We Become What We Behold
Series: Stand-Alone Sermons
The big idea of our passage this morning is: we become what we behold. Based on Jared Mellinger’s book Think Again, Pastor Matt looks at five areas of life where the gospel frees us from beholding ourselves so that we can behold Christ and become more like Him: identity, self-esteem, doubt, goodness, and confession.
Think Again: Relief From the Burden of Introspection by Jared Mellinger
One of the greatest challenges that we all face, regardless of personality type, is that we are constantly turning inward. We all suffer under the burden of thinking about ourselves too much. One form of thinking too much of ourselves that some of us imbibe excessively is introspection. I’ve suffered under the burden of excessive introspection my entire life. My dad was forty-three when I was born, so growing up I always had the oldest dad among my friends. Instead of being proud that my dad was the son of an immigrant who didn’t even finish junior high school, somehow made his way through law school, and was a responsible, self-less provider to me and my siblings, I was obsessed with my dad’s age. When my family would go out to eat, I would scan the restaurant for kids from school, terrified that they’d see me with my dad and that I’d be embarrassed by his age. It was an awful, self-imposed burden and a lesser man than my dad would have been crushed by it. Even after I was radically saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ in high school, the burden of introspection continued. To this day, my greatest temptation is the constant turn inward with excessive thoughts about myself. I replay sermons, conversations, meetings, sins, weaknesses, and failures in my head, worrying about what I said and left unsaid, and how pleased or displeased others might be with me. I’m regularly tempted to over-analyze the godliness of my motives, the health of my marriage, the state of my parenting, the impact of our ministry, the efficiency of my schedule, and if everything is working out according to my plans. In all the turning inward and all the thoughts about myself, it’s the Lord, and his love, grace, and joy, that is quickly crowded out. Because of the constant temptation to turn inward, a mentor of mine recently recommended that I read the book Think Again: Relief From the Burden of Introspection by Jared Mellinger, who serves as the Senior Pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church out in Glenn Mills. I’ve never met Jared, but his book has helped me see both the burden of unhealthy introspection and the freedom that the gospel of Jesus Christ has to offer. This entire sermon is plagiarized from Jared’s insights and illustrations J. Jared – I hope you don’t mind!
The ultimate reason why we are so preoccupied with ourselves is because we are not sufficiently occupied with Christ. As Martin Lloyd-Jones writes in his book Spiritual Depression, “There is only one way to get rid of self, and this is that you should become so absorbed in someone or something else that you have no time to think about yourself.” Some introspection can be healthy, but as McChayne says, “for every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” This brings me to the one verse I want to explore and apply with you this morning. 2 Corinthians 3:18: 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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. What does this verse mean? In case you’re wondering, I can assure you that this verse has nothing to do with wearing masks in church. The background for this verse is the Old Testament book of Exodus, when Moses, Israel’s leader, would meet with the Lord “face-to-face.” When Moses would meet with the Lord, Moses’ face would glow with the glory of the Lord. This glow would frighten the Israelites. Therefore, after meeting with the Lord, Moses would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites would not see the glory of the Lord in the glow of Moses’ face. What does this have to do with us? Paul says that we all live behind a veil of unbelief. Apart from the miraculous work of the Spirit, we cannot behold the glory of Jesus. But when the veil of unbelief is removed by the Spirit, we are able to gaze upon and behold the glory of Jesus. But don’t miss the result of beholding the glory of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that when we behold Jesus with the eyes of faith, we are transformed, we become more like Him, from one degree of glory to another, that is progressively over time as we behold him more and more. This brings us the big idea of our passage and our time together this morning: We become what we behold. Friends, beholding ourselves, thinking about ourselves, analyzing ourselves, and being concerned about ourselves is making us miserable. We become what we behold. We need a renewal of our minds. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” As we renew our mindset by learning to behold the love, kindness, endurance, patience, and grace of Jesus, we will know the joy of forgetting ourselves and becoming more like the One we truly love. We become what we behold. Now, I want to get practical with you by exploring five areas of life where the gospel frees us from beholding ourselves so that we can behold Christ and become more like Him. Each of these five are from Jared’s book and have proven massively fruitful for me.
I love the movie The Borne Identity in which Matt Damon plays a former CIA agent named Jason Borne, who suffers from amnesia and is desperate to figure out who he really is without getting himself killed. Like Jason Borne we are all trying to find who we truly are. Because of our temptation to constantly look inward, we tend to believe that the most important things about us are unique to us. But it isn’t true. Colossians 2:3 says, “…Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, including knowledge of your identity, are not found by looking in yourself but by beholding Christ. It’s by beholding Christ, not ourselves, that we find out who we truly are. Christ is the sunlight by which we see ourselves. In the sunlight of Christ, you see that you have ultimate dignity because you were created in God’s image to be like Him and represent Him. Genesis 1:27-28: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” You bear the image of God and have ultimate dignity. In the sunlight of Christ, you see your inestimable value. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” You are of inestimable value because though you merit nothing, God has given you everything, new life, in Christ. In the sunlight of Christ ,you see that you’re completely new and not defined by your past. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” In the sunlight of Christ, you see your ultimate destiny. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” No matter how insecure your near future seems, your eternal future is secure in Jesus. Do you want to know who you truly are? Don’t look inside. Behold Christ, see yourself in the sunlight of the Son, and you’ll become more like Him.
