Overcoming Worldly Influence
Scripture: Colossians 3:1–4
Overcoming Worldly Influence
For over two-thousand years, Christ has been building his church. What began with a handful of Spirit empowered individuals has spread over the face of the entire globe and has altered the course of history more than any other empire, philosophy or movement. No people group has had a greater impact than those whose lives have been transformed by the power of the gospel message. Nothing else on this side of the cross has changed the world like the influence of the church.
Influence, however, goes both ways. Throughout church history we have seen the detrimental and sometimes disastrous results of the church being influenced by the world. Ministries and individuals who started well, with Godly intentions, have been influenced by worldly ideas and philosophies that enticed them away from the truth of scripture. The results have been some of the worst atrocities committed in the name of Christianity.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Colossae, the effects of worldly influence was among his primary concerns. At the time this letter was written the Colossian church was still in its infancy. It had likely been planted by believers from Ephesus traveling up the Lycus river valley preaching the gospel in the cities and villages there. From his letter we understand that Paul had never visited this church, but only knew of it through reports from Epaphras. He hoped to visit them in the future, but in the mean time he wrote this letter, both to introduce himself to the believers there, and to communicate truths essential to their spiritual wellbeing.
I believe, Paul intended the truths communicated in this letter to help inoculate them against the varied false teachings and distortions of the gospel which were already circulating among the churches. The letter of Colossians centers around three central truths.
- It establishes the preeminence of Christ.
- It warns against the danger of worldliness.
- In light of the first two truths, It gives instructions of what their new life in Christ should look like.
The Preeminence of Christ
Immediately after his opening greeting and thanksgiving, beginning in 1:15, Paul launches into an exalted presentation of who Christ is. Using some of the most elevated language in the New Testament Paul clearly identifies Jesus as the creator, and sustainer of all things. The full revelation of God is found in him alone. He is the only means of redemption for sinners because he alone has successfully made atonement for sin his by death on the cross. This, Paul says, sets him above all other things. There is no other plan of redemption besides Christ. There is no other means of salvation apart from Christ. There is no knowledge of God subsequent to or apart from Christ.
Understanding this truth would serve to guard the Colossians against those who falsely claimed to have new revelation from God, or any secret knowledge of God found outside the teaching of Christ and his apostles.
The Danger of Worldly-Mindedness
Paul also warns them against the dangers of worldly-mindedness. Beginning in 2:6 he cautions them that there is a so-called knowledge or philosophy that is not true knowledge at all. While it may masqueraded as godly wisdom, underneath it is merely human tradition. It is empty, deceptive will ultimately draw them away from Christ.
The believer who is allured by this worldly wisdom will find their focus drawn from trusting in Christ to trusting in self, from pleasing God to pleasing men. They will begin to value temporal possessions and comforts more than truth and real spiritual growth. Who they are and what they desire begins to be shaped by their own ideas and the culture around them rather than by the Word of God.
This sort of worldly thinking is subtle and often slips in unawares. It finds its way into the church in the form of man-made traditions and rules which go beyond the commands of scripture. Beginning in 2:16, Paul warns about those who would pass judgement on another believer because of what they eat or drink, or because they don’t observe ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law. He goes on to say that while such restrictions may appear wise and religious, they are of no help whatsoever in actually dealing with sin, and ultimately they lead to trusting in works we do rather than in the work Christ has done.
Finally, beginning in chapter 3, Paul instructs the believers on what their new life in Christ should look like. In the opening verses of the chapter he touches on what, I think, are three key realities in the lives of believers which enable them, by Gods grace, to overcome worldly influences. It is from here that we draw our text this morning.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
The Believer’s Position in Christ
The first reality Paul wants them to grasp is their position in Christ. As believers we face constant temptation to focus more on our standing in the culture and the community than on our standing before God. We give more thought to the cloths we wear, the kind of car we drive, the house we live in, or what our friends think of us, than are about who we are in Christ and what is pleasing to God.
