The best version of you sounds like a self-help phrase or a health and wealth preacher’s mantra. “Maybe,” you’re thinking, “we should put aside trite slogans as our collective New Year’s resolution this year!”
But not so fast. Let’s dwell here for a moment. Let’s think about the best version of you.
We live in a broken world. That’s obvious. But we are also a broken people. The version of you that you live day in and day out is, by definition, broken. The question is how do you live the best version of your broken self. Is it a matter of getting in touch with your inner child? Finding a cause that you can support? Healing deep wounds from your past? Filling your mind with positive self-talk?
I would propose that God’s version of you is the best version of you.
If you want to be your true self in 2024, it’s important to get in touch with how God designed you to operate. We all agree that we are broken. And when something is broken and you want to fix it, the best approach is to take it back to the one who made it. If you want to fix a watch, take it to the watchmaker. If you want to fix your house, call back the designer/builder. The one who designed a thing, the one who imagined how it would ideally function, is the best one to make it whole again. So, if you want to be the best version of your broken self, you need to bring yourself back to the One who created you.
God made you very uniquely. He made you with gifts and skills and with plans and purposes in mind. But, if you’re honest, a gap exists between how God made you to operate and how you actually exist in the world day to day. When you become aware of this gap, it’s easy to come up with insufficient strategies to deal it. There’s a funny product on the market; a lawn paint called “Grass-b-Green.” Those who live in arid climates may be familiar with it. If you can’t grow green grass in your front yard, you can take out your trusty Grass-b-Green spray paint and spray your brown yard green. This strategy makes for a funny conversation piece, but when it comes down to it the lawn doesn’t need paint. What it needs takes longer, and is much more work, and it may go through an ugly phase in the near term, but what the lawn needs is a proper environment for growing grass.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, many people choose to pretend. They choose lawn paint instead of the stuff that will actually bring growth and development to their souls. It’s easier to fake knowing Christ, than to posture yourself to actually know him. The best version of you has been designed by God to be growing in Christlikeness until the day you die.
I want to use Colossians 3:1-14 to help us explore what it looks like to become the best version of you. The one that God imagined when He created you and saved you and empowered you with His Spirit. It requires what Dallas Willard calls VIM. Vision. Intention. Method.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4)
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” Pause. In the first 2 chapters of Colossians, Paul has been talking about Christology. He has been saying in many different ways, “This is who Jesus Christ is. This is what He’s done. Here’s the deity of Christ. Here’s the sufficiency of Christ. Here’s why we put our trust in Christ.” And now Paul has shifted his focus, in chapter 3 he starts talking about how one should behave in the light of those truths. Christian behavior always flows from the reality that we have been rescued by Jesus. Our good works are lived in response to His grace. So, in chapters 1-2 Paul is saying, “this is who Christ is and this is who you are in Christ,” then in chapters 3-4 he is saying, “Now go and act like it!” Paul exhorts his readers to be in PRACTICE what they are in POSITION, resurrected with Christ, empowered with the grand potential to live a brand new quality of life they could never have imagined prior to their regeneration and resurrection.
If only we could catch a vision for this life that God has intended for us. If we could get our minds around it, it would blow us away. Unspeakable joy is available, unparalleled hope, relentless love and grace – life in Christ is an abundant life. It is the most abundant life. Does it mean we will escape suffering? Of course not. Every one of us will experience seasons of great suffering in this life because we are still under the curse of sin.
But Jesus himself said that if we could catch a vision for life in his kingdom, we wouldn’t hesitate to give everything away to obtain it. Jesus offers us a captivating vision of a new life in Matthew 13:44-46.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
This vision for a new life is a vision of life in Christ. To find your story in his prevailing story. This is what you were created for. Back to Colossians 3, Paul says, “set your heart, set your mind” on things above. Focus yourself on this new life in Christ. Why? Because the old you died! Notice the strong language. And now, he says, your life is “hidden in” Christ. And if that’s not strong enough, he says that Christ “is your life.”
In order to accept and achieve God’s vision for your life, you are going to have to change your mind about what the ideal life looks life. It’s why the bible talks so often about mind renewal. It’s why Paul talks here about the importance of “setting our minds” on things above. We all possess a mind that has been marred by sin, and our fallen mind is what is informing our vision for the future. So, to achieve God’s vision for our lives, we must allow the Spirit of God to renew our minds.
