Seeing the Glory of Christ Is a Discipline

Although the Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification and He works in us in this mysterious fashion, it is also true that He uses rational and understandable means to sanctify us. Some of these means, such as adversities and the exhortation and encouragement of others, are outside of our control to initiate. With other means, such as the learning and application of Scripture and the frequent use of prayer, He expects us to take the initiative. We will come to these in later chapters. For now I want to focus on the one specific means that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 3:18, that is, beholding the glory of Christ.
Paul wrote, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed” . That is, beholding the glory of the Lord is one means the Spirit uses to transform us.
What is the glory of the Lord that Paul referred to, and how does beholding it transform us? First, the glory of the Lord denotes the presence of God and all that He is in all of His attributes—His infiniteness, eternalness, holiness, sovereignty, goodness, and so on. In other words, God is glorious in all of His being and all of His works. However, in the context of 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul was contrasting the glory of the Law given by Moses with the far-surpassing glory of the gospel (see 2 Corinthians 3:7–11). Then in 2 Corinthians 4:4, he spoke of “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” This means the glory of Christ is good news, for the word gospel means good news.
This close connection between the gospel and Christ’s glory leads me to believe that Paul was in this instance thinking of the glory of Christ, especially as it is revealed in the gospel. The law reveals the glory of God in His righteousness; the gospel reveals the glory of God in both His righteousness and grace. Christ’s death reveals the righteousness of God in that it satisfied the justice of God, but it also reveals the grace of God in that it was the means of salvation to those who deserve only eternal wrath.
Furthermore, the gospel reveals the wisdom of God in devising such an infinitely magnificent way of meeting our desperate need without sacrificing His holiness and justice. And it reveals the power of God, both in His raising Jesus from the dead and in raising us from spiritual death to a new life in Christ. So the gospel pulls together and harmonizes all these glorious attributes of the Lord: His righteousness with His grace, His justice with His mercy, His power with His love, His wisdom with His patience and compassion.
It seems, though, that God desires to magnify His grace in a special way to us, for Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:6–7, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” The key phrase is that God might show the incomparable riches of His grace. This is God’s goal in salvation of fallen human beings: the exaltation of His grace shown to us in Christ.
James Fraser (1700–1769), an obscure Scottish pastor, wrote a masterful treatise on sanctification that was recognized as a classic in its day and has recently been reprinted. In this book he has this to say about the glory of the gospel:

It is the gospel that exhibits God’s highest glory, which he chiefly designs to display before sinful men, even that glory of God that shines in the face of Christ. It is the gospel that sets forth the glory of Christ, and by which the Holy Spirit himself is glorified; and it is it that will be honored with the concomitant [accompanying] influence of the Holy Spirit.…
If it should now be asked what is that special doctrine of the gospel, and, strictly speaking, the doctrine of faith? I shall answer briefly—
All revealed truth ought to be greatly valued, and received by faith; and, if properly used, may be subservient to the main subject and design of the gospel. But the special subject of the gospel is Christ; and preaching Christ, according to the light and direction of the word of God, is preaching the gospel.… To preach Christ the Savior and the Lord, is the sum of gospel-preaching.

This then is the glory that has a transforming effect on us. It is the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel, the good news that Jesus died in our place as our representative to free us not only from the penalty of sin but also from its dominion. A clear understanding and appropriation of the gospel, which gives freedom from sin’s guilt and sin’s grip, is, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, a chief means of sanctification.
To the degree that we feel we are on a legal or performance relationship with God, to that degree our progress in sanctification is impeded. A legal mode of thinking gives indwelling sin an advantage, because nothing cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of guilt. On the contrary, nothing so motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding and application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.
Robert Haldane, in his commentary on Romans, quotes from a previous writer identified only as “Mr. Romaine,” who said, “No sin can be crucified either in heart or life, unless it be first pardoned in conscience; because there will be want of faith to receive the strength of Jesus, by whom alone it can be crucified. If it be not mortified [put to death] in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.”
We will be studying the discipline of putting sin to death, or subduing it, in chapter 11. For now, however, we should consider the connection Mr. Romaine drew between sin’s being pardoned in our consciences and our ability to rely upon Christ for the strength to subdue it. The cleansing of our consciences from the guilt of sin must precede our efforts to deal with the presence of sin in our daily lives.
In the words of Hebrews 9:14, it is “the blood of Christ” that will “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death [that is, from sinful acts], so that we may serve the living God!” We cannot serve God or pursue holiness with any vigor at all if we are dealing with a guilty conscience. Therefore we need the gospel to remind us that our sins are forgiven in Christ, and that “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Our specific responsibility in the pursuit of holiness as seen in 2 Corinthians 3:18, then, is to behold the glory of the Lord as it is displayed in the gospel. The gospel is the “mirror” through which we now behold His beauty. One day we shall see Christ, not as in a mirror, but face to face. Then, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Until then we behold Him in the gospel. Therefore, we must “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”
To behold the glory of Christ in the gospel is a discipline. It is a habit we must develop by practice as we learn to preach the gospel to ourselves. As I have repeatedly said, although sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is a work in which He involves us. In later chapters we will be looking at other disciplines that we must practice in the pursuit of holiness. But none is more important than the discipline of beholding the glory of Christ in the “mirror” of the gospel.

Jerry Bridges

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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