“We demolish arguments and every motive that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6
To “be like Christ” is never to be mistaken as a strictly outward project. Decidedly choosing discipleship is to decidedly turn your attention inward. As one progresses, the simple focus on transforming outward actions and behaviors moves to include transforming every thought, every feeling, every judgment, every attitude, and every motive.
No one argues that these are found inside of us, as is the Kingdom of God (Lk 17:21). So it is here, folks, that you must go – into the inner world of thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes and beliefs – if the greatest Kingdom success is to be achieved in and through you.
It is effective, horrible work.
Effective because these inner inhabitants are the source of your outward behaviors that seemed before so hard to permanently change. As you advance in the skill of inward surrender to Christ (you could call this your own crucifixion), the Kingdom’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and motives crowd out your fallen ones, and you quite naturally begin to behave outwardly in alignment with Christ. So, this is effective.
Horrible because when you do exhibit an outward behavior that is not aligned with Christ, you are now quite sensitive to the fact that this superficial and relatively insignificant action is evidence of a much deeper and profound problem: there are still inward parts of you that have not been given over to God and to love.
Before, when you began your journey into Christlikeness, you explained your outward failures with the truth that your sins are forgiven, even when you “fall”. You learned to not feel guilt, receive God’s potent grace, and accept yourself as an imperfect sinner who will always fall in one manner or another. You learned that in terms of your eternal security, your imperfection is not a serious issue. This took time to grow into, partly because it is such good news that it is hard to believe, but partly because you also knew that your sinfulness is, in fact, a very serious issue. But if not because it threatens your eternal security, then why?
Your “falls” matter because you have grown to care about pleasing God.
See, when you advance, and you learn to spend time with Christ within yourself, where he resides and works powerfully (Col 1:27-29), you learn that his aim is nothing short of perfecting you, for your own good and God’s pleasure and glory. And as you are converted further, you begin to follow Christ not merely for the selfish desire of Heavenly security, but out of a selfless desire to love and please God.
As this conversion happens, you find yourself less and less able to remain in the theological hiding place that you fled to as a spiritual child (the one that says, “Don’t dare aim for or believe that you can be perfect, for you are merely human. You are not and never will be Jesus Christ”).
When this begins to happen, it is important for you to accept something and allow it to happen: Your reasonable side is being overcome by your belief.
This belief in your perfection comes not because of some high estimation of yourself or your ability, on the contrary, it comes from your high estimation of Christ and his ability. It is from humility, not arrogance, that you must come to believe in your own perfection. In other words, humility insists that your ability to sin is not more powerful than Christ’s ability to love and transform. When you are humble and lowly enough to admit this, you read the Bible differently, at face value, believing it rather than explaining it away with your earth-bound logic and reason.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt 5:48
“You have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10
“My power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Cor 12:9
“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Heb 10:14
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – Jms 1:4
“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – 1 Jn 2:6
The blessing of the inner life is that we are free to believe, our frequent failures notwithstanding, that these things (perfection, fullness, holiness, maturity, completeness, Christlikeness) are indeed attainable. And we can do so without fear of thinking too highly of ourselves simply because we have finally allowed for the fact that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), and we have humbly admitted that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
The curse of the inner life is that we can no longer console ourselves that it is insignificant when we behave or think wrongly, which is any action outside of the realm of love for God and neighbor. It is a tortuously narrow road you walk, but not because you must fear losing salvation (which is also an arrogant position, by the way, to think that your sin is more powerful than your Savior’s blood), but because you fear hurting people, and worse, you fear misrepresenting Christ – who is your life.
So here is to the blessing and curse of the inner life – the life of the Kingdom – the life of Christ – the Christ who lives in you.
May God help us all.