So often the sermons of yesterday made a fundamental mistake: over emphasizing the not yet in eschatological tension. Pastors would ask what would happen if you died today, where would you go [heaven/hell]? Mansions, golden streets, seas of crystal and glass would be sold as rewards for righteous lives in the midst of this current chaos. Very little emphasis would be given to the “already” tension of eschatology.
Conversely, the apostle Paul more regularly seems to live in the ‘already’ side of this tension. He begins this reading with the declaration [in the aorist tense] that [if] you have been raised with Christ that we should set our sights on things above. What an interesting statement filled with eschatological tension! According to Paul, those who have died to self with Christ [see chapter 2], we have already been raised with Christ. This is quite different than the suffer through this world to receive your reward. Paul sees the hearers of this text already living victorious in the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, our invitation to look toward the heavenly is not a postponed hope of glory, but an ethical invitation to live as if the work Christ has accomplished – and will be experienced in full at his second coming – and therefore can be the guiding ethos for our behavior in the world today. As such, we should live as if heaven is our reality, because that is the ethic to which we yearn and to which our lives testify.
This is why Paul can be so bold as to argue that those who are in Christ should put behind them the sinful “pleasures” of this world that people seemed inclined toward: fornication, impurity, evil desire, greed/idolatry, anger, wrath, slander, abusive language, etc. We, in Christ, should put off this sinful behavior because they will not be a part of the kingdom. For Paul, avoiding sin does not seem to be about preparing for the kingdom or appearing worthy of the kingdom, but rather practicing the kingdom of which we are already citizens.
Therefore, setting our minds on things which are above is not a tortured longing for streets of gold in the midst of a chaos that will be destroyed. Setting our minds on things above is an invitation to live as if the heaven we anticipate is real, as if death has been defeated, as if sin is exposed as empty and idolatrous, as if the powers of this world as exposed as naked and shameful. We who are baptized into Christ’s death live freed from the fears and lusts of this world because we have set our mind on what it is to come and live as if it has arrived and testify with our behaviors, love, kindness, actions, and words as if the heaven that defines us is coming.
This is most helpfully accomplished in community. It takes a community of sin-shunning, resurrection embodying, heaven imagining people to spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). If we are to embody this call Paul has placed on the church, we cannot do so as individuals, but we must embody the corporate discipline of the church to testify as a people to the heaven in which we have been gifted a foretaste of which has been so delicious, that we will discipline our bodies and lives in its realities as opposed to the temporary ethos of this fallen world.
This is a helpful text to preach on Easter on at least two separate planes: (1) it is a resurrection text. We cannot live as if Heaven is real unless Jesus has been resurrected to his throne. It is in the Easter narrative that we find our hope. This text reminds us that we do not simply participate in the death of Christ, but also his resurrection. This is good news. (2) Easter is the traditional date of baptisms in the early church. If you have have baptisms scheduled in our Easter celebrations, you can tie chapters 2-3 together, reminding the baptized of the congregation of their death to sin and the things of this world, while also charging those headed to the font to forsake sin as sin has lost in light of the death and resurrection of Christ. This peculiar invitation to die to what is behind is also an invitation into eternal life: life marked not by how this world defines life, but eternal life dedicated to things from above: where there will be no more death, sadness, pain, or tears (cf. Revelation 21). We have not yet arrived there in its fullness, but it will be so glorious, it is worth behaving and living as if that way of life is the fullest of reality.
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