If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)
In regards to our lives in this world, what we learn here from what Paul has said is that, as expatriates in a foreign culture, our true lives are hidden from the world. The people of the world cannot see or understand us as we truly are.
It is much the same as when I am living in another country here on earth apart from my home in Wisconsin. The people in another place see me as I am in their country, but they can never fully understand how I am when I am in my homeland. I can tell them about the place from where I have come and even show them pictures, but my real citizenship is largely hidden from them. It is something that is beyond their experience.
“We have died,” Paul says, “and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”
In order to live well in the world (as I spoke about last Sunday), we must first remember this fact. We are presently not living in our homeland. The most important things that we do in this world are not to be things done this present life. Neither will they be things that those who are not of our same homeland can see. The goals of our lives that matter to us are those goals that have to do with our citizenship with Christ, even if these aspirations are now hidden from the view of others.
It seems so simple, and yet it is at this point that we often fail so miserably. To our own disgrace, it often seems as though our greatest plans and our greatest projects are for this world. Most of our effort, it often seems, is to do the best that we can in this present life. We try to make the most money that we can and accumulate the most material goods that we can. These seem often to be the driving forces behind our efforts.
However, the Scriptures tell us, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth.”
It is easily said, but on the practical level, how are we to do this?
Knowing Our Home
First of all, and I think most importantly, maintaining a proper perspective is a matter of knowing our true home. Again, allow me to take my family’s example of living as expatriates, as we have done for several years in various countries. Let us take an example of when we lived in Venezuela.
When my family and I lived in that country, we tried to make ourselves comfortable in our home there, but we always knew it was not our true home here on earth. That true home for us has long been in Wisconsin. In Venezuela, we lived in a house that we rented. It was a nice house. If it had been ours, I would have made some changes to suit our family better, but I did not want to put a lot of effort and money into making great changes, since we were to live there only six years.
On the other hand and as I said, our true earthly home is in Wisconsin. Here, we also have our own house. While in Venezuela, we occasionally saw something that we thought might look nice in our home up north, so almost every time we came home for a visit, we would bring something with us. One year, for example, we decided to put a fireplace in our home in Wisconsin. With that in mind, on one trip I brought some decorative tiles to set into the façade the fireplace.
Do you see that even while living in Venezuela, we were thinking about our home in the north? That is because our home in Wisconsin is our true home on earth.
It is not as though we did not put anything into our lives in Venezuela, for we most assuredly did. We put a great deal into our lives there. Nor is it that we tried to deceive ourselves by shutting out our surroundings while in Venezuela. We were comfortable living there. It even remains one of my favorite foreign lands where I have ever lived. Yet when my family and I spoke of our real home, it was to our home in Wisconsin to which we were referring. Even though we were living in Venezuela and actually liked living there, our home and place of origin was not in that country.
Our Land of Origin
As Christians, it is also important for us to know our place of origin.
Jesus told his disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19, NAS).
Jesus here is talking about origin. Jesus told his disciples that their origin was not of the world. How could he say that? Had they not been born into the world like everyone else? They were, but something happened. “I chose you out of the world,” he told them.
Jesus had, in effect, picked his disciples out of the world and gave to them a new place of origin. To deepen this mysterious choosing that Jesus had made, the Apostle Paul tells us that believers, we have been chosen even “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This is a realm of knowledge to which the writers of Scripture only give us hints, and we have no full or true understanding of all that Paul means.
After Jesus said that he had chosen the disciples out of the world, to the rest of the Jews, he said this: “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23, NAS).
The Jews looked at Jesus, and with a voice of astonishment they asked him, “Who are you?” The words that Jesus spoke to them were mysterious words to the Jews. They began to realize that they did not truly know him. The true life of Jesus was hidden from them.
In the same way, our lives as Christians are hidden from the world.
What is Christ Thinking?
So if this present world is in opposition to Jesus, and in fact he has called us out of the world, why then does he leave us here? In fact, why does he not simply do away with the entire world and its system? Sometimes when I become weary of living in this land with all its evils, I ask this question.
However, the reason that Jesus left his church here in the world is actually quite clear. Despite everything, despite the world’s hostility to Christ and his kingdom, Jesus loves the people of the world. This love was the motivation for his coming in the first place. “God so loved the world,” many of us learned as little children (John 3:16).
