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Colossians 2:20a; 3:110, 1214, 17 comment (0)

August 10, 2006

By Carol Ann Vaughn, Ph.D.

Related Scripture: Colossians 2:20a; 3:110, 1214, 17

Family Bible Study
Director, Christian Women’s Leadership Center, Samford University

Maintaining a Heavenly Focus
Colossians 2:20a; 3:1–10, 12–14, 17

I remember hearing as a child, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” While this piece of advice carries truth, it also can be misleading. In order to have a positive impact in our world, Christians must maintain the kind of heavenly focus that Jesus modeled.

The Colossian Christians were originally part of the Pauline churches, and this letter elaborates on the tradition of teachings by Paul. Like the letter to the Ephesians, dying and rising with Christ in baptism locate the believer’s identity in the heavenly realm as much as in the more obvious earthly realm.

This is known as “spatial dualism.” It means that two different spheres — a visible (earthly) one and an invisible (heavenly) one — coexist. (This is different from the belief that the physical world comes first and then a spiritual world comes later.) 

Colossians reminds us the heavenly, spiritual life exists along with the physical life. Often we take for granted, or are unaware of, what is taking place in the spiritual realm because we are so focused on the material world around us. It seems easier to deal with those things that we can see and hear and touch.

But just because we are not tuned into activity in the spiritual realm, it does not mean that God is not at work. It is our responsibility to attune our heart and mind to what God is doing beyond our physical senses. Being attuned to — and in tune with — what God is doing in both the spiritual and physical realms transforms our life inside out.

Thus the admonition to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (3:2) does not mean that we ignore, neglect or abuse the physical world around us. What happens to the earth, our body and our relationships matters to God. This verse addresses the order of our priorities. Christians are to view what happens in the material world with a divine perspective. Our interaction in the physical world has spiritual value.  

We are more than flesh and blood. We have an “inner” self, our soul. Colossians calls the redeemed soul the “new self.” Although our physical bodies decay, our spirits are “being renewed.” We are not, according to this passage, renewed only once, in the past tense. We are continually “being renewed,” implying an ongoing process (3:10).

How does this transforming process take place? “In knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10).
The more we learn about God and ourselves as God’s image, the closer we grow to our Creator and the more we genuinely reflect God’s image on earth. 

How is the “new self” noticeably different from the “old,” untransformed self and the untransformed culture? Colossians 3:12–17 gives us a list of divine — Christlike — qualities to be exhibited by a Christian.

How many of these qualities describe most Christians you know? Would the rest of the world use these terms to describe the Christians they know? Do these describe you?

Consider your personal and professional relationships, especially the more “difficult” ones. How might these relationships be transformed if, as a believer, you practiced more compassion, more kindness, more humility, more gentleness, more patience, more forgiveness, more love, more peace, more thankfulness, more gratitude, more wisdom?

We Christians often come up with excuses for why we don’t practice more of these qualities toward others. “But he doesn’t deserve my compassion. She doesn’t deserve my gentleness. They don’t deserve forgiveness.”

We should remember that we do not deserve such heavenly consideration either. But God graces us with these transforming qualities through Christ. If Christ is truly in us and we allow Him full access to every part of us, then we will grace others in the same way. 

Spiritual progress is not an “achievement.” It is a gift of grace. It does not happen all at once. It is a process. It involves surrendering to God’s intentions for us and the world, allowing Christ to dwell inside every aspect of us — every thought, word and action. The longer Christ dwells in us, the deeper Christ dwells in us, the more “second nature” Christ’s qualities become in us.

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