It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ…

I love the Christmas season, and I love Christmas music too. I’m one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music way too early. One of my favorite slightly frivolous Christmas ditty’s is It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Penned in 1951 by Meredith Wilson, it’s been a holiday staple since its first iconic release. You’ve most likely heard it played many times. Admittedly, at first glance, at least, it isn’t the most Christ-centered Christmas tune. But its catchy melody is fun and family-friendly.

I recently heard It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, and it lodged in my brain and would not let go. We had a few snow dribbles that same day so that imagery combined with the song created a memorable Christmassy scene, which is a rarity in Atlanta. The song paints vivid word pictures of how stores, streets, hotels, landscapes, and people begin to show the not-so-subtle signs of transforming in preparation and anticipation of Christmas. Stores glisten, and streets glow, and kids hope. People’s visages visibly change, and winter snow dominates the scenery. The atmosphere described is beautiful, happy, transcendent, expectant, and surrounded by death.

It’s A Wonderful Death

Epiphany blindsided me on that wintery day as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas jangled around in my brain. While we’re beginning to look a lot like Christ, we are inevitably surrounded by the transformative beauty of death. Winter is the season of the completion of death. Throughout the fall season, leaves struggle to stay alive, and vegetation does its best to hold on, but winter finally wins, and old things pass away in preparation for new life. Philosophically, there’s a strange perceptual dichotomy at play in wintertime.

On the one hand, we can view winter as stark, harsh, and bleak. But, on the other hand, glowing lanes, candy canes, church bells, and carolers out in the snow can change our wintery perspective. All the joy mingled with the austerity of winter might seem enigmatic. However, it isn’t because we know the cold will give way to warmth, and new life will bloom in springtime. The inevitability of death precedes the miracle of life in the natural order of the universe.

The Visible Image of the Invisible Maker

The universe’s ability to produce new life from death isn’t by accident. The Maker of the universe designed it that way (Psalm 104:19), and He mirrored that same spiritual law in the lives of human beings. The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23). Because our sins deserved physical and spiritual death, He willingly died in our place (Romans 6:21-23).

The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23).

The cross displays a more remarkable perceptual dichotomy than anything else imaginable. Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us (Romans 5:8). In return, all Jesus requires of us is our death, burial, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10, Romans 6:3-8, Acts 3:19). Thankfully, we don’t have to die or be resurrected from a grave physically. Our death, burial, and resurrection are spiritual events made possible by the work of Jesus on our behalf (Acts 2:38).

Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us.

The Very Beginning of Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ

The Bible repeatedly teaches us that before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6). We brutally nail our sinfully embedded affections and lusts to a cross and allow them to perish (Galatians 5:24). God doesn’t force us to do this either. Furthermore, our carnal flesh hates the idea of dying to self.

Before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6).

Repentance is the only part of salvation that we must do completely alone. At baptism, someone else baptizes us in the saving name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). We consent to be baptized, and we participate in baptism, but we don’t perform it. Dead people don’t bury themselves because they are dead. Likewise, when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, which is our spiritual resurrection, we can’t fill ourselves (Acts 11:15). God pours out His Spirit on us and dwells within us (Acts 2:1-4, Ezekiel 36:27). Once again, we are merely participating and consenting to a Divine process. Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Hidden with Christ (From Life to Death to Life)

When we repent of our sins, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). And that isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Luke 9:23, Romans 6:1-23, Matthew 10:28, Colossians 2:20). When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26), it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Why? Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ (John 10:10, 2 Timothy 1:7, Acts 1:8, John 14:12). Consider what Paul said to the church in Colossae:

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:3

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition. Or, in other words, we are to be to them as if we were dead, and they had no more influence over us than the things of earth had over Him in the grave.[i]

But what does it mean to be “hidden” with Christ in God? Certainly, Paul was alluding to the idea of secrecy and safety in God. Our life and salvation are secure in God when we are dead to sin. But we are not literally hidden from the view of the world. No. The meaning here goes deeper than merely being out of sight. The term hidden (kekruptai) can also mean “concealed.” The implication here is that our life is unknown or not understood by the watching world. But these unseen realities will be revealed to the world by God in due time (1 John 3:1-2).[ii] The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

When we repent, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). That isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Lk 9:23, Rom 6:1-23, Mat 10:28, Col 2:20).

When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily, it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ.

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition.