Romans 12:2 says, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Ephesians 4:23 says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” What in the world is that? “The spirit of your mind?” It means at least this: the human mind is not just a sophisticated computer managing data, which it then faithfully presents to the heart for appropriate emotional responses. The mind has a “spirit.” In other words, your mind doesn’t just have thoughts, it has a “mindset.” It doesn’t just have a view, it has a viewpoint. It doesn’t just perceive and detect in an unbiased way; it also has a posture, a demeanor, a bent. So, the problem with our minds is not merely that we are finite, and don’t have all the information. The problem is that our minds are fallen. They have a bent that is naturally hostile to the absolute supremacy of God. Our minds are predisposed to not seeing God as infinitely more worthy of praise than we are.
The first step toward being the best version of you in 2024, is understanding that God’s vision for your life includes His desire that you become more and more like Christ. Jesus was not only your savior but also your example in life. What is God’s vision for your life? Have you asked him lately? In addition to Vision, the best version of you also includes
Intention is more than wishing or hoping. It is a settled decision that leads to movement, it is initiative that sparks forward motion. The Christian life is not static. It moves. Spiritual growth requires progress. And progress involves intentionality. Our passage in Colossians 3 seems to indicate that we have a role to play in becoming God’s best version of ourselves.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Notice the active language, “put to death,” “rid yourselves,” “put on the new self,” “clothe yourself,” these phrases all demonstrate intentionality and effort. This list that gets a little more personal as it goes. Once you get through the first wave, impurity, evil desires, greed you’re like “whew!” And then Paul starts in on anger, rage, filthy language and you’re like “oh crap.” Sounds like the car ride on the way to church. Joking aside, a life of sin is not what God intended for us. It’s dark, hopeless, despairing, enjoyable for a season but it leads to death.
There is always a tension when we talk about exerting effort in our spiritual lives. Doesn’t all begin and end with grace? Isn’t it pharisaical to boil down the Christian life into checklist of do’s and don’ts. Yes, very true. But still, there is a Christian way of life, a Christian ethic. When you accept the vision of who you are in Christ and that you are perfectly loved by the God of the universe, you are motivated to live differently. God’s grace inspires us to make the effort to live to please him. Faith still involves intentionality. Paul says in Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
D.A. Carson calls this “grace-driven effort” In Volume 2 of For the Love of God, he says, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer and obedience to Scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith; we cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
Nobody stumbles into godliness. The Christian life doesn’t just happen by accident. Just like no one ever says, “I wonder if I will wake up tomorrow being able to speak Mandarin.” Positive change never happens accidentally, it happens intentionally. Please don’t be discouraged by that truth. Some people see descriptions of the Christian life, humility, patience, forgiveness, hope, and think “I could never do that. Those are beyond my reach.” It takes time and intentionality. Like a baby learning to walk there will be steps, then a fall. Steps then a fall. Until eventually, there is forward motion. Thankfully our loving Father doesn’t see through the lenses of our imperfection but rather through the lenses of His Son’s perfection, there is this rejoicing in heaven over small steps then a fall. Because you’re walking. After each stumble you get back up and continue with forward motion.
So we first come to grips with God’s vision for our lives. Vision is a powerful force, and then we need intention. It is more than hoping or wishing, it is a settled decision to move forward. But deciding is not enough. We then need to put in place some methods.
In Colossians 3, Paul gave a list of things to “rid yourself of.” Things to throw off like anger and rage and filthy language. And then he lists the kinds of things we’re supposed to put on or “clothe yourselves with.” In verse 12 he says,
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The question is, how do you get from here to there? How do you get from the old self to the new self. From the old attitudes to the new attitudes? From the old mindset to the new mindset. Just like anything that’s worth doing – there are some practices to put in place that will enable you to do tomorrow what you can’t do today. To become the best version of you in 2024 requires knowing the methods, the disciplines and practices, that are going to get you from where you are to where you want to go.
The good news is, as God’s people, we are not left alone to discover these methods. Jesus has shown us the way to live life. He has given us a lifestyle to copy. And more than that, He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to be a moment-by-moment guide into the life we were created for.
Methods are essential. You don’t just wake up one day and say, “Today I will be a Bible expert,” without even having opened a Bible. Just like you can’t wake up and say, “Today I will run a marathon,” without any training or preparation. Practice is essential. The example of Jesus’ life is filled with practices that he habitually did. And learning to think, feel, and act like Jesus is at least as demanding as learning to run a marathon or play the piano. And just like those other endeavors, it means you must arrange your life around certain exercises and disciplines that will enable you to do eventually what you are not yet able to do.
Jesus modeled many disciplines in his life. He modeled fasting, simplicity, service, worship, silence, meditation. His life was filled with these practices and as you continue to grow, you must continue to incorporate more and more of these into your life. These are the methods that will get you to the best version of you. One of the foundational practices Jesus modeled was building in a consistent rhythm of time with God. His life was a combination of work and rest, hustle and retreat.