Jared Mellinger points out that one powerful commentary on constant turn inward is the selfie stick. Whether the selfie we post is intentionally attractive or unattractive, there is little doubt that self is at the center of the selfie. And once self is an idol, we’ll either view ourselves as awesome or as a failure, but either way self will be at the center. That’s why self-loathing attitudes cannot be overcome by replacing them with self-confident attitudes, and it’s also why prideful attitudes cannot be overcome by replacing them with self-deprecating attitudes. As Jared Mellinger says, “It is through the gospel alone that the idol of self is displaced, as Jesus silences our self-hatred and self-esteem.” How does the gospel do that? Tim Keller is helpful here: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously sinful and lost, yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad that he had to die for me, and I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deep humility and confidence at the same time. When we behold Christ, all our joy-zapping self-concern begins to evaporate. This is what happened to John the Baptist. One day some of John the Baptist’s disciples and some religious leaders pointed out to John that everyone was beginning to flock to Christ and not him. But John knew Christ, loved Christ, and was so taken with thoughts of Christ that he had no room for joy-zapping self-concern. Instead John said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Receive these freeing words from Jared Mellinger, “Those with high self-image enjoy the praise they receive and think, I am awesome. Those with low self-image often want to receive praise they are not receiving and think, I am worthless. But through the idol-destroying power of the gospel, ‘I am awesome’ and ‘I am worthless’ give way to ‘Lord, I will praise you.’ Go to Christ and behold his glory. Let self-absorption give way to Christ-absorption. We become what we behold.
If you’ve ever been forcibly detained, you know how terrifying and despairing it can be. When I was in graduate school traveling through the Middle East, I was briefly detained by myself at a border crossing. It was unnerving precisely because it felt like there was no way out. That’s what doubt can be like. When we experience doubt, we quickly turn inward and feel trapped by self-preoccupation and self-condemnation. The real horror of doubt is that it leads to a sense of despair because in all our looking inward, our souls refuse to be comforted. But there is a key that can fling open the dungeon door of doubt. In Pilgrim’s Progress the key that rescues Christian from Doubting Castle is called Promise. As John Owen says, “The life and soul of all our comforts lie treasured up in the promises of Christ.” So, very practically, if you’re struggling with doubt and the despair that often accompanies doubt, don’t look inside, run to the promises of Christ. and are trapped by self-preoccupation and self-condemnation, do not look inward. Instead behold Christ and the promises he has made to you in His Word. (Read from pages 62-63 about how to do this practically). If you’re trapped, don’t turn in, instead behold Christ and you’ll become progressively more like Him until the day when he comes again and performs the final rescue! We become what we behold.
Beholding Christ includes gazing with thanksgiving at the good that he is doing in and through us. Rather than introspecting our every motive, we are meant to look outward to Christ and see his pleasure in our goodness. The puritan Richard Sibbs beautifully says that we need to know our own graces. He explains, “A Christian should not only examine his heart for the evil that is in him, to be humbled; but also examine his heart for what good there is, that he may joy and be thankful.” Jared Mellinger writes, “This examination of our hearts and lives for what is good, followed by joyful thanksgiving to God, is one of the ways we resist morbid introspection.” So often, we live with a constant sense of God’s displeasure. I would hate for my children to press through life feeling that I’m disappointed in them and such feelings are not the Father’s will for us! I love the ways Hebrews 6:10 puts it: For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. The Father does not overlook your work and love you have shown for his name and for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and neither should you. Look at your work and then behold Christ who is at work in you so that you can work for his good pleasure. When you do good, don’t be self-deprecating or proud. Instead, behold Christ with thankfulness and you’ll become more like Him.
Confession of sin is a profound path to beholding and enjoying Christ our mighty Savior. Too often instead of beholding the mercy and tenderness of Christ in confession, we truncate confession through pretending our sin is no big deal and quickly moving on from it or performing to make up for it. Pretending and performing turns us inward, causing us to miss beholding the grace of Christ and gratitude for our salvation through confession. 1 John 1:9 points us in a far healthier and more joyous direction: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John Stott is exactly right when he says, “There is nothing morbid about the confession of sins, so long as we go on to give thanks for the forgiveness of sins. It is fine to look inwards, so long as it leads us immediately to look outward and upwards again.” I struggle with persistent guilt over my sins. I often lose sleep over it. The answer is not for me to look inward and try to rationalize that I’m a decent guy and my sins aren’t so bad. There is no life in there. Life is found when I look outward from my great sins to my Savior whose mercy is greater still. It’s when I behold the grace of Christ that is greater than my sins that I become more like Him in holiness and joy.
As we close, let me leave you with a few practical means of grace that can pull you out of yourself and toward beholding Christ.
- Nothing quite pulls us out of ourselves like gathering with God’s people and singing His praises.
- Church provides a safe place to talk about the burden of introspection. Church reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Church provides a place to lose yourself in the joy of loving and serving others.
- Spending time in the beauty of God’s creation pulls us outside of ourselves in the grandeur and magnitude and beauty of God.
- Prayer and Scripture. When we bring our cares to the Lord and receive his revelation, we are pulled out of our negative narratives and self-centered thoughts.
- Taking thoughts captive. I have the tendency to plow through my day at a breakneck speed, trying to accomplish as much as possible. The result is that my self-thoughts pile up all day without any prayer or processing. So, now I try to pause at key transitions throughout the day the bring my thoughts captive to obey Christ and receive his word again. I notice how I’ve been thinking about myself and turn those thoughts out to Christ.
Friends, the Father loves you, the Son died and rose for you, and the Spirit awakened you to believe and be forever saved so that you can be free from the burden of constantly turning inward and thinking about everything in reference to yourself. Your past no longer defines you, your sins no longer reign over you, your future is unspeakably bright and Christ has done it all. So, for every look at yourself take ten looks to Christ, behold Him, and you’ll become more like Him. Full of joy!