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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Glory

Sustained By Glory

When Katie and I got married we had a pretty normal American, Christian life. We had a starter home we were paying the bank for, I had a good job in construction management, we had a good community group and a good church. Then about a week into our marriage, while reading the Bible together at our hotel in Sorrento, Italy, the words from Isaiah 6 jumped off the page. “Who will we send? And who will go for us?” This divine inquiry was met with the newly sanctified lips of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.” I turned to Katie and I said with moist eyes, “I think our lives are going to look different than we thought.” She smiled and said. “Okay.”

Fast forward literally 10 years from then to when I am writing this in early December 2017. We have six kids, we are on the other side of the world, we live off of support from generous gospel-partners, and this spring will mark 9 years of cross-cultural ministry in a part of the world where the unreached have converged. There have been many ups and downs, many things to rejoice in, and many things that have been and continue to be difficult. Probably among the greatest of those difficulties is what many of us face who have followed the call across cultures – which is that the people we have given ourselves to love, that we share the gospel with, that we point to Christ, just seem so hard, so unreceptive, and there just seems to be so little fruit.

What has kept us going these years and what is going to sustain us for many more? How do we keep from giving up or keep from sacrificing faithfulness out of desperation for something to “write home about”?

What I have found is that the answer to that question is found in the very passage of Scripture that God used to compel us to the field in the first place.

During a season of discouragement and wrestling with various ministry models I happened upon a lecture from D.A. Carson about the parables in Mark 4. In that lecture he necessarily spent a good bit of time looking at Isaiah 6, which Jesus quotes from as context for his parables. From Isaiah 6 Carson pointed out, and I am paraphrasing, that we often read the “Here Am I. Send me!” and then we fail to read on to see the description of the ministry that Isaiah was being given. He would preach and God would use his preaching to actually harden the hearts of his hearers! He would proclaim great promises and yet see no immediate fruit. And it was here that Carson, paused and said solemnly, “If you are not willing to accept that God may be calling you to an Isaiah ministry, you need to stay out of ministry because you’re dangerous.”

So the question is, if it wasn’t appreciable results the sustained Isaiah in his ministry what was it? What compelled him to embrace this sending into what would, for the time, be a thankless and fruitless ministry?

The answer? It is what Isaiah saw that compelled him and sustained him. He saw the glory of God. In this case, I believe he saw “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6) It was this same sight of glory that would lead John and Peter to say in the face of persecution, “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It was this same sight of glory that sustained Stephen as the condemnation of the Sanhedrin came down on his head. It was this sight of glory that would lead Paul to suffer for the sake of God’s elect.

If your people-group is your goal, then when your ministry looks like an Isaiah ministry you will either compromise or give up or be miserable. But when your proclamation is an overflow of the glory you have seen, continuing in it is not dependent on results but on the glory itself which will never cease to shine. When ministry is an overflow of seeing glory you live knowing as Paul says, that “God… always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance  of Christ among those who are being saved  and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death  leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life  leading to life. Who is adequate for these things?  For we do not market the word of God  for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Faithful ministry is being done when we speak in Christ, from God, and in the sight of God. Secure in Christ regardless of results, proclaiming a message from God despite how foolish it may sound, and for his approval alone when everyone around us seems to demand and only be impressed by measurable results. We endure in faithful ministry when it is not driven by our outward circumstances or results, but by our communion with God. So what sustains us in faithful ministry? Seeing him. Seeing him -having him as our greatest reality, our inspiration, our prize! Where am I getting this? By reading on to chapter 3, 4, 5! We now with unveiled face by the Spirit behold God’s glory, therefore we do not lose heart in ministry, and now knowing Christ and seeing him, we consider suffering, even the suffering of seemingly fruitless labor, as but preparation as we, viewing people differently now, live as reconciliation-proclaiming ambassadors of Christ.

We get the aroma by being around him. We get the glow by gazing at his face. And we carry that aroma and we shine that radiance regardless of how it is received. And regardless of what happens – we are triumphant. Isaiah was. He didn’t get to see it. But he was triumphant.

