Set Your Mind On Things Above

Author: Tim

Date Posted: March 5th, 2012


Set Your Mind On Things Above
#9/9: The Inside Story of Your Future Life
Colossians 3:1-4

March 3rd / 4th 2012
by Pastor Colin S. Smith


Set your minds on things that are above.  Colossians 3:2


Over these last weeks we have been intentional about setting our minds on things above.  We have thought about heaven.  We have filled our minds with what it will mean to be with Christ and why it is better by far.  It has been good for our souls. 

The question today is: How can I keep my mind on things above?  How can I continue nourishing my own soul by fixing my mind and fixing my heart on the hope and joy of my future life with Christ?

We’ve all heard the cheap shot that people who are heavenly minded are no earthly good.  Precisely the opposite is true.  It’s only when you know where the end is that you know how to begin.  Set your mind on heaven and you will know how to live on earth.

Suppose I said to you “Prepare!”  You would say, “Prepare for what? An exam? A snowfall? How can I prepare, if I don’t know what’s coming?” When you know what is coming, you will know how to live.

An ongoing practice for every Christian
“Set your minds on things above.”
Colossians 3:2 

The Bible tells us that this is to be more than a series of talks in church; it is to be an ongoing practice for every Christian.  This was the motto of the school in England where Karen and I studied theology: “Ta ano phroneite” or “Set your minds on things above.”

There isn’t anything here that’s difficult to understand.  Christ has been raised.  When Jesus died, His life left His body, and it was laid in the tomb by others, because there was no life in it when it was taken down from the cross.  But on the third day, the life of the Son of God came into His body.  He rose, and the body of Jesus was wonderfully changed.

If you are a Christian, the life of the Son of God has come into you.  Paul speaks about us being “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1).  By nature, all of us were dead towards God, deaf to the Spirit and incapable of rising up to follow Christ in a life of faith and obedience.

But the life of Christ came into you.  This is the miracle of salvation.  The Holy Spirit gave you the kiss of life.  You were raised with Christ.

Since you were raised with Christ, you have a new life in Him.  His life has come to you.  You are a new person, a new creation.  All that He purchased belongs to you—forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, adoption into the family of God and heaven as an everlasting home.  It’s all yours because you are His!

If all this is true of you, if you are a Christian, then here’s what you must do… Set your minds on things that are above (Colossians 3:2).  There is nothing that is difficult to understand here.  Where we need help is in how to put this into practice.

Most of the message today is application: What will you gain from thinking about heaven? And how can you go about doing it?

The Value of Meditating on Your Future Life

Meditating on your future life will change your entire view of money
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Luke 12:13

You might be wondering, “Why did you go there?”  It’s staggering how often Jesus links eternity and money in the Bible.

One day while Jesus was teaching, a person in the crowd asked Him to resolve a dispute about money.  We want Jesus to be in the middle of these things.  We want Him the one who upholds our rights.  But Jesus won’t have anything to do with it, “Who made me a judge… over you?” (12:14).

It is fascinating to see what Jesus chooses not to get involved in.  Some of us would say, “We must have a Christian ministry for this sort of thing,” but Jesus says, “That’s not why I am here. Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Then Jesus told a story about a man who was blessed in his business.  He gathered a bumper crop from his fields and stored it in barns.  The way we would say that today is, “He has a healthy 401k.”  This was his retirement. This man said to himself, “Well, now I can enjoy my retirement…”

This man was living the American dream.  He worked really hard and saved really well.  He was a very good planner, and his future years are mapped out—places to go, friends to visit, golf courses to enjoy—the life he’s always wanted.  Now he has the 401k and he wants to go for it!  But there was one problem: He did not set his mind on things above.  

 One night he died and God said to him, “You’re a fool.”  We all want to think that when we look into the face of God, He will say to us “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Wouldn’t you like God to say that to you?  What would it be to look into the face of God and hear Him say, “You’re a fool! You never thought about the things above.”

The height of folly is to live for the things of this world and neglect being rich toward God, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-20).

The more you invest in stuff here, the more tied your heart will be to the things of this world.  So learn to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).  The more you invest in Christ’s work on earth, the more your heart will be connected to Christ’s home in heaven.

Thomas Boston has a picture that is helpful here: [1] In this life, we’re on a stage.  We’re like actors in a theater who have a part in a play.  One gets to play the part of being the prince.  Another gets to play the part of a pauper.

