A New Focus
By David Feddes
Let’s pretend you’ve been investing your money. I know, that’s a stretch for some of you—you can barely pay the bills, let alone invest anything—but let’s pretend you’re an investor.
Back when you didn’t know any better, you followed a tip and put your money into Acme Blimp Corporation, also known as ABC. Before long, however, you got a different tip that no, blimps were not the wave of the future. So you pulled your money out of ABC and took a loss on your investment. Then you took what little money you had left and invested it in DEF, Diversified Equity Fund. DEF isn’t at all like ABC. DEF, Diversified Equity Fund, is run by a brilliant fund manager and has holdings in a variety of the best companies around. Your investment keeps growing and growing. Now you’re rich, and you’re getting richer all the time.
Here’s the question: When you check financial reports, where do you look first—at ABC or DEF? Which do you care about more? Where’s your focus? I suspect your thoughts and your hopes are with DEF, not ABC. Acme Blimp Company is a lost cause; you don’t have anything invested in ABC anymore, so it’s a dead issue for you. DEF, on the other hand, is vibrant and alive; Diversified Equity Fund is the key to your financial wellbeing, so you’re excited about it and focus on it. If you ever think of ABC at all, it’s only to remind yourself what a relief it is not to be tangled up in it any longer. Why focus on a failed past when you’re now invested in something with a great future? The only people who focus on a failing company are the people who are still invested in that company.
When you have a new investment, you have a new focus. This is true in the financial realm, and it’s true in the spiritual realm. If your future is invested in this dying world and in your ability to succeed in it, then that’s where your focus will be. If your future is invested in the reign of Jesus Christ and your relationship to him, then your focus will be on Jesus. Whatever you invest in, that’s what you focus on. As Jesus put it, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If your future treasure is tied to Jesus’ death and resurrection, you will focus your interest and energy on your new life in Christ. In Colossians 3:1-4, the Bible says,
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
According to the Bible, what happened to Jesus happens also to his people. The death and resurrection of Christ involve more than just one man. An individual named Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, but with him was crucified an entire group of people, an entire way of life, an entire world system. An individual named Jesus rose to life on Easter, and with him rose an entire group of people, an entire way of life, an entirely new and glorious world (see Romans 6:3-4). Resurrection is the wave of the future.
Some folks just don’t get it. They continue to invest themselves in earthly things that are as doomed as the Acme Blimp Company. They’re blind to life in Christ. Maybe you’re that way. You’re caught up in the world of clothes, cars, careers, sex, sports, and status. The supernatural realm seems unreal and unimportant. God is a just a vague power, Jesus’ resurrection is just a nice story, and heaven is just a strange dream. If that’s the way you think, then you’re out of touch with reality. The world that means so much to you is fading away, while Jesus is very much alive. You need to stop investing in a bankrupt enterprise. You need to know what’s available to you in Christ. You can have new investments and a new focus.
Meanwhile, what about the rest of us who already believe that Jesus rose from the dead and trust that we have a personal share in his victory? We don’t reject Jesus. We say that our old life died with Jesus on the cross and that now our life is invested with Christ and hidden with him in God. We say all this, and yet many of us still give a great deal of attention and energy to our old investments, to things that are bankrupt.
It’s weird—it’s downright crazy—but it happens: we have a new, heavenly nature in the risen Christ, but we don’t want to let go of our sinful earthly nature. We have a new, heavenly future in the risen Christ, and we keep clinging to our old earthly past. The Holy Spirit connects us to Christ by faith, so that we die to sin and come alive to God, and yet we’re still focused on our dead past instead of our living future.
It’s like getting out of Acme Blimp Corporation and into Diversified Equity Fund in the nick of time, and then, after all that, focusing more on ABC than on DEF. Instead of focusing on things above where Christ is, we keep going back to check on our former, failed investment in things that are merely earthly. We may even start investing in it afresh.
That’s why we need the Bible’s call to a new focus. If you’re not connected to Jesus, you need to know who you can be in him. And if you are connected to Jesus by faith and baptism, you need to know who you are now and what your situation is: You have been crucified and raised with Christ. Christ is your life. You don’t belong to the worldly system anymore; you belong to the realm of things above, where Christ reigns. Now you need to think that way, and act that way. Know who you are. Be what you are.
