“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above,
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things
above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life
is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed,
then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4
Most Christians are familiar with biblical exhortations to maintain a heavenly-mindedness during our sojourning in this cursed, doomed world (Rom. 8:5, Rom. 12:2, Phil. 4:8, 1 Jn. 2:15). We're familiar with Paul's memorable words to “set your mind on things above” (Col. 3:2) because “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). We profess eagerness for “the eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17), “that glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). As the Lord instructed, we desire to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and to “be on the alert” (Mark 13:37), watching for “the blessed hope and the appearing of glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). We rightly yearn for the “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).
But a pause of examination (2 Cor. 13:5), in light of our professed heavenly desires, is prudent and profitable, for the eternal “weight of glory” is easily outbalanced by the temporal weight of worldliness which draws and tempts us. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones states, “Christianity gives very great prominence to what it calls the ‘hope of glory.' I know that this is ridiculed today; but it is New Testament Christianity. The New Testament attaches much greater significance to the world that is to come than it does to this world. ‘Our citizenship is in heaven'!” The “hope of glory” may have been ridiculed in Lloyd-Jones' day, but today, except for token winks and nods, it is largely disregarded.
“The poise and stability of the eternal”
Though evangelical pulpits may give obligatory lip service to the heavenly glory awaiting believers, in actual practice, the church is scandalously and willfully mired in the trenches of the temporal. Personal success, political agendas, social ambitions, cultural relevance, and an array of other “self”-focused, here and now messages betray an ignorance of the great significance the eternal is given in Scripture. Consider the observation of Geerhardus Vos, known as the Father of Reformed Biblical Theology, from his 1922 work, Grace and Glory:
“Our modern Christian life so often lacks the poise and stability of the eternal. Religion has come so overmuch to occupy itself with the things of time that it catches the spirit of time. Its purposes turn fickle and unsteady; its methods become superficial and ephemeral; it alters its course so constantly; it borrows so readily from sources beneath itself, that it undermines its own prestige in matters pertaining to the eternal world. … The days are perhaps not far distant when we shall find ourselves confronted with a quasi-form of Christianity professing openly to place its dependence on and to work for the present life alone, a religion, to use the language of Hebrews, become profane and a fornicator like Esau, selling for a mess of earthly pottage its heavenly birthright.”
What Vos bemoaned in the 1920's has only accelerated as the church approaches the 2020's. His warning, with Lloyd-Jones' lament, seems to have come to vigorous fruition in contemporary evangelicalism. The church's exuberance for “earthly pottage” is so overwhelmingly its message that “the eternal” – our “heavenly birthright” – has been so far removed from the ecclesiastical narrative as to have become, for most churchgoers, an irrelevant, obscure, quaint vestige of an archaic, and now outgrown, faith.
Being caught up in the “spirit of the time” has expunged from contemporary evangelicalism “the poise and stability of the eternal.” Occupied, as evangelicals so egregiously are, with the “things of time” has produced a church that seems solely intent “to work for the present life alone.” The question being answered by the church largely isn't What is our hope?, but What have you done for me lately? The modern church, ever ready to coddle thinking on things below, gives answers intended to be immediately applicable, personally productive, and culturally relevant. Yet the church is distinctly, directly, commanded to eschew the thinking of worldliness (2 Cor. 6:14-18) and instead to embrace “Word-liness” (Col. 3:16). When the “Word of Christ” is richly dwelling in us, we find that we too will “attach much greater significance to the world to come. It is only through His Word that we can engage in such godly thinking.
Motivation For Being Heavenly-Minded
Our motivation to be heavenly-minded is not only because it's commanded, but also because of what God has done for us in Christ. We have been “rescued from the domain of darkness” and “transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13) and that kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36). With His blood-bought purchase of the redeemed (Eph. 1:7) comes our great “hope of glory.” That hope, Paul says, will be realized “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed,” and “then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When we are saved, we have been made new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and transferred to Christ's kingdom. But we have also been given eyes to see the hope of glory (2 Cor. 4:6, Eph. 1:18), affections to long for the eternal (Ps. 84:2), and a will to live for our Lord and Savior because “to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). The heavenly-minded Christian joyously expects the return of our Lord when we will be brought face-to-face with Him for eternity (1 Jn. 3:2). We yearn for our glorification (Rom. 8:30) knowing that He has promised to complete His work in us (Phil. 1:6).
