No, I don’t really mean that, but the thought has struck me down from time to time. Most of us mess up occasionally, and it’s natural to feel embarrassed about it. We may chide ourselves for our mistakes, but it’s not those fleeting moments of self criticism that worry me. My concern is for people who continually put themselves down – and especially those who think that’s what God expects of them. It does no honour to the Gospel to declare ourselves “miserable sinners” after we have received salvation – and it’s bad for our mental and spiritual health.
Salvation is a miracle. God accepts us before we make any move towards him then, when we accept him, he sets in progress an ongoing miracle that transforms us again and again. Paul described the first part of that miracle in these words:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [i]
Now that’s big! Christ died for our sin before we gave him a thought. In fact, he anticipated our need long before we were born.
The second part of the miracle is illustrated in one of my favourite passages (also from Paul’s writings). I’m quoting from the 400-year-old English version because it includes the exact title of this blog:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” [ii]
However, for openness and clarity, I’ve added the text of two modern versions in the Notes. [iii]
That phrase “from glory to glory” says a lot – and it’s a literal translation of the original New Testament language. The Greek word for “glory” is “doxa” and it appears three times in that verse – once to refer to the Lord and twice to mean us. Get that! We know that Lord is glorious, but he says we are too! And the text doesn’t say we’re being changed from rubbish to glory. It says we are being changed from glory to glory.
We are not rubbish!
That word glory (doxa) often appears in the New Testament, and it’s only ever used in a positive sense. It always implies something good and valuable. And it’s usually used to refer to God’s glory. Wow! But isn’t that just what Paul implied when he said that Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners”? He didn’t see us as rubbish when we first came to him. Before we made any move towards him, he saw us as valuable – he saw us as people worth saving. And he started a work in us that will enhance our value even further.
A rough diamond is already considered valuable when it’s taken out of the ground, though its potential beauty is not yet apparent. It is taken from the mine and given to skilled workers who will cut and polish it, shaping the facets that will make it shimmer with glorious magnificence. But nothing will be added that wasn’t always there. The polished diamond is the same stone that came out of the mine, but with bits cut away. What a superb analogy for sanctification!
The word “sanctification” is based on the Latin word “sanctus” [iv], which means holy. So, sanctification is the process of being made holy. That’s what the “glory to glory” text is all about. In context, Paul is explaining that the Gospel of Grace gives us greater privileges than the Old Testament Law. He retells the story about Moses coming down from the mountain after receiving the Ten Commandments. When the people saw him, they were afraid because his face was glowing, so they got him to cover his face with a veil. Now, says Paul, the Gospel removes the veil so we can see the glory of God. We don’t see the Lord directly, says Paul, but as it were in a mirror.
Why a mirror? Think about why do we use a mirror? We use it to check how we look. Is my collar straight? Is my hair properly brushed? Do I have soap or toothpaste in my chin? But, in Paul’s metaphor, it’s not our own image in the looking glass. It’s Jesus! How do we shape up to his likeness? And this is where the “glory to glory” comes in. Our first thought may be to make a negative comparison, like Isaiah did when he saw the vision of the Lord in the temple – “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” [v] But God reassures us, just as he reassured Isaiah, saying, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”. We’re being changed from glory (i.e., we’re already freed from guilt) to glory (I.e., we’re being improved even more). And this is happening as we contemplate the Lord.
Get this, because it’s what the Christian life us all about. Keep your mind on Christ; learn about him; worship him; desire him; follow him; obey him – and little by little you will become more like him. He will change you, or rather he will keep on changing you, from glory to glory.
© Derrick Phillips 2022
[i] Romans 5:8 (NIV
[ii] 2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV)
[iii] “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIVUK)
“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)
[iv] The Latin word “Sanctus” is a literal translation of the New Testament Greek word “hagios”.
[v] Isaiah 6:5 (NIV)
Does all that seem too simplistic? What can you expect from a 1000-word blog? But you can do better! There’s a 140-page book to help you find a reasonable route to personal holiness.
My Goodness! Reasonable Holiness is just that. It’s a straightforward, reasonable study of the Bible’s teaching about personal holiness, with practical guidance on how to follow that path. Holiness has often been the subject of cranks, but it’s a genuine, God-given objective aiming to bring believers into a safe sense of victory over sin. It doesn’t conflict with the church’s teaching on salvation by Grace through Faith. Nor does it promote lazy thinking of the sit-back-and-let-it-happen kind. We don’t know what trials we may face in the future, or even what temptations may come our way in the next 24 hours. But we are reassured by the last words Jesus uttered when he was on earth – I am with you always.
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