Colossians Chapter 3 Verses 1 to 5:–
If then 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 the 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. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
- I want you to notice some words in this passage that link sentences. Notice that Verse 3 begins with the word ‘for’, and Verse 5 begins with ‘therefore’. Those are very important words that link back to what has been said previously. The passage starts, ‘If then you have been raised up with Christ…’ That ‘if’ means ‘since’ or ‘if it is the case’, and links back to the previous chapter. It also implies a question. Paul says that if it is the case that you have been born again and have been raised up with Christ, then you have something to do. You have to do the work of setting your mind on the things above. And in verse 3 Paul explains his meaning with the word ‘for’. In effect he is saying:
For, do you know why you have to set your mind on things above? It is because you have died and now your life is hidden with Christ in God. You need to change your thinking because in Christ you now have a different life. You are no longer the person you were. You are no longer in the place you were. You have died to the world, and you have come alive to God. Christ is now your life, and you are united to Him. That is why you have to set your mind on things that are above.
Now the word ‘therefore’ in verse 5. Remember, always look to see what it is there for! In effect Paul says:
- Therefore this is what you should do it in the light of the fact that you have died, you have risen, Christ is your life and now you are adjusting your thinking. In the light of that, think about yourself. Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed.
Do you see what Paul is saying? You are now to think about yourself in a different way. Unless you are born again, there is not much point in changing your thought patterns. All the self-help books that you can buy that tell you how to change your life by changing your thinking, have left out the most important thing. That is that you do not begin in your thoughts; you begin in your spirit. And when your spirit is dead, all the positive thinking in the world will only leave you positively dead.
You are no longer on the long religious road looking for virtues. You have been united to virtue Himself. You now understand that love is a Person and joy is a Person. Peace, patience, gentleness is all is summed up in the Person of Jesus Christ. He lives in you by His Spirit. Love Himself, Peace Himself, is there at your very heart, your very spirit. The inexhaustible life of Jesus Christ is in you. You are a new person. Now get some new thoughts to go with the new person. Start thinking about yourself as you really are, united to Christ; not as you used to be before you were united to Christ.
Because Christ is in us, we have ability. Total contentment belongs to the Christian. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we can embrace it. In that situation we can be what God calls us to be. We are not moaners and complainers. We are embracers of life. That must be so, if Christ lives in us. But let us not get so thrilled with Verse 1 that we forget Verse 2. This says in effect, ‘Now in the light of that, you change your thinking.’ Paul is warning us that there will be tension and conflict if we thrill with the joy that Christ lives in us and yet continue to think as we used to think. He reminds us that we are not the people we used to be, and so we must start thinking with our minds set on the things which are above and not on earthly things. Even as Christians, we have a certain mental outlook, a certain way of thinking. We may argue that we cannot help what we think. But Paul tells us to set our minds on things above. That is a command, not a suggestion. Something is wrong when we say that we cannot help what we think, because God never commands anything that we are not able to do.
In fact all of the Old Testament prophecies spoke of a miracle of salvation that would affect our minds. In the Old Testament, the prophets compared the coming new covenant with the one that they had. They had God’s Law written on tablets of stone. But, said the prophets, in the new covenant God would write His Law on the people’s minds and into their hearts. [See for example Jeremiah Chapter 31 Verses 31 to 33]. The people would think His will. They would evaluate life and would make their decisions based on the fact that the Law of God had been written into their minds.
We are responsible people. If we are Christians, we are responsible for what we think about and do. If we are not responsible for what we think, then we are not responsible for what we do either, because all of our actions begin in our thoughts. We cannot say ‘I couldn’t help it, it just came over me’. As Christians, we do not believe that: we know that actions do not just come over us. We are responsible, we choose. We choose the way we think, because that is really action in the beginning.
