Detach and Detox: Learning from John Climacus’ “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”

Yesterday, I introduced this new series of topics I am examining. John Climacus was an ascetic monk whose writing is still read and implemented in ascetics today. As I mentioned yesterday, John writes of a “ladder” which we can ascend to become more Christ-like which consists of 30 “rungs” to symbolize the 30 years Jesus walked the earth before launching his ministry. The first 3 rungs of John’s ladder are vital for all believers and are closely tied together. While the steps John writes of are not required to go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… 29, 30, the first 3 steps should begin at the beginning of any believer’s faith journey. Yesterday we examined “renouncing” ourselves by putting to death our flesh and living in Christ. Today, we will survey detaching from our earthly possessions so we can cling fully to Christ.

As John opens this chapter, he says:

If you truly love God and long to reach the kingdom that is to come, if you are truly pained by your failings… then it will not be possibly to have an attachment, or anxiety, or concern for money, for possessions, for family relationships, for worldly glory, for love and brotherhood, indeed for anything on earth.

John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

John is echoing the words of Jesus and telling us that when we fix our eyes on the kingdom and despise our sins, we will let go of other things in our life. Now I am not advocating for the ascetic life of monasticism that John Climacus prescribed and taught, but I do believe that we must be willing to break free from anything which is holding us back from Christ. After we have renounced ourselves for the sake of Christ, we must cast off every burden so we can run full speed after him (Heb 12:1).

Jesus is telling us to detach and detox from materialism.

Jesus tells his disciples that anyone who does not leave all they have to follow him is not worthy to follow Jesus (Matt 10:37-8; Luke 18:29-30; Mark 10:29-30). That is because following Jesus is not a half-hearted whimsical decision. As Jesus tells his disciples, no one sets out to build a tower without first weighing the cost and all that comes with it unless they are a fool (Luke 14:28-33). For this very reason John Climacus, Jesus, and many other church leaders as well advocate for us to have people we walk with in our faith to help us acknowledge and weigh these costs.

What material possessions do we have in our life which are competing to be the god(s) of our heart? I know that multiple scream to me personally. Lovely enough, the iPhone now tells us our daily screen usage and challenges me to put it away to spend time in fellowship and community with others, as well as time with God. I am also an avid reader and learner, but I must make sure that this does not become for arrogant knowledge or an escape. Even my own wife and children can take this role. Obviously, the union of marriage is sacred to God as he calls the church his bride and ordains it as sacred from the beginning of creation in Genesis 2. Yet, while my wife should always be the first person in my life, she will never be God and therefore I must not go to her to find my purpose and self-worth. Rather, that comes from Christ himself and because of this love and worth I receive I can love, serve, and care for my wife.

What earthly gods are fighting for your heart?

Take time in prayer and reflection to acknowledge these things. What do you turn to when you feel sad or anxious to help? Give these longings to God and he will help. We are told to set our minds on things above (Col 3:2). When we set our minds on things above and continue to submit to the Spirit’s work inside of us, we realize the truth in Psalm 37:4. The psalmist tells us that when we delight in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our hearts. Many use this verse to argue that if we delight in him, he will give us the new car or house we want. I would argue that if your heart still longs for that, you have not truly delighted in the Lord. Maybe he gifts you those things and that is not wrong. However, when you truly delight in the Lord and set your eyes on him, you no longer desire things of this earth. You detach and detox from materialism and cleave to Christ.

Detach, detox, and devote yourself to Christ.

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