I was recently captivated (and still am!) with something I saw in Hebrews 3:1. It’s one of those statements that we rarely pause to consider, but this time was different. What caught my attention was the way in which the author of this letter describes those who by God’s grace have considered Jesus and put their faith in him. They (we!) are among those “who share in a heavenly calling” (v. 1a). Continue reading . . .
I was recently captivated (and still am!) with something I saw in Hebrews 3:1. It’s one of those statements that we rarely pause to consider, but this time was different. What caught my attention was the way in which the author of this letter describes those who by God’s grace have considered Jesus and put their faith in him. They (we!) are among those “who share in a heavenly calling” (v. 1a).
To be among those who share in a “heavenly calling” has to do with our identity, and there is nothing more central or crucial to our lives as Christians than understanding who we are. I can’t begin to tell you how many times during the course of an average week I hear from people whose primary struggle in life has to do with their mistaken identity. Or perhaps it is a child who simply doesn’t know who he or she is or even why they exist. Or on occasion it is someone whose sense of personal identity has been so warped and damaged by abuse or neglect or some other sin that they’ve simply given up hope of ever finding personal value and purpose in life. They live under the false guise of someone that isn’t them; they’ve been told who they are or what they should be and it has nothing to do with what God created them for.
That is why this opening statement in Hebrews 3:1 is so important. Christian, listen to me. You cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to this question. Do you know what it means to be the recipient of a “heavenly calling”? Do you?
Let me mention three things.
First, you are a man or a woman whose existence and identity cannot be explained merely by pointing to something in this world. In other words, you can’t stop by saying: “Well, I’m a child of my mother and father. You ask who I am, and the answer is: I am what they’ve said I am. I am whoever their sins have shaped me to me.” Or again, you can’t stop by saying: “O.K., I am nothing more than a broken and helpless sinner, a sexually warped and intellectually stunted and physically unattractive blip on the screen of this vast universe.”
No! If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, if he is Lord over your life, your identity (your value, meaning, purpose) is shaped and determined by the call placed on you from heaven by God. This isn’t a guidance counselor at school who has administered certain personality profiles or skills tests to see what you are best at in life. This isn’t an employer who informs you that you’ve advanced about as far as you’ll ever go in your job, so just settle in for the duration and be content with your title, your position, and your salary.
Listen again to the words of God: you are one who shares in a “heavenly calling”! God, the God of the universe, has summoned you to himself. He has called you, has drawn you, has redeemed you, has placed his stamp of ownership on you, has beckoned you to himself, and has established with you a relationship of love and intimacy and joy that will last forever. This is what it means to be called from heaven.
Second, this “calling” doesn’t simply come from heaven; it leads to heaven as well. In other words, this is as much about your ultimate destiny as it is about your initial origin. He isn’t telling us merely where our hope comes from, namely, from heaven, but where our hope is taking us, namely, to heaven. Your life is far more than what you amass in your few years on this earth. Don’t ever let your identity be shaped or limited merely by what you accomplish or accumulate now. Your identity is as a man or woman who is destined to live eternally in heavenly bliss and glory, which is to say, in the presence and in the enjoyment of God himself.
Let me say one more thing about this facet of being “called” not only from heaven but to heaven. In Ephesians 1:15ff. Paul prays that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (vv. 17-18a). Did you see that? He’s talking about the “hope” to which we have been “called”. This is our “heavenly calling” and Paul’s prayer is that the Spirit would enable us to spiritually “see” and grasp and find strength in the reality of all that is entailed by it.
Third, the word “heavenly” doesn’t merely talk about where our calling originated or where our calling is taking us. It also describes the quality of our existence; the kind of person we are designed to be. Our lives now and forevermore are to be characterized by the values of heaven; energized by the power of heaven; shaped by the beauty of heaven. We are to live now, on earth, heavenly lives. Do you get that? You have been called by God to live now, on earth, a heavenly life, which is to say, a life that reflects the morality and beauty and power and glory of heaven itself.
Why, then, would you listen to anyone who would tell you otherwise? Why, then, would you ever consider giving yourself over to merely earthly pleasures and earthly activities? There lives within you a heavenly power, the Holy Spirit, who is calling you to consider who you are in Christ. And if you do that, nothing will ever be the same. Things you used to love, but all the while knew you shouldn’t, you’ll gradually grow to hate. Things you used to believe as true, but all the while knew were false, you’ll gradually grow to reject. Things you used to do and say because you believed they alone could make life fun and worth living, you’ll gradually come to recognize as empty and delusional and destructive.
This is virtually identical to what the Apostle Paul said to the church in Colossae in Colossians 3:1-4.
“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” (Col. 3:1-4).
If our author is correct, and your “calling” and identity are from heaven and leading to heaven and are to be characterized by the qualities and values of heaven, you can understand why Paul would tell us to “seek” the things of heaven, to seek after the things “above” and not “the things that are on earth.”
In the larger context of Colossians 2-3 Paul is telling the Christians in that church, and us as well, how you overcome sensual and fleshly impulses; in other words, how you fight and defeat sinful temptations in your life. Yielding to fleshly urges is overcome by "seeking" the things above. Fixing our minds on "things above" leaves little time or mental energy for earthly fantasies. The heart that is entranced by the risen Christ is not easily seduced by "the things that are on earth" (v. 2b). Paul uses language that requires both the energetic orientation of our will ("keep seeking") as well as the singular devotion of our mind ("set your mind"). This is a conscious and volitionally deliberate movement of the soul to fix and ground itself on, indeed to glut itself in, if you will, the beauty of spiritual realities as opposed to the trivial and tawdry things of this world.
