The Proper Focus: Christ and the Life Above

by Mike Ratliff

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 ESV)

I am sure many of you reading this can identify with what I am about to say. The more we attempt to point the visible church away from the time wasting, world-focused, nonsense of this present evil-age, the more popular it seems to become in its hearts, minds, and eyes. I have seen some behind the scene plans by many so-called pastors to even bring their ministries into tighter focus with the secular to be even more involved with every aspect of government, entertainment, you name it, in the world. Of course, Emergence Christianity, which is simply a cult that is just another form of Christian Liberalism from the 19th Century, has no issues with this since it sees the ekklisia as containing the entire world anyway as per Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola in their new book Jesus Manifesto due to hit the stands June 1st of this year. Their publisher gave me an advanced copy of Jesus Manifesto last month in order to prepare a review for Possessing the Treasure.

I am about halfway through the book and have seen their agenda. While the writing is quite good, it is not exactly a theological book.  The problem I have with the book asserts itself in the chapter “A Bottle In the Ocean” in the section called “Manifesting The Mystery.” In this section, the writers describe our Lord’s crucifixion, but they totally misinterpret what happened there and at the resurrection. Instead of Christ being our propitiation which we see clearly in Romans 3:25, which purchased salvation that is available to those who believe the gospel by faith, Sweet and Viola have transformed the crucifixion and resurrection into a completely new creation for the entire world that is at peace with God. In other words our Lord’s death on the Cross is a propitiation for everyone, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, you name it. It does not matter. This changes the purpose of Christianity from that of spreading the gospel to one of changing the world, to making it a green, happy, peaceful place that our Lord will like when He returns. This is New Age/Post Modernism/Cultism, not Christianity. By the way, much of what I just shared in that chapter was supposedly taken from Colossians 3 from which we are getting ready to exegete the real Christian agenda.

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. (Colossians 3:1,2 ESV)

What does it mean that Christians “have been raised with Christ?”

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)

To be raised with Christ means that those who were formerly dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of their flesh have been made alive together with Christ by God who has forgiven them of those very trespasses. This forgiveness was a legal declaration of our indebtedness that would have sent us to Hell forever, but it was canceled by its being nailed to Christ’s Cross. That is what it means to have been raised with Christ. Since this is true, if it is true of you, then seek the things that are above where Christ is. This is speaking of seeking what is in Heaven rather than what is on earth. This refers to pursuing a deeper knowledge of Christ (Phil. 3:10) and all that belongs to living with and for Him.

3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3 ESV)

“We die daily,” said the apostle. This was the life of the early Christians; they went everywhere with their lives in their hands. We are not in this day called to pass through the same fearful persecutions: if we were, the Lord would give us grace to bear the test; but the tests of Christian life, at the present moment, though outwardly not so terrible, are yet more likely to overcome us than even those of the fiery age. We have to bear the sneer of the world-that is little; its blandishments, its soft words, its oily speeches, its fawning, its hypocrisy, are far worse. Our danger is lest we grow rich and become proud, lest we give ourselves up to the fashions of this present evil world, and lose our faith. Or if wealth be not the trial, worldly care is quite as mischievous. If we cannot be torn in pieces by the roaring lion, if we may be hugged to death by the bear, the devil little cares which it is, so long as he destroys our love to Christ, and our confidence in Him. It fears me that the Christian church is far more likely to lose her integrity in these soft and silken days than in those rougher times. We must be awake now, for we traverse the enchanted ground, and are most likely to fall asleep to our own undoing, unless our faith in Jesus be a reality, and our love to Jesus a vehement flame. Many in these days of easy profession are likely to prove tares, and not wheat; hypocrites with fair masks on their faces, but not the true-born children of the living God. Christian, do not think that these are times in which you can dispense with watchfulness or with holy ardour; you need these things more than ever, and may God the eternal Spirit display His omnipotence in you, that you may be able to say, in all these softer things, as well as in the rougher, “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” –C.H. Spurgeon

We must understand that boldness is what is called for. We are to be bold for Christ because our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We have died. If our focus is on what is above rather than what is below then w will have that heavenly view of things and will offend many, but will be used by God in His Kingdom in ways we could never imagine.

4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4 ESV)

Isn’t this the point? Our Christianity is not Fire Insurance my brethren. If that is all it is to you then you are a milquetoast Christian and your focus is on the here and now and not where it needs to be. God’s Word is the truth. Sola Scriptura is what defines the boundaries of what is truth and what is not and that means Sacred Scripture is the Bible and not the words of Brian McLaren or any other man. These men may indeed have popular ideas and gain followers who love them because they tickle their ears, but I promise you they are nothing but false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing who are leading many astray and I warn all reading this to stay away from them and what they are selling for it is poison.

Instead, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness with your focus on Christ and the life above. If you do that, you will lose your love for the “things” that ensnare our hearts in this world and will, instead, deeply desire to be with our Saviour above all things. Yes, I love my family. Yes, I find joy in what He provides for me. However, I also pray for Him to take me home to be with Him as soon as possible every day, but until then, give me the wisdom, discernment and all else that I need to live here in this life in such a way that will bring Him glory. I pray for the salvation of some family and friends. I pray that I will not have a seizure this day. I pray for the pain in my shoulders to be under control. I pray for guidance in this ministry. Instead of seeking to gratify my flesh, I listen to the White Horse Inn or The Dividing Line or John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul. In between much of this I participate in discussions with CRN friends. This helps us keep abreast to what is going on.

I have found that if I do these things as a priority that the world has little chance to ensnare me with its nonsense. Is this living with my focus on the life above rather than on the things that are on earth? I think so, but I am always seeking God’s wisdom in how I can do this better.

