One summer, my husband and I took a group of teenagers to inner-city Chicago for a missions trip. As our host drove us to our downtown housing, we could see in the distance two very large buildings, one obviously taller than the other. We asked him if the taller building was the Sears Tower. To our surprise, he said the building we had mistaken to be the Sears Tower was in fact the John Hancock Building. A little arrogant and very ignorant, I determined that our host either didn’t get out much or was unaware that the Sears Tower was the tallest building in Chicago. The tower he was identifying as the John Hancock Building was obviously much larger than the building he claimed was the Sears Tower.
As we continued around the city, however, our perspective changed, and our view eventually matched what our host had asserted. The taller became the shorter, and the shorter became the tallest of all—and the difference was visually significant.
That day I learned that perspective depends on where I stand.
Earlier that same summer, my husband and I had traveled to New Jersey to visit some college friends. I had not seen any of them in at least 4 years. In that time I had gained 30 pounds, and I found myself wrestling with issues that I thought I had put to rest. While I was visiting one friend in particular, God led me down a new path in understanding His beauty.
We had become friends during my sophomore year in college, and we shared a kindred spirit. Now both married and pursuing our respective callings, we greeted one another with joy—and surprise. Like me, she had gained some weight over the years. No longer did I feel the pressure to look the same as I had as a college sophomore, and no longer did I worry what she would think of the changes in my body.
While my friend and I paged through a picture album from our college days, God taught me an important lesson in perspective. Flipping through the memories, she casually commented, “Do you know what I think of when I see these pictures? I think of how much skinnier I was back then.” I sat quietly for a moment, then responded, “I remember how fat I thought I was when these pictures were taken.”
Just as I had to have the proper perspective to see which building was the tallest in downtown Chicago, so too I need the proper perspective to see which beauty is true—the world’s or God’s.
Proper perspective occurs when we see as God sees. I must find my identity in the One who sees as God sees. To know true beauty, I must identify with Christ. My identity is the core of who I am—a constant by which I am defined, regardless of circumstances. Identity in Christ, though, is not a passive understanding of our individual characteristics. Identity in Christ is a powerful, living force. My identity defines and shapes my life: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (galatians 2:20). My understanding of physical beauty, along with the desires of my flesh, has been crucified with Christ. Thus the beauty that now resides in me is that of the Spirit, not of the flesh.
Furthermore, my body, along with my beauty, is now a symbol of my relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul set forth this idea when he wrote, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again (2 corinthians 5:14-15, italics added).
My life is no longer about me. Trying to create my own beauty in the world’s image is to separate my beauty from my identity in Christ. Holding to the world’s image of beauty is refusing to crucify my desires and living willfully in the flesh.
Two questions then arise: How do I live out my identity in Christ, and how do I change my perspective from worldly beauty to spiritual beauty? After all, I am both flesh and spirit. I cannot simply say that how I look doesn’t matter.
With one simple statement, Jesus summed up how we are to find our identity and our beauty in Him. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment” (matthew 22:37-38). When I pursue God with all I am, what I want will change. Worldly desire will die, and my new desire will be to live in Him and for Him. Finding my identity in Christ, I allow all that I am—spirit, mind, and body—to be defined by God.
God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us understand our new identity:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (romans 8:14-1).
When we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, we avoid becoming enslaved to the world’s standard of beauty and instead are set free to find our true beauty in Christ. When the Holy Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God,” we begin to see ourselves and our beauty as God sees us. My understanding of beauty will then have proper perspective because I will see myself not as the world sees me but as God sees me—in Christ.
To understand the role of the Holy Spirit in transforming our thinking about beauty, we must realize that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth who will give us the discernment to know the truth of God’s beauty. What we hear will reveal the heart of God and thus be in accord with the Word of God. However, the Holy Spirit cannot be heard if we are unwilling to listen to and live by God’s commandments. Nor can the Spirit reveal the truth of God’s beauty if we insist on viewing ourselves from a worldly perspective. The Holy Spirit fulfills His role as our Counselor as we seek to see ourselves and others from a godly perspective of beauty.
This transformation is a process not an event. It requires daily renewal. To believers in the first-century church of Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and . . . put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (ephesians 4:23-24). Being renewed in our minds requires action—we are to “put on the new man.”
In other words, I must choose to see myself as God sees me. I must choose to consider all things in my life in light of their spiritual importance. I must choose to set aside the world’s definition of beauty. Rather than evaluating everything I eat in terms of what will make me fat or thin, I work to make choices for my body in terms of what will bring strength and health to my temple that I might accomplish the tasks God has for me to do. Rather than making sure that my hair is in the right place, I ensure that my heart is in the right place. I focus on whether others see Christ’s spiritual beauty in me.
If my identity is in Christ, who I am on the inside will be visible in my actions. A life lived in the Spirit is marked by certain behaviors—the fruit of my life—not by my appearance: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (galatians 5:22-23).
Growing spiritual fruit requires a transformation of the mind because what I think and believe determine how I act. Accordingly, the more I study the Word and put it into action, the more I am transformed into the image of Christ. The more I pursue Christ, the more I see life in proper perspective.
A paradox of Scripture is that the more we bind ourselves to Christ, the more freedom we enjoy. Believing this paradox requires a shift in perspective. Enacting this paradox requires a shift in priorities. Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit requires work. Often we convince ourselves that changing physically is easier than developing spiritually. After all, a new hairstyle doesn’t require that I find the weak areas of my character and allow God to push me to change. But a new hairstyle doesn’t free me from the unrealistic expectations of worldly beauty. Neither does losing 10 or 15 pounds.
In contrast, a new perspective and new priorities make me free indeed. After listing the spiritual fruit that I am to cultivate, Paul added, “Against such there is no law.” Tending to the growth of spiritual fruit takes me from slavery to freedom.
To find this freedom, I must shift my perspective from the mirror of the world to the mirror of the Word. Trying to find beauty in the mirror of this world will leave me broken and lost. But losing myself in the mirror of the Word will reveal the greatest beauty ever known.
When the Holy Spirit transforms our perspective regarding our beauty, our relationships with others change: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (galatians 5:24-26).
Rather than comparing ourselves to others and becoming jealous, we see them through God’s eyes and become grateful for their unique gifts and talents.
When I see myself and others through God’s eyes, my life, including my body, becomes an instrument of ministry that fulfills the purpose for which it was created—to bring glory and honor to an awesome God.
Seeing beauty requires a godly perspective. If I rely on my own understanding, I will never have the proper perspective. But when I trust the One on whom the whole earth rests, “the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 corinthians 3:16-18). The closer I move toward Him, the more accurate my perspective becomes.