If you’re an older child and you still throw tantrums or suck your thumb, your parents might say, “Act your age! You’re not a baby anymore.” If you join the army, a drill sergeant might say, “I’m not your momma! You’re in the army now. You’re a soldier. Now act like it!” If you immigrate and become a citizen of a new country, you can’t pretend nothing has changed. You’ve got a new status and a new set of loyalties. And when you’re connected to Jesus, you can’t just focus on this old world and go on with your old ways. You need to realize who you are in Christ, and how much your situation has changed. You need a new focus. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
The Bible offers hints and visions of heaven, the perfect city and kingdom of God, and God tells us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. What does this mean?
Let’s look at what the Bible means by “earthly things,” by what Scripture often calls “the world.” Sometimes the Bible speaks of “the world” simply as the universe which God brought into being and which he populated with living things and with people made in his image. In this sense, the world is something that God made and upholds and loves, and it is something for which we can all be grateful.
But sometimes the Bible speaks of the world in another sense: as a sinful system and realm that stands opposed to God. “Do not love the world or anything in the world,” writes the apostle John. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17). The apostle James says, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
The world in this sense—the world of sin and evil desires and pride and rebellion against God—is something that we must utterly reject and leave behind. God somehow transferred the world’s sin onto Jesus and crucified it on the cross of Christ, and now he tells those of us who are connected to Christ to become who we are, and to do what has already been done in Christ: to put sin to death and live the new resurrection life. Colossians 3:5-10 says,
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual impurity, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Rid yourself of… anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language… Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self.
We must crucify the behavior of the world, and to do that, we need to crucify the mindset of the world. We need to realize that sin is bankrupt, a dead end. We need to see that it is an investment in disaster. At one time the sinful self took a lot of our attention and energy, but it’s been nailed to the cross and we should shun it in favor of better things. We need to turn our minds away from the things of this sinful world, from its principles and procedures, and fix our minds on things above where Christ is. We need a new focus.
But turning our minds from earthly things to things above means more than just shunning earthly evil. It also means that our main focus and interest must be higher than this world—even when we think of the world in the good sense. I said earlier that the notion of “the world” or of “earthly things” can sometimes refer simply to the universe God has made. The Bible encourages us to enjoy whatever gifts God gives us and to give him thanks. But all of God’s earthly gifts are appetizers; they’re not the main course. Even as we enjoy earthly things, our minds should still be turning to things above, to the good God who blesses us in this life, and to the greater blessings that still await us.
Many earthly things aren’t evil as such, but even when they’re good, they are intended not simply for their own sake but to point us to something better. The Bible says that created things point to God’s eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). Our trouble is that we too often look only at the pointer and ignore where it’s pointing.
British author C.S. Lewis says that in his experience most dogs can’t understand pointing. If you point to a piece of food on the floor, the dog will sniff at your finger instead going after the food. A finger is a finger to him; it is all fact and no meaning. In a similar way, some people take a doglike approach to the world: all fact and no meaning. We need the spiritual good sense to look beyond earthly things to see where they are pointing, to God and to the things of Christ.
That brings us to another problem. How do we know what this earthly creation is pointing us to? How do we fix our minds on things above? Those things are invisible. The question becomes even harder when we realize that when the Bible does talk about things above, it often speaks in terms that sound rather earthly. Scripture speaks of the heavenly realm in terms of juicy meat and rich wine and fine clothing and lovely music and splendid homes and fabulous wealth and streets of gold. If thinking about things above means thinking about food and wine and clothes and music and homes and wealth anyway, why wait for heaven? Why not make these things our exclusive focus right now?
We need to understand that the Bible uses things we’re familiar with to give us a hint of realities that go far beyond anything we’re familiar with. We misunderstand Scripture if we think that heaven consists only of the various things we enjoy now. No earthly thing we encounter with our senses can give us the full knowledge of the new creation. The Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Scripture also says that “what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). What we have now is only the seed; heaven is the plant in full bloom. What we see on earth is at best a pencil drawing; heaven is the living, colorful reality. C.S. Lewis says,
Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon. There she bears and rears a son. He grows up seeing nothing but the dungeon walls, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of the sky seen through the grating, which is too high to show anything except sky. This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils. As she never loses the hope of deliverance, she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never seen. She does it very largely by drawing him pictures. With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like. He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that the outer world is far more interesting and glorious than anything in the dungeon.
Then one day the boy says something that his mother can’t quite figure out. Finally it dawns on her what he is thinking. She gasps and says, “You didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?”
