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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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Sanctification

Changed By Relationship

Relationships change us, for better or for worse. When Paul says that we should not be deceived, that “bad company ruins good morals” and that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”, he does so as an affirmation of what the whole Bible teaches about humanity, that is the natural, shaping power of relationships in our lives.[1].

We were made to be shaped by relationship. This is not a bad thing. It is the way we were made. Bad company corrupts us and a little bad “yeast” affects many because sin piggybacks on good things God has made and distorts them. We were made to be shaped by relationship – ultimately by our relationship with God. In right relationship to him we bear his image, mirroring his character which we know and experience in that relationship. We were made to be shaped, in what we do, what we think, in what we love, by our relationship with God. This is how we are formed into true humans. Righteousness, in heart, mind, and hands, occurs in the context of relationship because it is a reflection of what we are in intimate relationship with. This is why reconciliation with God apart from the gospel is impossible.

If it were not for the gospel – the good news that we are reconciled to God by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus alone- we would be incapable of producing the righteous behavior needed to bring us into relationship with God because it is the relationship which creates the behavior.[2]In John’s gospel, Jesus testifies that his character is directly related to his union – perfect relationship – with the Father.[3]He is not from God because of what he does, he does what he does because he is from the Father. All his actions, indeed his very will, are a direct reflection of his relationship with the Father. In the gospel message, we are reconciled to God in Christ, through his perfect obedience and flawless bearing of the imago dei imputed to us and through our sin and impurity which keeps us from right relationship with God, being imputed to Christ and dealt with on the cross. Thus being reconciled to God we are then changed in relationship with God by the Spirit through whom we experience true, personal communion with God. Put in the context of modern psychology, the answer to the “nature versus nurture” debate in the gospel is “yes” to both. In Christ we receive a new nature, and with it our status as God’s children, thereby being established in a new context for nurture – the family of God under the care and promise of our heavenly Father who has sworn our translation into the likeness of Jesus. The new nature is the ground of our transformation and provides the new context for our nurture into the image of Jesus. In Scripture this transformative relationship is referred to in many ways, such as “abiding in the vine”[4]or in Romans 8, transformation is the result of God living in us by the Spirit, which is the source of our relationship, or “sonship”. This all works to the end that just as the life of Jesus showed his relationship with the Father, so will ours. But all of this is of divine grace, for there would be no transforming relationship if we were not first brought into that relationship through the Spirit’s application of the cross-work of the Son and his perfect “imaging” of the Father.[5]

What we learn in Ephesians is that in Christ we are not only brought into a unified relationship with God, but also with others who are united with Christ.[6]This is crucial, because we see there that transformation is intended to occur only in the context of relationship, certainly with God, but also with others who also know God.[7]When one considers a biblical anthropology, this should not be surprising. Man and woman in Genesis 2, the founding seed of all human relationship, uniquely bore the divine image in community; an image that was broken when man’s relationship with God was fractured – an image which is seen in its fullness with the perfect fulfillment of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[8]Once man fell into rebellion, he was then unable to bear the image of God as an individual due to his alienation from God, which necessarily then led to a breakdown of that image in community. Which of course then we see immediately in the disunity of competing wills as self-actualization became man’s chief goal, this is exemplified in the self-serving excuses of Adam and Eve and then in the jealous rage of their son, Cain and on and on through the biblical narrative.[9]We still were made for relationship and shaped by relationship, but it was now twisted, distorted, and ultimately destructive instead of constructive.[10]Our craving for unity and intimacy is evidence of this, but without relationship with God all dreams of unity are a vapor. We see this futility expressed today as a type of counterfeit unity among humanity is only achieved through placation, domination, or an ever-increasing affirmation of individual autonomy, which history has shown cannot be sustained but always devolves into an ugly cycle of anarchy supplanted by tyranny.

But by being reconciled to God, a new kind of horizontal relationship is created – or rather, recreated, which changes us. A community made up of individuals who being in relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus are changed so that the image of the triune God begins to be reflected in community. In fact, being in relationship with God as an individual shapes us so that we seek and create community and we feel incomplete, incapable of being what we were made to be, without that community. For instance, we experience self-giving love from God in all his kindness and good gifts to us which he gives not of necessity to himself but as a free gift – a reflection of that love in creation requires a theatre for mimicking that love, such that there is no such thing as love for God without it being expressed in love for others which reflects the love we know in relationship with God![11]

The end result of being in relationship with the God who is Trinity, is that we move toward being one as a community, just as the Father and Son and Spirit are one, while maintaining our distinction as persons.[12]This inevitably molds and sharpens us, it changes us in relationship because you cannot come together to a place of shared goals, share authority, and shared love without each individual being changed to form a unique whole.

