2 Corinthians 3:18 ~ But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
The greatest person in the universe is God. He is transcendent, eternal, infinite, self-sufficient, sovereign, just… He is the all-knowing and all-wise being to whom the angels cry out day and night, “Holy, holy, holy!” These holy angels who’ve never sinned and have remained in their perfect created state need to shield their faces from the brilliant radiance of His glory (cf. Isa 6:2). If He were to unleash the fullness of His splendor upon us right now, we would all fall dead instantly (cf. Exo 33:20). So when Paul states in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that believers are able to behold God’s glory, we scratch our heads and wonder what he means. Is it possible for saved sinners to actually see the glory of God?
This verse has transformed my life. I’ve probably read it hundreds of times. But it was only when I studied it and took the time to ponder it, that by God’s grace, the amazing truths packed into this one verse changed everything – truths of God’s glory, faith, sanctification, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray it will grip your heart and light a passion in you for the glory of Christ! Look with me at three profound truths from this single verse.
The first truth is that all believers have access to the glory of God. Paul states, “But we all, with unveiled face.” Earlier in verses 14-16, Paul says that believers have had the veil of their hearts taken away through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, the very moment we are saved, the veil has been lifted from our eyes so that we can see the glory of God for the first time. And this access to see Him is never impeded, but always available to us as His children (cf. Heb 4:16).
This ought to give our hearts great hope! No matter where we are at, no matter how “stuck” we feel spiritually, no matter if we haven’t seen His glory in a long time, if we belong to Him, we have had the veil removed from our hearts and we can behold His glory once more!
The second truth is that the glory of God is the supernatural source for our spiritual transformation. The grammar of this verse proves this point (Let’s go back to grade school grammar, shall we?). The subject and main verb of this sentence is: “We all… are being transformed.” Then there is a participial phrase that shows how this happens: by “beholding the glory of the Lord.” So how are believers transformed? By beholding the glory of the Lord. But how can we behold it without dying? And where can we go to see it today?
A few verses later in 4:6, Paul describes where the glory of God is revealed… “in the face of Christ.” In other words, the glory of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and specifically, according to 4:4, “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The Gospel encompasses the great work of Christ in His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4). So according to Paul, the glory of God can be clearly seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But why is this so? Why does the death and resurrection of Christ reveal God’s glory most clearly? It’s because no other event in human history reveals the love, grace, and mercy of God more than the Cross work of Jesus. John Piper writes…
“All things are created and guided and sustained for the glory of God, which reaches its apex in the glory of His grace, which shines most brightly in the glory of Christ, which comes to focus most clearly in the glory of the Cross.”
Therefore, seeing the beauty and wonder of God’s love and grace for sinners like us through the excruciating, agonizing, shocking death of His beloved Son is the means for our spiritual transformation. Paul says we “behold” it, which simply means we believe it (cf. John 6:40). We trust in it. We walk by faith in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). And when we do, the supernatural power of God through the Holy Spirit changes everything about us – our motives, our desires, our attitudes, our affections, our thoughts, our words and our works (cf. Gal 5:22-23).
This leads us to the third truth… true spiritual transformation takes place from the inside out. The word “transformed” is where we get our English word “metamorphosis.” It speaks of a total and complete change in a person’s fundamental character. It’s change at the deepest level of our being, at the heart. And this internal transformation will inevitably and joyfully lead to obedience to the will of God. There is no room for “cheap grace” or licentious living when we’re dealing with God’s powerful grace.
When we continue to behold the glory of God in the gospel work of Jesus Christ, our hearts are transformed with a profound love for Christ! And this love motivates us to joyfully live for Him, no matter what the cost may be. Just as the forgiven woman in Luke 7 endured the public shame and ridicule at the home of Simon the Pharisee so that she could demonstrate her loving devotion to Jesus Christ (v. 38), our hearts will be willing and longing to do anything in order to please and glorify Jesus!
So there you have it. Yes, we can behold God’s glory today. Not visibly with our eyes, but with the eyes of our hearts. We can see the amazing, everlasting glory of God in the truth of the Cross-work of Jesus Christ. Maybe your Christian life has been on “cruise control” and you’re not sure how to get out of the lukewarm rut you’re in. Maybe you’re suffering under a heavy trial and you’re responses aren’t very godly. Maybe you’re battling a recurring temptation to sin… again. Maybe you’re doubting God’s great love for you because of the weight of sin’s guilt. Whatever the struggle may be, know this truth, that Jesus Christ can bring instant and powerful change to your heart and life.
So run quickly to the resurrected Christ. Gaze into the depths of His sufferings. And think of what He did in order to demonstrate the infinite depths of His love for great sinners like us!
John Piper, “Why Did God Create the World,” Sermon Manuscript from Desiring God (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/why-did-god-create-the-world), March 21, 2013.