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New Life In The New Year - Study Notes

Category: Special Sermons


New Life In the New Year

I’ve called my first message to you in 2012, New Life in the New Year. But, now that you’re here, I can tell you that I really want to talk about becoming heavenly minded. Believe it or not, I think that is the key for having the new life we’re all longing for. I only balked at letting you know that ahead of time because I believe most people can’t imagine that being heavenly minded has any value at all for living now. In fact, most people believe the old maxim is always true, i.e., that being heavenly minded means being no earthly good. And churchgoers have often been criticized for not dealing with issues in this world head on and failing to get engaged in this-world issues like poverty, trafficking, gangs, etc. because, it’s said, we’re only concerned about heaven – not about what’s happening in the world. Let me say upfront: I think the Bible tells us something very different from that and I want to talk to you about it today.

I don’t know where this false idea of being “heavenly-minded” started. Some say it goes back to the 19th C and Gustave Dore’s famous illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost. Dore depicted people in heaven floating on clouds and playing harps. I do know this has led to a lot of cartoons, like the one from Gary Larson in which a man in heaven is floating on a cloud and saying, “I wish I had brought a magazine.”

This kind of otherworldly thinking is particularly unattractive to 21st C Californians. We love life in the here and now. Our language includes, “get down to earth,” and “he has his feet on the ground”, and we need some decisions where “the rubber hits the road”. All these are viewed as being very positive. They mean that people are in touch with reality and know how things work in the world.

So, with all this emphasis in our culture on living in the here and now, we come to church and the pastor begins the year with a Bible text that twice tells us to “set our minds on things above.” But, then we see that the Bible is telling us something very different than we often think about spiritual things. Focusing on things above in Col. 3:1-4 flows into some of the most straightforward teaching about living in this world that we find in the Bible in vv. 5-17. In fact, the Bible lets us know that setting our minds on things above is the key to living well here below. God’s Word says that those who are heavenly-minded (understood biblically) are the most earthly good. They have the most freedom. They love people more. They don’t get bitter when things are tough. They don’t worry as much… Don’t you want to learn something about this?


#1: What does it mean to be heavenly minded? Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is… Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (3:1,2).

This phrase, “set your minds on” or “set your heart on” has to do with what you and I intentionally desire the most. It’s not calling us to think constantly about what heaven is going to be like – though that’s not a bad thing to do once in a while. It’s not saying, “Think about the food we’ll eat in heaven – though we surely will have food in the afterlife. Jesus ate fish in his new body and we’ll eat too. I’ll bet we’ll have some great chefs in heaven. And, we know there’ll be music and singing too and, somehow, it will be music that everyone everywhere loves! But this text is calling us to something much bigger than thinking about heaven’s food and music. It has to do with realities we become alive to when we give our lives to Jesus.

The phrase is “since you have been raised with Christ, set you minds…” means that something significant happens to us when we trust Jesus as Savior. We will have the same basic physical appearance and our gifts and personality will remain in tact but there is something very different about us after we take that step of faith and follow Jesus as our savior and lord. And, that difference is that the majestic Jesus Christ that we learned about in Col. 1:15-20 – through whom everything has been made – now comes into the center of our lives. Did you notice how comprehensively this is put in vv. 1-4? When you are in Christ:

*You have been raised with Christ (3:1) – Death could not defeat Jesus so he was resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father. That’s the place of belonging. To be at the right hand of the king is to be the one in intimate relationship with the king. Now, in Christ, you and I have been raised to this place of belonging – full family members of God himself. We know God as “Abba” and he knows us as his children.

*You died with Christ (3:3a) – Meaning that God treats you as free from the guilt of your sins. It is as if you had died in torment bearing the penalty for your sins though you did not have to personally. Jesus took our place. We pray, “Lord will you accept me for Christ’s sake?” And he does.

