"Living an Easter Life"
(Delivered Sunday, April 22, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).
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This is a very appropriate passage to study right after our celebration of Easter. It reminds us that Easter isn't a holiday to be celebrated once a year, and then ignored until it rolls by again next Spring. Instead, it affirms to us that Easter is a life-changing, transforming, soul-saving "event"; and that its truth should be experienced by us every moment of every day for the rest of our lives - and then, forever in heaven!
There are certain traditions of the Christian faith that celebrate Easter far longer than we who are of a Protestant tradition. I recently heard someone from the Catholic tradition sharing about Easter, for example. They said that, for them, Easter Sunday isn't the end of their celebration of the resurrection of Jesus; but rather, it marks the beginning of a period on their calendar that lasts several weeks after Easter Sunday.
I believe that there's is much that's attractive about that idea. Such an extended celebration recognizes that Easter is the most important holiday of the Christian calendar, and that it should be something we honor long term - and not just on one Sunday. But I wonder; why only a few weeks of celebration? The apostle Paul here begins here by saying, "If then you were raised with Christ" (or, as the NIV translates it, "Since then you have been raised with Christ"); and then, he goes on to talk, not about a temporary celebration, but rather about a transformed life. He's calling his readers to live-out, from that point on, lives that have been transformed by the event of Easter. In other words, he's calling them to begin living "Easter lives" from that point on.
My hope and prayer is that, as a result of our time in God's word this morning, we will look at things in a completely different way for the rest of our lives. I pray that God will so grip us with the reality of the event of Easter that it transforms everything about us - from our affections and priorities, to our thoughts and attitudes, and even down to our hopes for the future. I pray that we will understand what it means to live "Easter lives" this morning; and that we will live such lives, in the power of the Holy Spirit, from this day forward.
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Paul wrote this letter to encourage his brothers and sisters to place their full confidence in the suffering of Jesus Christ at the cross. He wanted them to understand that Jesus alone is completely sufficient as their Savior; and that they needed to trust in nothing else but Him. And, to persuade them that this was so, Paul spent the first two chapters of his letter showing them what God has done for them in Christ; and revealing to them how completely sufficient Jesus' work as their Savior was.
One of the great truths Paul wanted to stress to these believers was the fact that they had been, by faith, placed "in Christ". God had so united them to Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection, that, as far as God was concerned, they have been "put to death" with Him on the cross, and were now "raised from the dead" together with Him to new life. Paul put the matter this way;
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:11-14).
We've been crucified with Jesus, buried with Him in death, and then raised again with Him to new life! What a dramatic difference that makes to our situation before God! And so; as you can plainly see, Good Friday and Easter were never meant to be temporary 'holidays' - mere days on the calendar, which people celebrate for a time, and then forget about for the rest of the year. They are pivotal "events" - life-changing realities that have fully happened to every believer who is in Christ. You find this very clearly stated in the passage before us this morning. Paul told his readers, "For you have died, and you're life is hidden with Christ in God" (v. 3). He told them, "... You were raised with Christ" (v. 1). He said, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (v. 4). Good Friday and Easter have happened - truly happened - to the man or woman who is "in Christ".
Now please understand; it's by a sovereign work of God's grace that we're placed "in Christ". It's something that He alone does for us by faith, completely apart from any work on our own part. But even though this is true, it still remains our responsibility to place our trust in what Jesus did on the cross for us. Have you trusted him? Have you taken the first step of consciously placing your faith in the cross of Jesus? Have you felt the terrible guilt of your sin before God, and have you embraced Jesus as your all-sufficient Savior from sin through His death on the cross? You absolutely cannot live-out the implications of Easter in your life unless you have first experienced Good Friday in your own heart. All that Paul is about to say concerning living the Easter life assumes that we have first received Jesus in his death. He said, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:6-7).
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For those of us who have received Him in His death by faith, we are to "so walk" in Him as we "have received" him. His death, burial, and resurrection are to make a radical change in everything about our daily life-style practices. So then; what are the changes that occur in the life of someone who has been crucified and then raised together with Christ? What does living the "Easter life" mean in actual practice?
First, it means that ...
I. WE'RE TO BE DRIVEN BY A WHOLE NEW SET OF DESIRES (V. 1).
A new passion will dominate someone who is living the Easter life. They will have a whole new set of desires and longings; and they will pursue a whole new set of goals. Paul said, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God."
