Colossians 3:1-11

 

Stay Focused on Heaven

 

1.     Since you have been raised with Christ

2.     Especially since you struggle with sin.

3.      

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices  10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.   

 

            In the spring and summer of 1984 & 85 I worked on a vegetable farm. After school I would catch a ride with my friend, whose mom would drive us to work. Early in the year we did the planting on the farm. Our boss would drive the tractor and two of us would sit on the planter and feed the plants into the planter for row after row of tomatoes and pepper and melons. Our boss could drive the tractor, listen to the radio and talk to us and when he raised the planter at the end of the row we saw a perfectly straight row of plants. Occasionally our boss had to work on another project and we would be left to drive the tractor. Even though he got us started, our rows were never as straight as his. He had more experience, but he also stayed focused on the job. He was not distracted by the radio and by the conversation. We were distracted and inexperienced and we planted crooked rows. We could look at the rows and so could he. It was obvious.

            In this letter Paul has finished the doctrinal portion and now gets practical with these people. Many of them were new to the faith. They knew their Savior. They knew the way to heaven, but life in this world was distracting them. We live in a very distracting world. There are many temptations that cause us to swerve on our path to heaven. This will happen in our life, but the Lord wants us to stay straight. The Lord wants us to stay focused on heaven. As we study these words this morning we find that encouragement. Stay focused on heaven. Because you have been raised with Christ and especially since you struggle with sin.  

            Paul’s main point in these verses is obvious. Stay focused on heaven because you have been raised with Christ. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” As believers we are alive physically like the rest of people in this world, but we are different from the unbeliever. We are alive spiritually. We were raised with Christ when we were brought to faith. The Holy Spirit worked a miracle in us by taking us from dead in sin to alive in Christ. Christ’s work is ours by faith. His life is our life. His death is our death. His resurrection is ours. His payment for sin was made in full and now his righteousness is ours. All the requirements for us to get to heaven have been fully met in Christ. Because of Christ we are going to heaven and Paul says stay focused on it.

            As we are focused on heaven parts of our life may not look any different from an unbeliever. Our lives are not so perfect and trouble free that others can see our heavenly home in our earthly life. But that does not change the fact. It simply means that we are still looking forward to the final fulfillment of Christ’s promise to us. Paul describes it this way. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Our new life is hidden from the eyes of the world but it is still ours. Our new life does not mean we will never suffer in this current life, but we have been raised with Christ. Our old self has died and we are focused on the heaven that Christ has prepared for us.

            This will be ours when Jesus returns on judgment day or when we leave this world though death. When we die we know that like that thief next to Jesus on the cross we will be in paradise in heaven. And we believe and confess that on judgment we will be raised from the dead and live body and soul forever in heaven. What ever happens first the result will be the same. We will be raised in glory forever.

Heaven is where we are going. There are some good reasons to stay focused on it. We find comfort in knowing where we and our Christian loved ones are going. Stay focused for direction in life. We are preparing to live in heaven and we want to practice living that way now. And stay focused on heaven for purpose in life. We died to the worldly way of thinking and have been raised to see this world the way our Savior does. We struggle to do that and will talk about that in a moment, but we have purpose in life when we see this world as a place to live for our Savior and share our Savior with those who are dead and dying in sin. We have been raised. The work God has done and keeps doing in us keeps us focused on heaven.

            In verse 2 Paul said “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” When he tells us to set our mind, that phrase is really an ongoing command. We could translate it, “keep on thinking about the things above.” As our theme says, stay focused on heaven and with this ongoing command we see the clear contrast between focusing on the things above and the things below, on earthly things. Paul was inspired to write these words because staying focused on heaven will always be a struggle for God’s people. All of us tend to think about things in an earthly way. For example, when bad news comes do I think first how God will use it to bring me closer to him and finally home to heaven, or do I think about how it will impact my life on this earth? Because we are sinners, we often think about this world first so Paul goes on with his encouragement to stay focused on heaven especially since we struggle with sin.

            It is not wrong to think about our life in this world. We are here to serve God and to serve with the blessings he has given to us. But because of sin it is easy for us to lose our focus. In the remaining verses Paul talks about sins that God’s people struggle with. We are to stay focused on heaven to put the sin in us to death. Paul says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” If we have to put something to death that is a pretty good indication that it will be a struggle. Our earthly nature is the part of us that wants to sin. It does not roll over and die. It fights and claws to gain the upper hand in us and it won’t stop.

            This sinful nature is seen by all the sins described in verse 5. Immorality and impurity were real struggles for the people in Colossee. They lived in a very open Greek culture where sexual sins were rampant. Many of them came out of that lifestyle. It is not unlike the society we find ourselves in. We can find gross examples of immorality in society, but also some not so obvious examples in our very own life and mind.

            Paul also tells us to put greed, which is idolatry to death. We found an example of it in our Gospel lesson this morning as Jesus told the parable of the rich fool. This man had his mind on earthly things as he built bigger barns to hold all his wealth. He was losing his struggle and lost it forever when his life was taken from him. His greed is easy to identify. Ours is a little more difficult because we are good at defending it. We are stingy with the Lord because we need to plan for the future. We fail to give because we just don’t have enough. We focus on our earthly possessions because we fail to focus on our home in heaven. Whether it is immorality or greed Paul reminds us that “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” Sin brings God’s wrath. That includes our sin. This is a call to repentance, a call to put to death the sinful nature.

            We do this by identifying sin in our life. We don’t pick at each other; we go to God’s Word and find application for our personal life. We confess those sins we see and even those we are unaware of. We then find forgiveness in our Savior Jesus and ask God to help us change. This is how we struggle against sin. This is how we put to death our sinful nature and strive to live for our Savior, staying focused on heaven.

            And yet it is a daily struggle. Paul describes this struggle in verse seven. “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices  10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” To picture this daily struggle Paul uses the idea of daily changing clothes. This past week has been hot. People have sweat and clothes have gotten dirty. We would not think to leave those dirty clothes on when we get home at night. And we would not typically put those dirty clothes back on the next day. Like clothes dirtied by hot weather and sweaty people, we need to change our spiritual clothes on a daily basis. In these verses Paul tells us what to take off. We take of lies and slander and filthy language. The sins of the mouth that begin in the heart need to be removed from our lives. We put on the new self that is filled with truth and encouragement and purity. That is what we are in Christ Jesus. That is the way we want to act in Christ Jesus.

            This is a struggle and this is why we are to grow daily in God’s Word. Each day we go to the word and see how much we need forgiveness. We see Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. We rejoice in his precious blood that was shed for us. We see his love abundantly showering grace into our hearts and lives with his Word and Sacraments. The promises found in his Word that center on our eternity in heaven and keep us focused on our home in heaven. This daily struggle is how God causes us to grow and helps us to stay focused on heaven.

            This is a struggle. It can get depressing when we get off track. My boss would point out the crooked rows we had planted. Not to just make us feel crummy, but so we would learn. Those rows grew and you couldn’t even tell. Jesus points out our sin to warn us and so that we stay focused on his Word and our home in heaven. It does matter what we do. But unlike those crooked rows, Jesus perfectly straightens our lives. He has set us on that path and will keep us focused on heaven until he is ready for us. Then we will be citizens of heaven forever. Amen. 

Pastor Matt Brown

 

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (WELS) of Union City, Tennessee,  Rooted in the WORD