, He’s told us in his Son. This Christ, Paul says, has rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.

At the beginning of our chapter, Paul sums up what he has said before, “If then you were raised with Christ…” (v 1). He’s reminding us again that believers in Christ enjoy a fundamental union with Him. Our union with Christ by faith means that every good thing and every high position that belongs to Christ, God says is also ours! Every perfect work that Christ accomplished on earth, God says that we also accomplished. We’re even joined to his death on the cross, so we don’t have to die for sin—and we’re united with Christ in his resurrection, making our life new by his power. We are raised with Him!

You’ll notice that our text starts with an “if,” and we usually we take that to be an uncertain word. “If it rains tomorrow…” But the way it’s used here doesn’t express any uncertainty at all. The Greek could be translated like this, “Since it is the case that you have been raised with Christ…” By faith in Jesus, everything’s already accomplished! The settled fact of our life as believers is this: “You have been raised with Christ, the one who is now seated at God’s right hand. You have died in him, and He is your life. So when He appears, you will appear with him in glory.”

Because all that is so, for us there’s a great consequence. In chapter 3 Paul is moving from what we have in Christ, to what we should do for Christ—from promise to obligation, we might say. This isn’t legalism being snuck in the back door. Rather, it’s our new goal in life, our new desire. Jesus granted us redemption from sin, setting us free to live for Him!

A couple verses later, this marvelous truth about union with Christ is underlined again. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (v 3). That’s a beautiful image for how you and I are joined to Christ: we are hidden, or we are covered, in Him—concealed in his glory.

It’s like the comparison that Jesus once made about his earnest desire for Israel to be saved. He said that He wanted to shelter them under his wings and keep them safe, just like a hen will give shelter its chicks. Those young ones are hidden with their mother, where they can enjoy all the benefits of her warmth and protection. That’s how closely we are united to Christ by faith: our life is immersed in his life—hidden with Him—and we are totally secure, now and always.

All this means that as God’s covenant children, and believers in Christ, we undergo a change of identity. We’ve got a different kind of life than an unbeliever does. We’ve been given a new purpose, and we have a changed outlook. And this difference shouldn’t be surprising to us, because Christ himself didn’t fit with this world. This is what John says in his first letter, “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know him” (3:1). An essential result of being hidden in Christ is that we don’t belong to this world.

And this means, as we’re going to see in a moment, that we have to take a different attitude toward all the things around us. The Colossians believed in Christ—they had been raised with Christ—but their minds and hearts were still so absorbed in earthly matters, and earthly ways of thinking. So Paul urges them not to get hung up on worldly things, whether it was the man-made rules of legalism, or it was the devil’s temptations, or the idols all around them. And the Spirit gives exactly the same exhortation to us.

If you have been raised with Christ, look up, not down. If your life is hidden with Christ in God, look up, not sideways, and not backwards. Lift your hearts on high, to where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God!


2) so you should not seek what is on earth: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (v 2). If we’ve been following the train of thought in this letter, then this challenging command in verse 2 is expected. For we’ve just said that God’s children have a new identity. Jesus’ blood has redeemed us from the bondage to sin, and we’ve been raised up in his resurrection. Because we belong to the Lord, our outlook on this world will be completely different than if we didn’t know Christ.

Actually, you’ll see that Paul has been reminding the Colossians of this very thing; he’s been pointing them to the misery that they’ve left behind, the futility of sin. They have died with Christ, and so they have died to “the basic principles of the world” (2:20). That life is over for them—which is why the Colossians shouldn’t obsess over the rules and regulations that they loved so much. Jesus didn’t set them free for that kind of joyless life, a life of forbidding every pleasure and regulating every moment.

And neither should the Colossians make the opposite mistake, and think that their sin doesn’t matter. Listen to what the Spirit says in 3:5, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Anything that belongs to the earthly style of life—the life that doesn’t submit to Christ the Head—this has to stopped.