How did we use to think? Paul says, ‘Set your mind on things above.’ ‘Set your mind’ means to anchor it and let it dwell on one focus. What was the focus of our old lives? Before we were born again, the focus of life was our self. Self filled the horizon. Self was so big in our estimation that there was no room for anybody else. We were all there. I am not talking about the terribly mean selfish person, the sort of brat that everybody knows is bad. We all were there, and we thought it was so normal to be there that we actually congratulated ourselves that we were there. We were taught that that was the way to live. That meant that we could not think of God for who He is. We thought about Him as He affected us. We filled our little universe, and God was on the outside. All our thoughts of God were filtered through that, and immediately He became very terrifying. We were aware enough of God – we could still hear Him even before we were saved – and we knew that we were wrong because we had pushed Him out. We wanted to fill our universe, but we knew that God wanted to fill it. If He filled it, we could not. So we ran from Him. We did not want to talk about Him. We were afraid of Him. We felt threatened by the very idea of a real God, and we saw Him as a very mean sort of person who wanted to destroy our life.
Most people really believe that if ever they gave their lives away to God, He would destroy them. Or they believe that if God ever got hold of them He would be sure to send them to a swamp in Africa. What are those people saying? They are saying that they are in control, but if ever God got hold of them He would be in control and would destroy them. Indeed He would destroy them! He would destroy that distorted self-image that thinks it is everything. That is what crucifixion with Christ means: it is death. But on the other side of that death is resurrection and abundance of life.
So from where self-centred man stands, God is very threatening. We do not want Him to have any part of our lives. We could not trust Him with it. We are afraid of Him and we push Him away. We begin to think about our neighbours, but our neighbours threaten us too. When we fill the universe, everybody threatens us because they just might fill the universe and that would squeeze us out. In our world we are the most important, and if anyone comes in our way we accuse them of trespassing on our territory. We call that anger, rage, losing our temper. Losing our temper is daring to play God, and we would love to execute our neighbour who has dared to trespass on our rights.
We cannot physically execute, so we execute with words. And we rage. And in fact we do not lose our temper; we use our temper against our brothers. But it is only because of a certain way of thinking. It is because we have already assumed self as our foundation for thinking.
There is not a problem that mankind has that is not related to the fact that he thinks of himself at the centre of the world. Every problem that man has ever had started with that one statement in the Garden of Eden, ‘You shall be like God.’ And when man began thinking of himself as God, then the whole human race plunged into the darkness of selfishness. Any problem that you and I have today is due to just that one thing: self in the centre. That is how we think about ourselves, that is how we think about God, that is how we think about other people, that is how we think about our universe. When it rains, we complain that it is too wet. When it is hot we complain because we are too hot. Whatever happens is processed according to our self-centredness, and our reactions come out as moaning and grumbling and complaining. Grumbling and complaining is the worship of self. They are the praise words in the religion of ‘I’ in the centre of our lives, when nothing is right when compared to us.
This passage in Colossians is saying that that is what we died to. What died? ‘I’ in the centre died. God did just what we thought He would do. He got hold of us, and He killed us. He nailed us to the cross, and our self that wanted to be central was crucified with Christ. That is what the world saw when we were baptized. They shook their heads sadly and said, ‘Poor old man, he’s dead and now they are burying him. It is all over.’ And they were absolutely right. As far as the world is concerned, that whole person that we were is dead and we have risen to newness of life. Christ is now our life. There is a new centre. Now we are complete. We no longer fill our universe; Christ does. That is how it was meant to be. Now we have taken the place that we were meant to have. What a relief! What peace! We can take off these silly clown suits of pride and can start being normal human beings. We can stop strutting around thinking that we are God. What a relief to be a creature!
We are dead, but we live. The trouble is that our minds have not been reprogrammed. In the old days, every time that we faced life in television programmes, in movies, in books, we always found that the normal way was to put self in the centre. All our experiences, all our wisdom gained from the world, were stored away in the original computer called the brain. There it all is, and we programmed it. And when we were born again God told us to go back and start re-programming the computer, to set our minds on things above.