Paul begins here in verse 1, with the believer’s position in Christ.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Raised to New Life
First, notice the understanding that we have been raised together with Christ. Paul explained this in 2:11–12.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12)
As believers we participate in in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in salvation. We die to sin and the flesh. We are baptized symbolizing burial, and we are raise to new spiritual life, reconciled to God, and made a completely new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Paul speaks of our being raised with Christ, he is not just using spiritual symbolism, or religious jargon. He is referring to the fundamental reality that is at the heart of the gospel. Just as Christ was raised, so we to have passed from death to new life.
Transformed Into a New Creation
Paul then makes his argument by means of implication. IF we have died and been raised as a new creation, if we have gone from being the enemies of God to being in right relationship to him, then our desires and goals will be transformed. What we value will change. What we seek after now are things which pertain to the new life we have in Christ. God’s commands, which we once hated because they exposed our sin, we now love because they teach us what pleases him. We are striving for different goals, and living for a different purpose. In other words, If we have been raised with Christ we should seek the things that are above.
Guaranteed by Christ’s Victory
This change of desires is not something speculative, that simply may happen. If we are in Christ the Holy Spirit in us will transform our desires to aline with his. This is not a wholly immediate transformation. We are still living with the effects of sin in a body that is still under the curse, but we can be sure that a person who is transformed by the grace of God and indwelt with the Spirit of God will not remain as they are. Through the process of sanctification, they will be conformed to the image of Christ.
This is not something that we work up by our will alone. While our redeemed wills play a crucial part in this process, it is ultimately accomplished and made certain by Christ’s work. His position give us certainty of our standing before God. That is why Paul bases all of this in the fact that, “Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Because Jesus perfectly accomplished redemption, and because he is now reigning from the father’s right hand, we can have complete confidence in our standing before God.
When we fully grasp our position in Christ it will result in a different way of thinking. The mundane temporal things that the world values will loose their appeal. The opinions of men no longer hold the sway over us that they once did. Our priority becomes what pleases God, and what brings glory and honor to him.
The Believer’s Mindset in Christ
The second reality Paul communicates here has to do with the believers mindset in Christ.
Worldly thinking tempts us to focus on the earthly appearances rather than the heavenly realities. It judges the effectiveness of a ministry by numbers and budgets rather than by spiritual fruit produced. A worldly mindset judges God’s faithfulness by the balance in our bank account. It prioritizes present comforts over longterm spiritual rewards. Paul addresses this idea of the believers mindset in verse 2.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)
What is Our Mindset?
First we must ask, “What does it mean here to set your mind on something?” You may have many thoughts that cross your mind in a day, but your mindset is the one thing that is foremost in your mind. It is the one set of ideas or beliefs that is so central to your thinking that all other thoughts and ideas are shaped by it. It affects what you think about, how you think about it, and the decision that you make.
Everyone has a mindset. As newborn infants we are born with the singular mindset of “ME!” Everything else in the world is processed through the mental lens of “what benefits me, or makes me happy.” As we grow older this becomes a little more nuanced. It might center around social standing, career, money, or pleasure, but ultimately the focus is still on me. However, as believers who have been redeemed by God’s grace, our mindset should be transformed.
On Things Above
Paul admonished the Colossian believers to set their minds on things above. If we are in Christ, our thinking should be shaped by a heavenly perspective. Our mindset changes from what benefits me, to what pleases God, from what does popular culture say about the nature of life, gender, and the meaning of existence, to what does God say about the reality of the world that he created.
As Christians we should see the world differently, because we are looking at it from a different point of view. No longer is the world viewed from the distorted lenses of sin and self, but now we see things clearly in light of God’s sovereign rule, Christ’s triumphant victory, and the hope of the age to come. This affects our outlook on every area of life, and transforms our thinking.
Not on the Earth
Of course this means our minds will not be set on things that are on earth. We no longer look to culture to define reality, because God’s Word is the standard of truth. It is the foundation of what we believe and how we order out lives. We don’t stand in the pulpit and give our opinion based on scientific and philosophical studies, or cultural research—we preach the Word of God.
