HEAVENLY MINDED AND EARTHLY GOOD
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 4, 2019
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
— Colossians 3:1-11, ESV
The late Dwight L. Moody was a wonderful and fruitful Christian evangelist who left this world with many memorable quotes. One of his most famous statements has become a standard cliche. As far as we can tell, Moody was the first to say, “Some Christians are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.”
I would humbly make the claim that Moody misspoke based on this text from the pen of the Apostle Paul. Moody was inspiring, but Paul was inspired. As he makes his classic turn from doctrine to duty in Colossians, Paul makes the case that the more heavenly mined you are, the more good you will do on earth, due in large part to what you won’t do.
The gospel of Jesus Christ cuts with a sword of double-edged grace. There is amazing grace, delivered by word and Spirit, which brings one into the kingdom of God. Then, there is restraining grace, also wrought by word and Spirit, which causes one to live by the moral standards of the kingdom of God. Grace reigns in the hearts of all who claim Christ is King, and grace restrains the actions and attitudes of Christians in order to make this world a better place.
The Heavenly Mindedness of Amazing Grace
As Paul spread the doctrines of God’s grace throughout the civilized world, he had two very uncivil enemies. They were (and remain) legalism and licentiousness. Legalism, copyrighted by the Pharisees and carried on by the Judaizers, contended for salvation by works. Do this, don’t do that, do what we say, then the kingdom of God can be bought by your good behavior. On the other hand, early Gnostics and other pre-Pelagians preached an easy believe-ism, salvation by choice which demanded no change in moral or ethical behavior. The immaterial could be saved while the material body continued to soak in the unbounded pleasures of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Both of these extremes are graceless heresies that still hound people into Hell.
Those who think they can punch the ticket of justification without getting on the train of sanctification will never arrive at the destination of glorification. Furthermore, any decision that does not result in dedication is a fabrication. Salvation is not won by our works. Salvation is not a decision devoid of dedication.
Salvation is not a transaction, it is a resurrection. It is miracle of God’s grace which imputes faith and repentance to raise a dead sinner to life that results in perseverance as a holy, obedient child of God. It is wholly based on Christ’s own death and resurrection, which Christians embody in their own death to life experience. Paul phrases it very eloquently in Colossians.
“If ... you have been raised with Christ” you have been regenerated. When you “set your minds on things ... above” your are being renewed. Since “Christ ... is your life” you will be rewarded. This is justification by faith, sanctification by word and Spirit, and glorification guaranteed by the person, promise, and power of Jesus Christ.
This is salvation. This is heavenly mindedness. This is amazing grace.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch, like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
— John Newton
The Earthly Good of Restraining Grace
With apologies to Newton and a little old English, here is a sort of sequel written by yours truly:
“Restraining grace, how sweet the sound,
That made this wretch to see,
I would have sinned and shamed my Lord,
But grace restraineth me.”
The same grace that makes us citizens of the heavenly kingdom also restrains us while we still live on planet earth. The grace of God’s word and Spirit serve to keep us from acting out in sinful ways which cause hurt within the body of Christ, and hypocrisy that keeps myriads of lost people from contemplating the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace makes us do good things, like worship and serve and love one another. Grace also restrains us from doing bad things which do damage to the body of Christ and mar our witness to the world. These bad things are sinful things done with the body, mind, and mouth.
“Put to death,” the Bible says literally, such sins as “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,” all of which are related one to another. The immorality causes impurity when passion and evil desire go unrestrained by the word, Spirit, and grace of God. Such sins not only reek havoc in the people who perpetuate them, but the ripple effect is atomic in its proportion. Marriages, families, churches, and many lives have been blown up by unchecked sex, and God is deadly serious about it. Shouldn’t we be? God gives us the grace to keep His commandments and stop the body count of souls destroyed by sexual sin.
Sinful actions arise from sinful attitudes, so the Scripture warn us against “covetousness, which is idolatry, ... anger, wrath, malice.” Materialism is a menace that shrinks the soul of God’s child and the strength of God’s church. Anger, wrath, and malice are weapons for the Father to use, not toys for His children to play with. We must live in contentment with what God has given us and offer to others generosity, love, and grace upon grace.
Then we must watch our big mouths. Let us trust God for His grace to keep us from “slander, and obscene talk, [and] do not lie to one another.” Sins of the tongue are actions set on fire by attitudes. Like sexual sins, spoken sins divide friends, families, churches, and lost people from the saving grace of God.
There is one more sin that must be restrained for God’s people to go on shedding God’s grace upon His church and our land. It is the age old sin of prejudice, of which God’s saving and restraining grace should serve as a double cure. It existed in Paul’s day between the “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free” and it exists today across races, classes, and nationalities. Laws can try to fix it, but some things can only be eradicated and restrained by the grace of God in individuals who exhibit “Christ is all.”
The first and last thing Paul mentions in this text is Jesus Christ. He is the supreme Lord and Savior, object of affection, and model of behavior for the Christian. We love what we look at and we love what we think about and we model who we love. Now more than ever, our thinking and our behavior must be governed by the love of Christ.
Our twenty-first century world resembles the first century world of Jesus, Paul, and the first Christians in so many ways. We wade through a cesspool of sex. We swim in a sea of materialism. We are incited into race and class warfare by our very own government leaders, vagabond race baiters, and their heralds in the press. What can God’s people do?
Well, let’s imagine. John Lennon imagined a world with no religion. I pray for a world inspired by the Christian religion. It would be a world filled with heavenly minded people who are of much earthly good.
Christian people should love, laugh, and revel in the gospel of Jesus Christ and long for glorious worship with His church. Christian people should walk out after worship into the world and do good by forsaking all the bad the people all too often do to one another. Christian people should be more heavenly minded so that we can be of more earthly good. If we will, the population of Heaven will grow and the earth will be a better place to live.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org