Romans Chapter 12 Verse 2 says ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. One translation of the word ‘renew’ is ‘update’. Be transformed by the updating of your mind. Your mind is out of date. You are thinking of yourself as you used to be, not as you now are, so update your thinking. Begin to think about God as you now know Him to be. Begin to think about yourself as you now know yourself to be. Begin to think about your neighbour as you now know your relationship to your neighbour to be. It is a whole new way of thinking. So now when that person trespasses on your rights, and hurts you, and your feelings rise up to pronounce judgement and execution with rage, you can stop. Now you know that that is not the way to act, because you have seen that Jesus Christ died for sinners. Your whole life has been transformed because of it. Now you have got a foundation to forgive the person who trespassed on your rights. So you act like a Christian and re-think the situation in the light of Jesus Christ.
Why can we not forgive? What is the big problem? It is because we have the feeling that somebody ought to pay. There is a sense of injustice. What has been done may be in the past, but somebody has to pay for it. That is why no other religion, no other philosophy, knows how to properly forgive. They can repress the feelings of injustice and pretend that they are not there. But that is not forgiveness. Christianity alone has the foundation for forgiveness, because the Christian knows that Somebody has paid. When we have the feeling that somebody ought to pay, we as Christians should remember that Jesus has paid.
We say that God forgave all our sins. What sins? Were they all done ethereally toward an invisible God?
No, most of our sins were done very tangibly towards people. God forgave us, and Jesus paid by dying. Now it is reversed. We are on the other side and other people are sinning against us. We can forgive them, because we know that Jesus died for them as well as for us. Justice has been outraged but justice has been satisfied. So we minister to them the forgiveness that has already been paid for. We have a foundation for forgiveness, and can see other people in a new light.
So a whole new idea of society suddenly begins to emerge, because we are thinking about others as we see them in relation to ourselves at the cross. And because of that we are no longer afraid of God. We had a right to be afraid of God when we were sinners. But now that we have seen that God paid for our sins, how can we be afraid of the God who died for us? Now we can come to Him in a new way of thinking. We have to understand that this Christian life is not a way of feeling; it is a way of thinking. The whole of the unconverted world was based on our feelings: we did things because we felt like it. But now we have come into a new world where we do things because we are under the lordship of Jesus Christ. And so when our feelings are clamouring to resent, to be bitter, to lose our temper, to envy, we know that we can think differently.
How can you be afraid of God when He died for you? I do not understand everything that He does, but I can trust myself to Him because I understand that He is trustworthy. I can give myself to Him, but not because I feel like it. I do not forgive you just because I feel like it. I do not adjust my lifestyle just because I feel like it. If I was in the world in the darkness, then I would do just exactly what I felt. But I am not in the darkness: I am in the Light. I see what is truth, and so regardless of my feelings I choose to think truth and to act truth and to speak truth. So many times we are thinking as we used to be and not as we now are. We still think of ourselves as poor helpless creatures in the dark. But we are not anymore: we are born again.
Perhaps you say that you cannot help losing your temper. Of course you can! You are born again. The trouble is that you are thinking of yourself as you used to be, when you could not help losing your temper because of what you were. But now you have changed and can adjust your behaviour. Or perhaps you say that you just get these moods. But understand that you do not have to be like that, now that you have been born again. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Stop thinking of yourself as the helpless bound creature in darkness. You are not. Christ has come, has opened the prison doors and has set you free. But He did tell you to set your mind on, and think about things, above. Think about things as they really are.
So we come back to the passage in Colossians. It says ‘update your mind’. Gird up your mind for action. Think about yourself as you truly, truly are. All the commands in the Bible are directed to our minds. They are in intelligible language, in understandable grammar. They are directed to our will and tell us to do certain things a certain way. How can you do that? Because you are born again. Christ is your life. Start understanding what God wants, and then start thinking it and realizing that that is the way it shall be. Let your will be directed by the words of God. Set your mind; that is, hold it and focus it.