Last week I made the clear distinction between what the Bible teaches about the world as a system, and the world when speaking of the people of the world. When Jesus spoke of his opposition to the world, he spoke only of the world as a system. But when it comes to the people of the world, he spoke only of his love.
John tells us this: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10 NAS).
Despite the evils of the world and despite the fact that we must daily struggle with living our lives in this world, God has left us here because he has not yet come to the point of abandoning the people whom he loves enough that he died for them. We, as his followers and disciples, are his church. We are his representatives on this earth.
A Light of the World
The word used for the church in the Bible is ekklesia. It means “the called out ones.” The word shows that just as the disciples were chosen out of the world, in the same way, we, as the church, have been called out. Our place of origin has been changed, and our lives are hidden in Christ.
Now let us read again the words of Jesus in John 17. It is from the prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father on our behalf:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them (set them apart) in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:14-17 ESV)
As his church, we are the representatives of Jesus here on earth, or as Paul calls us, “ambassadors for Christ.” It is because of this and because of Christ’s love for the people of the world that he told the eleven remaining disciples after his resurrection, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” By extension, he commissioned us as his church to also affect the world.
A Light to the World
So here we are—expatriates in a foreign land. We are not of this world. We have been chosen out of this world, and now our place of origin is heaven. So then how are we to live here in this life? Jesus tells us:
You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a peck measure, but on a lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NAS)
It is because of these words of Jesus that I do not think that the answer to our living in the world is to try and shut the world out, as appealing as that sometimes may seem. We are the lights of the world, Jesus told us. If the world is to know anything about our home country, it is only through us that they will see it.
What many people from other lands know about the United States is what people from America tell them. Like it or not, when we live and even when we travel abroad, to many people, we represent the United States. What they see in us they assume must be like it is in the United States.
Likewise, what many people know about the kingdom of God is what they see in us as citizens of heaven. This fact alone should give us all pause to consider how we are living our lives.
Paul said the same thing about us. He exhorted us to live blameless lives as “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15 NAS).
We no doubt understand what it means to be lights in the world, and perhaps we have heard many sermons on the subject. Being a light in the world is the way that we relate to the people of the world.
However, even if we are to be lights to the people of the world, what is to be our relationship to the world and a world system? I spoke about the world and its system last Sunday.
A Light in the World
Jesus also said something else to his disciples on the subject of lights. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” he told them. “So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 ESV).
Do we not see here that Jesus is speaking here of a constant danger in which we live? That danger is that unless we are careful, we may forget our place of origin. Our gaze will be diverted from our true purpose.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
We know too well that it is possible for our gaze to be diverted. It is a tactic of the world to fill the eye of Christians with the “goods” of this world (as they call them) so that we forget our true citizenship. We are bombarded daily with the world’s standards as to what is acceptable and important. It is easy to make the world’s standards our own. The delights of the world also become our desire.
Do you see that to live well in this world we must remember our place of origin? If we do not, our gaze will begin to turn toward the world, and our vision will become clouded. “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness,” Jesus told us.
Did we miss that? I think Jesus was afraid that we would, so he concludes bluntly, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
Expatriates in a Foreign Land
As expatriates in this world, we live and function in our adopted land. To live well here we must always remember our place of origin, and we must also remember that this world can never be our true home. If we learn and follow these lessons well, we will be able to live contented and happy lives here.
Despite the fact that this is not our true and permanent home, and despite the fact that there are many evils that we must deal with in this life, God has also given us many good things in this present world to enjoy. We can appreciate those good things that we encounter. If we maintain a proper perspective, our lives here will be happy and blessed.
Nevertheless, if you have ever lived in a foreign country, you know that the happiest time of all is when you can make a trip back home. Likewise, for those of us living as expatriates in the world, we all look forward to the time when we can again go home. If you do not know this yearning for your homeland, then you must question where your real home truly lies.
While living in this world, there is a sense in that we are all missionaries finally going home after a very difficult term on the field. We are all college kids, greatly missing our family and coming home for Christmas to Mom’s home cooking. There is a sense in that we are all kindergartners, who, on the first day of school, feel a little sad when we think of Dad and Mom at home and cannot wait to run home to their hugs. We are all soldiers who, beaten and scarred by war, are returning home to those who love us.
We are all refugees, longing to return to our homeland.
To live well in this world, we must remember that we are expatriates. In the end, we do not belong here at all. When we understand that, we begin to live with realistic expectations.
We begin to live well in this world.
If then 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 NAS)
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NAS)