A Call to Heavenly-mindedness
"If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth" (Col. 3:1-2).
"If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable" (1 Cor. 15:19).
Among the Kalenjins of western Kenya, there was a time that the report of a dead body in the bush meant a detour to avoid contact with it. The Kikuyu of central Kenya would burn a house containing a corpse, so that no one would have to touch the dead body. Before the gospel came to these tribes, death was truly an "unspeakable enemy."
Western culture has its own methods of keeping the knowledge of death at arm's length. People do not die; they "pass away." Cemeteries are called "gardens of rest." Mortuaries are "funeral homes, "containing "slumber rooms." At one time these terms might have reflected the Christian faith that death is not the end. Today, however, they largely serve the same purpose as pre-Christian African customs.
Our Hope of Glory
Wherever he lives, unbelieving man has been subject all his life to the bondage of the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Ultimately the gospel is "good news" because it proclaims that "death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:54).
"I am the resurrection and the life," said our Lord to Martha. "He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he who lives and believes in me shall never die." He then asked her, "Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). What answer would we give to our Savior's question?
Of course we believe this! But do we live as if this truth were not very central to our life?
Karl Marx described Christianity as "the opiate of the people" because it directed the thoughts of the masses toward the hope of a blessed afterlife, while blinding them to the oppression that they were suffering in this life. Although the church has always repudiated the charge of Marx, there has been a tendency in this century, even in orthodox circles, to downplay the hope of glory. You may hear slighting references to "pie in the sky" religion, or to someone being "so heavenly-minded that he's no earthly good."
There are many who say that unless Christianity has solutions for the here-and-now problems of life, it is of little use. They want a faith that offers solutions to personal, social, and economic problems. The gospel must show that it has "real and practical" benefits for everyday life. Christ is to be presented as the one who will make us happy, satisfied, and fulfilled.
This is, to some extent, a reaction against certain excesses in the church. There was the monasticism of the medieval church that equated holiness with separation from ordinary life in order to pursue a life of contemplation. There has also been the danger of Adventism, which has urged Christians to lay aside the pursuits of everyday life to await the imminent return of Christ. Then there have been those who have taught that the evils of society are to be expected, that things are going to get worse and worse, and that we can't do anything about them anyway.
The Scriptures are clear indeed that these sorts of things are abuses. The Lord has placed us in this world to live in it; he has given us directions for living in it in a godly manner. The Bible also tells us that he has called us to serve him in our various callings in life. We are to do everything to the glory of God; we are to redeem the time, for the days are evil.
Too often, however, the church has overreacted to these abuses. If we define the word practical merely in terms of this life, we have forgotten our roots. The most practical living is living with our eyes fixed upon the eternal promises of God and the glory that is to be revealed, while our feet tread the byways of daily life.
It is not the heavenly mind, but the worldly mind, that renders one unfit for the exercise of godliness. It is the man whose mind is set on the things of this world who will become cynical, selfish, ambitious, proud, and prayerless. These are the attributes of unbelief and they are well cultivated when the eternal promises of the Lord are forgotten. When we begin to define faith as the expectation of the things that are seen, we have written a prescription that will produce these qualities in our life.
It is the fruit of the Spirit that enables one to live the truly practical Christian life, and the fruit of the Spirit receives the best cultivation in the life of the one whose mind is set upon the things of heaven.
Jesus said to his apostles, "In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). How can we believe Jesus' words, if our mind is not fixed on heaven? How was it, indeed, that Jesus overcame the world? Was it not by his death, burial, and resurrection? If his triumph was won by a victory over the grave, we will be comforted by that triumph only if we have a view that looks beyond the grave.
A Zeal for Worship
But what is heavenly-mindedness? First of all, heavenly-mindedness is characterized by a zeal for the worship of God. As activism in the church increases, the place of worship decreases. The value of the public assembly of Christians on the Lord's Day is more and more belittled. If it is believed that there is good in it, then that good tends to be explained by the psychological effect that worship will produce in people or by its effect on the rest of the week.