It is the sight of the glory of God that compels us to speak. It is the sight of the glory of God that causes us to not help but endure. And it is the perfect sight of that glory which will be our prize.

I don’t ever want to lose that as my motivation for endurance. Because it is there that we have peace, we have joy, that we know that we triumph in all circumstances. It is there that we do not lose heart. We proclaim what we see, we see because God has opened our eyes and we can’t help ourselves, and if anything comes from this proclamation it will be because God will make others see, because he makes others smell the sweetness of what we have come to smell – the aroma of Christ, the glory seen in his face.

“We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That is what allowed John to endure. What he had seen and heard. In the end, it didn’t matter whether people wanted it or not, it simply overflowed and God, in ways we see and ways we cannot, will use that overflow. So look. So smell. So endure until you get what you ultimately want – to see him face to face, to breath in the aroma of his robes as he embraces you and welcomes you into his uninterrupted joy.

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The Radiance of His Glory:The Holy Spirit’s Regenerating & Sanctifying Work Of Revealing The Glory of the Father in the Son

Primarily when we think of what regeneration and sanctification have in common we should conclude that the answer is that both are works of the Holy Spirit. In regeneration the Spirit, working through the Word, creates new life. In Sanctification the Spirit, working through the Word, brings about the effects or fruit of new life.

We could talk of the different means by which the Spirit works regeneration and sanctification. But I would like to devote my time to what I consider to be the primary means of both. That is to say what happens, what shift takes place when one goes from death to life, dark to light, bondage to freedom and then continues on to higher heights and greater resemblance to the one through whom all this was obtained, Jesus Christ.

This primary means is where the commonality lies between the Spirit’s work in Sanctification and His work in Regeneration. The means is the revelation of the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ“. Or the Gospel.

When we think of Gospel, or Good News, I hope what we are thinking of is the message that God the Creator of all things, redeems rebellious man to himself through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. So what then does Gospel and glory have in common? Even more so what is meant by the Gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God? In short the glory of God is the holiness, majesty, perfection, might and transcendence of God. His infinite worth to which nothing can compare. In Christ we see the good news of this worth and perfection displayed. For in perfection Christ displayed the glory of God in the salvation of sinners by satisfying the justice of God by displaying the love of God through his vicarious, atoning death on the cross. At the cross the perfect love of God and the perfect justice of God met in perfect harmony. Then Christ rose from the dead as a testament to the perfect righteousness of God. It is only through what Christ has accomplished that we can behold God’s glory and enjoy Him forever in all his beauty and boundless worth! God created us for His glory. To praise him for it and to reflect it as his image bearers.

The problem with us fallen humanity is that without the regenerating, revelatory work of the Spirit through the Word we would never desire God or see him as the infinite treasure that he is. As those that had fallen “short of the glory of God” we were “dead in our trespasses and sins“. Instead of treasuring the boundlessly glorious and lovely One, we exchanged what we refused by nature to see the value in for images of cheap imitations of glory – created things. Like the cosmos before creation in Genesis 1, we were “formless and void” and “darkness covered the face” of our being. There was no single cell organism floating around. There was not even a random collection of elements waiting to be mixed. There was deadness. There was void. There was darkness. But God was still at work. His Spirit was hovering over that inky blackness and then… the command came.

“Let – there – be – Light”.

And there was light. Where there had been death, void, and inky blackness was now life, substance, and sight. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel message, brought vivification and for the first time we were able to see what was beautiful, to perceive what is worthy, and to respond appropriately to such sight and perception. This response is nearly simultaneous and it consists of faith and repentance.

It is not true that saving faith is blind faith. Rather saving faith is that which is informed by spiritual sight and not physical sight. That spiritual sight is this very sight that we are talking of. The first thing that these new eyes behold is the radiance of God’s glory in the revelation of Jesus Christ through the Gospel word. Jesus said “He who has seen me has seen the Father” and Hebrews tell us that “He is the radiance of the glory of God”. Faith is thus an irresistible response to Spirit-given sight in regeneration, for it is a sight that is based on what is seen with the eyes of the heart. Faith is a response to spiritual reality in the heart.

