How do you practice following Jesus? What are the essentials? This post is the conclusion to this week’s five-part series through Colossians 3:1-4, which started here, and we will reflect on two essential habits for Christians.
Paul wraps up his teaching in Colossians 3:1-4, with what he writes in verse 4: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Here he gives a nod to that future day when his followers will go to heaven. He wants the people to clearly understand that, while they are commanded to live the heavenly life now, even though now they are on earth, there will be a day in the future when they go to heaven. But notice what Paul embeds in that vision of the future. He calls Jesus, “Christ, who is your life,” or “Christ who is our life.”
Jesus is our life. Our old earthly, self-focused life is dead, Paul wrote in verse 3. Jesus who is alive is now our life. He is our energy, our power, our sustaining force, by his Holy Spirit who lives in us.
You might think, “Ok, this is all well and good, Joel. I believe that Jesus won the victory over sin, death and the devil, and I believe he lives in me through his Spirit. I also believe he wants to empower me to have victory over sin, over the old earthly, self-focused way of life. But I still struggle with thinking and living the heavenly or kingdom way. I can often still have that earthly focus. It doesn’t seem to me that the old self-focused earthly way is dead. Not even close.”
I struggle with that too.
Paul is not saying, “Christians, it is now impossible for you to sin, it is now impossible for you to think about the old selfish earthly way.” Paul is writing this section, and what we study over the next few weeks, because he knows how difficult the struggle can be. That’s what the Colossians were dealing with, an ongoing struggle to put to death the earthly way and focus on the Kingdom. And that is what you and I often struggle with.
It is a tricky reality, isn’t it? We believe it is 100% true that Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil, and we are free from that old way. It no longer enslaves us. But we can still give the earthly focus sway over our lives, and in fact we can often be willing participants in that old way, even when it leads to destructiveness in our lives and in the lives of those around us!
The response, then, Paul writes, is for Christians to set our hearts and minds on things above. We must choose to obey that command. How do you do that though?
When I am setting my mind on the longing to run a marathon, I rework my days so that I have time to make all the training runs, I buy new running shoes, I get a plan on my phone that guides my training. I sacrifice other things to make time for the goal and the longing that I’ve set my mind on. The things we choose to set our minds on will show up in our habits and in our priorities, and that is when life-changes will begin to happen. So when it comes to setting our hearts and minds on things above, what exactly are we are commanded to do?
As we think about making a practical application by obeying the commands, it is important to note that the commands in verse 1 and verse 2 are slightly different from one another. In the New International Version, which I have been quoting from in this five-part blog series on Colossians 3:1-4, both of the commands are translated with the same word, “set.” See that in verses 1 and 2: “set your hearts on things above,” and “set your minds on things above.” Those are the two commands in this passage. Let’s look at them a bit more closely, because they are actually two different words.
First, the word “set” in verse 1 is better translated “seek,” and it means “to desire to have or experience something, with the probable implication of making an attempt to realize one’s desire.” Notice that this is an active word. It involves a heart that seeks the things of God. This is the first essential habit. Actively seek the things of God with your life.
Next, the word in verse 2 fits with Paul’s subject, the mind. The word means “to keep on giving serious consideration to something—‘to ponder, to let one’s mind dwell on, to keep thinking about, to fix one’s attention on’.” It is also very active. It is to use one’s mind in an active way to seek the Lord. This is the second essential habit.
These habits are imperatives, commands. Seek with your heart. Ponder with your mind. We are being told by Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that these are two actions that we Christians need to do. They are essential habits we should practice. What we know about God is that if he is telling us something that we need to do, it is for our very best. He loves us, he wants the very best for us, he’s a good God. When he commands us to set our hearts and minds on things above, it is the best possible thing we can do. It will be for our good.
Again, let me ask, “What ideas, goals or longings have you set your hearts and minds on? What perspective takes up space in your heart and your thinking?”
Given what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-4, I also want to ask you, “What steps and sacrifices do you need to take to have more of your heart and mind set on the things of God? What specific actions will help you focus your longings more on him, for his ways to be your foundation, your rock?”
Therefore, when circumstances and troubles of life come your way, when you have to make difficult choices, it will be easier to know what’s right, to remember that you are standing IN Christ. You won’t need to be on the hunt for where he is; you will know that are IN Christ. He is with us. And we are with him.
Furthermore, as you evaluate your longings, I’m not saying that everything our culture says is important is automatically evil. It is not wrong to want a sports team to win, or to want to enjoy retirement, or to want to spend a week at the beach, or for the struggles in our country to be solved.
None of these things are bad things desires or longings. But are they what your heart is set on? What things do you turn to for security? If some of those goals, hopes and dreams don’t happen, are your foundations shaken? Or is your mind set on things above? Meaning that you can feel upset about circumstances and about difficult things, but your world is not rocked. You have stability because your mind is set on the truth of who God is and who you are in Him.
So seek with your heart, and ponder with your mind. Actually make a list of practical actions you can do to follow through in each of those areas. Schedule them in your calendar, and then keep them as you would any appointment. I would recommend that you read Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Peter Scazzero, as he writes about this even further. Another resource I recommend is The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas. Read the with a group of friends. Hold one another accountable to follow through with changes you want to make.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 289.
 Ibid, 351.