The verb Paul uses, here translated "seek", refers to the idea of 'pursuing' or 'endeavoring to obtain' something. It describes a kind of action that is on the deep level of our desires, our wants, or our wishes. Have you ever wanted something so much that you just had to have it? We've all had that feeling at times; but usually, we've felt it toward something 'material' or 'physical' or 'earthly'. Paul says, however, that if you've been raised with Christ, your ambitions and heart-felt to longings will change at the most fundamental level. You'll still have longings and desires; but though they were once centered on earthly things, they will now be centered on "things above" - that is, on 'heavenly realities' and 'earthly priorities'.
And those desires will be centered on the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ and his concerns will be the main object of our desires. Many people have the mistaken idea that they've undergone a genuine spiritual transformation of heart simply because they've grown "deeper", and (they think) more 'spiritually sensitive'. One of the characteristics of people in our post-modernist age is an increasing sensitivity to 'spiritual things'. But merely becoming 'spiritual' is not enough. In fact spirituality that is separate from genuine faith in Jesus Christ is very harmful, dangerous and a deceiving thing the soul. (See Colossians 2:18-19.) What Paul is talking about is something that is very specifically centered on the Person of Jesus Himself. As Paul says, living the Easter life means is seeking "those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."
The phrase "the right hand of God" is meant to convey the idea of the place of highest honor and authority. Hebrews 1:3-4 says that Jesus, being the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His Father's person, and upholding all things by the word of His power,
when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (Heb. 1:3-4).
"The right hand of God" is also to be understood by us as place of total and complete victory. In Psalm 110:1, God the Father speaks prophetically of His Son, who would soon be coming into the world. It says, "The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'"
And so, when we read that Jesus is at the "right hand of God", it means more than that He occupies a mere place. It refers to the dignity and majestic glory of a Person - a divine Person who occupies the position of greatest honor and authority in the universe, and who has, by His sacrifice on the cross, obtained complete victory over every other power and authority there is.
And living the "Easter life" means that that's where our priorities are now to be found. Our desires and priorities are now to be centered on Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of God where His work for us is complete, and God's complete favor toward us is obtained.
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What does all this mean in practice? It means that Jesus Christ is to be our first and greatest love. He is to be our everything. As Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of god, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). It means that we're to allow nothing to take His primary place in our affections. As He Himself said; "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37-38). He is to be, from this day forward, our "first love" (Rev. 2:4).
And what's more, living the "Easter life" means that our greatest priority is the advancement of Christ's Kingdom. Before we were united to Christ, our greatest priority was that of advancing our own kingdom - getting ahead in life, making a name for ourselves and making a buck for our wallets. But now, having been crucified with Christ and raised to new life with Him, we're no longer to make the advancement of our own life on earth the chief priority. Providing daily food, and clothing, and a comfortable life for ourselves, is no longer the 'main thing' in life for us. Jesus said, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
And not only does living the "Easter life" mean that we make Jesus and the advancement of His kingdom our chief priority, but it also means that we seek the advancement of His agenda in our own lives. We will make the conformity of our own lives to heaven's agenda our greatest passion. Paul said, "Brethren, I don not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14).
Now course, this doesn't mean that we're no longer concerned with other things in life. We still must concern ourselves with our families, and our jobs, and our homes. We don't ignore our other responsibilities. But living the "Easter life" means that those things no longer occupy first place in our hearts. It means that we are ready to give up all things for Him. It means that every other priority in life takes second place to "things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God", all because we've been raised with Him to new life.
And by the way; this is not meant to be understood as merely a temporary change in priorities. Many people make Christ a high priority in their lives - for a little while. But then, the cares of this life begin to choke out that commitment; and they're soon right back where they started. Paul uses the tense of the verb "seek" that indicates an ongoing constant pattern of life. As it's translated in the New American Standard Version, "keep seeking the things above". So long as we're living on this earth, we'll never be perfect in our devotion to things above; even the great apostle Paul admitted that he didn't consider that he had "apprehended" or "taken hold" of it all while he still lived on the earth. But the ongoing pattern of our life-long practice will be to constantly, consistently grow to make the "things above" what we seek above all else.
Have you been crucified with Christ by faith? Have you died to "self" with Him on the cross? Have you trusted Him as your Savior? If you have, then you've been raised up with Him in newness of life! You are a new creation in Him (2 Cor. 5:17). Now; go and live the "Easter life" in terms of your priorities and desires. Let there be a transformation of your affections, heart-felt longings and goals. Keep seeking as your first priority, from this day forward, "those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God."
