Another in a series on Colossians. Like the title didn’t tell you.

Before we look at tonight’s passage, let’s quickly review what we’ve seen so far. A deceptive teaching has entered the Colossian church that said faith in Christ is a start but having begun with Christ, there’s more to the spiritual life. If you want to be really holy and godly, there is more to know and to do.

But Paul writes that because we are joined to Christ through faith, we died to the basic principles of this world, so we no longer need to try to make ourselves acceptable to God by what we do.

But there is a problem. Although we’ve been put right with God, we aren’t actually perfect. We still sin and rebel against God in many ways; in how we act and speak and think. The teaching that had come into the Colossian church said the way to do kill our natural sinful nature was to kill the desires of the body. That’s what we would naturally think – punishment and discipline will turn us away from evil desires. But last week we heard how beating yourself up doesn’t kill desire, and it certainly doesn’t make you more holy.

So how can we live a life that honours the king who rescued us and who we now serve? How can we be in this life what we are before God? This is where we come to today’s passage.

READ PASSAGE AGAIN

Paul writes that Christ is seated at the right hand of God: this means that the Father has given Jesus the right to rule with all the power and authority of God. It’s like what Jesus said in Matthew 28:18; “All power and authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Because we’re joined to Christ through faith, our standing before God is the same as His. If the head of the body is righteous, the body is also. Of course it doesn’t mean that we rule God’s kingdom – the Head of the body does that – but it means that if Christ dwells in the highest heaven, we have access to the same place. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence. And there is nothing we have to do to get there, because God has done it all for us by Christ.

This is what Paul implies when he says that Christ is seated. If you work standing up, then, when you’ve finished, you sit down. When I’ve finished speaking, I’ll sit down. When we finish singing, we sit down. As Jesus is sitting, it means that His work, as God’s ultimate priest and sacrifice, is completed. Everything we need to return to a proper relationship with God, God has already done for us. Jesus is sufficient. And more, being seated also has to do with Jesus as king. Psalm 110 has God telling His chosen king “Sit at my right hand”. A king sits to rule, and to deliver judgment. Jesus seated at God’s right hand means that Jesus is supreme and ruling.

This passage is the turning point of the letter. Broadly speaking Paul begins his letters to the churches with the Gospel – what Christ has done – and ends them with how we are to respond. And this is where we are now. Paul has told the Colossians that Christ is supreme over all creation, and He is sufficient for all their spiritual needs. So what does that mean for us?

The fact is, we still sin. We are still far from perfect; occasionally we still rebel against God’s rule. But generally speaking, if we’re trying to live a life that pleases God, there are two ways we can take: we might think that the more pure we try to be, the more acceptable we are to God. Martin Luther, the most well known of the reformers of the Church in the 16th century, said he used to see a pious nobleman who was trying to live in holy life. This man had fasted, kept vigil (which means to stay awake at night and pray) and beaten himself so often that he looked like a living skeleton; and Luther said that anyone who saw him was ashamed of living a secular life – by which he meant, not becoming a monk or nun. This is similar to the false teaching at Colossae: you become more spiritual, more acceptable to God, by turning away from your bodily desires.

The other mistake we can make about holiness is to think that being acceptable to God means it doesn’t matter how we live. But as Paul says in Romans 6:15, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? No way!” In the Bible, righteousness isn’t just what we do and it isn’t just how we stand with God. They’re tied together: true righteousness includes both of them. This doesn’t mean we earn salvation; it means that if we are right with God, we should be perfect as God is perfect. Of course we can’t, but that’s why Jesus died for us.

So because we are joined to Christ, we’re right with God, but how do we live righteously? Paul has just finished saying that harsh treatment of the body doesn’t tame the spirit. There is only so much that beating ourselves up can accomplish. All it does is to imprison us. For example, let’s say that thinking of a purple koala is sinful. So you tell yourself, don’t think about a purple koala. What is the first thing you think of? Obviously, a purple koala. In telling yourself “Don’t think about a purple koala” you have to think about a purple koala to know what you have to stay away from. All your energy becomes focussed on staying away from purple koalas. You don’t think about anything else. We’ll only focus on the negative – Don’t swear; don’t buy; don’t look; don’t taste; don’t touch.