Of course the human relationship that is created by our relationship with God is what forms the church. The church is both the necessary result of our relationship with God and the context where our relationship with God ultimately becomes visible and can actually be vouched for as genuine. And it is this horizontal relationship then that by its very nature serves the end goal of a growing intimacy with God that changes us.[13]

We are programmed to reflect what we are in relationship with.[14]The dark side of this in a fallen word is that “bad company corrupts good morals” – examples of which abound in Scripture and human history, so much so that this is generally embraced as a truism across cultures. The reality is that we cannot help but be shaped by relationship – be that with friends, family, society, or our broader cultural context. But this should not cause us who have the Bible to be hopeless. Instead, we see being changed by relationship as something beautiful, wonderful, something that makes us truly human, when our fundamental relationship is that of a son or daughter of God through Christ by the Spirit; a relationship with a God that can be known, that can be observed in history, and that through knowing shapes how we think, what we value – in the end, who we are, not merely as individuals, but as individuals made for relationship with others. Embracing this has incredible implications on marriage and friendship, on our life in the church. In the west we largely believe that good relationships are those that accept us for who we are, but the Bible gives us a vision of relationships that serve to form us into who we are meant to be. And becoming what we are meant to be is something that can only occur in relationship. We were made for this.

 

[1](1 Corinthians 15:33; 5:6 ESV)

[2]John 8:34-41; Romans 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-10

[3]John 5:31-47;14:6-11

[4]John 15:7-8

[5]Ephesians 2:1-10

[6]Ephesians 2:11-22

[7]Ephesians 2:22;4:1-16

[8]Galatians 5:14

[9]One of the key ways that the image of God is reflected in community is when community us united with a common foundation and common goal, such as we see Christ having with his Father in John’s gospel.

[10]A good example would be Babel in Genesis 11:1-9

[11]1 John

[12]John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-3.12-16

[13]I will try to flush out the biblical mechanics of that in a later post

[14]Friedrich Nietzsche famously observed “the herd mentality” in humanity, however, as we might expect from a nihilist, he doesn’t see this as having any redemptive root, but is the result of human boredom with self, laziness, and indolence. Without a biblical worldview, like the preacher in Ecclesiastes, we might be tempted to also see our natures so easily shaped by our relationship to others as dark and undesirable, especially when time and again we run as a blind heard to our ruin.

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Appendix: Seeing Your Sanctification In The Ordinary

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

In my sermon on Friday I addressed in one point the “kingdom-minded, calling focused prayer” of Paul. Speaking on this I exhorted us to see the need for a shift in the priorities of our prayers and I called us to see that very often our prayers reflect what we see as best.

I also qualified my statements by saying that Scripture is clear that we should cast our cares on the Lord and lay our needs and burdens before him, yet we should seek his kingdom and his righteousness first of all. (1 Pt. 5:7, Phil. 4:6, Matt. 6:33)

As I reflected on the sermon later in the day, I felt that I should have shown how these two kinds of prayer requests, the kingdom-minded, calling-focused prayer and prayer for our ordinary needs in this life, go hand-in-hand toward the greater goal. The last thing I want to do is create an unhealthy division in the way we view life which pits the spiritual over against the physical, rather I want to encourage us to bring our temporal needs to the Lord in a way that is kingdom-minded and calling-focused, in a way which is consistent with the “already and not yet” that we live in as Christians – keeping our highest end in sight (to glorify God and enjoy him forever).

Every need, every trial, every twist and turn in life is an opportunity to be sanctified, to grow in Christlikeness. When our job goes bad, this is not irrelevant to my walk with the Lord. When I get sick, this is not outside of God’s bigger picture.

Every temporary burden is an opportunity for growth and we should view it as such. If we pray then merely for our problems to be resolved, then perhaps we are not as kingdom-minded and calling-focused as we should be, not as aware of the reality of God’s absolute sovereignty and love towards us as his children.

We pray that God would help us find a better job, but in and with that request we pray that God would work through this situation to form Christ in us. We even thank God for bringing this into our lives for our good as an opportunity to grow and experience joy that is further untethered from the stuff of now. We pray that God would heal our cousin, but above all we pray that God would be glorified in their life – or in the taking of it!

We don’t divide our prayers into two categories, but rather we seek to have an outlook on every, ordinary aspect of our lives that is centered on God’s glory. We pray seeing the potential for sanctification in every ordinary struggle.

A baby does not…

A baby does nothing to assist in its conception, but when it is born it bears the marks of its parents. So also this great new life in Christ begins with the loving grace and power of God which always results in a life which reflects his character.

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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