Common sense has told generations of guileless Christians that being too heavenly-minded means you will never be useful on earth. But this simplistic admonishment neglects to take into account the millions of lives that have come and gone since the beginning—lives of the most worldly of people who, despite pursuing success, wealth, honor, and all varieties of pleasure, are burdened by regret and resentment.
Perhaps we need to reconsider what the Bible says about heavenly-mindedness. We know it is good, but what is it exactly? And how do we achieve it?
EARTHLY VERSUS HEAVENLY HOPES
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Col 3:2)
Here, Paul tells us that to be heavenly-minded is to set our mind on things above. He urges us to bury our earthly hopes with the fleshly body of sin. In place of these mortal hopes, we will gain better ones from God Himself—hopes that are spiritual and eternal.
The Christian calling insists that the things of heaven and earth be mutually exclusive; we can have heaven or earth, but not both. The choice, then, is this: be alive on earth and dead in your sins, or be alive in the heavenly places and dead to your sins. This is a clear-cut choice, and definitely not an easy one. But if we want to be a true Christian and please God, we must ask ourselves: what occupies us, and what place do we hope to one day occupy? Our mind is where our hopes are, so we need to carefully consider what to set our mind on.
How do we set our mind on things above? As mature adults with real-world responsibilities, we rarely give ourselves the time to consider this. However, in times of uncertainty, referring to the Bible should always be our first resort.
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5)
This verse tells us that a person who sets his hope on things above begins to do so by putting to death his members on the earth. What are these? Paul describes various types of sexual impurity. Our sexual behavior most tellingly reveals the state of our relationship with God. If we can learn to sever ourselves from our strongest desires and give ourselves fully to God, who asks for our finite self in return for nothing less than infinity, then we will be holy and pleasing to Him.
Desire applies more broadly to other aspects of our lives as well. Desire and hope are not bad things but, misplaced, can lead us to destruction. If we do not stand our ground in our faith or guard our desires and hopes with the same possessive jealousy and love with which God guards us, then we will bring about our own end.
It is also important to remember that putting to death our members on the earth is not a one-time affair. Rather, it is a process, in which we must remain ever-vigilant.
PUTTING ON THE NEW MAN
Paul describes a second step in setting our minds on things above:
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. (Col 3:8–10)
We must put on the new man by knowing and emulating Christ. It is admittedly very tempting to dismiss our “minor” sins as negligible and unimportant in the larger scheme of things. We cannot imagine ourselves suffering serious spiritual consequences simply because we lose our temper or use profanities. It may be so. But to permit ourselves to do such things because we think we will not be caught, or because the punishment is not all that bad, is to think as a child—and we must grow up.
When God tells us to lead our lives in a certain way, He wants us to understand and remember the all-important fact that we are different. And we are. We must be. Priests, the elect, the chosen—we are all these and more; we are special, called out and loved. If we seek the anonymity of the world, we scorn our privilege. God knows our names, and this is a great blessing—should we spend the rest of our lives trying to make Him forget us?
God wants us to put off the old man. Paul says that when we come into God’s grace, we should naturally change. Paul likens this process to changing a set of clothes: you put off the old set—the old man with his deeds—and then put on a new set—the new man according to God’s image. This shedding of our old behaviors is not easy, not by any means, but it is necessary. To this end, God has given us His word, the Bible, as a mirror, and His Spirit as a Counselor. They both guide us step-by-step in our pursuit of perfection.
GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Col 3:16)
In everything Jesus did, He manifested the image of God. If we are to put on this same image, we must come to know Jesus better, through His word. The word of Christ can transform us if we keep it in our hearts, constantly deepening our understanding of His nature. Knowledge of God, as any long-time Christian will tell you, is not just knowledge. It is knowledge that changes you, that forces you to do something about the way things are. It is not idle knowledge. If we choose to accept the challenge and blessing of transformation, we must continually be renewed in knowledge and allow ourselves to become more Christ-like.
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col 3:4)
This is the ultimate aim of a Christian life—the goal toward which we are all now marching together. Therefore, let us set our minds, hopes and desires on things above. Let us make our way to that heavenly place, one day at a time, until we come to the promised rest with our God who loved us and showed us the way.