If this is how we try to become pure, we’ll end up doing nothing because we’re afraid that we’ll sin. But even then, we’ll be sinning because we’re not living; we’re burying the talents God gave us; we’re not sharing the Gospel with others.

So how can we avoid sin, the negative side of righteous living, yet still live positively, actively doing what honours God? Paul said early in chapter two, as you began in Christ, continue to live in Him, through faith. Well, that’s a nice, neat answer, but as it stands, it’s pretty useless. Paul gives a more practical answer here: he says, set your minds on things above, where Christ is.

We all know that as Christians it is good for us to read the Bible, and pray, and meet with other Christians and so on. Like the false teaching in Colossae, we might come to think of these activities as earning us brownie points with God. But that’s not the reason we do those things. They are called “means of grace”: they help us, they remind us of who God is and what He has done for us. They help us to better know God and His purposes, to understand his plan, and shape us into the people God wants us to be.

So how are you doing in not thinking about that purple koala? Tch, tch, tch. You just thought about it again, didn’t you, even though you were trying to stay away from it? Well the secret is … hey look up there! A dead bird!

The secret to living a righteous life is not to keep looking out for sin, so we can avoid it. If that is all we do, we’re only half living; because we’ll always be looking at ourselves to see that we are avoiding it. That’s all we’ll focus on. The secret to living a righteous life is to have a mindset that thinks of Christ first. In turning to Christ, we are simultaneously turning away from sin. That’s why Paul tells us to seek the things above, to set our minds on Christ and the hope stored up for us in heaven. Hebrews says something similar at the end of chapter 2, that Jesus is

a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

The writer to the Hebrews doesn’t say just “resist sin” or “flee temptation”, he says you’re your thoughts on Christ.” Not just to remind yourself, “God’s on His throne and all’s right with the world”, but concentrate on Him. Think again about Who He is, where He is, what He has done for us and what He is still doing.

Back in Colossians … in the middle of Paul’s exhortation to look to Christ, he reminds us what we are not to look to: the things in this life that can entangle us and draw us away from God and the mission He has for us. Of course we should seek to avoid sin – it’s good to be reminded that we have an enemy and we aren’t perfect in this life – but it’s just as important to focus on the good as to turn away from the bad.

But what does it mean to not think about earthly things? Does it mean we don’t try to find work or we don’t give to charity or have insurance because those things are too involved with money; they’re too earthly? Does it mean that if fellow Christians do work for us, we pay them less because “God will reward them”? No, that isn’t what Paul means. Most commentaries I read said that Paul means not to get wrapped up in things that distract us from living a godly life; that we shouldn’t worry about things that are destined to ultimately be lost: popularity, wealth, health for instance.

Then again, John Calvin, a theologian in the 16th century, thought that this phrase referred to the false teaching in Colossae, and Paul is once again reminding the Colossians that there is nothing they can do that can make them more holy or acceptable to God; because Paul then goes on to remind the Colossians again that they died to those practices: none of them improve our standing with God. If we are joined to Christ, and Christ lives in the highest heavens, it is impossible for us to improve our standing with God. He adopted us as His sons and daughters: nothing can improve on that.

But we’re still part of this fallen world. That’s why Paul tells us our lives are hidden with Christ – we don’t appear any different from anyone else, and we still have to deal with sickness, injustice, and all kinds of unpleasantness and suffering. To people who aren’t Christians, we may not appear to be living a triumphant life, or more “spiritual” than anyone else … but that will change when Christ is revealed in glory. That means that everyone will know who we really are; we will all clearly see who God is and what He has done for us. Then, the highest and the best of everyone and everything will be all that there is. Everything God has done, and everything we have done for His sake, will be put on display for everyone to see. And because God is the author of it all, He will be the centre of all praise and joy and happiness.

But until then, we keep our minds fixed on Christ. In that way, we can find strength to live a life fitting who we are as children of God.

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