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Elyse Fitzpatrick » God Scripture Gospel Sanctification Recommended Books

“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.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

It’s part of the life cycle of every living thing to grow and mature. It’s also natural for us to hope that we will be better people today than we were yesterday and that the things that trouble us at present will somehow be resolved in the future. No matter where we turn in the world—to radio talk shows and daytime television, the Internet, and particularly our email inbox—snake-oil salesmen are touting the latest cure for whatever problem or impediment we might face. No matter if our problem is acne, anger, ever-increasing debt, impending divorce, shyness, depression, or unruly children, there is someone right around the corner telling us how he will make our life better.

Right back where we started

We frantically search through a myriad of solutions; our eyes are drawn in a thousand differing directions. And while there is no end to these pseudo answers to our difficulties, it is apparent from their mere proliferation that none really effects change, at least not over the long haul. Sure, we might have some temporary successes, but after a while we find ourselves right back where we started. Nothing that the world has to offer can change the human heart. Yes, of course we can learn to rearrange the furniture of our lives so that we seem tidier, more together, but no merely human means can ever free us from ourselves.

We need to set our eyes on something beyond ourselves or our failures . . . We need to see Jesus Christ and the transforming glory of God.

We are all hoping for change and progress, Christian and non-Christian alike. In contrast to our culture’s unabashedly self-exalting approach to personal perfectibility, serious Christians are intent on something more than merely “getting it together.” We are hoping instead for growth in godliness, or what is commonly referred to as sanctification. Rather than seek a quick fix, we look inward, at our own sinfulness. We diligently practice confession and repentance. We are encouraged to examine ourselves, to search out sin and unbelief.

Although we are commanded to tackle sin in this way, there is a problem here too. If we focus too narrowly on our failures and never take our eyes off ourselves, we can become mired in endless navel-gazing, and, even as Christians, simply looking at ourselves doesn’t have the power to transform us. If we keep our eyes riveted on ourselves, even as we routinely practice confession and repentance, we will stay bogged down with the same old sins. We need to set our eyes on something beyond ourselves or our failures. We need to glimpse something that is more powerful. We need to see Jesus Christ and the transforming glory of God.

What Paul did

As we do, the Corinthians longed to be more like their Savior. They, too, needed grace to battle the materialism that infected their culture, faith to fight the idolatry and impurity that had marked their own lives, and wisdom to know the difference between an outward show of goodness and true inward holiness. They needed to know how to be effective witnesses for Christ. So Paul pointed them toward the true locus of change. He wrote, “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” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Paul intentionally humbled himself and refused to lean on any sort of self-made righteousness.

In light of the Corinthian context, Paul’s counsel is astonishing. As an orthodox Jew speaking to Gentiles, he could have said that they would be transformed by looking at God’s law. The message of moral improvement through strict law keeping was certainly a popular one among his contemporaries, including both observant Jews and ethically sensitive Gentiles. Instead he called this use of the law a ministry of death (2 Cor. 3:7). Paul might have told them to look to teachers who were outwardly religious, powerful, successful, or popular. Instead, he called such teachers insincere, boastful peddlers of God’s Word (2 Cor. 2:16).

Although advertising his past achievements in Jewish law keeping and his present accomplishments in Christian ministry might have helped Paul to look good outwardly and given him a leg up in pastoral prestige, he intentionally humbled himself and refused to lean on any sort of self-made righteousness. He didn’t want the Corinthians to look at him. In contrast to the false teachers, he regarded his good reputation and former blameless law keeping as dung (Phil. 3:8). Instead of boasting about his accomplishments, Paul boasted about his frailty, his unpopularity, and his weakness and persecutions (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9–10). He deliberately humbled himself and refused to boast in his abilities so that the Corinthians would not be drawn to focus on him. He wanted them to know that the power to transform heart and life belongs to God and not to man (2 Cor. 4:7–11; 13:4).

Behold the glory of the Lord

Paul’s one all-encompassing passion was to preach, honor, and exalt Jesus Christ, and so he counseled the Corinthians (and us) to look away to the glory of the Lord. He knew that they weren’t going to be transformed by gazing at their own glories or the glory of any other mere human. He knew they wouldn’t progress in sanctification by observing their sin and failure. He told them how true transformation takes place: by beholding the glory of the Lord.

Paul insisted that Moses’ and Israel’s experience of the visible display of God’s glory foreshadowed Christians’ spiritual experience of our “beholding” God’s glory in an even deeper, life-transforming, longer-lasting way.

In one sense, Paul’s insight—that we can be transformed only by the glory of the God on whom we gaze—should have been familiar to any Jew or Gentile who knew the Old Testament Scripture. After all, Paul was simply echoing, unpacking, and applying the ancient account of Moses’ experience at Sinai, when he beheld God’s glory on the mountaintop and then descended to the Israelites, his face radiating glory, reflecting the splendor of the Lord who had spoken to him (Ex. 34:29–33). Paul insisted that Moses’ and Israel’s experience of the visible display of God’s glory foreshadowed Christians’ spiritual experience of our “beholding” God’s glory in an even deeper, life-transforming, longer-lasting way.

That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but exactly how can we behold God’s glory? After all, he’s invisible, and we can’t see into heaven. Where will we see unseen and eternal things (2 Cor. 4:18)? Should we head out to the beach and watch a sunset or perhaps wander into a cathedral to gaze upon beautiful stained glass representations of him? How can we see what is invisible and thus experience the transformation we so desire? Where will we see his glory? We will see it in the gospel, of course.


This article is adapted from Elyse's book, Counsel from the Cross. She will be speaking more on this on Saturday, October 27, at our Resurgence Women’s Training Seminar at Mars Hill Downtown Bellevue.


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