And again in 3:8, “You yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” If you know Christ, then you have to be separate from this. The basic principles the world, the ways of sinful man—this isn’t the kind of life God saved us for.

So the Spirit says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” That’s a clear statement, isn’t it? No more earthly things—just give me the heavenly! Yet as God’s people, our relationship with the world is complicated. By “complicated,” I mean that it’s not as straightforward as selling all our earthly possessions and moving to a commune in the wilderness, where we have no Wi-Fi or other contact with the outside world. We’re still here, and we can’t withdraw like the monks and nuns of another time. Just as Jesus prayed to his Father, “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

This is why in another place the Scriptures describe us as pilgrims, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Heb 13:14). Pilgrims are travelers—we’re here for a while, but ultimately we’re passing through, on our way to someplace better. And if a pilgrim has many miles to go, then he doesn’t want to be burdened by anything useless. He doesn’t want to get entangled in anything that won’t help the journey. A pilgrim travels light—and so should we!

We don’t stop working. We don’t stop going to school. We stay occupied with the daily requirements of this life: eating and drinking, making money, maintaining relationships, keeping house. It looks like an ordinary life, as ordinary as that of your neighbour, busy with this world and everything that comes with it.

But not everything. Our thoughts are lifted up. Because we have a different purpose, and a different Master. The old life should have no hold on us, no appeal to us, because we have a new centre and a new orientation.

So as believers in Christ, we must learn not to care. Learn not to care about this culture’s idols, its values, or its approval. Don’t care about what it offers, and don’t feel that you need to keep up with its standards of success or beauty or happiness. For followers of Christ, the best news is not that the economy is improving, or that a new iPhone is coming out, or that your favourite sports team is winning. A Christian says the best news is the good news—the gospel of our salvation, that we have peace with God through his Son!

“Set your minds… not on earthly things.” This means recognizing that even if we’re making money, and achieving things, and building a family and career, such activity always needs to be for Christ. We understand that what we can taste and touch and tally will never give us satisfaction apart from Him. These things are only temporary, and being focused on our own agenda will only end in disappointment.

“Set your minds… not on earthly things.” We need this exhortation, because sin still has a powerful magnetic pull on our hearts. We like earthly things. We often agree with the ways of the world. This is why the Spirit needs to say, “Put off all these: evil desire, greed, uncleanness, anger, unkindness, dirty language.”

These things can occupy us—and if not these, then our thoughts can be busy with many other things. We can be fostering pride in our mind, or we can be cherishing some bitterness because of what someone once did against us. We can be letting our minds wander into sexual fantasy, or we can be letting it grow mean-spirited or angry. Or perhaps we’re spending time with people that we shouldn’t, or going places we shouldn’t, or being busy with things that have no value—activities that we honestly cannot receive with thanksgiving, or consecrate with prayer.

Why waste your time on these things? Why waste your energy? You become what you think about all day long. If you let garbage fill your mind, garbage is what will come out. If you treasure worldly things, then that’s where your heart will be also.

We’re here on the earth—Christ said that He won’t take us out of the world. So we should expect that the world is going to interfere. We should not be surprised when our minds get hit with loads of spam, and junk mail, and static, and bombarded with propaganda and temptation. It’s going to happen.

But knowing this, we should then consider: What blocks your vision of things above? On this earth, what is it that ties you down, hinders you in holiness, and keeps you from doing the will of Christ? Are you really setting your mind on things above, where Christ is, at God’s right hand?

The church father Augustine once said: “Christ is not valued at all, unless He is valued above all.” It is so true. The Lord Jesus cannot be an addendum to a satisfied and settled life. He’s not an appendix to the main work that we’re busy with, which is living for ourselves. No, Christ changes everything: our attitudes, our desires, our convictions. If we know Christ, then we set our mind on things above.


3) but set your mind on things above: It’s natural for us look down. We’re always looking down at our phone, looking down at our work, looking down because we’re discouraged. But we have to look up. “Seek those things which are above.” Hearts on high!