He regularly got away to a quite place and listened to the voice of God. It’s how he could say repeatedly, I’m only doing what the Father tells me to do. The key methods are nothing new. It comes down to some combination of spending time in the word of God, and in prayer, and then finding an outlet for the things God is telling you to do through service. In spending time with God, you begin to learn the heart of God and are able to live your life accordingly.
How can you become more compassionate? Spend time with God learning His heart, and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. How can you put aside lust and anger? Spend time with God learning His heart, and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. How can you forgive that difficult person? Spend time with God learning His heart, and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Mental belief alone isn’t enough…it takes discipline and practice to spend time with God and then putting into action whatever he says.
20 years ago, I took a youth group to a high ropes course. There was one initial exercise that this outfit asked the youth pastor to do in order to prove to all the participants that the course and the equipment were safe. I climbed up onto a tree stand 30 feet in the air, and was asked to jump and grab ahold of a trapeze bar. Once I proved everything worked, I would let go of the bar and they would lower me down slowly by my harness. I’m a pretty adventurous person and have no fear of heights, but I was terrified!
Here’s the question: Did I believe I was safe? Yes, I think I did. If I had to answer a true-false test, I would have said, “Yes, I was safe.” But I’ll tell you something… my sweat glands were producing a lot of sweat. They didn’t believe I was safe. My stomach had butterflies in attack formation so apparently my stomach didn’t believe I was safe. My heart was beating faster than it usually does. My heart was not sold on the whole safety thing. This scenario starts to get at what it really means to ‘believe’ something?
Suppose someone had come to me with spiritual platitudes and quoting bible verses, “Derek, just put to death anxiety, fear and doubt.” How am I going to do that? Even if I believe it, willpower in the moment is not going to get me there. I could tried positive self-talk and kept repeating, “Everything’s fine. Everything’s going to be okay. I’m going to quit thinking these thoughts. I’m going to quit having these feelings. I’m going to quit producing this sweat.” It wouldn’t have done any good at all.
I had a living example that day of what it means to put your beliefs into action. There was another guy up there on that tree stand. He had leathery skin, and long hair, and a tied-dye shirt. He had been doing the ropes course every day for a few years all through the summertime. He had no sweaty palms at all. He had no butterflies. His mind did not have the thoughts and the feelings that mine did. In fact, he jumped onto that trapeze bar and back again a few times before I mustered up the courage. One time he caught it with one hand. He had what we’d call a “renewed mind.”
He was able to do gracefully and effortlessly what was very clumsy and difficult for me. How did he get a renewed mind? It was simple. Every day for a couple of summers he chose to put himself through the training experience on the ropes course. Eventually he learned with his whole being, his brain, his heart, and his sweat glands, what it looked like to accomplish this task. The renewal of the mind does not come about through willpower. It doesn’t come about through information. There were people who taught me all about carabiners and ropes and harnesses that day. In fact, I could have studied those things for six months, and I still wouldn’t have had a renewed mind. The renewal of the mind comes about when you enter into a life of training. When you have a method for your vision and intention.
Training involves orienting your life around certain activities that will enable you to do, gracefully and effortlessly, what you can’t do right now. A disciple is someone who has entered into the life of training that Jesus teaches us. This is what spiritual disciplines are about. Closely related to the word “disciple” is this word “discipline.” These are methods that I practice with my body. For instance, solitude. I remove my body from the world that tries to squeeze it into its mold, from all of the noise, from the pecking orders and the constant stimulation, so that I can be alone in stillness and listen to God. Worship is a method. I bring my body into a space with many other bodies and together we lift up our voices, we lift up our hands, we worship God. This is a practice. It’s something I can do. Reading, reflecting on Scripture, I bring God’s words before my eyes and they guide thoughts in my mind. Practices I do with my body that disrupt the normal flow of automatic thoughts and feelings that cause me to go through the motions — so that my mind can be renewed, and I can live the best version of my life.
In the bible, every word between Genesis 3 and the end of Revelation is the story of God working to restore Creation and people to their original glory. That’s God’s emphasis. Somehow our emphasis has become something smaller: like sin management and removal. That’s like a motorcycle mechanic dedicating his life to the study of rust and all its colors, and varieties. The mechanic may become a rust-ologist and sadly forget the original glory of a bike that was built to be driven fast on the open road. These methods, spiritual disciplines are all about freedom, freeing us from wishing and hoping, freeing us from others’ expectations, freeing us to live the life God has designed for us from the start.
My prayer is that in 2024, you would sense a renewed vision from God for your life. That you would be intentional about deciding to move forward in your faith. And that you would put methods in place that will propel you from who you are now, to who God has dreamed for you to be.