WHO WE ARE OUTSIDE OF CHRIST
The Bible talks about the “hidden things of the heart”, the “darkness” within us and the “deceitfulness of sin”. As Jeremiah said “The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?” Job complained about God’s unfairness to him, but when he finally saw God he said “I had heard about you, but now I see you, and repent in dust and ashes”.
When Paul said, in Romans 7:18, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) no good thing dwells”, what kind of knowledge do you think he is referring to? Is this head knowledge or heart knowledge? Is this doctrinal truth or is it an inner revelation of doctrinal truth? When Paul then says that he is a “wretched man” he is describing an experiential form of knowledge. He was shown by God who he is outside of Christ, that is, in his flesh.
One of main benefits of contemplation is that a Christian can come to see who he outside of Christ. When God draws close we can “see” Him, and like Job, we will see how wretched we are. James, in fact, tells us to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your heart you double minded. Be afflicted and mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” These are subjective experiences of Gospel truths, and until we have gained them we cannot fully know who we are outside of Christ.
Therefore, one of the first steps in the monastic pathway is undergo the purification of fire that occurs in the contemplative path. We need to be shown who we are. This takes time, and occurs as we draw near to God inwardly. A novice Christian will move from head knowledge to heart knowledge through several main paths. A revelation of the darkness within us is one of the main ways that we see our need for God. We gain a dependence on Christ when we learn that we cannot keep the law by mere will power. Our failures in the kingdom and in our attempt to be perfect, when experienced deeply in prayer, will bring transformation to us as we see the need for God to overcome the lower nature that remains in us after conversion. Here is a prayer that expresses some of the depth of these inward states: “Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know my necessities before I ask and my ignorance in asking. Have compassion on my weakness, and mercifully give me those things which for my unworthiness I dare not ask, and for my blindness I cannot ask; through the worthiness of your son Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”.
Pentecostal and Charismatic gifting can be manifest in a person who lacks this deep character formation, but it is usually associated with hypocrisy and legalism. When these giftings are engrafted into a person who experientially knows who they are then that person will be kept safe, will be authentic and will be valuable for service in the kingdom.
Fortunately, there is more to contemplation than the refiner’s fire. The same drawing near to God that humbles also exalts. A person who experiences who they are outside of Christ will also experience who they are inside of Christ.