Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This verse is a one-stop shop when it comes to Christian growth. We are, first and foremost, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. That means you are to so fill your mind with Christ that He becomes your life (Colossians 3:1-4). Elsewhere, Paul describes this reality in terms of a dying to self.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life 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).
That means there is no room for "you" in your Christian life. You are to die to yourself -- your own distinctive independence, the way you like to think, your values, priorities, desires, etc., all that you are is to be brought to the feet of Christ. He is to become the all-defining reference point of your life. No part of your identity can ever again be considered independently of Christ. His mind is to be your mind. His convictions, His priorities, His perspective are all to be yours.
When people meet us, we should remind them of the loveliness of Christ, His wit and wisdom, the warmth of his kindness, His unimpeachable integrity, fiery holiness, and uncompromising righteousness. The list goes on. When we leave a room, we should leave the aroma of heaven behind us.
“ For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,” (2 Corinthians 2:15, ESV)
To a dying world this will not always feel good: “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16, ESV). No matter how nicely you behave, people who hate Christ (which is the natural condition of all men, Romans 8:7-8) will always find it difficult to love you.
Where are we even to begin this great work of Christ-likeness? There is only one place to start: at the feet of God in Christ, gazing at him.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)
There is a deep spiritual logic here. What we worship changes us. It always does. We see this every day in the case of idolaters.
Those, for example, who worship material possessions become more and defined by what they possess -- by what possesses them!
We see this principle play true also in the friendships we treasure:
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20, ESV)
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22:24–25, ESV)
So the first and last secret of becoming Christ is spending time with Him in close communion. Read your Bible and Pray with the goal of meeting Christ in so doing. When you meet Him, resolve not to let Him go. Pray for the Spirit to bring Christ so down into your hearts that you will become so full of Christ that there will be room for anyone else.
There is another step, however. It is not enough for us just to put on Christ, we must also put off the flesh. Notice how specific Paul is. You are to make NO provision for the flesh in its desires. What does that mean? Well, let's begin with the basics. The flesh is not describing the physicality of our human body, as if bodily desires for food, drink, sex, etc., were in themselves evil. This is one of the foundational tenets of Gnosticism and, for that matter, all "monkery."
When Paul speaks of the flesh, he has a very specific entity in mind. He means describe human nature in opposition to God. Human nature that prioritizes the self at all costs. Human nature that is consumed with pleasure and material acquisition. Human nature that, very often, finds itself enmired in conflict. The chair text in Paul's corpus describing this, of course, is found in Galatians 5.
Just like with the former alcoholic, there is a dark part of the Christian that is always on the sniff for an opportunity to indulge the flesh, to live for itself, to please itself, independently of God (and, very often, against the explicit revelation of His will). Like velcro to cotton wool, temptations stick to us, threatening to entangle us in darkness. Often, these opportunities creep up on us suddenly. "Innocently," an alluring voice starts to witness in our ear, "I know God has said, "No!" but wouldn't it be nice to do it anyway." Born in the flesh by nature, like our own mother's voice, such suggestion sound natural. They ambush us with a hometown familiarity that can be quite beguiling. How often, for example, have you found yourself plotting revenge, entertaining malicious thoughts towards someone who has hurt you? They have hurt you, now you want to hurt them back. Then, all of sudden, the Holy Spirit taps you on your shoulder, "That's not the way we do things in heaven!" It's only then that we remember our better nature, and feel ashamed of ourselves. We meet thousands of similar opportunities every day. The temptation to lust, to covet, to gossip, to worry, to indulge ourselves, to be insensitive to the needs of others, to resent the success of a friend, to pout when providence goes against us, etc.
Paul says you must be on the alert, and you must make no provision-- NO PROVISION -- for the lusts of the flesh. Let me be direct here, where have you made provision for the lust of the flesh this week? In your mind's eye, play that moment back in slow motion? What thoughts went through your mind? What lies enticed you? What hopes captivated you? What motivations drove you? What idols commanded you? What were you really after in that sweet-forbidden moment? What promises of God did you forget? What commands do you wish you had remembered? What will you do next time you meet this temptation. For there will be a next time We wrestle not against flesh and blood. The devil is too canny a pragmatist to lay aside in the future what has so successfully worked in the past.
But first of all, let me encourage you back to Christ. This is where we must always begin our quest for Godliness. We will make no step heavenward behind the back of Christ. Back to Christ, then, to His cross, to the just-mercy He has purchased, to the free-mercy He stands ready to bestow to any and to all who need it And want it. Back to Christ, He is ever the master (and the creator) of new beginnings. Like the sea breeze caressing the coast each new day, His mercies are new every morning.