In Colossians 3:2, Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Set your mind on things above. It sounds so noble, right? So spiritual. So Christian.
And we’ve all heard that we’re supposed to be “heavenly minded” right?
But what exactly does it mean to set your mind on things above? That’s the most important question, right? How do we obey this command?
Honestly, on the surface, it can seem a bit confusing. Are we only supposed to think about heaven? Should we never think about the things of this earth? Are we supposed to become totally and completely heavenly minded, to the point where we’re “no earthly good,” (as the saying goes)?
Let’s look together at what the Scriptures say about this crucially important topic.
Set Your Mind On Things Above
In order to understand what Paul means when he says, “Set your minds on things above,” we need to look at the surrounding verses. We need to understand the bigger context before we can understand Paul’s peculiar phrase.
In Colossians 3:1 Paul says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
This is key to understanding what it means to fix our minds on heavenly things. We have died and have been raised with Christ. We are so closely united to Christ that it’s as if we died with him and were raised from the dead.
And there is a real sense where our old self – the self that was enslaved to sin – is dead. We have been raised to new life with Jesus Christ. Jesus himself dwells in us and we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer the people we once were. We have been given new, kingdom life, and we live as those who have been redeemed by God.
Though he was once poor, lowly, and eventually crucified, Jesus now sits on the throne at the right hand of God. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lord. And he will someday return and join heaven and earth in a new creation. The old will pass away and the new will come.
We have been raised and joined to this Christ. Our citizenship is not of this earth. As Paul says in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are called to live as citizens of heaven, not citizens of earth. To think as citizens of heaven think. To live as those who have been raised with Christ and are awaiting a Savior.
This, I think, is part of what it means to set your mind on things above. It doesn’t mean that every single thought of every day is supposed to be about heaven.
Rather, it means that we are called to live in light of the fact that our citizenship is in heaven. We’re called to live as new people, as those who have been brought from dark to light, as those who have been brought from death to life.
In other words, we’re called to be distinct and different from the world. To think and live in ways that are radically different from the way the world thinks and lives. This is a large part of what it means to set your mind on things above.
Put On, Put Off
So what does it look like practically to set your mind on things above? How do we live as citizens of heaven? In what ways are we supposed to be different from the rest of the world?
Paul spells that out in Colossians 3:5-10. He says:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
We used to walk in the ways of this world. We participated in sexual immorality, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, slander, obscene talk, and many other sins. But now we are called to put those things to death. We are called to kill the earthly (as opposed to heavenly) desires and actions that course through us.
We can no longer lie because that’s not fitting for one who has been raised with Christ. We can’t give into covetousness because we are citizens of heaven and covetousness has no place in the kingdom of heaven. We can’t lie to one another because blood-bought children of God live in the truth.
When Paul says, “Set your minds on things above,” part of what he has in mind is putting to death the things that are earthly in us. He wants us to grapple with the incredible reality that we really are children of the living God and raised with Christ, who is seated in heaven.
We once lived in the kingdom of darkness and set our minds only on earthly things. But now that we are part of the kingdom of God, we are called to live in ways that are appropriate for God’s kingdom.
This is why Paul goes on to say in Colossians 3:12-14:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
To set our minds on things above means much more than to simply think about heaven, although that’s certainly part of it. It means that we’re so gripped by the reality that our citizenship is in heaven that we live in a way that is heavenly.
Did you catch that? To set your mind on things above means to live in a way that is appropriate for heaven. In heaven, we will be completely compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. We will love one another fully and without reservation.
And here’s the thing…
We’re supposed to start living right now as if we were already in heaven. We’re called to kill the sinful things that belong to the earth (our sinful flesh) and to put on the things that belong to heaven.
On Earth, As It Is In Heaven
So should we try to think about heaven? Yes, of course. We should meditate on the fact that we heaven is our home, that we have been raised with Christ, and that someday Jesus will return and make all things new.
But we must go beyond simply thinking about heaven. Rather, as we think about heaven, that should motivate us to then live differently. To live as those who are no longer citizens of this earth. To put on godliness in every way possible and to walk in the light of Jesus Christ.
Strive to set your mind on things above.