The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

The Prettiest Sight to See

Therefore, as we begin to look a lot like Christ, which is what we are called to do (1 John 2:6, Galatians 3:27, Philippians 2:5), the dead weights of sin begin to fall off the branches of our lives (Hebrews 12:1, John 15:5, Romans 13:12, Ephesians 4:22-25). When the leaves of sin are falling one by one, we know that a joyous death is about to take place, and winter is coming. Old habits take their last gulps of air, fear and condemnation lie on their death beds, carnal thinking is being transformed, sinful dysfunctional relationships are severing, as the joy of salvation and holiness begin to take root amidst the chill. The death is harsh, tear-soaked, unrelenting, yet it’s one of the prettiest sights to see because Christ’s image is being made manifest in human life.


[i] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 24986.

[ii] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Max Anders, vol. 8 of Holman New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 327.

The Idolatry of the ‘Perfect’ Past

Some of you may be tiring of my incessant Screwtape inspired ramblings, and you are forgiven for those feelings. But allow this one last dalliance through The Screwtape Letters and the creative genius of C.S. Lewis. I’m pulling my thoughts from letter seventeen where the sly demon Screwtape describes an elderly woman who is manipulated by a demon named Glubose. Screwtape mischievously writes:

“The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-Want’ state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servants or any friend who can do these things ‘properly’—because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatable pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as ‘the days when you could get good servants’ but known only to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled.”

Lewis imaginatively strikes upon the demonic tactic of encouraging humans to idolize the past and trivialize the present, which jeopardizes the future. I call it the idolatry of the perfect past. This can be actualized in dozens of little ways. For some, it is manifested as a longing for a better time that actually never existed. We, humans, have a tendency to remember things through the fuzzy lens of what we wish they had been. This often obscures the painful realities of the distant past and ignores the fact that we too have changed. If you don’t believe me, imagine living without heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Undoubtedly, some things were better in the past, but they certainly were not perfect. Furthermore, different doesn’t always equal bad in the same way that new doesn’t always equal better. In essence, what we call perfection is usually a preference or a philosophical proposition. And there’s nothing wrong with having preferences unless our preferences become an idol.

Lewis speaks of an elderly woman who can’t enjoy food or fellowship because she perceives that nothing is prepared as perfectly as it was in the ‘good old days’. This may or may not have been the case. But her sin had nothing to do with her preferences, she had a right to those opinions up to a point. Rather, her sin was realized in the resulting mistreatment of the people around her due to her displeasure with the present. In other words, her idol made her ‘ill-tempered’. Beyond that, idolatry had blocked her vision so effectively she was incapable of recognizing the good or even—dare I say—the better things of the present.

Nasty temperament is the primary way you can tell that a preference has become an idol. Let’s take this discussion to church for just a moment: If you can’t worship in a service because your favorite song from yesteryear wasn’t featured you’ve probably turned the past into an idol. And, if it makes you mad and ill-tempered check your spiritual temperature because you have a fever. And, if you just threw your computer across the room its time to pray through. Now, having said that, you might be right! The new song you don’t like might not be as good as the old song you do like. We all have preferences, partialities aren’t the problem. However, if we can’t enjoy the good things or —dare I say—the less good things of the present because of the past we are in serious trouble.

I feel compelled to pause and state clearly that I love many things from my past. I even love things that predate my lifespan by hundreds of years. For those of you who might be wondering, I am not a hymn hater. In fact, I’m an old soul. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I have all kinds of preferences that go unmet on a regular basis, in and out of church settings. Let’s be honest, my preferences are better than your preferences. I’m just kidding. The point being, I’ve learned not to elevate my preferences above unity and personal relationships. The only exception to this rule is when my preferences are properly aligned with God’s Word and someone else’s preferences violate Scripture.

Let’s stir the pot and complicate the conversation for a moment: there are other similar types of idolatry that are equally dangerous. Brad Titus capably identifies one as The Idolatry of the Future. In this variation, peace can never be found in the present because something better is always in the future.

There is yet another variant, I call it the ‘idolatry of the present’. This mindset idolizes the new, the current, the ‘latest thing’ above all else. It marginalizes the past and robs the future of the depth and richness that can only be found in a healthy reverence for the good things of the past.

Young people who carry this idol exacerbate ‘the idolatry of the past’ within the hearts of elders. Their derision for the ‘old fashioned’ inflames reactionary passions. Meanwhile, those suffering under the miserable weight of ‘future idolatry’ sit around and long for better days that always seem just out of reach.

As you can see, disunity and strife are the real demonic agendas behind these three particular brands of idolatry. When saints elevate petty preferences above maintaining right relationships with people; churches become war zones rather than houses of worship. And, when people idolize what lies ahead nothing of value is accomplished in the present.

We smash these idols by honoring the past, celebrating the present, and embracing the future. This can be done. It must be done for the sake of unity and revival. Thriving churches honor the past without living there, celebrate new things that are good, and intentionally prepare for the future. 

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).”

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