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Second, we see from this passage that living the "Easter life" means that ...
II. WE'RE TO BE THINKING IN A WHOLE NEW FRAME OF MIND (v. 2).
The fact of Easter should not only permanently and irrevocably transform our priorities and goals and affections; but it's to also transformed the way we think. It should change the sort of things that occupy our mind. Paul says that, since we've been raised with Christ, "Set your mind on things above, not to on things on the earth."
When Paul says to "set your mind", he's speaking of an attitude, or of a way of thinking. Paul uses this very same word in Philippians 2:5; where he says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus ..." In that passage, Paul was saying, "Have the same attitude, or the same way of thinking, that was exhibited in Christ Jesus when He laid down His own life as a sacrifice for others." Paul is using that same word in the same way in this passage - that is, as an attitude or of a way of thinking.
Whether we're aware of it or not, each of us operates in life from a "mind" or "way of thinking". We all view life through a variety of different grids, or from a variety of different perspectives; but apart from Jesus Christ, the grids and perspectives we operate from all have one thing in common: they're "earthly" in nature. The things of this world is where those thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes are centered. Our way of thinking, apart from Christ, is strictly "earthly". In fact, Paul calls such a mind-set "fleshly". He speaks, in Colossians 2:18, of those who are "vainly puffed up" by their "fleshly mind". And so, everyone outside of Christ lives life with a fallen "mind". They view life strictly in terms of the principle of the flesh; and only understand things in terms of the things of this earth.
Someone who is locked into such a frame of mind cannot please God. The Bible says,
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally [or "fleshly"] minded is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, or indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8).
What is needed, then, is a new "mind" - that is, a new enabling from God to think in a completely new way. Only God can do this for us. Paul writes,
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For "who has known the mind of the LORD that He may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:12-16).
This new "mind" is a gift of God's grace through Jesus Christ. And once we have placed our trust in Him, we're to live our lives from the perspective of this whole new frame of mind - a mind that is no longer "conformed" to the patterns of thinking that dominate this world and that is centered on earthly things; but one that is "transformed" according to God's will. As the Bible tells us; "... Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2).
Many years ago, there was a brilliant young man who attended my old church. As a young adult, and even through his teenage years, he was a rigid atheist. He believed that all Christians were fools for believing in Jesus. He enjoyed mocking and ridiculing Christians; and he had the natural intellectual ability to argue believers into difficult corners. But one day, something surprising happened. He had been mocking Christians about what they believed, when he discovered that the Bible taught things differently than he had assumed.
In the midst of all his intellectual pride, he was confronted with the startling fact that he was mistaken! He began to wonder whether or not he was also mistaken about other things that Christians believed; and eventually, he began to wonder whether or not he, himself, had been mistaken about the whole thing all along. He seriously began to explore the truths of the faith, and began to read the Bible for himself. As a result, he became a Christian. His whole "mind" changed; and he became passionate in his love for, and devotion to, the Savior that he had once mocked. In fact, God has used him to influence others for Christ.
That illustrates the transforming power that Easter is to have over our way of thinking. Being crucified with Christ, and then raised again to life with Him, cannot help but bring about a radical change in our attitudes and in the framework of our thinking.
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Paul emphasized these things to the believers in Colossea because they were being tempted to focus on the things of this earth as a way to become more righteous before God. Paul had to tell them;
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:20-23).
They still had their mind-set focused on "the basic principles of the world"; things which parish with the using. Instead, Paul urged them to set their mind no longer on the things of earth, but on "things above". In fact, Paul's words lay strong emphasis on the "things above"; because his words in the original language literally read: "the things above mind".
Again I ask you; have you place your trust in Jesus? Have you been raised with him? If you're living in the "Easter life", such a life will show itself in a transformed point of reference in your thinking. You'll no longer be operating on the principle of reasoning that originates from within yourself. You'll no longer center your thoughts on the things and principles of this world. You'll still be viewing this world through a point of reference; but your primary point of reference will have shifted. Your thinking will be centered on "things above", and will be guided and informed by the word of God. As Paul said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly ..." (Col. 3:16). You'll no longer have your focus strictly on the things of earth; but you'll set your mind on things above. Christ will be the center point of your thoughts.
