“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).
The word translated as “transformed” is from the same word from which we get the word “metamorphosis.” the basic meaning is “change.” We understand this word in a biological sense in the changing of a caterpillar into a butterfly. It is not so familiar to us in a spiritual sense, yet this is what is happening to every true disciple of Jesus. How does this happen?
In the 3rd chapter of 2 Corinthians we are given a remarkable description of how this transformation takes place. In this chapter Paul draws a contrast between the old covenant and the new. He says that the old covenant which was written on stone was glorious, and that Moses who went up on Mount Sinai to receive that covenant had to put a veil over his face because his face shone with glory since he had been in the presence of God. That glory Moses manifested faded away, signifying that the old covenant, though glorious, was fading away. He says that those who strive to relate to God by law still, like Moses, have the veil over their hearts. It is only when one turns to Christ that the veil is taken away (v. 16). It is only when one turns to Christ that his eyes are opened so that he can clearly see the image of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The new, more glorious covenant, Paul says, is of the Spirit, not of the letter – that is, law. In speaking of his ministry of the new covenant, he says that God“…has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6). This new covenant “far exceeds” the old covenant in glory.
What does one behold when the veil is taken away? Not another legal system! He beholds the “glory of the Lord” who is the Spirit (of the new covenant) (v. 18). And there is something wonderful that happens as we behold the glory of the Lord. We “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Notice the statement “are being transformed.” This is in the passive voice – this is something that is being done TO us now. It is not something that was once done to us and it is not something we do ourselves. Paul says that “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The Lord is changing us into His image!
Our natural inclination is to question this whole idea. How can this be? We like to be in control of things going on in our lives. We don’t like things being done to us. But this is our rational, logical, legalistic mind that raises questions and doubts. Generally, our inclination is that if we do not understand a thing we simply ignore and dismiss it.
We don’t have any problem as long as we are actively obeying the commands of the Lord. We are in control of this. But obedience – true obedience – comes from yielding our hearts to do the Lord’s will. How much different than that we yield ourselves to the process of transformation of ourselves by the power of God?
This transformation takes place when we “behold the glory of the Lord.” In the next chapter of 2 Corinthians we are told why we are to look at (behold) the Lord. It is through beholding Him that we come to know the glory of God.
“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.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
It is while we behold Him that we are transformed into the same image. So how does that work?
Think of it this way. We caution our children against the influence of bad associates. We know they will pick up bad habits, bad language, bad attitudes from bad companions. Paul warns Christians of the same in 1 Corinthians 15:33; “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
What if Jesus were our constant companion? What kind of influence would He have on our life? Do you think you would want to curse, use gutter language, belittle people, ignore the poor and hungry and be irreverent toward God? Do you think you would be materialistically minded, worshiping at the shrine of money, possessions and pleasure? Of course you would be influenced in exactly the opposite way – away from all things that cheapen life and lead us away from God.
This is exactly what is in view here. We undergo transformation into the likeness of God as we are beholding the glory of the Lord. It is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. We are to ever keep Him before our eyes and little by little we are influenced by the excellence of His life.
But how do we have that kind of relationship with Jesus? There is only one way that can happen. It is by making the accounts of His life our primary reading source. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell His story from different perspectives, which when put together give us a clear picture of what He is like. The more we dwell on the story of His life, the more we will be influenced to become like Him. That relationship has to be an ongoing one. We never cease looking at Him, beholding His glory. As we are looking we will come to admire and worship Him and we will be changed. We become like whatever – or whoever – we worship.
We should emphasize that it is not just his day to day life that reveals His glory and the image of the Father, but especially the culmination of His stay here on earth. The scene of His crucifixion should be indelibly inscribed in our hearts. It is Jesus on the cross that is the most powerful, compelling event in the history of the world. It is this event that more than anything else He did or said that reveals God to us. The depth, breadth and height of God’s wonderful love is summed up in the cross. God submitting Himself to the hands of evil men in order that He might defeat evil. God, through love, dying in order to rescue mankind from death. It is Christ lifted up on the cross that draws people to Him and it is Christ lifted up on the cross that transforms those people who are drawn.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32).
The Lord’s Supper is another way of keeping Jesus ever before our eyes. Far from being a formal ritual, the Lord’s Supper is a continuing reminder of God’s love and sacrifice for us, moving us toward that ideal of likeness that is God’s ultimate intention for each one of us. That is why the Supper should be a time of reading about Him – a time of meditation and contemplation of the wonder of His love and a time of purposing to live out our lives in the same kind of self-sacrificing love He evidenced for us.
Tomorrow: Image and the church.