After hearing a wonderful sermon by Stuart our new Rector on “Transfiguration” I was prompted to have a look back to an article I wrote some years ago on the same subject but from a different passage of scripture. It was No 131 on this site, and based on 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. I reprint it below for the convenience of new readers.
How does one “find oneself”? How do we become the people we were meant to be? How can we fulfil our eternal destiny? How can we find real fulfilment in life? How can I discover and become the “real me? They are all different expressions of the longing we all have for significance. We are familiar with terms such as “To thine own self be true” taken from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. There are other well-known sayings which express the need to focus on oneself as supposedly a means of gaining more significance for oneself in life.
However there is another focus in life that all humans are meant to have. It is not a focus on oneself as a means of growing in significance. In fact it had a different focus. It is to turn one’s eyes from oneself and from the things of the world to another object more worthy of our gaze. In the words of the hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” To focus on Him is to bring everything into its true perspective. With that gaze we come to recognise that we are not number one in the universe, He is. Our true significance in life comes through coming into a right relationship with Him.
St Paul wrote about that true focus in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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. We take a closer look at these verses.
1). Focussing On The Lord Brings Us Personal Freedom. 2 Cor 3:17. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” What sort of freedom is Paul writing about here? Freedom to become what we want to become in life. Freedom to do what we want to do in life. In reality this freedom is freedom to be what God wants us to be and freedom to do what He wants us to do. How can our will be God’s will for us? Because He changes us from within to be what He wants us to be. He also motivates and empowers us to do what He wants us to do, by the power of His Holy Spirit within us.
2). Focussing On The Lord Changes Us. Beholding Him And Reflecting Him. 3:18, 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. Paul uses the term “unveiled faces”. We see the significance of that in verses 14 to 16. He explained that the Jews could not understand the Old Testament because it could only be explained with reference to Jesus Christ to whom it pointed as the Messiah. It was as though a veil lay over their eyes so that they could not see. But when they turn to the Lord, says Paul, the veil is taken away. They at last understand.
Paul paints the picture of those with unveiled faces beholding the Lord. He means all believers. As they continue to focus on the Lord in adoration, praise and thanksgiving, something happens. They begin to reflect what they are looking at. In fact the word katoptrizo can have both meanings as indicated in the different translations. The ESV has “beholding” and the HCSB (Holman Christian Study Bible) has “reflecting”. The word comes from katoptron = a mirror. How can both translations be correct? You can actually see why when you think about people sitting around a camp fire looking at the flames burning the wooden logs. If you look at the faces of those sitting around the fire with you, you notice that the light shines on their faces. As the glow of the fire lessens, the reflected light on their faces dims as well. When a log is put on the fire, it lights up again. A quick glance at those around us shows that the light has brightened on their faces as well. It is a simple truth. We become like the object we are focussed on. The more we gaze on Christ in love and adoration, the more we begin to reflect Him in our lives. God begins to change us so that we become more like the object of our adoration, the Lord Jesus.
3). Focussing On The Lord Brings An Inner Transformation. 3:18
Paul isn’t finished with the message of this change. He now uses another expression “transformation” (metamorphoō = to change or transform. This is the root of the English word metamorphosis) to drive home the same truth. He speaks about an inner transformation, “are being transformed”. As students of NT Greek would remind us, the verb is in the present continuous tense to show it is ongoing. It is also in the passive voice meaning that this transformation is something that is happening to us rather than something we are doing. It is the same word used for the transfiguration of Jesus as He was transfigured before them, Mat 17:2, Mk 9:2. It is twice used of Christian believers. Here and also in Romans 12:2, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… . In this latter verse it speaks of the process of transformation as being through the “renewing of the mind”. In our 2 Cor 3:18 reference it refers to the object or goal of this transformation. It is “into the likeness of Christ Himself”. Becoming more like Him.
4). Focussing On The Lord Restores The Likeness Of God In Us. 3:18
“are being transformed into the same image”. Humans were made in the image of God. (Gen 1:27) “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. However that image was defaced through the sin of Adam and through all consequent human sin. The good news is this, the image of God can be restored in God’s people. When they trust in God, He imparts to them His own divine nature, 2Pet 1:4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature. See also Col 3:10 and Rom 8:29.
Some may say, “Surely that transformation can’t happen all at once.” Of course it can’t. Paul goes on to say that this transformation is an ongoing process for those who have received His nature.
5). Focussing On The Lord Enables Ongoing Spiritual Growth To Take Place.
“From one degree of glory to another”. The word “glory” (doxa) has a variety of meanings including idea, appearance, reputation, majesty among many others. As I thought about a short phrase that might sum up these meanings my mind went to “the REALITY of God”. In this context in verse 3:18 it could mean that the transformation in believers grows as they focus on the REALITY of God. His glory (His REALITY, the reality of His presence) increases in them. They become more increasingly REAL like Him. They begin to show forth increasingly the REALITY of the character of God. This is what is called the process of sanctification. Being more and more set apart from the things of the world and becoming more and more set apart to the REALITY of God in one’s life. It is an on-going process towards wholeness, until we are glorified with Him in the REALITY of His presence in glory, Col 3:4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
6). Focusing On The Lord Enables God’s Holy Spirit To Do His Work In Us.
“This (inner transformation) comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” We do the beholding of the Lord. This is through focussing on Him in God’s word and in expressing adoration and praise and thanksgiving to Him as a living Person, indeed our Lord and Master. As we do so, His Spirit does the transforming into His likeness within us because we are open to the work of His Spirit in our lives. St Paul prayed for this transformation to come to completion in the lives of those to whom he wrote in Ephesus. This is what He prayed for them, Eph 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
How important then to get our focus right in life. To be on Him! So that He can transform us! Into His likeness! To become more like Him! To be filled with His fulness!