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The glory of Christ is the most important reality in the universe. Therefore, it is a subject that is overpowering. How do we speak of One whose glory is “like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:16)? C. H. Spurgeon said this of the glory of Christ:

Hope not, my brethren, that the preacher can grapple with such a subject. I am overcome by it. In my meditations I have felt lost in its lengths and breadths. My joy is great in my theme, and yet I am conscious of a pressure upon brain and heart, for I am a little child wandering among the mountains…I stumble among sublimities, I sink amid glories.1

In the five articles in this series, we want to explore 2 Corinthians 3:18 to see the exegetical foundation for the concept that growth in personal holiness comes through beholding the glory of Christ. Once we have the biblical foundation, we want to think through the implications and the application of that truth.

We Become What We Worship

Human beings were created in the image of God. That means we reflect, to some degree, the likeness of our Creator. Sin, of course, distorts that image. When we worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25), the image of God in us is marred and disfigured. Thus redemption, at one level, has as its goal to restore the image of Christ in us. The process of growth in holiness is about reflecting more and more on the image of Christ.

So, this issue of what we worship —whether Christ or idols—has huge implications in the quest for holiness. New Testament scholar Greg Beale has written a book entitled We Become What We Worship. The main thesis of the book is this: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (16). Beale writes:

God has made humans to reflect him, but if they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.

For example, Psalm 115:4-8 says:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear…Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” 

Likewise, 2 Kings 17:15 says regarding Israel:

“They went after false idols and became false, and followed the nations that were around them.”

But how is this reversed?

Becoming Like Christ Through Beholding His Glory

In Romans 8:29 Paul writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” That is the goal to which God is bringing us. We know how it will ultimately happen. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” When Christ appears, one look at Him in all of His glory and holiness will be so powerful that it will instantly and completely change us into His likeness. The quest for holiness will be realized through seeing the glorified Christ.

But how do we become more like Christ now—before that day of glory, when we face a thousand temptations to be idolaters? How do we become more like Christ and reflect His image? The same way as in the future, by beholding the glory of Christ. Notice our key text:

“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

In the context of 2 Corinthians 3, Paul has been demonstrating the superior glory of the new covenant. The old covenant contained letters carved on stone that pronounced condemnation to those who disobeyed. But the old covenant was simply an external code. It did not deal with the heart. It did not provide the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Paul says, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (v. 6). Thus, the old covenant was temporary; it pointed forward to something far greater.

In verses 12-16, Paul shows that even the temporary glory of the old covenant was veiled, as Moses veiled the reflected glory of God in his face. Likewise, hearts are veiled and minds are hardened so that people are blind to the superior glory of Christ.

But under the ministry of the new covenant, the veil is taken away in Christ. Notice verses 16-17:

“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

When you turn to the Lord, Paul says you encounter the life-giving, new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit where there is freedom, not condemnation and bondage, and where our eyes are opened to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

That brings us to verse 18…

This is part 1 out of 5 of an article that was originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Journey Magazine.

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.

Posted by 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.

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