Consider the description of the “hope that accompanies salvation” from Puritan Thomas Brooks in his 1657 book, Heaven on Earth:
“The first property of that hope that accompanies salvation is this: it elevates and raises the heart to live above, where its treasure it. This hope is from above, and it makes the heart to live above: it is a spark of glory, and it leads the heart to live in glory. Divine hope carries a man to heaven, for life to quicken him, and for wisdom to direct him, and for power to uphold him, and for righteousness to justify him, and for assurance to rejoice him, and for happiness to crown him. Divine hope takes in the pleasures of heaven beforehand; it lives in the joyful expectation of them. It fancies to itself, as I may say, the pleasures and joys of eternity, and lives in sweet anticipation of what it possesseth by faith. Hope’s richest treasures, and choicest friends, and chiefest delights, and sweetest contents, are in the country above; and therefore hope loves best to live there most.”
The Gospel Method
Lloyd-Jones, in his book The Christian Warfare, describes the “Gospel method:” “The first thing in the Gospel,” he writes, “is the knowledge of God. That is the great message of the Bible from the beginning to end.” The purpose of Christianity is “to bring us to a knowledge of God as God, and a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He then posits the obvious next question, “What follows?” What follows this gospel-illuminated knowledge is, he says, “A knowledge of God's great plan and purpose for man and the world, and understanding of the whole of history, and the course of the universe, and the end of time! That is Christianity.”
For the redeemed, the knowledge of God is no mere abstraction, but is personal, immediate, and gloriously transformative. The God, whose word uttered millennia ago continues today to uphold the universe, indwells us and has, through His revelation in the inscripturated Word, blessed us with the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). While we eagerly anticipate the second advent of the Lord, we live with abundant hope knowing the revealed plan and purpose of God. We live in this world with the utter assurance of knowing what our sovereign God is doing.
The blessings of orienting our minds on things above go beyond dutiful obedience to an inspired apostolic command. A heavenly mindset also leads to the manifest presence of the Lord. To the Philippians Paul included a quick list of excellent, heavenly things for saints to think on, and notes that, by practicing the things “learned and received and heard and seen” from him, “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). Heavenly-minded thinking also produces the assurance and peace of being a genuine believer since a “mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). And, as Paul noted in Colossians, those who desire to live a godly life must maintain a godly mind, one focused on “things above.”
While knowing the eternal promises for believers, we also know the wrath to come for the unredeemed. We know, from Peter, that “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). In light of this divine, cosmic knowledge, we must ask of ourselves the apostle's incisive question, “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Pet. 3:11). One effect our eternal knowledge ought to have is on our witness to the world. John MacArthur notes, in the context of evangelism, the necessity for the believer to be heavenly-minded: “Before we can reach the world, we're going to have to leave the world.” In other words, we bring an eternal message from an eternal perspective for we, like Paul, know “the terror of the Lord” and thus “we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).
Worship Is Eternal
By thinking on the “hope of glory” that is ours, we not only know the blessed assurance of communion with the true and living God, and not only do we give greater witness to the eternal gospel by knowing the plan and purposes of God, but we also offer informed, thoughtful, God-honoring worship. As eternal beings redeemed by the grace of God, we never rightly worship with a temporary, temporal mindset. Our worship is not to be isolated to a moment in time but is, rather, a continuous act (Rom. 12:1-2) that stretches into eternity . Heavenly-minded worship gives joyous thanks knowing what God has done, and produces expectant praise for what we know He will do. Thinking on things above transforms us such that the words of hymn writer Fanny Crosby resound in our hearts with greater fervency and lodge within our minds with the solid certainty that is the hope of glory:
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”
As we worship this Lord's Day, may our minds be informed by the extravagant hope of glory that is ours by God's gospel grace and may we, with Paul, exult in our eternal King : “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).