Transformation Through Beholding the Glory of the Lord

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

Who is Transformed?

Exodus 34:34 indicates that whenever Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he removed the veil from his face. But that was the privilege of one man, only Moses. Here in 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says, “we all with unveiled face” have the privilege of beholding the glory of the Lord. It’s not just for Jews or apostles; it’s for all who have turned to Christ. The veil is forever gone, and we behold the glory of the Lord.

How Are We Transformed?

The word “beholding” is unique in the sense that it is only used here in the Bible. Other translations render the word “behold as in a mirror,” and that is probably accurate.

Beholding What?

What is it that we behold as in a mirror? Nothing less than “the glory of the Lord.” Paul describes it further in 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

So “the glory of the Lord” is God’s glory revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ. Paul also speaks in 4:4 of “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Colossians 1:15 calls Christ “the image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 declares that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” John could say, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14).

So, what we behold as in a mirror is God’s glory as it shines forth in his Son. In fact, we could say the mirror is Christ because “believers see in Christ the reflection of the very nature of God.”5 The glory of the Lord is “mirrored” in the face of Jesus Christ.

This raises all kinds of questions about how we see it and what exactly we see. We will return to those questions. But the main point of 2 Corinthians 3:18 is that through beholding this glory of the Lord we are transformed into the same image.

What Happens?

“Transformed” is the main verb of verse 18 and you will notice that along with the word “beholding,” “transformed” is in the present tense: “we all…are being transformed.” Philip Hughes comments: “The effect of continuous beholding is that we are continuously being transformed.”

That is why it is so essential to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Paul is telling us that the way we grow in holiness; the way we are continually transformed is through continually mediating on the glory of Jesus Christ.

Into What?

The text says we are being transformed into “the same image.” What is that? It’s the same image we see mirrored, namely Christ. Second Corinthians 4:4 makes that clear when it speaks of “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

It is interesting this word “image” is the Greek word eikÿn, from which we get our English word “icon”. It can be used to speak of an idol (e.g. Rom. 1:23; Isa. 40:19, LXX). But here the image is no lifeless idol. It’s the real thing, Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). And as we behold him, we are being transformed into His likeness, restoring God’s purpose in creation.

What does this transformation look like? One day it will affect our whole being, including our bodies. Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” We long for that. We groan, eagerly awaiting the redemption of these lowly bodies (Rom. 8:23).

But that is not the transformation we experience now. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16 “our outer self is wasting away,” but “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” So the transformation now is inward. The same word is used in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” As we behold the glory of the Lord our thinking becomes less conformed to the world and its values, and more conformed to Christ. What becomes visible in this transformation is our behavior, our character, our manner life.

But also, as we behold the glory of Christ our affections are transformed. Our hearts are stirred, and we love Christ and see Him as infinitely glorious. We get a taste for His glory that seems better to us than all the things the world has to offer (1 Pet. 1:8).

Two more things to notice about our text.

To What Degree Do We Experience this Transformation?

This is a progressive transformation. We are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another.” The glory reflected in Moses’ face faded, but the glory of the Lord that’s reflected in our lives is to gradually increase. We are to make progress in becoming more like Christ.

Are we making progress? Unfortunately, we experience setbacks. But this text would imply that setbacks come when we take our eyes off the glory of Christ and become more enticed with the glory of other things; with idols. That is why the battle of sanctification is a battle to see the glory of Christ again and again, and to treasure Him above everything else, and to sing with Fernando Ortega, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.”

Who is the Source?

Finally in our text, the source of this transformation: “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The One who enables us to behold the glory of the Lord, and the One who does the work of transformation in our hearts is the Holy Spirit. Apart from the work of the Spirit, we do not see Jesus Christ as glorious. Our hearts are hardened; our minds are blinded. But the Spirit comes and shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

This does not mean we just sit back and passively wait for the Spirit to sanctify us. Sam Storms puts it this way, “[The work of the Spirit] doesn’t eliminate human effort, but rather makes it possible. We act because we are acted upon.”

How does the Holy Spirit work this transformation in us? John Piper suggests this: “The work of the Holy Spirit in changing us is not to work directly on our bad habits but to make us admire Jesus Christ so much that sinful habits feel foreign and distasteful.”

So, 2 Corinthians 3:18 provides the biblical foundation for understanding that growth in holiness comes through beholding the glory of Christ. In the next article in our series, we will examine some of the practical implications.

Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson (PhD, University of Wales) has been teaching in the Bible and Theology Department at Emmaus since 1999. He is the author of the book "The Doctrines of Grace in an Unexpected Place." He and his wife Tonya have 4 children and live in Dubuque, IA.