Look at a verse in First Corinthians Chapter 13, that great chapter about love. Verse 5 says, ‘[Love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered’. Notice the words ‘take into account’. In the Greek language that it was written in, it is exactly the same phrase as ‘set your mind’. So you could say that love does not set its mind on a wrong suffered. Or you could say that you are to take into account the things which are above. The expressions are interchangeable. Paul uses the same Greek words in both those places. Love, the new Christian way of thinking, does not take into account a wrong suffered. It does not set its mind on the wrong suffered. Instead, it sets its mind on things which are above. It takes into account the things which are above. It takes into account what Christ has done and who Christ is.
Now, many things come into our minds; but it is up to us where we set our minds. Please do not be thrown by the thoughts that come into your mind. Most of us believe that we are the only ones that think such terrible thoughts, but we are not. There are thoughts from my past that come back. There are thoughts from your past. Do not call them ‘demons’. They are only thoughts, and you cannot cast thoughts out. Do not be threatened by these thoughts that come and go. It is where you set your mind that counts. You cannot stop birds from flying over your head but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair. Do not get upset. You know who you are. You are a joint heir with Jesus Christ. You know where your mind is set, and when those thoughts come you know the standard with which they need to be compared. That standard is the absolute of Jesus Christ as Lord. If they do not meet that absolute, they should be dismissed.
A thought passing through your head neither destroys you nor makes you dirty. It is the thoughts that you entertain that do that. Thoughts are like squatters who think that they can move into a vacant building, or who think that by not paying rent they can gain possession of your house. They come and they hang around. You play with them, you entertain them, you pursue them just a little bit, and suddenly you find that they will not move when you tell them to go. As a Christian you never seriously wish to adopt that way of life. But you do, because all the time you were really setting your mind on them. I am not threatened by the thoughts that come to me. I am not bothered by the people who transmit their thoughts. I am not bothered by the satanic thoughts that are genuinely in this atmosphere. I believe in demons, and I believe in the power of the satanic. But I have set my mind. I have taken into account Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. I have chosen what I wish to think about.
Incidentally, do not try and get rid of those thoughts that come. Every time you try to get rid of a thought, it has twins. If you try to get rid of a thought, in order to get rid of it you have to think about it. And now there are two: the thought, and the thought about the thought. If you want to get rid of thoughts, do not think about them. Let me give an example. Imagine that I was to tell a friend that I would give him a bag of gold tomorrow morning on one condition: that he does not think about red monkeys all day. Guess what my friend would think about all day? He has never thought about red monkeys before, but when he tries not to think about red monkeys, he begins to think about the red monkeys that he was trying not to think about. You can never get rid of thoughts by thinking about them.
Notice that God says through Paul, ‘Set your mind on things above’. You are not told not think about improper things, but rather to think positively. What you are not to think about will take care of itself. You set your mind on truth, and error and lies will not have a chance. Set your mind on love as you have seen that love in Jesus Christ, and you will not be able to entertain unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment. The light does away with the darkness. Do you run around a darkened hall trying to push the darkness out of the door? Do you command the darkness to come out? Of course not! You switch on the light. Similarly, do not go running around your head casting out thoughts. Just turn the light on. And the Light of Jesus Christ is so great!
As we have already noted, actions follow on from thoughts. If we think in the light of what Christ has done and who Christ is, then our actions will automatically flow out of that. A forgiving person, a person with a gentle attitude, a person who reaches out to others, does not act just out of their own thoughts. They are thinking about God, and they are thinking about their neighbour, and they are thinking about life, and they are thinking about themselves, in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ. And out of that there flows a whole new way of life. We are what we think. Just as murder actually begins with the thought of hatred, so love begins with thinking about others in the light of the cross of Jesus.
And so this passage in Colossians says ‘Set your mind on things that are above’, and it tells you what to do in the light of that. What is ‘therefore’ there for? It has to do with where you set your mind. Therefore it goes on to say that your life is changed, because you are a person not only born again in your spirit but renewed in your mind and updated in your thinking. You are thinking about yourself as you really are in Jesus Christ. So go and do it; it is the command of God. And in the process of doing it you will find that the inexhaustible river of God’s life will begin to pour through you. For God’s life flows through us in the channel of our will and our choices. Our human feelings will take second place, and we shall feel what we should feel, which will be unspeakable joy when we obey God.