*You are hidden with Christ (3:3b) – When Jesus was here, there was a hiddenness about him. We sing the Christmas carol, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.” Well, there is something hidden about us – something veiled from the physical eye about us too. We are now the children of God. We are indwelt by God’s Spirit. People should see a difference in us because our lives begin to change – but this new spiritual dimension is often hidden from plain sight.

*You will appear with Christ (3:4) – When Jesus returns, he will not return as a baby in a manger but in glory and triumph as the majestic Creator and Lord of the universe. And we will appear with him – we will be seen as people who are children of the king and fully conformed to the image of Christ.

Since this is true, Paul says, set your mind on things above. Let me suggest two things:

So, what does it mean to set our minds/hearts on things above?

1) We must take time to meditate on what has what all it means now to be “in Christ” -- in the realm of Christ’s love and control. We don’t deserve this because we have fallen short of God’s glory – we have sinned. Did you notice? We “have been raised”. We didn’t become good enough for it or earn it. We have been raised – meaning, God has lifted us up by his grace. This is an unearned gift from God we bask in. The main characteristic of the person who set his/her mind on this heavenly blessing is gratitude. If you say, “I’m living as well as I can. I hope it’s good enough.” Then, you haven’t grasped God’s message of grace. But, we must believe in Jesus. We must believe that Jesus was the Son of God – that he really lived sinlessly – that he really died – that he really rose again – that he really is your advocate in heaven. The Bible says, “Since you have been raised…” This must be true of you. Only then does the new life begin.

The essence of being a Christian is not what you or I attain to. It is that we are “in Christ”. What he has accomplished has been declared by God to be true of us. What he did is applied to us. Our sins are paid for. Our position with God made right. Physical death has been rendered stingless. Take time daily to meditate on those things and live in the light of what God has done – of who you are in Christ.

2) We must intentionally orient our thinking around eternal realities. We know this life is not all there is. We don’t expect to find perfection in any person or job or accomplishment in this world. So, we are saddened when we lose a job or lose a material possession but we are not in despair. We are disappointed when a friend or loved one lets us down but we are not shocked or overwhelmed. We feel sorrow when a loved one dies but it is not a sorrow without hope. Our minds are alive to greater realities. So, we must take time to set our minds on those realities. This is what I mean when I said that the one who is truly heavenly minded will love more deeply, will not worry as much, and will not grow as bitter when things are lost. We see what happens in this world in the light of another world. We have a new identity because we belong to God’s eternal family through faith in Christ.

When I became president of Trinity International University and TEDS, I went back to my alma mater. That meant that I had been entrusted with some authority over those who had previously been my mentors. This was quite an adjustment – for the faculty, I’m sure, but also for me. During one of my early months on the job, my former faculty advisor, Dr. Walt Liefeld, came in to meet with me on behalf of several members of the faculty. He said something like this to me, “We want you to know that we area aware of the fact that whereas we were once your teachers, you are now our president. Whereas we once gave you your grades, you now set our salaries. We are officially declaring to you that we accept this change and will support it. Now, as your brother in Christ, I tell you that you must accept it to and lead our school in the light of this role being God’s call upon you.”

I never forgot that. It took an intentional reorienting of my thinking to perform this new calling. And, that’s what the Bible says to us. We once lived for ourselves but now we have met a new Lord. We now have become children of God raised with Christ to full membership in the family. We once thought that all we had to live for was pleasure or money or success, but now we know eternal values. Since that is true, set your minds and hearts on things above.


#2: Why do we all need to be heavenly minded? Simply stated, we were made for things above. We can never live fully if our lives are set on temporary things.

In 1998, Tom Brokaw wrote a best-selling, though often criticized, book entitled The Greatest Generation. It was about that generation of Americans born in the early 1900s who survived the great depression of the 1930s, went on to gain victory in World War II and came back to build the great businesses of the United States. Brokaw wrote, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced… These men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. When they came back they rebuilt America into a superpower."

