Sinful asceticism is described in Colossians 2:20-23. Here Paul has in mind those who impose man-made rules concerning the body and one’s behavior as a means for enhancing one’s relationship with God.
Paul finds fault with this approach to the Christian life on several grounds, including the fact that such rules are man-made, not divinely given. These rules, prohibitions and self-denial that spring from man’s own religious creativity are utterly ineffective in curbing the desires of the flesh (see v. 23).
But Paul does have a remarkably simple remedy for fleshly indulgence. It is found in Colossians 3:1-2: “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (NASB, emphasis added).
Holiness, in this case the ability to say no to the flesh, comes from a mind captivated and controlled by the beauty and majesty of the risen Christ and all that we are in Him in the heavenlies!
The apostle is not averse to calling us away from the earthly temptations of the flesh. But only because he has something incomparably more glorious to which he has already called us—namely, Jesus and the grandeur of heaven.
Beholding His Glory
Becoming like Jesus is the fruit of beholding Jesus. We will take on the characteristics, values and qualities of whatever we most cherish and to which we devote our hearts and minds.
This is Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 3:18 when he says that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
I believe the transforming vision of the glory of Jesus is found in the anointed portrayal of Him in holy Scripture. When we drink from the fountain of Scripture, Jesus comes alive in our souls, and His beauty and loving presence are indelibly stamped on our hearts.
Paul’s mirror analogy speaks of an experience wherein we are transformed from our fallen and rebellious image into that of Jesus Himself. “Seeing” Jesus in the Word effects an inward change in the core of our souls and transforms the disposition of our hearts in terms of what we love, desire, cherish and hate.
Would that this change might happen once and for all, forever putting to rest the daily struggle! But this experience of sanctification is progressive, taking us from one stage of glory to another.
Hoping in Him
Whereas the indirect vision of Christ in Scripture sanctifies us progressively, seeing Him face to face in the future will sanctify us wholly. In either case, it is our apprehension of Christ that sanctifies (see 1 John 3:2-3).
There is some dispute as to the precise causal relationship between the vision of Christ and our final glorification. Some argue that holiness is a prerequisite to the vision of Christ and thus must precede it.
More likely, though, is the view that when Christ appears the Father will unleash a power in His people that will forever expel all sinful impulses from their souls and replace them with the mind, will, disposition and character of Christ Himself.
The possession now of such hope—securely fixed upon Him—is the strongest imaginable incentive to purity of life. Simply stated, the Christian hope is incompatible with moral indifference. The mind that is singularly fixed on meeting Jesus at His return will discover a renewed power to pursue righteousness.
This transformation will go far beyond a mere alteration of how we act and talk and look. We will not merely decline to sin; we will despise sin itself.
It takes my breath away to think of a day when my mind will be utterly free and void of greedy, lustful, envious, bitter thoughts. It’s not that in heaven I’ll have the strength I now lack to say no to sin. I won’t need the strength because I’ll forever be delivered of a nature that could even want to sin.
Oh, for the day when our hearts will instinctively recoil from the slightest contact with sin. Oh, for the day when, upon seeing Jesus, we will forever disdain contamination by the world, the flesh and the devil.
John’s vision is thus of an intense, inner purification from sin because of a deep sensibility to it. And those who now long for that moment, who have fixed their hope on that day, whose souls now pant for the presence of Jesus, purify themselves now even as Jesus Himself is pure (see 1 John 3:3).
Personal transformation is the product, not so much of seeing the ugliness of sin as of seeing the beauty of the Savior. Fix your eyes on the One who is pure, gentle and merciful, who endured so much for us. Consider Jesus. Meditate on Him.
Sam Storms is associate pastor at Metro Christian Fellowship in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of numerous books, including The Singing God (Creation House). He desires to see the Word and the Spirit united in the lives of all believers. Adapted from Pleasures Evermore by Sam Storms, copyright © 2000. Published by NavPress. Used by permission.
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