Paul puts this in the form of command; "Set your mind on things above." It's something you must do as an exercise of your will. God will give you the transformation of mind; but it's your responsibility to set that renewed mind on things above. You must study the word of God regularly. You must become a student of the truths of the faith, and grow in your understanding of them. These things must shape and direct your thinking. You must discipline yourself to "think" about things from heaven's perspective. You won't be perfect in this; but again, it's to be the ongoing lifestyle practice of someone was living Easter life to grow toward setting their mind on things above.
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Finally, this passage teaches us that living the "Easter life" means that ...
III. WE'RE TO REJOICE WITH A WHOLE NEW EXPECTATION OF HOPE (vv. 3-4).
The "Easter life" not only means that we live with a whole new set of ambitions, and with a whole new way of thinking; but it even means much more. It also means that you and I will live a life that is renewed in terms of our hopes for the future. The people of this world need hope; and those of us who live the "Easter life" live in the bright and happy prospect of the greatest hope ever. Paul said, "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."
The Bible tells us that Jesus, "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). Our faithful Savior endured the pain and indignity of the cross because of the joy that was set before Him - that is, the redemption of our bodies, and our eternal fellowship with Him in glory. And God has set this great hope before us as well. Jude 24 says, "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy ..."
Look specifically at what Paul says. He writes that, first, "you have died". Ordinarily, that certainly would be good news. But what he means is that we are to see ourselves as having died to the things of this world. The sinful pleasures and fleshly enticements of this world once held an attraction for us; but they are to do so no longer. We are to understand that we have "died" to them and are to be responsive to them no longer.
Second, Paul tells us that we're to understand that our life is now wrapped-up and kept in store in Christ. He said that we've not only "died", but now our life is "hidden with Christ in God". Our "life" is no longer upon this earth, but is now where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 2:4-7, that "God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ... and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." In other words, we are no longer to see ourselves as earthbound creatures; but are to see ourselves - even at this very moment, and forever - as hidden in Christ. Our life is no longer on this earth; it is hidden with Christ in God.
And third, Paul is telling us that we're to see our life as becoming fully realized and fully experienced at a future date. "When Christ who is our life appears," Paul says, "then you also will appear with Him in glory." We're to look ahead to the time when our life will be fully experienced, in absolute, unhindered joy and satisfaction, on that day when Jesus Christ returns to the earth in power and great glory. The apostle John wrote, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). Perhaps you've read the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, and thought about the thrilling story in vs 11-16 of the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Well; whenever we read it, we can know that it's describing the time when we ourselves will truly experienced the fullest and perfection of life; because our lives are hidden in Him, and we will appear with Him in glory at His coming!
If you're living the "Easter life", your settled expectation is that, when Jesus comes back to earth and is revealed in full glory, you will also be raised up bodily with Him, and revealed in glory with Him. What all life changing hope that is! As Paul asserted elsewhere; "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).
And so once again; I ask you, have you been raised up with Jesus by faith? Are you living the "Easter life" now? If you are, it will show itself in a transformation of your sense of hope. Your great hope, and the great longing of your heart, is to now be the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Your to see your life wrapped up in Him; and your to see your own future glory wrapped up in His as well.
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Have you ever heard of the 16th century Polish astronomer Copernicus? In his day, astronomy was built around the idea that everything in this universe revolved around the earth. Astronomers viewed the world from a 'geo-centric' perspective. But Copernicus proposed a new idea - the idea that the bodies of our solar system revolved not around the earth, but rather around the sun. He proposed a 'helio-centric' universe. This was a radical shift in thinking; but as we all now know, Copernicus' idea proved to be true. It inspired other great thinkers like Kepler, and Sir Isaac Newton. To this day, we refer to the enduring legacy of Copernicus' idea - one in which he proposed a complete shift in what we understand to be the "center-point" of our universe - as "the Copernican revolution".
And that's what the legacy of Easter is to mean to you and I now. It's means, if you will, a "Copernican revolution" to our soul, in which the center-point of our universe has shifted. If we have died with Jesus, and we have been raised with Him, then the perspective of everything changes in our lives. We're now to be driven by a whole new set of priorities and ambitions. We're now to be thinking in a whole new frame of mind. We're now to rejoice with a whole new expectation of hope.
May God help us to truly live the "Easter life". May Easter be a reality that we celebrate every day of the year, for the rest of our lives, and even on into eternity. And may Jesus, our risen Lord, get all the glory!
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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