Soli Deo Gloria!






13 thoughts on “The Proper Focus: Christ and the Life Above

  1. Tears came as I read this post. Your words show me once again how much I have yet to learn in this walk of faith. They prompt me to lay aside every weight and run with endurance the race that is set before me (in the natural that would be nigh close to impossible, for I have severe nerve damage in my feet & lower legs) … but! In the spiritual, I shall indeed run!
    I am so very thankful to our Lord and our God for allowing me to learn these truths and be able to apply them, with His gracious help, to my life.

    In 1979 (I was 31 yrs old) I had an asthma attack so severe it put me into respiratory failure and then into a coma. I was in that state for 12 days and dr’s told my family that if I should live I would be in a vegetative state for the remainder of my life. I was not a Christian. In fact, the last conscious thing I remember before my lungs failed was that I was lost and on my way to hell, and was begging someone to pray with me. The story is long and I won’t go into it at this time, but I want you to know that in a very real sense I am more alive than I’ve ever been and yet, find myself dead to so much that I once thought was important. Does that make sense? God in His marvelous mercy not only allowed me to wake from the coma, but granted me the ability to say Yes to Him. I was paralyzed from the neck down when I woke up but gradually regained use of all my body. I live today with residual nerve damage from that time and have developed other health issues, but am so thankful to be His … to live in Him … that what I deal with here is but for a short time compared to eternity with Him.

    May God help us to die daily … and to live to Him.

    Thank you so very much Mike. You’re a blessing.


  2. Amen, Mike! I love the phrase hidden with Christ. This is where we are at home. We have new life from above and our life is in secret communion with him. By His grace He gives us more and more desire for Him, so that we view this world as not having anything to offer in comparison to knowing more of Him. Since I am hidden in Christ nothing can separate me from Him.


  3. You really need to be better acquainted with people before you pigeonhole them and lambast them based on the pigeonhole in which you’ve placed them. Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet have both been openly critical of the sort of theology coming out of Emergent Village. Sweet has particularly named Brian MacLaren as an object of criticism. They feel that this sort of ’emergent’ theology sounds like old fashioned liberal Protestantism with a fresh coat of deconstructionist paint. They share many of your concerns in this regard. In fact their book, with its explicit rejection on a focus on Jesus as a moral teacher or a political activist and its insistence on focusing on the person of Christ given to us in the Scriptures and pointed to in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as well as as the statement issued by the Council of Chalcedon is bound to draw fire from some ‘Emergent’ bloggers. I’m sure that you have some real disagreements wth Sweet and Viola but this isn’t one of them. In this post you’re firing on your allies.


  4. Frank,

    Interesting, since what I wrote was based exactly on what I read in that chapter. Also, I know that Leonard and Brian are very good friends, but I didn’t base what I said on that. There is much in the book that was doctrinally correct which was odd since it was also surrounded by things like this. To be considered my allies in the battle for the truth, the doctrine of the Cross of Christ, the handling of Romans 3:25 and propitiation of Christ for the elect, et cetera are non negotiable.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  5. Hi Mike,

    I just finished reading my advanced copy of The Jesus Manifesto yesterday. I was going to begin working on my review today and hopefully finish it by Friday or Saturday. Now, having read that you have a copy and that you are writing a review, I’m thinking that maybe I can just lay off, because you’ll probably write a better one than I. But I guess, I’ll still write one because they sent me a free advance copy as well.

    I was actually, really hopeful about the book; I mean, a book with the subtitle “Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ” is one that a pastor at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church can really jump for joy over. Nevertheless, it disappoints because, though there is a great deal in it that preaches just like I have for years, just as many of my reformed ministry brethren have for years, there is a fundamental problem that still remains at the core, and it seeps out toward the end when one recognizes the problem. They have a skewed view of the church, viz. statements such as this: “The world likes Jesus; they just don’t like the church. But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet they don’t like Jesus.” (pg. xxii, para. 4 of Introduction) This flows from a skewed view of the supremacy and sovereignty of the atoning work of Christ upon the cross. Though, they actually do a pretty fair job of presenting the cross of Christ on pages 29-30, they miss what Christ’s atoning blood has purchased, viz. the church of Jesus Christ. They are still of a mindset that is addressing a church that has many “professing” Christians in it but is not the truly redeemed church of Jesus Christ purchased by His precious blood.

    Anyway, blessings to you, my friend.



  6. Jon, brother, thank you for your comment. I am so glad you noticed the very same things that I did. I was beginning to think I was going nuts. Those pages 29-30 are the crux of the problem. Yes, they nailed it for what happened, but the purpose was totally skewed and that means that the mission of Christ’s incarnation was skewed and the mission of the Church is skewed. Sigh. I doubt if I could write a better review than you brother. I was so frustrated with the book that I had to talk with several counselors about it just to see if I was just misreading what I was seeing.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  7. “Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet have both been openly critical of the sort of theology coming out of Emergent Village. Sweet has particularly named Brian MacLaren as an object of criticism.”

    Could you please point us to where.


  8. this is so timely Mike, for me. So many days i think to myself how little “balance” i have in life, trying to decide which problem or issue i need to focus most on, and trying to set priorities on everything. Everything vying for my time and thought-energy. Can you guess where Christ and bible study fall most times? not at the top. You’ve spoken it straight to my heart. CHRIST and HIM alone should be my #1 priority. Sobering. Take care friend.


  9. Ken, I may be miss-reading, but it seems as though Mike wasn’t “lumping” Brian McLaren in with Sweet and Viola, but was using him as another example of false-gospel proponent.


  10. Pingback: Jesus Manifesto – a book review « Justification by Grace

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