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Does God care what you look like? Part 2: No!

You might have heard the phrase "the now and the not yet" or something along those lines, perhaps during a Bible study or sermon. It's often a helpful way to categorise the difference between our status and our experience as Christians. Which is, in some ways, one of the most frustrating aspects of the Christian life - that though we are justified, we are not yet glorified (although we are being sanctified).

What justification means is that God sees the Christian as he sees Christ - perfect, sinless, spotless, righteous. And of course, in that legal sense, we do have a new status before God. In his eyes justified people have shifted categories from "sinner under condemnation" to "saint, no longer under condemnation". As complete and perfect as he intended us to be.

That truth can be frustrating, however, in the sense that it doesn't fully match up to our current Christian experience (yet). Our status and our experience are often at odds with each other. We know we are justified, and that gives us assurance and hope and joy. But until Christ returns, or we die to go and be with him (and thus become glorified), we still exist in this fallen cursed world with our fallen cursed bodies, which means we will never be able to fully attain to the height of our justified status in this present life. Do you see - there is a "now" and a "not yet" - speaking about the difference between status and experience. In this life, we will, of course, be able to defeat sin by the power of the Spirit, which we call sanctification. But not completely. Until the day we die, there will always be a battle to be fought. So whilst there will be joy, there will also be frustration (the "now") as we long for the perfection (the "not yet") we will one day have, yet strive against the sin in us that wages war against us now. (This war within us is a good thing, just to be clear. People, within whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell, do not endure this conflict. Yet it is frustrating and often hard going, nonetheless, despite being reassuring, also).

So, how does this relate to the topic in question concerning how we look?

Well, I think this "now and not yet" idea helps us understand that because we are under a fallen and cursed experience of life, we have to adjust our expectations of reality slightly. And that means living a little bit differently than perhaps we feel we ought to. For example, when we become glorified, residing in heaven alongside Christ and the saints in that perfect existence we're promised, we will not have to practice things like repentance or forgiveness. That's because we will be actually sinless. We won't sin against God or anyone else and we won't be sinned against. As such, we won't need to repent or forgive. There will be nothing to repent of and nothing to forgive. The reason we practice repentance and forgiveness now is because we do sin against God and each other, and we are sinned against. Therefore, we need to repent of our sin, forgive those who sin against us. Doing this works to save the relationships we share in and better prepares us for heaven. In heaven, all relationships will be unbroken ones. We will bear no grievance with one another. So repentance and forgiveness now, in part at least, serve to bring our Christian experience of life now, up to the standards of glorification that we aspire to and hope for. Doing these things prepares us for heaven, and allows us to have a little taste of what it will be like there. Even though we know we will fail often (yet succeed often by the grace of God and the work of the Spirit), we seek to live up to the standards of our future glorified state in order to 1) demonstrate to the world that Christ changes people, 2) to promote the beauty of holiness in our lives that can make the Christian life attractive to unbelievers, 3) to make life more pleasant for ourselves in this life and 4) to glorify God through our obedience and thus affirming his greatness, serving as a declaration of faith. Even though we won't do it perfectly, as we are told in 1 Samuel ch16 v 7: God looks on the heart - that's what he cares about.

So, in our sinful states, we must adapt our lifestyles in a way that seek to prepare us for heaven, aid our sanctification, and enable us to persevere. Until we make it to our deathbeds with the song of faith still resounding in our hearts, we cannot afford to take our faith for granted with things that could potentially distract us from a work of grace in our lives.

From our point of view, salvation is still at stake and we don't want to drift into presumptive complacency - giving into those lurking sinful tendencies and inclinations. Paul, of course, warns about sinning more that grace may abound. With this in mind, we need to recognise that we need to be careful when taking liberty to pursue things that don't directly aid sanctification. And as we grow in our Christian lives, we see that there are certain pursuits that are more worthy than others. Some things - even things that might be good for us.

