Beholding His Glory
In a previous article I suggested that when John said (speaking of Jesus) “We beheld His glory,” that John ultimately meant he had seen the love of God that was displayed in the death of Jesus. There is, however, another aspect to all of this that has a tremendously practical importance.
Let’s start back in the Old Testament. Through the prophet Isaiah, God complained about His people with these words: “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, and the deaf, even though they have ears” (43.8). He also said “Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; your ears are open, but none hears” (42.19f). Clearly, God’s people were in a mess, spiritually speaking.
The question we wish to ask at this point is: how did they get that way? The answer is both simple and shocking: Israel had gotten to this point because they had been worshipping gods that were deaf and blind. Hear what Jeremiah said about idols: “Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord, ‘Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them; for the customs of the peoples are delusion; because it is wood cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They decorate it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers so that it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk!’” (10.1-5). There is an eerie correspondence between the idols and the people that worship them.
Psalm 115 makes the matter crystal-clear: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where, now, is their God?’ But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.”
A simple yet profound truth emerges from these texts: you become what you worship, you become what you set your eyes upon, you become that to which you give yourself. Spend your time and energies learning about evil, and you will become evil. Behold the lust of the flesh, and you will become a fleshly, lustful person. “Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man; or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Prov 22.24-25). “Evil companions corrupt good morals” (1 Cor 15.33). Get the point? When you make a decision to involve yourself with evil things or evil people, they will “rub off” on you and you will become just like them.
The good news is that this principle works in both directions, as it were, for good as well as evil. If you “behold” what is good, righteous, and full of love, you will become such yourself. This brings us back to the issue of beholding the glory of the Lord. As we read the gospel story in the New Testament, we see in it the love of God manifested for us. In the story of Jesus we see the love – or to use John’s term – the glory, of God. To this end Paul said “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” (2 Cor 3.18). Did you catch that? Beholding the glory of the Lord transforms us into that same image of glory. We become what we behold, we become what we fix our eyes (and attention) upon, we become like that to which we commit ourselves.
Just as the glory of God is ultimately seen in His love, so too our glorification is ultimately tied up in our becoming people of love. In this regard it is interesting that Paul specifically tied Christ-likeness to love: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love…” (Eph 3.17).
There is a preeminently practical point here: you and I will never become transformed into the glorious image of Jesus, whether in our character in this life or in our new bodies in the life to come, if we do not set ourselves to look intently at the picture of Him in the gospel. We cannot set our gaze on the world and hope to become like Christ, because setting our gaze on the world will only make us like the world. The way to become transformed into the image of Jesus is to set our focus on His image, because we will become what we behold.
In 2 Corinthians 3.18 Paul speaks of seeing the Lord’s glory “as in a mirror.” In 1 Cor 13.12, Paul says “we see in a mirror dimly.” The mirrors in Paul’s day were made of bronze and were polished to become reflective. Even when highly polished, they did not have the clarity of our modern mirrors, and it was even harder to see your image in a mirror if the bronze had begun to tarnish. Below are some photos of ancient Greek mirrors in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.