Repentance also is an inevitable response of this regenerating work, for as you behold the glory of God your sin is made plain for what it is. Though you may not see all your sin in one moment, you see the state of your depravity and are made to stand in fear as you consider your rebellion before God. One day “every knee will bow” because they will behold the glory of the Lord, but for the regenerate soul that submission begins when their spiritual senses are vivified and brought to a perception of the majesty and holiness of God. Isaiah, when he beheld the glory of the Lord filling the temple, was struck with fear at the sight and cried “Woe is me! For I am lost!”.

Therefore, we see that when we become a new creation in Christ, the Spirit grants us spiritual sight that we might believe and such sight as beholds the holiness and majesty of God which brings about repentance.

But. The Spirit does not stop with that initial sight-giving act but sustains it and it is by this sustaining that we persevere in sanctification.

Just as the primary means of our regeneration is the spiritual sight which brings about a “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, leading to repentance and faith, so also this sight continues and by it we are sanctified; transformed more and more into the image of Christ. The great Puritan theologian, John Owen defines it this way “The sanctification of the Spirit is peculiarly connected with, and limited to the doctrine, truth, and grace of the Gospel, for holiness is the implanting , writing, and realizing of the Gospel in our souls”. True regeneration will always lead to sanctification. For as the Spirit brought life to all things at creation and now also sustains the life of all creation (Job 34:14-15), so also the elect owe their spiritual life and growth to the ongoing vivification of the Spirit.

Again, as I set out to prove, like in regeneration, the primary means of the Spirit in sanctification is in the revelation of the glory of God in Christ. For “we all (those regenerated), 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 Cor 3:18). In theological terms it could be said that the initial sight at regeneration, that burst of light that God declares over the inky blackness of our souls, produces a repentance that comes about as a result of our definitive or positional sanctification by the Spirit. Then the continual viewing of the glory of God in the Gospel brings about progressive sanctification which results in a daily repentance; a daily turning from sin and turning to God. As we behold him, we become more like him. For the verse above say that we are “transformed into the same image“. Also, just as beholding him brought an awareness of our sin and undone state, so a continued beholding, a deepening knowledge of God, leads to a deepening knowledge of self and of sin.

The question we must ask then is, “How do we continue to behold the glory of the Lord?” There are certain means by which we do this and it is due to lack of use of these means that many a regenerate person is carnal and weak. The primary means is that by which we were at first brought to life, the Word of God which is the Gospel. Just as God spoke over us and said “Let light shine out of darkness”, so God has spoken in His Word to His church for all time. It is through Christ, through the Word, that God is revealed. What God has spoken about himself is how we know God; how we see him with that spiritual sight that has been given to us. Thus if we neglect the Bible, then we neglect to grow in the knowledge of God, which means that transformation will stagnate. As time passes and our vision dims as a result of our finitude and abiding corruption we may find ourselves even beginning to backslide. Progressive sanctification is the Spirit’s work in our hearts as we behold the glory of God by His word and respond accordingly, just as we did at the very beginning. Other means that could be discussed are prayer, communion, and fellowship of the saints but I will save that for another time.

Conclusion

In this life we can scarcely remove our eyes from that which is beautiful. When standing on a mountain peak or looking toward the stars on a clear night we are in awe and at times wish that the moment would never end. So the Spirit has revealed the glory of Christ to those of us that were blind until God spoke his creating decree and breathed out his Spirit, creating new life. Now that sight has come and we gaze upon the splendor of this God who has displayed his glory in Christ for His chosen people to see. The Spirit’s work of revealing the holiness, worth, splendor, love and justice of God does not end with the initial creating work in the new birth, but he continues to sustain it so that with spiritual sight and understanding we may continue to behold the glory of the Lord in a way that only increases. As we behold this radiance we begin to reflect it in our own lives until one day when we see Christ face-to-face. Then in that wonderful moment “we shall be like him“. Why will we be like him? For no other reason than why we began to look more like him in this life -because we saw him. Only on that day when we really see him we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2) in that place where there is no sun “for the glory of God will give it light” (Rev 21:23).

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