We put on our costumes and play our part, but when the curtain comes down at the end of the play, all the actors go back stage.  The prince takes off his fine costume and the pauper takes off his rags, then both of them leave the theater by the same back door.

What difference does it make that one got to play the part of the prince and one got to play the part of the pauper?  When they leave the theater, they go into the real world, and what matters is who they are there, not what they were on the stage for a little while. 

Now, we think this is the real world and heaven seems rather vague to us.  But Jesus tells us that everything here will pass away, so set your mind on things above.  This world is a passing shadow; what lasts is in heaven.

Why would you envy your brother who has more than you do?  It really doesn’t matter whether you got to play the prince or the pauper here.  What difference does that make?  What matters is that you have treasure in the real world that will never pass away.

Meditating on your future life will change your whole outlook on money, in the short time that you are here—how much you need and what to do with what you’ve got.  Set your minds on things above.

Meditating on your future life will give you strength to endure
“…for the joy that was set before Him.” Hebrews 12:2

Where is that joy?  How did our Lord Jesus endure the agonies of the cross?  Christ endured the cross, in other words, by setting His mind on things that are above.

And this is what we are to do: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Last time Karen and I were in the UK, we had to stay over one night while we were travelling between her family and mine.  We worked out which city we thought we would be in and booked a place online.  It was terrible. 

It was probably ok in the 1960’s, but it looked like nothing had been done since then.  We knew we were in trouble when we drove in—the entrance was overgrown and the restaurant next door had closed, and when we got inside, the bed seemed like it was a hand-me-down from a camp site. 

I was not happy about paying good money for this room.  But it had been prepaid and unfortunately it was not refundable.  I was pacing round the room in frustration, until my ever patient and longsuffering wife said “It’s only for one night…” [2] That gives an entirely different perspective.

That’s precisely the point Paul makes: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Meditating on your future life will motivate you to holiness
Here’s a good rule of thumb in studying in the Bible: If you want to know the significance of what is being said, look at what went before and what comes after it. 

Some young Christians had just been converted in the town of Colossae, and they were overwhelmed by the battles that every Christian faces with sin and temptation.  How do you deal with the lusts of the flesh?  There are always plenty of books that claim to have the answer.

There weren’t as many publishers back then as there are today, but Paul tells them what will not work: You cannot overcome sin simply by disciplines, boundaries and accountability…  

Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch… Colossians 2:21

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom… but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh… Colossians 2:23

William Hendriksen says…

“There is no material cure for a spiritual ill.” [3]

You can’t overcome sin by the power of discipline alone.  It’s not the law that changes the heart; it’s the Gospel.  But then Paul says…

Put to death, therefore what is earthly in you.  Colossians 3:5

So what makes that possible?  Being raised with Christ and setting your mind on things that are above!

We need to set our minds on things that are above—otherwise we’re going to get bogged down with the material world, and we’re going to be overcome by our suffering.  So, how are we to do this?

Nobody has written more helpfully on this subject than Richard Baxter.  Baxter was a pastor in England in the 17th century, and he knew about suffering from his own experience.  J. I. Packer describes him as…

“a chronically sick puritan, tubercular from his teens and suffering constantly from dyspepsia, kidney stones, headaches, toothaches, swollen limbs, intermittent bleeding at his extremities, and other troubles – all before the days of pain-killing drugs.” [4]

This was not a guy who was in the middle of a happy life.  All this began in his teens.  How do you endure that kind of constant difficulty?

Baxter’s answer was to spend at least half an hour every day meditating on heaven, thinking on the things above.  He began this habit when he was 30 years old, and he continued it for the rest of his life.  Packer says…

“This cultivation gave him daily doggedness in hard work for God despite the debilitating effect of his sick body. He stands for all time as proof that there is supernatural strength for God’s service that is beyond human explanation.” [5]

This man spent 30 minutes a day, from the age of 30, setting his mind on things above.  He probably had a few things to say about heaven!  In 1650, Baxter wrote a book called “The Saint’s Everlasting Rest.”  The language is obscure for many readers today, but it is full of spiritual wisdom. 

At the end of his book, Baxter gives us a practical guide for putting Colossians 3:2 into practice.  Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned from Baxter, which I hope will be helpful to you…

Directions for Meditating On Your Future Life

Take responsibility for directing your mind
Set your mind on things above.  Colossians 3:2

This is something for you to do.  You must do it because it is a command of God—He calls you to it.  You can do it because you have been raised with Christ.  His life and power are in you for this very purpose.