We find similar commands in the Bible. Think of what Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3. There he’s making a confession of sins to the LORD, and he exhorts his fellow believers, “Let us lift up our hearts to God in heaven and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled” (vv 41-42). He knew God’s people are tempted to be only sorry outwardly. But for God to have mercy, we have to repent truly—and that takes a heart lifted up to heaven.

David prays in a similar way in Psalm 143:8. He seeks the LORD, so that He might teach his wandering servant. And David prays, “Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” To God he lifts his soul, wanting his help and guidance. Earthly wisdom will not do, only the heavenly.

So when the Spirit says, “Seek those things which are above,” He wants us to be whole-hearted and earnest in seeking after God. It must become our constant thought. In verse 1 it says “Seek those things,” and in verse 2 the verb has become stronger: “Set your mind on these things.” This describes a reorientation of our mind. This is not an occasional thought for us, but it must become a preoccupation—it’s a compass point for our life that is unchanging. This is where we want to go!

And what are we seeking? Who are we seeking? Remember the main character of Colossians: it is Christ, exalted and glorified in the heavens. He is the constant quest of our life. We have to learn to look to the Saviour, unceasingly and undoubtingly. Constantly we must seek out, and depend on, the one who gave himself on the cross. Every day we must look to the one who conquered death—and fix the eyes of our heart on the one who’s now ascended into heaven. Because for sinners He’s our only hope, and our greatest joy!

See how the Spirit in verse 1 reminds us about where Christ is: “sitting at God’s right hand.” When Jesus ascended, He went to that place God promised him in Psalm 110. The right hand is a position of privilege and power. He is there to rule. He is there to intercede. He is there to share the gifts of heaven with us on earth.

With Christ at the right hand of God, our whole perspective changes. We don’t cling to what is earthly, and we don’t treasure the treasures of the world. But neither do we give up on this life, or say that life here is pointless. Remember, our life is hidden with Christ in God. We’re still busy with things below, but the decision about the goal and direction of our lives has already been made. Christ our ascended King has given us a job to do! We want to seek his rule and authority in all our daily living.

For each and every part of this earthly life, we need to zoom out from the pressing and immediate so that we can consider the global and panoramic: What am I here for, really? And what does our heavenly King want us to do? Every day we need to fix our gaze upon him, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

Because if we’re looking to him, our life takes on a new direction. It’s like what everyone learns in driver’s training: that if you let your eyes linger on something too long—like if you stare at that car accident on the other side of the highway—pretty soon the car is veering that way too, and you’re onto the verge. That kind of change in direction isn’t good for road safety, but it is good for the life of faith! Keep looking to Jesus, because then you’ll linger less over the attractions of sin. Keep looking to Christ, because then you’ll start veering toward him!

And if we will look to Christ, then we must also look to his Word. Set your mind on Scripture. It’s the book from heaven, entrusted to the church on earth. Seek its truth and power! When we’re busy with the Word—when we’re learning its promises, and studying its commands, and knowing its stories and its sermons—it is these things that can shape our life, and mould our thoughts, and give us new desires. It’s by knowing and believing the Word of Christ that we are changed into the image of Christ.

Like Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” For Christ can do that, even in us, who are still so worldly in so many ways: He can renew our minds, and transform our thoughts. By his Spirit and Word, He can lift our gaze from things below, and He can help us to see all things as being in Him, and through Him, and for Him.

That’s the wondrous thing: while we live here on earth, we’re already linked to heaven. We have a King above, the Saviour who is seated at God’s right hand. Because He is our glorious Head, we can rest in Him. He has gone before us to secure our inheritance, to secure for us the one thing that will last forever.

And “when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (v 4). That’s the note of hope on which our text ends: Christ has ascended, and now He is seated at God’s right hand, but soon He is coming again! Right now we are hidden in Christ, so that on his day we can appear without terror before God’s throne.

So lift up your hearts, and seek Him. Set your mind on things above, and make Christ your joy and delight and your treasure. Love Him more than all! Love Him: your ascended Saviour and your King!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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