Recently I got a notice that a person wanted to send a message to the church through our Instagram account’s messaging system. I’m always a bit suspicious about requests from random people, but the message had me curious. The person asked, “Can I ask a biblical question here?”
Yes. Yes, you can! They asked a question that relates to what we’re talking about today. Here’s the question: “If the Bible does not address a topic, and a Christian chooses to make a decision every day for the rest of their life that they believe is not a sin, but it turns out it is a sin in the eyes of God, will they be forgiven and will they go to heaven?”
You get that? Basically the question was, “Will I always know if I am sinning?” The ramifications are serious. What if we genuinely do not know that a certain action is a sin, and therefore we do it all time thinking we’re in the clear, only to end up standing before God after we die, and we hear him say, “That thing you did all the time? That was sin.” You can see why the person asked their question!
So my answer to the person was that the Bible is clear about what is sin. Sin is anything that is not in line with God’s heart and character. I don’t need to list out every single sin for you to understand what is sin and what is not sin. If you are wondering if something is a sin, compare and contrast that action with the heart and character of God. Is there alignment? Is there dissonance?
It seems to me that identifying most sins is fairly obvious. I don’t need to spend time deliberating and praying about whether or not I should steal or lie or cheat or lust and a great many other actions. Those sins also obviously go against his heart and character. Also, God has already clearly told us that those actions are wrong, and we know that because he has communicated this to us through the writers of the various books of the Bible. It is the “gray area” sins that have Christians disagreeing with one another and confused. I’ve written here and here about how to think about “gray area” sins. This week, though, we’re studying Colossians 3:1-4 (starting here), and those gray areas are not the focus of the passage. Instead, as we saw in the previous post, we have been raised with Christ, and that means we have been set free from sin!
What Paul writes in our passage today are some imperatives that are so important for us to consider so that we can experience Jesus’ resurrection power in our lives because we have been raised with Christ, and thus we can have victory over sin, not only in its final consequences, but also in the here and now.
I used the word “imperatives” in the previous sentence. That was on purpose. In the language Paul wrote, an ancient form of Greek, the verbs had some additional tenses to show what kind of action the author intends. The imperative tense is the command tense. Paul is issuing commands here, inspired by the Holy Spirit as he writes. That means we Christians are bound by God to obey these commands.
What are the commands? Paul gives us the first command in verse 1: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Do you notice the command in that sentence? In the New International Version, as with most English Bibles, you don’t see the command because English doesn’t have a command tense. We must add it in like this: “I command you, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: set your hearts on things above.”
Let’s get all of verse 1 in view: because we have been raised with Christ (which we discussed in the previous post here), we are commanded to set our hearts on things above. Because we have been set free from slavery to sin, we are to have a new focus above. In other words, if we want to experience resurrection power in our lives, we will set our hearts on things above.
What does it mean to set our hearts on things above?
When Paul mentions our hearts, he is referring to our affections, our will, our inner desires. Our longings should be set on things above.
What do you long for? What direction are your goals set towards? Do you long for Covid to be done? Health? Financial security? Getting your Driver’s License? Graduation? Lunch today?
The Phillies have had a decent start. When I type this, they are in second place in the NL East. Maybe you long for your favorite sports team to make it back to the playoffs this year. I’m a Phillies fan, and it has been a looooooong time since their nice run of years in the 2000s.
What do you long for?
None of those longings I mentioned above are inherently wrong things to long for. In fact, they might be good! But Paul helps us see the forest for the trees. He helps us have a wider view, so that we can evaluate our longings. Paul says that we should long for what he calls, “things above.”
What are the things above? Paul writes that whatever “things above” refers to, it has some kind of connection to the place “where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.” Where is that? It sounds like a throne room in the palace of God, doesn’t it? At the very least, that’s heaven he’s talking about.
But Paul is not simply talking about a longing to go to heaven. It is not wrong to want to go to heaven. That is a wonderful hope that we Christians have. But that is not all that he’s talking about here. How do we know this?
What Paul is talking about is very much like what Jesus prayed in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God, Jesus taught in that prayer, is more than just the heavenly place in the spiritual realm where God lives. The Kingdom of God, Jesus prayed, is something that can have an impact here and now as well as in the future in heaven. In other words, God desires his rule and reign to increase and spread throughout our world now. So it makes a whole lot of sense here in Colossians 3:1 to understand Paul as saying that we should have our longings and our affections focused on the Kingdom of God. Of course, we can have a joyful grateful hope of eternal life in heaven, but we must also set our hearts on experiencing Kingdom life now.
Have you heard the phrase, “That person is so heavenly-minded, they are of no earthly good.” A person can fixate on heaven, so that they do not give an appropriate Kingdom-minded attention to their life now. What does it mean to live a life such that we long for God’s Kingdom not only in a future in heaven, but also “on earth as it is in heaven”? Check back in to tomorrow’s post, as we’ll see if Paul writes anything further to help us answer this question.