“What?” says the boy. “No pencil marks there?” And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank. He has seen many of his mother’s sketches, but what can they mean if the world she’s been drawing for him isn’t made up of pencil marks?
He can’t imagine a world of waving treetops, light dancing on a lake, colored three‑dimensional realities which aren’t black and white and which aren’t enclosed by lines but define their own shapes in a way that no drawing could ever show. Once the boy’s mother explains that the world outside the dungeon isn’t made up of pencil lines, the child may get the idea that the outside world is less real than his mother’s pictures. But that world lacks pencil lines only because it is far more real.
We don’t know exactly what life will be like in heaven. But we do know that it will be more, not less, than earthly life, and we know Jesus is there. The Bible says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The full reality of who we are in Christ remains hidden for now, but we may be sure that it is much more real than anything we can see, and it will be fully revealed in due time. As Colossians 3 puts it, “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Living By Faith
When we set our minds on things above, we are focusing on something we can’t see, and we are filling our imagination with something we can’t imagine. Strange as it may sound, that’s what happens in the miracle of faith. “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
How does this happen? Well, the earthly things around us are at worst distractions and at best pointers, so if we’re to have any sense of the greatness and reality of the things above, it has to be revealed to us by God himself. It has to come through what we know of Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit living in us. Right after the Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him,” it goes on to say, “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
In order to aim higher and set our minds on things above, we need God’s Spirit to give us a sense of these things and to connect us with the Person of Jesus crucified and risen. History can tell us something about the earthly life of Christ, but only the Spirit of God can tell us that Christ is our life, that our life is in him and that his life is in us.
The Bible uses images of food, wine, clothes, music, homes, wealth, and other earthly things to show us the unseen but real world of life in Christ and the richness, glory, and the joy that will be revealed. But living by faith means more than just waiting for unseen realities to be revealed. It means that right now we live in Christ and in his power, and that right now we can taste what it’s like to live on a higher level.
Colossians 3 says that since we’ve been raised with Christ, we must set our hearts on things above, and then it shows how people with hearts set on things above will live their lives here below. A new focus produces a new life. This new life means compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love for others. In relation to God, the new life means a growing sense of peace and thanks and knowledge and praise (v. 12-16). In fact, this new life colors and transforms everything we do. Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” When you set your mind on things above, it gives new meaning to your day-to-day life on earth.
Everything we do on this earth, no matter how small, matters a great deal once we realize that the Lord Jesus is our master, that an old era has ended and a new one is dawning, that Jesus has gone to another realm to be crowned King and Lord, and that our activities here are preparation for much greater things in the new world to come. Jesus tells a story that drives the point home: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” The man called ten of his servants and passed out some money—one mina each, ten minas total. A mina was about three months wages. It wasn’t just a few pennies, but it wasn’t a fortune, either. Some time later, their master returned as the newly crowned king, and he called his servants in to see what they had done with the money. One man reported, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more.”
“Well done, my good servant!” his master replied. “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.”
Another servant came and said, “Sir, your mina has earned five more.” His master answered, “You take charge of five cities.”
Another servant, however, reported that he hadn’t done anything with his mina of money. He didn’t trust his master. He figured that if he used the money to turn a profit, the master would just take the money anyway, so he simply buried the mina he had been given. The master got angry when he heard this. He took away that servant’s mina and gave it to the man with the ten minas and the ten cities (Luke 19:11‑27).
Now, what’s going on here? Did the master originally pass out the minas just to see how much money he could make? No, he was going to rule an entire nation, so a bit of money here or there didn’t much matter. His main concern wasn’t to see how much money he could make but to see what kind of servants he had. Who was worthy to rule with him, and how much responsibility should he entrust to each one? He wanted to see how they handled a “mina” responsibility before giving them major responsibilities.
Our life and responsibilities in this world are minor compared to the major realities and responsibilities of the life to come. There the new humanity will have a status even higher than angels and reign with Christ over the universe. When we make this destiny our new focus and set our hearts on this astounding reality, we will handle each moment and each opportunity of our earthly life in a whole new way. Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10‑11).
Do you have a new focus? Set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. There’s a new King in charge. He died to break your ties to the old realm, and he rose again to raise you into a new realm. So leave behind your sinful ways. Forget your failed investments. Let what is good on this earth point you to something higher and better. Use every opportunity God gives you to advance his cause, to prove yourself a faithful servant of your King, and to store up treasure in heaven. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Set your heart on Christ, and focus on eternity.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.