The Contemplative vs. the Concrete
The pursuit of holiness is tricky. We don’t help ourselves when we pit truths against each another that were meant to complement each other. When we isolate one truth, separating it from another, complementary truth, the power of the Word is weakened.
Two apparent “poles” that we can separate and pit against each other: contemplating God and “seeing” Him, versus laboring in concrete steps to live in Him, towards Him. It is true that what we need most is to “behold the glory of the Lord,” ongoingly (2 Cor. 3:18). That’s what “transforms” us. It is true that we must “set our minds on things above”, in order to “put to death what is earthly within us” (Col. 3:1-10). Contemplation of God is key.
But then, you say, my contemplation isn’t working. It’s not “taking”. I don’t do it very well. But sometimes we don’t contemplate well, we don’t “behold” well, because we don’t see well. When we sin, especially in the area of sexuality, it leaves a fog, a residue. It is only the “pure in heart” who see God (Matt. 5:8). Yes, we may know God, and have loved the sight of Him in the past. But then we sin. What then? Jesus commands us to take a concrete step: cut off the hand that causes us to sin (Matt. 18:8). Not that that solves the problem of the heart, but it removes the film; it buys us time for the dulling effect of repeated sin to stop, so that the fog would clear, so that we may then begin to behold/see/contemplate God again. Our deep need is always to “behold” the glory of the Lord. But sometimes, we must take concrete steps - not to make ourselves right with God - but to see again the glory of the Lord most clearly displayed for us at the cross. There we see that, despite our sin, by the blood of Christ, we are right with God. Then, when we see afresh the kindness of God, we are drawn to more aggressive, deeper repentance (Rom. 2:4). The concrete can serve the contemplative, for our hearts to change.
Seeing Christ’s cross, remembering His soon return in glory, these remind us of a few crucial truths. (This is what it means, in part, to contemplate God.) We will not be perfected, until he returns. Glory is still to come. Until then, all our performance is for seeing the one who has performed perfectly, for us.