This now and not yet dichotomy means that whilst we are saved, we are still able to sin, and the world around us is still ripe for idolatry to us. The temptation to make idols out of wood or stone or the created order, or to be more relevant to the topic - fashion - is still at large. And so we've got to be weighing up the value of such a pursuit, knowing our frames. We must learn to exercise wisdom in discerning whether interest in something like the way we look is a worthy use of our energy. Is it going to aid sanctification? Is it going to serve the purposes of kingdom growth? Is it going to glorify God? And so when it comes to our appearances, whilst the aesthetic realm is important and exists for a reason as I discussed in the last post, we also see in the Bible a lot of wisdom related to how we should dress and how much energy we should put into the way we look (and other people and things, for that matter). Because, frankly, we don't get into heaven by having beautiful bodies, we get into heaven by having pure souls.

The most obvious place to go in the Bible to help us here is 1 Peter chapter 3. Peter, addressing wives, exhorts them to not put a lot of effort and energy, time and money into adorning their outward appearances. It's not that he doesn't want the beauty of God that is inherent in their bodily existence to be hidden, it's that he wants them to be most beautiful in a different way. He will, of course, hope that physical beauty is displayed and enjoyed to all its glory in the proper context of marital intimacy - there is a place for beautification. But his point here, really, is that he wants the beauty of the character from renewed, sanctified hearts to be displayed more fully. As evidence of their salvation - the thing that's most important - the thing that lasts and has eternal significance. And no doubt Peter has in mind the fact that it's physical creation that will pass away. Stuff in the aesthetic realm, we could say. God isn't going to destroy the eternal stuff - our souls. But our bodies, our clothes, our world, will be burned up and replaced with new. That's why we're promised new bodies. Because these ones aren't so important right now. Bodies, in general, are important, hence the fact that we do have them and new ones will come. But that does mean we don't need to pay a lot of attention to them. You see, God doesn't promise us a new soul. New body, yes. New souls, no! What he promises for our souls is salvation, as Peter says in 1 Peter 1. Souls don't get replaced with new ones, they get redeemed. They get transformed. They get fixed and made right again. They can't die, and God won't destroy them. They are eternal. They are his image in us. And what Peter means here, is that if a woman (or man) is pursuing the beauty of her appearance over the beauty of her soul, she likely has a misplaced sense of identity and a lack of hope in the gospel. If you are concerned to ensure you are wearing makeup, have all your jewellery on and can afford those designer jeans, and generally look as good as possible (a man problem, too), you likely will feel frustrated and distressed if are unable to achieve the desired results. That type of response would reveal a heart that is affirmed by and finds value in looking beautiful. And that, in turn, is likely to be because you don't hope in the gospel like you ought to. It suggests that you long for yourself the glory that is due to God; that you long to be affirmed now, because you're not really sure if you will be, later. A lack of hope. Unfortunately, a pre-occupation with our appearances can be a distraction to us. Instead of cultivating a heart that grows in assurance, and a life that grows in holiness, it can lead us to cultivate a mindset that longs for "our best life now" to the neglect of our best life when Christ returns or calls us home.

This isn't to say that it's impossible for someone who has the opportunity to dress well or notice someone else dressed well and then give glory to God for the beauty he's left in the created order for us - which would actually a sanctifying experience. And that's also not to say that something like fashion is always evil - perhaps it's related to your job and thus secures an income that provides for your family and supports your church. But in a looks-obsessed culture, I think it's almost impossible to find satisfaction enough to not be left feeling like our looks are our problem and the way to fix them is to look good. In fact, the self-examination that notices physical defects and blemishes - however big or small - should lead us to think of our hearts. There is much about our physical appearances that can be linked to the fall. And just as C.S Lewis suggested that suffering is a megaphone to a def world, so the defects in our outward appearance are a signal to the defects of our inner beings - our hearts. And we should be far more concerned with our hearts than our sleeves. Because you can change the way you look. Many, many times and in extreme ways. But you cannot change your own heart. And so as Christians, our energies need to be directed toward seeking out the God who can change our hearts. And you know, God promises a new body to believers. And this is his grace to us because it affords us the freedom to ignore physical beauty now and instead, devote the time you would spend on maintaining it, to spiritual disciplines that can progress your sanctification and work towards the security of your spiritual future - in the sense that Paul says "work out your salvation with fear and trembling".

So no. God doesn't care what you look like. You won't get into heaven on the merits of a straight nose or Levi's jeans. But you will get into heaven and earn treasure for when you get there on the basis of holiness and by devoting your self to the type of devotional life and obedient Christian living by which the Holy Spirit can work in your life to ensure that you persevere.

Photo by Mariya Georgieva on Unsplash


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