Caterpillars are really pretty amazing. They live to eat. And as the caterpillar eats and eats, it grows. In order to grow it has to molt, or shed its skin. The hormone that breaks down the skin is called ecdysone, and if it isn’t controlled it will dissolve the caterpillar entirely. A second hormone, called the juvenile hormone, keeps the ecdysone in check. When it’s time for the caterpillar to cocoon itself, the juvenile hormone recedes and the ecdysone goes unchecked. The caterpillar cocoons itself, and in the cocoon, it digests itself. The caterpillar’s organs are reduced to a protein-rich soup that will be used to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the adult butterfly features.
In the cocoon, the caterpillar is hidden and protected while this total transformation takes place. In essence, the caterpillar dies, and an entirely new creature is formed. This is a radical transformation and if you’ll allow me to stretch the analogy, it’s like the call they receive is, “All you have and all you are and all you know is not all there is.” They heed the call, and in the sheltered harbor of their cocoon they are transformed.
When you and I are called by God, it works much the same way. God’s call is, “All you have and all you are and all you know is not all there is.” When we heed the call and look to God, we, too, undergo a radical transformation. We are cocooned in Christ, we die to ourselves, and we are made a whole new creation.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the hormone in the caterpillar that holds back transformation is called the juvenile hormone. Our immaturity will cause us to justify and defend ourselves rather than recognize the need for transformation and receive it. We need to be willing to let go and die to self, to let the substance of the life we tried to make dissolve and let God figure out how to form the new life.
Oftentimes we just want God to give a better version of the life we tried to make for ourselves, but if we are going to know the abundant life Jesus calls us to, we cannot be weighed down by the old self. In order to let go of the old self and receive the new, we must be in that sheltered harbor of our “cocoon;” we must feel safe and secure in the mercy and grace of Christ.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” – Romans 8:1-3
Did you hear that? “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” We are hidden in Christ. This doesn’t mean that the world can’t see us. They see is pretty easily and are very quick to point out our faults and failures. The enemy can also see us, he prowls around like a lion on the hunt looking for an opportunity to devour us all the while heaping accusations upon us.
Being hidden in Christ means that when God looks at us, though he knows well our faults and failures, all he sees is His Son. You are hidden in Christ and God has no condemnation for you, only love, mercy, and grace. When you stumble and fall, like a loving Father, he does not condemn you, but picks you up, cares for you, and gets you going again. The Father looks at you through the Son and sees only the child he adores. This is vital to understand so that when conviction does come through God’s Spirit, it is received as it’s meant to be: an expression of love and God’s work to make you new and whole.
Not only does God not bring condemnation against you, but because of Christ, no one else can either. As we are cocooned in Christ and hidden in him, we are also protected.
“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” – Romans 8:33-34
Let’s be honest, plenty of people bring all kinds of charges against those whom God has chosen. What this passage is saying is, “Who is going to bring any charge against you that is going to change God’s mind about you?” God has declared you clean. God is the only righteous judge, and he chose to justify, not condemn, and no one and no thing will ever change his mind.
You are protected in Christ. Let’s explore the significance of that.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” – Ephesians 6:14
The belt of truth undergirds everything. That is the conviction that comes and convinces you of your desperate need for a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior. It’s the call that comes to your heart which says, “All you have and all you are and all you know is not all there is.” When we respond to the conviction with confession and genuine repentance—whether for the first time leading to salvation, or again, leading us nearer to God, we have buckled the belt of truth around our waist. The next thing that happens is the fitting of the breastplate of righteousness.
This breastplate is not like the ones you see in the movies where arrows, swords, and small birds seem to tear through it with relative ease. Roman breastplates were steel, about a quarter of an inch think, and nothing got through. This breastplate is the righteousness of Christ. Were it our own righteousness, based on our ability to simply be good, then it would be like that Hollywood armor, but this is the impenetrable righteousness of Christ.
To give you another example, I’ll direct you to the first Passover in Egypt. The children of Israel were commanded to paint the blood of the Passover lamb on their door posts so that when the destroyer came, he would pass over their home. This wasn’t as if the destroyer came, saw the blood and thought, “Oh, they’re on our team,” and went to do his work elsewhere. The destroyer is not a nice angel on God’s side. He is a fallen angel, whose sole purpose is to kill. God let him off the chain and sent him through Egypt to do what he does—limiting his work to the first born male of each household, and all he wanted to do was kill. When he saw the blood on the doorposts, it wasn’t that he did not enter, it’s that he could not enter. The blood of the lamb was like a force field that forbade him to pass.
In Christ, we are protected in the same way. We are hidden in Christ so that when the Father looks upon us he sees only the holy perfection of his Son, and we are protected in Christ so that when any accusation or condemnation is levied against us, it’s turned away and rendered utterly powerless. You are safe, completely secure in Christ. This completely safe and sheltered environment is necessary for our transformation.
There is a radical shift that needs to take place in our thinking. We need to be moved from a mind set on the sinful (self-centered) nature, to a mind set on the Spirit. The whole motivation of our lives and the choices we make changes from what “feels right” or what we want, to what the Spirit desires – which is always infinitely better.
Those whose minds are set on the flesh are “hostile to God,” or contrary to God. Where God works for his glory, in our flesh, we seek our own glory. For that reason alone, even our good deeds are an offense to God as we exalt ourselves and our ideals rather than the Creator of all things and the giver of life. This is why it’s impossible for those controlled by the sinful nature to please God, because the very motivation of their every deed and decision is motivated by idolatry.
Because this transformation takes place at the very core of who we are, if we’re not cocooned in Christ – hidden in Christ and protected by him – we will resist it. Within the safety and security of Christ, we’ll hear God’s conviction for what it is: a gift, rather than hearing it as condemnation.
Only within the sheltered harbor of the love, mercy, and grace of God can we subject ourselves to the authority of God’s word rather than the authority of cultural norms, popular opinion, old habits, preference, or our own logic and reason. If we are not cocooned in Christ – if we cannot trust that we are hidden in Christ and fiercely guarded in him – then we will always hear God’s conviction as accusation and condemnation, and we will always move to defend, justify, or validate ourselves before God. When this happens, we wind up fighting against God and resisting the transformation he is working to bring.
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” – Romans 8:9-11
As we respond to God’s conviction in the bold assurance that God desires what is best for us, that he does not condemn us, but rather is working good – defined as “making us like Jesus” (see Romans 8:28-30) – we will see the old self pass away and a new self come to fruition. Through this new self, we’ll know true, lasting, and abundant life. This life, eternal life, isn’t something in the far distant future that we must wait for. It begins now as transformation does its work.