Many historians and sociologists disagree with Brokaw but I think he made some sound points. One was that this generation’s survival of the great depression freed them from thinking that life consisted of material things. And a second point was that the war had forced them from the comfort of living in their hometowns and placed them in the midst of great challenges. They had overcome what had seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. They had seen depths of evil in places like the Nazi concentration camps that had opened their eyes to more than they could have imagined before. Brokaw said that people commented that when these people returned, there was something different about them. They had more courage. They looked at their communities in the context of a much greater and larger world. They had become people who cried more and laughed more. They knew that they didn’t have to hold on so tenaciously to small material things. They started businesses. They took risks.

And, this was the generation of the Billy Grahams and Charles Fullers and Bill Brights. This was the generation that sent out missionaries in droves. As Brokaw said, “They were more generous and sacrificial. Most of them had seen people die for them. They had learned that evil would eventually be defeated. They’ve seen the fires quenched. They’ve seen the great battles won. They could not be stopped by small fears nor bound by petty things. They lived in the light of a bigger life experience.

Take that affect and multiply it countless times and you’ll understand what Paul is getting at here. We meet Jesus and come alive to another world. We’ve seen the sinless Son of God die for us. We know that the defeat of evil has been declared and that it is only a matter of time until God prevails. This changes us – or it should change us.

And we are made in God’s image. This is what you and I are made for. When you think this world is all there is, you go to a funeral and all you can ask is, “Did the embalmer do a good job? Were the flowers nice?” But, you wonder if there is something beyond this world. Brothers and sisters, you and I have been made alive to that world. We have been seated with Christ – we are alive in Christ. We know that if God is for us, who can be against us? I tell you, only when we set our hearts and minds on a much greater world can we live with greatness in this world.

#3: What difference does it make? Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (3:2).

The application to daily living is engaging in two intentional acts of the mind and heart – one negative and one positive.

The Negative -- The negative is an intentional decision to stop putting our minds and hearts onto temporary and material things. This is what we do in our fallen nature. We are strongly drawn to thinking that we have to have something in this world if we’re going to have a life. In other words, we all set our minds and hearts on something – but they are on things in this world. What things? Read vv. 5-11 and you’ll see Paul’s list for his day (which are not so different from our own): sexual pleasure, material possessions, and personal success.

If you want to identify your own vulnerable points here, let me give you a few diagnostic questions:

  • What things in life, if you lost them or could not have them, would make you feel you do not have a life left?
  • What things do you dream about having, experiencing or achieving when you have time to stop and dream?

Many of these might be good things – but it they become the main desires of your heart, they turn into idols. They come into the place in your affections that only God can fill. Even if you attain them or possess them, they will not fulfill. Paul says that if we will live life to the full, we must identify them and refuse to set our minds and hearts on them.

You will find that you are in trouble if you find yourself becoming angry, despondent or afraid if you do not have those things or achieve those things. Counselors always have to help people with those emotions – despondency (or deep discouragement), anger, or fear (anxiety). Very often (not always but often), they are caused either by us losing something in this world that has become our idol or attaining what we had longed for and found it to be less than we thought it would be.

The Positive – The positive is taking time to consciously and intentionally set your minds of things that honor Christ. Let me tell you clearly – this will demand a conscious act of the mind and will. You will find your mind drifting toward focusing on things in the world as your main focus or dream. You will have to catch yourself and say, “Lord, you are my Lord. What would you have me focus on today? How would you have me live today?” And, where this will lead, when Christ is the center of our hearts, is what we read about in vv. 12-17:

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful… And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

A few weeks ago, our LAC students took time at retreat to identify those things in their lives that had become their idols, i.e., the things they had set their hearts on and put into God’s place. They wrote them down and put them on a wall. Then, they consciously turn around and away from them and turned to the cross. I’ll tell you – that was a powerful application of this Bible passage.

I want you to do the same, as we get ready for communion today…


To His glory alone,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

Greg Waybright • Copyright 2012, Lake Avenue Church