There is surprisingly little appreciation of worship for its own sake. Even the benefit of hymn singing and prayer has come to be viewed as the "uplift" that it gives to the participants, not because of the praise that is rendered to Almighty God thereby. Many professing Christians say that they don't go to morning or evening worship anymore because they "don't get anything out of it." How many times have they considered whether God "got anything" out of their worship when they did go?
Am I saying that the preaching of the Word on the Lord's Day is to be of no benefit to the Christian in his daily walk? By no means! But the practical importance of the sermon should not obscure the truth that worship is directed toward God. The sermon has a positive effect on daily life because it calls forth the obedience of God's people as he speaks to them from his Word, and this is in itself a most essential part of worship.
How does the apostle Paul define the "ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" that brings the wrath of God upon them (Rom. 1:18)? Is it murder, robbery, adultery, or homosexuality? As terrible as these sins are, they are not mentioned in his definition. Instead, he defines man's fundamental apostasy in this way: "Because that knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks" (vs. 21). The central crime of unbelieving man is his failure to worship God as God. The heavenly-minded man knows this, and he understands that at the heart of all true, biblical religion is the necessity of having God for God's own sake.
Embracing God's Promises
In the second place, heavenly-mindedness is characterized by a whole-souled embracing of all the promises of God as his eternal promises. That means that one's assurance of the fulfillment of these promises is more meaningful than any present experience. This characteristic makes the heavenly-minded Christian victorious. Christian endurance through sufferings and persecutions is really possible only when God's promise of eternal glory looms larger than the "sufferings of the present age" (Rom. 8:18). The faith that is represented in chapter 11 of Hebrews is neither the "stiff upper lip" of the British nor the stoicism of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Christian endurance is victory and conquest. For this reason the Bible calls on us to rejoice! The imagination of the heavenly-minded Christian is fired by the victory that is won in Christ's eternal kingdom and will be realized there.
But if Christians try to evaluate the promises of God according to worldly expectations, they put themselves in danger of exhibiting the same small-minded concentration on this world that characterized the unbelieving Israelites who attempted to evaluate God's covenant promises given to Abraham.
Moreover, if we don't see God's promises as eternal promises, we will not know how to deliver them to others. Unless the promises of God are eternal, we have nothing meaningful to say to those who question us concerning the "hope that is within" us (1 Pet. 3:15).
Even worse, if we do not have the eternal promises of God, we will be tempted to make promises for God that he has no intention of honoring. We cannot promise the anxious parent that the leukemia from which his child suffers will be removed. We cannot promise the man facing financial ruin that his debts will be paid. There is always the temptation to tell suffering people that everything will be all right, yet in this life everything will not be all right. Only if we have embraced the eternal promises of God, can we approach others with a truly meaningful promise from God.
Looking Past Today
This implies a mind-set that rejects worldly values and worldly wisdom. American culture points with admiration to the one who exercises "hardheaded common sense." The heavenly-minded person understands that this is likely to be hard-heartedness.
Worldly wisdom asks of life, "What's in it for me? Will it make me happy, rich, famous, or fulfilled?" But a heavenly-minded person asks, "How may I glorify God in my life?"
The worldly person looks at the eternal promises of God and asks, "What good are they, if they don't deliver the goods right now?" Such a person considers a blessing promised for the future to be worthless. But to the heavenly-minded person, the value of God's promises is not based on the speed with which they are fulfilled, but on the faithfulness of the God who gave them.
Someone may charge that the Christianity of which I have written is "irrelevant." We often hear that we must speak to people where they are at, and where they are at is very clearly in this world. How long, however, are they in this world? The "rich fool" thought he would be in this world long enough to build and use bigger barns; the Lord, however, had other plans for him (Luke 12:15-21)!
Yes, God in his Word does instruct us how to live in this world, but the principal goal of the gospel is to equip us for the world to come. Only the heavenly-minded will be properly equipped!
Dr. Wingard is an OP missionary to Kenya. His Bible quotations are mostly based on the KJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 1996.