Setting your mind on things above is in your Christian job description. God has given you this assignment, so commit yourself to it and take responsibility for it.

Sunday afternoon you sit down on the couch, grab the remote and watch the game.  Afterwards you feel sluggish, but you say, “I’ve got to go for a walk.”  Your body doesn’t don’t want to, but you do it anyway. 

Your soul needs to be roused to action in the same way that your body does.  Baxter points out that wise Christians are aware of the work and weariness of their spirits as much as they are of their bodies. [6] Are you aware of that?  Are you giving direction to your mind?

Learn the art of talking to yourself
This is not the first sign of madness.  It is the first sign of spiritual health.  You find the practice of talking to yourself all over the Psalms… 

When David says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul…” (Psalm 103:1), he is talking to himself.  When he asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5), who is he talking to?  He is talking to himself. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones often made the observation that we get into difficulties because we spend too much time listening to ourselves and not enough time talking to ourselves. 

Learn the art of talking to yourself.  Your mind needs to be set.  It needs to be told where to go.  It needs to be trained like a dog that is taught to “sit” or to “stay.”  Your heart will always be a problem.  Every Christian must learn to be a preacher to his or her own soul.

Baxter says you need to learn to “manage your own heart.”  Suppose you are in business, and you hire a youngster to do a particular job.  After a couple of days, it becomes obvious that the work is not getting done. 

Your new employee is wandering around the office, talking to everyone and dabbling in various things, but not tackling the work you hired him to do…  You’re the manager.  You would call him into your office and lay it on the line, “This behavior needs to change now.”   

Now, Baxter says, this is how you must deal with your heart.  Your heart is just like that unfocused employee.  Learn to manage your heart…

“Set upon thy heart roundly, persuade it to the work… Don’t accept any excuses; chide it for its backwardness… bring it to the service willing or not willing… Take up the authority God has given you. Command your heart. If you feel too weak, call in the Spirit of Christ to your assistance.” [7]

“This is what you must do in your meditation to quicken your own heart:  Enter into serious debate with it; plead with it in the most moving and affecting language; use the most weighty and powerful arguments.” [8]

Direct your heart and your will by exercising faith in God’s promises
There is some very profound biblical psychology right here.  It is in the mind where faith starts: “In my Father’s house are many rooms… Look heart at all that is in Christ, and it is yours!”  

“Let your faith, as it were, take your heart by the hand, and show it the sumptuous buildings of your eternal home… Let faith lead your heart into the presence of God, and draw as near as you possibly can.” [9]

“Take a walk in the new Jerusalem every day…”

I take a walk, every day, around the block.  I need to walk around the new Jerusalem every day. 

Use the joys of earth to propel  your mind towards heaven
When you go out and enjoy a steak dinner, don’t focus on the steak.  Let it propel you to the joys of heaven.  Think how much greater your joy will be when your soul is completely satisfied at Christ’s table in His kingdom! 

When you find pleasure in exploring science or the arts, or you dive into the wonders of nature, or when you find pleasure in music or technology, ask yourself, “If the face of human learning can be so beautiful, how beautiful then is the face of God?”

When you savor the joys of friendship and love, think to yourself, “Who will be the delight of the love of God?”  Don’t let the joys of this world be your anchor.  Let them propel you.  Don’t let the good gifts of God to you in this world get you more tied, more bound.  Let them lift you up.

Use the blessings of this life to anticipate the greater blessings of the life to come.  “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).



[1] “We are all in this world as on a stage; it is no great matter, whether a man acts the part of a prince or a peasant, for when they have acted their parts, they must both get behind the curtain and appear no more.”   Thomas Boston, “Human Nature In Its Fourfold State,” p. 217, Sovereign Grace, 2000

[2] Ibid., “If a man on a journey is not well accommodated, where he lodges only for a night, he will; not trouble himself much, because he is not to stay there. It is not his home.  You are on the road to eternity.”  

[3] William Hendricksen, “Colossians & Philemon,” p. 139, Baker, 1953

[4] J. I. Packer, “God’s Plans for You,” p. 69, Crossway, 2001

[5] Ibid., p. 70

[6] Richard Baxter, “The Saints Everlasting Rest,” p. 142, Regent College, 2004

[7] Ibid., p. 176

[8] Ibid., p. 163

[9] Ibid., p. 158

© Colin S. Smith

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