Let me also say that this is precisely what the author of Hebrews has in mind when he tells us to “consider” Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. To “consider” isn’t to think about once in a while. It means to devote all your mental and spiritual energy to thinking and meditating and concentrating on who Jesus is and what he has done. Fixate your thoughts on Christ. Rivet your attention on him alone. Be ruthlessly attentive to him. This is what Paul means when he says “seek” the things that are above and “set your mind” on things that are above (Col. 3:1-2).
I know how hard this is to do. Never in the history of mankind have there been at our fingertips so many opportunities and devices to distract us and take our minds off of Christ and off of our heavenly calling. It’s become so bad that many of you can’t sit still and focus on God’s Word for 40 minutes on a Sunday morning without being drawn to check your Facebook page or your email or twitter or instagram. It’s positively painful for you to turn off TV or shut down the computer or set aside your smart phone and think and meditate and study and pray about Jesus Christ and the things above and the hope of your heavenly calling. Some of you, it grieves me to say, have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. And even those of you who do have no idea how to go about it or how to get started.
And then you wonder why you’re so unhappy and unfulfilled and impatient and easily upset and so prone to boredom and why you give in so quickly to whatever temptation comes your way.
Look again at Colossians 3. The reason we must seek the things above is because that is “where Christ is” (v. 1). He is the exalted center and supreme sovereign of the eternal and heavenly realm. Why would we want our lives and thoughts and actions fixed anywhere else? The appeal of heavenly things is the presence of Jesus. It is the glory and beauty and multifaceted personality and power and splendor of the risen Christ to which Paul directs our attention. This is surely what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he exhorts those who “share in a heavenly calling” to “consider Jesus”!
I don’t want you to misunderstand what either the author of Hebrews or Paul is saying. When Paul commands us to “seek” after things above and not things on earth and when the author of Hebrews describes our very identity as those who have received a “heavenly calling,” neither is suggesting that we embrace an "other-worldliness" that treats with contempt, or at best a benign neglect, the earth and nature and normal human endeavors.
Neither author is encouraging Christians to ignore social injustice today in anticipation of the vindication of righteousness in the age to come. Neither Paul nor the author of Hebrews is suggesting that we carelessly exploit the environment now, knowing that we shall one day live in the pristine glory of a New Heavens and New Earth.
The terms used by Paul (“above” and “on the earth”) and the word used by Hebrews (“heavenly”) are not spatially literal but point to two opposing ethical realms, indeed two antithetical world systems (with corresponding antithetical worldviews). In saying Christ and God are “above” does not mean they are absent from the earth or uninvolved with what happens in the world in which we live. Far less does our “heavenly” calling mean that we are to be unconcerned with this world, given the fact that God’s purpose is to redeem it and deliver it from the curse (see Romans 8:18ff.). Don't ever forget that we will live on a redeemed, new EARTH for all eternity!
So again, to be a person who has received a “heavenly calling”, a person who is commanded to seek and think about “things above” does not mean we are to ignore and neglect the daily affairs and responsibilities of life in the here and now. In saying that we should neither seek nor set our minds on "things on the earth" but rather live in accordance with our “heavenly calling” they are not suggesting that we refuse to mow the grass or take out the garbage or play with our kids or be punctual in our appointments. Rather, they are denouncing a carnal mindset, a perspective that is fixated on this world system to the exclusion of Christ and the kingdom of God.
So, when Paul refers to "things below" or "things on the earth" he has in mind that worldly system under the dominion of Satan, those values and goals and principles that conflict with the revelation of God in Scripture. "Things on the earth" are whatever is driven by pride, greed, lust, and disregard for the glory of God. “Heaven” and the “things above,” on the other hand, are whatever reflects the beauty of Christ, whether that be the changing of a diaper, sharing a meal with friends, or celebrating the Eucharist.
The "real" life of the Christian, the "true" life in the "Spirit" and the reality of living in accordance with our “heavenly calling” is not something we do in some distant realm, detached from and unconnected with the dirt and sweat and frustrations of trying to cope with other fallen folk and our own obligations to them (however onerous they may be). The "real," "true," "spiritual," “heavenly” life of the Christian is right here, right now, empowered by the exalted Christ with whom we are forever identified.
The certainty and hope of this heavenly calling does not hang suspended on our good works. Our heavenly calling is not conditioned on our righteousness. If it were, we would have no hope. No, our hope and confidence and the certainty of our salvation hang on Jesus. We are to consider “Jesus”! Don’t consider me. Don’t consider your church. Don’t consider your family or your possessions or your reputation. Don’t consider the fact that up until now you have not committed some scandalous public sin. Don’t “consider” anything but Christ!
Don’t pay him the courtesy of a passing glance. Don’t patronize him with an occasional thought. Be fully occupied and obsessed with Jesus Christ as the Apostle and High Priest of your confession. Do you acknowledge and bank everything on the truth that as your Apostle Jesus was sent to you and me to provide the only infallible revelation of who God is? Do you acknowledge and bank everything on the truth that as your High Priest Jesus alone can make atonement for your sin and bring you to God? If you can sincerely say Yes to those questions, it means you have been made the recipient of a “heavenly calling.” So live, love, talk, think, feel, and act like it!