Now, let me offer an important point of clarification here. In saying this I do not mean to imply that believers are to ignore earthly things entirely. We live in the world, and we interact with the world, but worldly philosophies and priorities must not be foundational to our thinking. We must set our minds on things above.
The Believer’s Hope in Christ
The third reality Paul reminds them of is the Believer’s hope in Christ. Worldly thinking tempts us to focus on the present rather than on eternity. It causes us to see now as all that matters, and to give no thought to anything beyond the world we see around us. Paul knows, however, that it is essential for believers to have an eternal perspective.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:3–4)
Dead to Sin and the Flesh
He begins by reminding them that they are dead. That is, as believers they have died to sin and the flesh. This broken world is no longer their true home. They are strangers and pilgrims here. They know that this world is passing away. Its time is almost up, it will soon be no more. As believers we already have a part in the world to come. In a sense we even now have one foot through the door. We live in light of eternity.
Your Life is Hidden
From a the worlds perspective, the believer who trades all to follow Christ has wasted their life. They look at the Pastor who labors away for lifetime in a small church for less than a living wage, or the believer who stays in a difficult job or neighborhood to be a light in the darkness, or the missionary who leaves everything behind to labor among some unknown tribe, and they see a life wasted. If we are not careful this worldly way of thinking can creep into our minds, causing us to doubt the promises of God.
Paul wants these believers to know that their life is not wasted nor is it lost, but like a precious treasure kept safely tucked away out of view, their life is secure with Christ. The full reality of our new life in Christ is not yet revealed—sometimes it seems hidden even from us—, but we can rest assured that it is safe with Christ. Nothing can steal it no power can destroy it. To do so they would have to assault the very throne of God and overcome Christ himself. And as Paul has already made clear, Christ sits in that exalted place because he has already proven himself greater that all.
It Will Be Revealed When Christ Appears
One day Christ will return and when he appears we will appear with him in glory. In that moment all who tried to hang on so tightly to this life and this world will loose it all. But for believers, the eternal life that you we possess will finally be fully revealed for all to see.
When we consider that day, what is this world and all that it offers? It is a vapor, gone in a moment, swallowed up in eternity. Calling this to mind should shake us from worldly thinking and cause us to set our minds and our hopes firmly on things above.
Application: Heavenly Minded With Our Feet on the Ground
As we go from here today, how should we seek to practically apply these truths? After all we are talking about a heavenly mindset, and hidden realities. How does this relate to life “on the ground”? I’d like to offer two thoughts in closing.
1. Having a heavenly mindset does not deny the reality of our physical existence in the world.
God mades us as embodied creatures. We are not just a Spirit with a body. We are were created as both body and spirit. As believers we have been made spiritually new, and at the resurrection our bodies will be made new also, and we will live in glorified bodies forever.
Setting our minds on things above should not be misunderstood as some Gnostic idea of downplaying our physicality as humans. We recognize that God made us physical creatures, but instead of placing our hopes in this sinful flesh, we look forward with anticipation to the day when we will be renewed both soul and body forever.
We also recognize that God intends for believers to live in the world. When Jesus prayed for believers in John 17 he said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” This is where God intends you to be. We have a purpose in this world to glorify God and to proclaim the good news, but we can only do that effectively if our thoughts and actions are influenced by heavenly realities.
2. A Heavenly mindset has “on the ground” effects.
You may have heard the expression, “So heavenly minded they are of no earthly good”. The reality is that, far from being unrelated to life in the world, a mind that has been transformed by the Spirit of Christ has massive implications for how we live in the world. I recommend that you read the rest of chapter three this afternoon and you will see that Paul goes on to make this very point. In verses 5–17 he describes the “on the ground” effects of a mind that is is set on heavenly eternal realities. Having this mindset will cause us to put off sin and put on Christlikeness resulting in spiritual fruit in our life and the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts.
A clear understanding of our position in Christ, a mind that is set on heavenly realities and a certain hope of Christ’s return will impact every thought, every decision, and every action that we take in this world. Paul summarizes with this fitting conclusion in verse 17:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)