An Image That Gives Life

There is a question that the host of a podcast I listen to loves to ask her guests: “What is something you have seen, heard or tasted recently that you can’t stop telling other people about?” It is a great question and I enjoy hearing the varied answers. If we were to ask that question to every living creature in heaven, they would say, “The Lamb who was slain. We just can’t stop marveling at the Lamb.”

Indeed, John says that,

“Myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands worship Him with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, cries out: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5: 12, 13)

I love these glimpses into Heaven’s worship and it thrills my soul to think one day I will join that choir, singing those same songs with enraptured and undivided adoration to the Lamb who was slain. I am so thankful that one day my heart “will be so consumed with [You] that [I] will never cease to praise.”

But what about the here and now? If someone were to ask me, “What is something or someone you can’t stop thinking about?” and I were to honestly answer it, I would have to say that often I can’t stop thinking about myself. When I suspect sin or failure in my heart, it is very tempting to make it all about me. I want to admire myself, so I spend time in front of the mirror – obsessing.  “Should I have said that?” “Should I clarify what I meant when I said…?” “Did I ask good questions?” “Did so and so feel loved by me?” “How does my daughter feel about our relationship?” “Was I too distracted on the phone today?” Those thoughts are often accompanied by a measure of anxiety when I realize I am not enough and that I fail. Sometimes thoughts go from wondering whether I should have done something, to actually being convicted of pride, impatience, jealousy, lust. Those thoughts come with a sense of dismay and deep discouragement at my propensity to sin and at my lack of progress.

Staring at the mirror, only to find self looking back at me, does not give me life. In fact, the more I obsess in front of the mirror, the less strength I have. It feels like the mirror is crushing me under its weight and I can’t get up. There really is no hope in a narcissistic preoccupation with self.

How about you? Have you ever felt similar defeat, burdened by your sin? How do we fight sin without making it all about us? How do we make much of Jesus in our struggle against sin?

  1. Stop Looking Inward

Paul says in Romans 6: 6 that the old self has been crucified with Christ. Our sin-ridden self is dead. It has no power over us. We have a saying in the Dominican, where I am from, that goes like this: “There are looks that kill.” It means that certain looks we give people are so full of hatred and anger that would kill people if they could. In the same way, “there are sights that kill.” The principle stands true – I become like what I worship (Psalm 115: 8). Looking at my dead self does not give life. The more I am consumed with the life of my old self, the more its death envelops me.

My old self – my narcissistic, fearful, jealous, obsessive, dead self- has eyes but can’t really see God’s glory, ears but can’t really hear of his love for me. The more I stare at it, the more I am vulnerable to sin. So I give in. So I loathe myself even more as I keep staring at the mirror and all I see is weakness and failure.

It is a death-producing cycle. Let’s stop staring at self!

  1. Look To Jesus and Live

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But praise God! When I start drowning in the sea of self-contemplation, there is An Image that gives me life. It is the image of the Living One. The One who died yet is alive forevermore.

He is the One who was raised like the Serpent in the desert, who even though knew no sin, yet became sin so we could become the righteousness of God. The only way we find and continue to taste eternal life is by putting our faith in the Son of Man (John 3: 14-16).

He is truly glorious! John saw the Risen Christ as the Lion of the tribe of Judah who has conquered and as a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain (Rev. 5: 5-6). I can almost hear Handel’s majestic “Worthy is the Lamb” as I see the myriads of myriads falling at His feet in passionate adoration.

This glorious Christ is our life. Because of our union with Him, the Gospel startles us by telling us that in a way, when we now look at the mirror with faith, Christ looks back. He is our new image (Eph. 4: 20, 24). He took our sin and shame and has given us His righteousness (Rom. 4: 24-25). Friend- can you believe this? The real and lasting us is perfect like Jesus. He has given us his honor – we are seated with God in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6).

Life Changing Advice

At the same time, in the already/not yet tension, we are not perfect. Our experience has not yet caught up with the reality of who we are in Christ. We are still in the process of looking more like Christ. Christ-likeness, though -putting to death what is earthly in us- does not happen when we look at the mirror and see ourselves. It happens as we behold the glory of the Lord.  “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3: 18). Thank God the principle is still true: We become like what we worship! Adoring our Risen Savior we find life as He lives in us.

So instead of obsessing over our dead self, the only worthy occupation of our soul is to pursue being consumed with the glorious Christ. A friend gave me this advice that has changed my life: “Instead of spending your day obsessing over your sin, distressed by your fear, pride or jealousy, spend your days obsessing with Christ. Do that by pondering how He is the opposite of your sin. Do you find yourself tempted to fear? Study the Word to learn how Christ is fearless. Pride? Then look in the Scriptures for all the ways where you see Christ’s humility.”

Doing this has opened God’s Word to me in powerful ways. I have tasted more deeply its riches, as it shows me how beautiful Jesus is. There is none like Him! He is emboldening me by Jesus’ fearlessness as I read the Psalms through Christ as the greater David. He is making me hate and neglect my pride as I ponder his humility in the Incarnation. The Lord is melting my cold, self-seeking heart as I contemplate Jesus’ sacrificial, selfless love in Philippians. The Spirit is fueling my service as I see in Hebrews how he serves us through His High- priestly work. He is strengthening my faith as I consider Jesus’ hopeful faith in His Father in Psalms, Acts and Hebrews. And I have wept with joy as I’ve studied Jesus’ relationship with His Father and see it is mine too because Jesus has shared His sonship with me! As Mrs. Campbell says to Katherine in one of my favorite books, Stepping Heavenward – “To learn Christ, this is life!”

Because He is our life, his humility, patience, fearlessness, and faith is ours. Friend – we have no reason to despair and much reason to boast – Christ is our righteousness. It is exciting to think we will spend the rest of our life –into Eternity- learning Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2: 4). O come, let us adore Him.

“No other throne endures. No other song remains, but ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was for sinners slain!’” He has already been coronated so we have every reason to join that choir again today, consumed by the praise of the One who alone is worthy. Let’s study his Word and be diligent to learn Christ. May our one obsession become not ourselves, but the Son whom angels adore, the slain Lamb who reigns forevermore: the Risen One who is our life.

 

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