Colossians 3:1-4

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.

In 2005, the city council of Rome banned round goldfish bowls on account of them being cruel to the goldfish inhabiting them.1 One report on the reasoning behind this decision was that the curved glass would surely give the fish a distorted view of reality, and may even lead to blindness. The councillor behind the law believes “the civilisation of a city can also be measured by this [kind of treatment of animals]”.

In a way they had a point. What we see, the glasses we use to perceive the world, how we understand our environment—this is our view of reality. If we’ve got a distorted frame of reference, we’ve got a distorted image of reality. Things that take up time in our lives, such as career, family, sport, money, and so on, can start to be the way that we think of our lives as a whole. How does this progress my career? What will be the impact on my family? All of a sudden, just one component of life has become the lens through which we see everything.

In contrast, Paul shows us in Colossians 3 how Jesus is our frame of reference. That is, he shows us not only what to look at, but how to understand what we see in our lives. Those who are in Christ—who have died to sin, and who have been raised with him through faith in the power of God that raised Christ from the dead (2:11-12)—see reality as it actually is through Jesus, the creator and sustainer of all that exists. There’s a good deal in this section about the patterns of life that Christians should have, because our moral vision is shaped by the one at the centre of reality. Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, is the one who provides us with our frame of reference: set your minds on things that are above, where Christ is. Seek the things that are to come.

There’s no barrier to Christ—since we have been raised with Christ—so there’s no insecurity about our salvation or its final outcome. Paul’s pretty definite about what will happen: when Christ who is our life appears, then we also will appear with him in glory. Note here that Paul talks about our new life, our resurrection with Christ, both in spiritual and past terms (2:11-12; 3:1), and physical and future terms (3:4). These verses are a great example of the wonderful now-but-not-yet tension that is all over the New Testament. Because of Christ’s death, our flesh has already died with him, but we’re still waiting at this point for our glorious resurrection bodies with Jesus. Raised now, but not yet raised in glory.

So not everything that will happen has happened. We’re not yet totally restored. But we have great confidence that the one who began a good work in us will bring it to its final conclusion.

Being raised with Christ means a new life. Paul goes on to spell out the consequences of this new reference-frame: that we put to death whatever is earthly (3:5-10), and we clothe ourselves instead with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love (3:12). All of this new life, however, comes through Christ being the undisputed Lord of all, along with the knowledge that he will be revealed in good time.

This is the beauty of this new life: in contrast to spurning the image and likeness of God in a rebellion against our creator, our new selves are instead being renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator (3:10). God has brought us into this new kingdom, he’s given us this new vision of reality, and he’s at work in our new lives by his Spirit to make us more and more into the likeness of the true image of God, Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-23). Rather than doubting the goodness of God’s created order and his commands, let’s keep setting our minds on the one who is perfect and who enables us to live new lives with him and for him.

  1. ‘Goldfish bowls banned’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October 2005.

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