Many wondrous realities are given to us through Jesus Christ: forgiveness of sins, peace with God, the indwelling Spirit with his gifts and graces, and a completed revelation. Yet the full glory of our salvation is hidden. The glories that lie ahead for the child of God are known dimly when revealed at all. And we often forget, forget that our earthly lives are of infinitesimal duration and experience in comparison to everlasting life, to what shall be. Absorption with the present life is thus unwise and ultimately frustrating. Yes, we are to serve the Lord in our generation, but the eye of faith simultaneously focuses upon the future, upon what lies ahead.
Paul’s writings mandate this dual perspective. We are to revel in the glorious realities we now possess in Christ while longing for the greater glories that lie ahead. Consider Colossians 3:1-4. He begins by stating that if or since we have been raised with Christ, we are to seek the things that lie above, where Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, the death of sin through the death of Christ and life in righteousness and power through his resurrection characterize the believer. And since we have died and have been raised with Christ, we are to seek the things above: the power of Christ’s reign in our lives, communion with him through prayer and saturation with his word, and our future destiny with him when the full redemption of the sons of God will be understood and experienced in ways we cannot presently fathom. This is what we are to seek: an earthly life of faithfulness, usefulness, and discipleship empowered through the reign of our Savior, animated by desire to be with him, encouraged by intense reflection upon our future with him.
And our affections - how misspent they often are! Our minds or affections must be "set on the things above." The verb means to reflect upon intently, to have a high regard for, to respect. The "things above" refers specifically to the reign of Jesus Christ, its blessings and power. We are to think often and deeply upon these things. In context this applies first and foremost to the position of Jesus Christ and our position in him. It is only as we look at him that we understand a portion of what we shall be. It is only as we abide in him that we are able to experience the firstfruits of this during our earthly lives. To set one’s affections on things above, then, indicates that the glories of heaven occupy first place in the heart of the believer - not this life, not our problems, and not sin. Christ - his victory - our victory in him - our future with him. Our affections must lie there. Our best thoughts must focus there. Our most fervent desires must strive to be there - with Jesus Christ, where he is. Whatever is done on earth can only be done well as our affections are firmly fixed upon the eternal, the incorruptible, and the lasting.
We are not to set our affections on things below. This is indeed a great challenge. Billions of men live and die having spent their entire existence absorbed with this life - possessions, security, health. And even with respect to the many good things below that occupy our time and energies - family, church, personal piety, and extension of gospel influence - it is possible to be too immersed in these, too focused upon the here and now. We labor here, and we labor diligently in hope. Our citizenship, however, is in heaven, and however much progress the kingdom of Jesus Christ enjoys on earth, it will always come far behind the glories that await the church. You see, if we set our affections on things below, we will always be disappointed. Imagine how the Puritans would feel if they saw what has become of their "city set on a hill." Granted, it is faithlessness on the part of the church that has given up that vision and misspent their spiritual capital. Yet at the same time, we can only begin to regain what has been lost if our affections lie in heaven. Absorption with the glory of God and the honor of Jesus Christ motivates and empowers us to kingdom prayer, serious evangelistic efforts, sacrifice of money and time, and self-denial. Faithfulness and progress below flow from affection for above. Or said differently, the hope we have for the discipleship of the nations cannot be based upon political efforts and church politics. History indicates how short-lived political victory is if the generations that follow lose sight of the glory of Christ, of the things above, if they do not use this life without abusing it. Our nation is not in its present predicament because we lost Harvard and lack Constitutionalists in government. It is rather because the tens of millions of professing Christians in our land do not set their affections on things above. We cannot have the former unless we regain the latter.
The reason we cannot set our affections on things below, Paul adds in verse 3, is because we are dead, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. It is odd to think oneself dead, but in Christ we are - dead to the dominion of sin, dead to offerings of an unbelieving world, dead to our old desires and priorities. Union with Jesus Christ brings a decisive end to the tyranny of sin, Satan, and death. Our new lives are hidden with Christ. This is a profound idea. Everything we are as believers is wrapped up in him - in his victory, in his present reign, in his glorious entrance into heaven. This is our life. Christ is our life. We cannot lead a God-honoring and biblical life below, therefore, unless it is the Christ-life. This is more than a life of warm feelings and mystical heavenly mindedness. It is certainly not the life of general morality, universal tolerance, and a simple "love your neighbor" without biblical definitions of love. It is the life of death to sin and self through ongoing fellowship with Christ empowering us to holiness. It is the life of zeal for the Father’s glory that directs us to hate sin, labor for the glory and honor of God to fill the earth. It is the life of consecrated obedience to the will of God revealed in Scripture, for this was the life of our Savior, and unless we strive by the power of the Spirit to be obedient to the totality of God’s word as he was, we cannot have his life within us. But this life is still hidden. We have this treasure in jars of clay. We understand some rudiments of it, and often experience some of its power. We also struggle and cry. We are sometimes defeated by sin. Death is still painful. But we remember that our lives are hidden with Christ.
And as we live this way, death becomes less terrifying to us. O, it is awful, awful. But it is not unbearable or hopeless. Our Savior’s resurrection guarantees that we will have life after death, spiritually and one day physically. The reason Paul can say that to depart and be with Christ is far better than this earthly existence is because our lives are perfected only in him, and death brings for the believer the firstfruits of this life. Paul longed to depart and be with Christ. Yes, he longed to die. He longed to die that he might live. His death wish did not produce melancholy, earthly irrelevance, or stoicism. It produced activity. He understood that as long as it pleased Christ for him to live, his life on earth would be an unfolding of Christ’s power through his efforts - incomplete though nonetheless real. Thus, believer, do not fear death. Welcome it when it comes. Welcome it as the perfection of your life in Christ. Welcome it as the beginning of the unhidden life of God in your soul. When you see the glory of Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father, your will be transformed. And by all means, never set your affections below. Do not hold on to this life as if it were the consummation of all that is good and enjoyable. Live in Christ and labor in Christ. No one who understands that our lives are hidden with Christ in God is lazy, indifferent to the evil of his times, or backward in defending the interests of Jesus Christ and the life and immorality that has now appeared in history through his gospel. But do these things with the eye of faith fixed upon the finish line of faith.
Additional incentive to a mind fixed upon things above is contained in verse 4. Christ shall appear, and then the glory of our life in him will be fully manifested, for we shall appear with him. We will reign with him, be perfected in him, judge with him, be crowned with him. It is true that we do not see things now, but we do see Jesus. We see what he now enjoys, and we labor in faith that these glories will one day be ours. Our future life is known now only in him, as we behold him where he is by faith, walk with him in obedience, and set our affections on him. This is the faith that sustained Abraham, David, the prophets, and the apostles. And it will sustain us, if we will use this life without abusing it, do not allow our faith to rise and fall based upon who is in office, and shun the juvenile dreams of the secularists. Faithless men never see anything beyond this life, and they never see it correctly because they do not see it in the light of Jesus Christ and his reign at the right hand of the Father. Do not listen to them, adopt their priorities, have their worries. You have Christ. His life will progressively unfold in you as you walk in him. And one day, he will unveil our now hidden life, the glory that shall be.