What do you see when you look in the mirror? Snow White’s evil stepmother, who turned out to be a witch on top of being an evil stepmother, saw herself as the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Of course, she had to enchant the mirror to get it to tell her that.
My mirror doesn’t talk to me, thank God, but it does render a remarkably high-definition rendering of my image, although a bit reversed. And that image, even if it weren’t reversed, is not the most beautiful person in the land. What I see is an aging, balding, fattening, half-sleepy lout. More than that, I see a selfish, greedy, rather vain screw-up who despite a lifetime of trying to “overcome sin,” still seems, from time to time, to lose his temper, act rudely, shade the truth, and behave in any number of negative ways that I despise.
Not everyone would see my reflection that way. Some would probably see an average, generally pleasant sort of fellow one might not mind having dinner with or going to a ball game with. That’s because they don’t know me the way I know myself. I’m glad they don’t.
Paul tells us that what we see in the mirror is not what we really are — we see only a poor reflection of the real us.
But there is one who sees me radically differently from the way I see myself or the way others see me. The apostle Paul refers to that in 1 Corinthians 13:12, when he says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Paul is telling us that what we see in the mirror is not what we really are — we see only a poor reflection of the real us. But the day is coming when we will see ourselves as we really are. Now we know in part — we have only an inkling of what we really are, but the day is coming when we will know ourselves as God has made us to be in Jesus Christ. That is how God knows us already.
In Colossians 3:1-4, Paul is even more explicit. He says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Notice that Paul uses the past tense: “…you have been raised with Christ…” This is not something that is yet to happen in the future — it is already a reality.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see this new me that is seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father. I see the struggling sinner that I know I am. But Paul says that I have died and have been raised with Christ, past tense, and that this new life I have in Christ is, for now, hidden. That’s why I don’t see it, why much of the time I don’t even believe it. But, Paul says, when Christ appears, then I will appear with him as I really am, the way he has already made me to be in him. For the first time, I will see myself not as a poor reflection, but as I really am in Christ.
We seem to have a love affair with putting our spiritual carts before the proverbial horse. We can’t seem to get it out of our heads that we have to be good before God will save us.
This means that it is not up to us to get salvation, or even to get righteous or moral or “better.” God has already done that for us in spite of us. Paul does not admonish us to “set our hearts on things above” in order to be raised with Christ. Quite the reverse. He tells us to set our hearts on things above because we have already been raised with Christ, because we already are a new person in Christ.
We are to set our minds on things above, not earthly things, because our real life is already hidden with Christ in God. Christ is our life, Paul tells us, and only when he is revealed — what we call the Second Coming — will our real selves, made perfect in him, be revealed also. No more poor reflections in the mirror. We will finally see ourselves face to face, as the new creation our Father has made us to be in Jesus Christ.
Throughout the New Testament, Paul admonishes us to behave righteously because we already are in Christ. He never tells us to behave righteously in order to get Christ to accept us. And yet, we seem to have a love affair with putting our spiritual carts before the proverbial horse. We can’t seem to get it out of our heads that we have to be good before God will save us.
But we are told simply to believe what is already true. Jesus Christ died for us while were still sinners, Paul says in Romans 5:6. We were reconciled to God while we were still his enemies, he adds in verse 10.
The late Trinitarian theologian Thomas Torrance put it this way: “Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in such a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease” (The Mediation of Christ, Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992, page 94).
Such complete commitment to us, such indescribable love, such unconditional grace, cannot be earned. It cannot be changed, either by good behavior or bad behavior. It demands only one thing: faith. God has already given us everything — grace, righteousness, salvation — through Jesus Christ. We can add nothing to that. All we can do is trust him to be our salvation, to be our life. “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
Yet we have the idea that the gospel is primarily about getting us to improve our behavior, as in “straighten out your life and then God will love you.” But the gospel isn’t about us improving our behavior. The gospel is about love — not that we loved God, but that he loves us (1 John 4:19).
God loved you before you were born; he loves you even though you are a sinner; he will never stop loving you even though you fall short of his righteous and godly behavior every day. That is good news — gospel truth.
Jesus Christ is our righteousness, our holiness and our redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). We’re not. We bring nothing to the table. Instead, we trust him to be for us everything we are powerless to be for ourselves. It is because he first loved us that we are freed from our selfish hearts to love him and to love one another.
Love cannot be coerced or forced or enforced by any law or contract. It can only be freely given and freely received. God freely gives it, and he wants us to freely receive it.
To this end, the Holy Spirit works in us, leading us, urging us, to participate in the new life of love God has given us in Christ — not to help us “measure up” or somehow “attain” salvation, but rather to help us learn how to be the new person God has already made us to be in Christ. We are a new creation — already seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father. That is the way God knows us, the way he sees us, even though it is still hard for us to see.
So the next time you look in the mirror, take heart. Regardless of all the rotten things you know about the wretch looking back at you, take a moment to think about how God sees you. Because what God sees is what’s real. And he sees you as his beloved child — forgiven, clean, reconciled and made new in Jesus Christ.
Let the mirror reflect what it reflects. But never forget that there is a new you already seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father, beloved and safe, awaiting the day of Christ’s appearing.