2 Corinthians 3:18 states, “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.”
This verse is a verse on change – specifically on how God, in essence, changes a person. This verse is a glorious observation from the Apostle Paul on some glorious benefits the saints have received from through the New Covenant God has established with them in Christ. This verse states that we have been enabled by the Spirit to both behold more fully the glory of the Lord and to be more fully transformed into the likeness of that glory.
This benefit is far superior to that which the Old Testament saint had. The New Testament saint does not only have the God of all glory present and active around him, but by the ministry of the Spirit God is at work in him – transforming Him. According to this passage the Christian can “with unveiled face” behold the glory of God in Christ, and, thereby, most amazingly, be transformed by this beholding into the very likeness of that glory of God which He beholds. What remarkable change is possible for the saint of God in Christ because of the new potential he has to “with unveiled face” behold the Lord of glory. This thesis will seek to help believers make the most of this ability described in 2 Corinthians 3:18 in the transformation of their lives.
John MacArthur calls 2 Corinthians 3:18 his favorite verse of Scripture and here is why:
That verse illustrates to me the divine perspective of the process through which we are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The theme of the verses is glory – and more than any verse I know of, it emphasizes the glorious nature of what Christ does for those of us who look to Him in faith. It shows how the glory of the Lord pervades the New Covenant in an even greater way than it did the Old, and it applies that truth to my life – and the life of every believer.”I have had the privilege through the ministry of biblical counseling of seeing God graciously transform many minds, lives and marriages. It is from this perspective that I testify to the reality of what John MacArthur calls, “the divine perspective of change.” When transformation occurs by the Spirit of God, it is preceded by deeper biblical comprehension of God by the Spirit of God in the heart and mind of the one whom has changed. As a result they behold His glory more fully thus empowering choice-changing affections, like a godly fear, trust and love. From God’s divine perspective, change has come as a result a change in knowledge of God. In this verse the Spirit of God rolls back the current of eternity and allows us to see the “divine perspective on change”. Thus it is in this verse that we see what fundamentally biblical transformation is and how it occurs.
This Verse’s Contribution to the Doctrine of Biblical Change
There are various verses in the New Testament scripture describing biblical change, each from various angles; as in the study of any doctrine so it is true in this one, that some verses overlap one another and differ from one another, but never contradict another. Each verse embellishes the concept further.
- The doctrine of biblical change is described in Ephesians 4:22-24 as having three components: putting off the old patterns of life, being renewed in the spirit of the mind, and putting on the new patterns of life reflective of Jesus Christ.
- Romans 12:1-2 instructs change through commanding us to offer our bodies and renew our minds.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 gives a four step process of change wherein the Word of God teaches, reproves, corrects, and then trains the man of God in righteous living.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 gives us the “Divine Perspective.” It observes that the more a believe beholds the glory of the Lord, the more they will become like what they behold. It makes a believer’s concept of God central to his ability to change.
According to Ephesians 4:22-24, the old patterns of life are to be put off and the new patterns of life in Christ are to put on in the context of the renewed mind. Yet, it is clear based on 2 Corinthians 3:18 that it is the greater comprehension of God’s glory that centrally renews the mind and motivate powerful changes in the habits of a person. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 gives instructs that biblical reproof and correction are necessary to change biblically. 2 Corinthians 3:18 would lead using clear and accurate concepts of God Himself to reprove and correct a Christian’s heart most effectively. To support these things I offer the following excerpts from “Knowing God” written by one of the greatest theologian of our day, J.I. Packard.
The Christians instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack: and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby. We are modern men, and modern men, though they cherish great thoughts of man, have as a general rule small thoughts of God.
Does this tremendous sense of His holy majesty, His moral perfection, and His gracious faithfulness keep us humble and dependent, awed and obedient, as it did Daniel? By this test, too, we may measure how much, or how little, we know of God. (pg. 25)
The invariable fruit of true knowledge of God is energy to pray for God’s cause – energy, indeed, which can only find an outlet and a relief of inner tension when channeled into such prayer – and the more knowledge, the more energy. By this we may test ourselves. (pg. 24)It is fresh views of the Divine that characterize what centrally occurs in Divine change leading to a change from the inside-out. 2 Corinthians 3:18 makes this clear by stating that it is by beholding the glory of the Lord that the believer is transformed in that glory of the Lord. This verse makes clear that biblical transformation does not occur just by identifying (i.e. “beholding”) what sinful pattern is to be stopped and what righteous patterns started, nor by just more accurately viewing one’s self, others and or his circumstances. But rather it is more clear views of the Lord that will centrally effect our perspective of all these and promote divine changes in all of these things.
The discipline of beholding the glory of the Lord for the purpose of transformation into the Lord’s likeness should be a major distinction between those who counsel secularly and those who counsel as Christians. But sadly I believe it is a distinction that does not get due emphasis in much Christian counseling today. Fresh views of the glory of the Lord is the fundamental change that occurs in all true, divinely given, transformation of sinful man.
JI Packard writes:
But the Bible tells us that now, in fulfillment of His plan of redemption, God at work in the Christian believers to repair His ruined image by communicating these qualities (i.e. incommunicable and communicable attributes) to them fresh. This is what Scripture means when it says that Christians are being renewed in the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18) and of God (Col 3:10)” – (90)John Owens, the Puritan, writes on the importance of beholding the glory of Christ:
I assert that one of the greatest benefits for a believer in this world and the next is to consider the glory of Christ (7) “…the things of this world will have less and less attraction for us until they become as undesirable as something dead .” (9) All wickedness and confusion among human beings come from this darkness, this ignorance of God” (13)
Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone, namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory, putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief.To support this further I offer excepts from A.W. Tozer’s book “The Knowledge of the Holy” in his first chapter entitled, “Why We Must Think Rightly of God”.
What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes to your mind when you think about God?” We might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God that idolatry. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself is a monstrous sin. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from there. The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until once more worthy of Him. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place.As the Christian continues behold the Lord of glory, gaining a more correct view of God, he is able to be powerfully confronted and motivated to change sinful behavioral patterns and replace them. Thus beholding the glory of the Lord, I will argue, is the divine perspective of change, it is what essentially changes in a person if they are changing biblically. It is of central importance in the transformation of lives. Thus, I want to encourage counselors of Scripture, as much as possible, to aim to correct faulty notions of the Lord in the minds and establish fresh views of His glory for those we counsel; and to do so, not merely as a part of the work but as the very foundation from which we instruct, reprove and correct people in putting off sinful patterns in life and putting on biblical patterns of living.