“Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.”
This oft quoted saying comes from Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50 – c. 117) who was discipled by the Apostle John himself. He later served the churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) after John’s death, and eventually wrote a number of letters to some those churches. One of those letters went to Ephesus, near the end of which Ignatius penned this famous line. Here is the full paragraph from which the quote comes, it’s worth reading carefully:
“These are the last times. Henceforth let us feel shame, let us stand in awe of the long-suffering of God, lest it turn to our judgment. For either let us fear the wrath to come, or let us love the grace which is present—either this or that; only be it ours to be found in Christ Jesus unto life which is life indeed. Apart from Him, let nothing dazzle you. For in Him I wear my bonds, my spiritual pearls, in which I pray that I may rise again by the help of your prayer—may it ever be mine to have a share in that—that I may be found among the band of those Ephesian Christians, who were, besides, continually of one accord with the Apostles in the power of Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter XI).
This context helps us to see that when Ignatius wrote the words, “Apart from Him, let nothing dazzle you,” he meant at least four things. First, he meant that we should be so captured by the glory of Christ that our sin appears to us as it is—shameful, dark, and deadly. The sight of Christ, and of our sin, should then compel us to turn away from our sin and toward Christ.
Second, Ignatius meant that we should be so gripped by the magnitude, power, and justice of Christ, that we fear the wrath he will pour out upon unrepentant sinners. And lest you think Christ is too meek, mild, and merciful to be a God who feels and dispenses wrath, consider the words of John in Revelation 6:15-17.
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”
The rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak will one day prefer to be crushed by rocks rather than face Jesus Christ because in that day he will pour out his wrath upon all who have not turned from their sin. It is far better for us to see this, fear, and repent now, than to wait until it is too late. So again, to be dazzled by Christ is to fear him more than we love our sin.
Third, Ignatius meant that we should be so amazed by the grace of God in Christ that we cannot help but love and follow him all the days of our lives. It is good for us to be thrust toward God for fear of his righteous wrath; it is better to be drawn near to God out of awe for his magnetic mercy. The more we come to see the deep darkness of our sin and the stunning brilliance of his mercy, the more we will be dazzled with Christ and repelled by this world.
Finally, Ignatius meant that we should be so drawn to Christ as to seek our life in him alone. Recently I enjoyed a savory T-bone steak that cost more (even store bought) than I would like to admit. The succulent and satisfying flavors of that cut of beef make even the thought of a frozen steak dinner seem repulsive. How much more does the soul-satisfying glory of Christ ruin us for the lesser pleasures of this world? As the hymn-writer so eloquently wrote, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in his wonderful face / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of his glory and grace.” Amen.
One sign that we are dazzled by nothing but Christ, is our willingness to suffer for him in this life. Did you notice that Ignatius referred to his prison chains as “spiritual pearls”? I find this description rather captivating, because pearls are normally signs of wealth, blessing, and honor, and for the one dazzled by Christ, they are. “Blessed are you,” Jesus said, “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). When we forsake the world for the glory of Christ and they revile and persecute us for it, they only succeed in amplifying our joy in the one we prefer over them.
Over the next two weeks, I plan to post two more blogs on this subject. The first will address the question, How can our souls be dazzled by Christ? The second will address the question, Does this statement mean that we are not allowed to enjoy anything outside of Christ?
For now, I want to close by encouraging you to join me in meditating on this precious phrase: “Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.”