Rev. Terpstra is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
Able to gaze on the glory of our Lord now in this life?! And doing so, to be changed into the same image as He, even from glory to glory?! That we shall behold our Lord’s glory in the hereafter is our great hope, for then we shall see Him “face to face” (I Cor. 13:12). That we shall be like Him then, in perfection, is our sure expectation (I Jn. 3:2). But now already to be able to see His glory and be changed into His glorious image?! Almost unthinkable! Hardly possible from our standpoint! Yet that is what our text declares. Amazing work of God in Christ and by His Spirit!
It is this transforming power of the gospel of Christ in the new dispensation which the inspired apostle magnifies in this section of the epistle. The old dispensation had a glorious revelation too, even though it was a ministration of death and condemnation. For it was the revelation of God’s law through Moses demanding that the sinner love and serve Him perfectly, which law could only expose the church’s sinners in their guilt and depravity. And when Moses was given that revelation of God’s law in the mount, his face shined so gloriously that the children of Israel could not look on it. Moses had to put a veil over his face when he read the law to them.
But how much more glorious is the gospel ministration of the new testament! For it is the revelation of Christ as the Savior from sin and death! It is the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ imputed to sinners by faith alone! It is the revelation of the Spirit who gives life to dead sinners! It is the revelation that causes believers to behold Christ and be changed into His same image! Wonderful blessing of God to His own!
To behold the glory of the Lord is the amazing vision believers have in this life. They are able to see their Lord in His glory while He is in heaven and they are on earth! Here and now they gaze on Jesus as their glorious Savior and Lord! The question is, how? For we cannot pierce through the heavens with our earthly eyes and behold Christ. How then? We see Him “as in a glass,” says our text. That is, we see Him by reflection, as in a mirror. While in this life we are not able to see our Lord directly, we can see Him and His glory reflected. That reflection we find in the Word of God — the Word of God written (the Scriptures) and the Word of God spoken (the preaching). The Scriptures, first of all, constitute the mirror in which we behold the glory of the Lord. Christ’s glory is reflected surely in the Old Testament Scriptures, yet weakly and dimly. It is in the New Testament Scriptures that we find the clearest reflection of our Lord. In the gospel accounts and in the epistles we are given a beautiful mirror in which to gaze on our Savior and His glory. There we see Him in the glory of His eternal Sonship, in the glory of His perfect manhood, in the glory of His humility and obedience, in the glory of His suffering and death for us sinners, in the glory of His resurrection and ascension. No smeared or cracked mirror is this which we have in the written Word of God! What a glorious reflection of our Lord is there, and therefore what an amazing sight is ours! When I read the Scriptures, or the Scriptures are read to me, I am beholding the glory of my Lord as in a glass!
And so too, secondly, in the preaching of that Word. Such is the ministry Paul speaks of in the context (3:12; 4:1ff.). When he preached Christ Jesus the Lord, God’s people beheld the glory of their Lord as in a glass. And so today, when God’s Word written is preached faithfully by godly servants of the Lord, the glory of Christ is set before us as in a mirror. The preaching holds Him up for us to see by reflection. In that preaching moment we also behold Him in the radiant perfection of His Person and nature and work. What a glorious sight for us sad and sorry sinners!
Yes, “we all, with open face,” are gazing on the glory of our Lord as often as we open the Scriptures and hear the preaching! You understand that the text is referring only to the sight of believers. This is not the vision of all who read the Bible or who sit under the preaching. The context reveals plainly that there are many who read the Scriptures and who hear the gospel with a veil on their heart, just like the Jews in the apostle’s day (3:14, 15). They are blind in unbelief, and they cannot and will not see the glory of the Lord, no matter how clearly it is reflected in the Word. Not with “open face” but with closed heart they “see.” And unless they repent of this sin, they shall see only the day of wrath and eternal condemnation! How serious is this matter of seeing! Do you know this?!
Let us not forget that it would be the same for all of us who believe were it not for “the Spirit of the Lord.” He it is who has given us this “open face” look, for He it is who has “unveiled” our hearts by the power of His grace in us. He converted us and gave us faith, and in so doing gave us the spiritual eyes to behold the glory of our Lord (cf. 4:6). Amazing mercy of God to us blind-by-nature sinners!
To behold the glory of the Lord, then, is no natural thing, no automatic thing, but an activity of faith! Consciously, actively, we must look for and gaze on our Lord’s glory as reflected in the Scriptures and in the preaching! Is this what you do when you open the Word and when it is opened to you? Are you beholding your glorious Lord?
If you are, then you are being gloriously changed, changed into the same image as our glorious Lord, even from glory to glory! We are being transformed by this very sight! Such is the way it is and must be. You cannot behold the glory of Christ and stay the same; you must be changed. The reflection of His glory is so clear, and the power of His glory is so great, that you must be transformed by the sight of it. The vision of His glory makes you to be like Him! The sight of Him causes you to take on His glorious character so that you reflect Him!
To be in the same image as Christ — that is one of the purposes of our salvation. Romans 8:29 declares that God predestinated His people “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” We are chosen to be like Him, and like Him we must and will be. For God Himself sees to this, sees to it “by the Spirit of the Lord.” Already in our regeneration He saw to this, for then He worked through the Spirit to recreate us in the image of His Son. Yet it is also evident from this passage that there is an on-going work of God to make us in the image of His Son. For our text says that we are being changed (present tense, indicating continuous action). Throughout our lifetime, from the time of conversion on, the Spirit is at work in us to change us into the same image of our Lord. Constantly He works upon us, through our sight of Christ, to make us more like Him, to reflect more of His glory.
Make no mistake, this is real change. From our point of view this change into the same image is almost imperceptible. Slow and gradual is the work of the Spirit in us. Yet it is real transformation. That is evident, first of all, from the fact that the word “change” literally refers to a metamorphosis, a change from one form to another. Just as in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar there is change from the form of a worm-like creature to that of a butterfly, so believers are undergoing real transformation in their lives, from one form of the image of Christ into another. They are ever making progress in their likeness to Him. This real change is also evident from the fact that we are being changed “from glory to glory,” i.e., from one stage of glory to another. We think immediately of the end of our lives and the hereafter, but the point of the text is that we are being transformed into the image of our glorious Lord with each passing day. We move from glory to glory day by day, month by month, year by year. Amazing change, wrought by the Spirit of our Lord!
You understand that that does not mean we become more and more perfect in this life. It does not mean that we shall attain to some level of perfection in this world, so as to be sinless and perfectly holy and heavenly here on earth. No, that cannot be and will not be! For we are always sinful and imperfect in this life, always in the flesh and of the earth. For perfection in the image of Christ we will have to wait. Yet we are being changed into the same image as our Lord, from glory to glory! By the grace of the Spirit we are being transformed to be like Him, to reflect His glory, here and now! We are being changed into the likeness of His glorious character and conduct. As we behold Christ’s glory in the Word, our hearts are filled with the knowledge of the true God, with wisdom — the knowledge and wisdom our Lord has! As we behold His glory in the Word, we are changed in holiness, so that we hate and flee sin more and more, and delight in righteousness more and more — the holiness of our Lord! As we behold the glory of our Lord in the gospel, we become more and more heavenly-minded, setting our minds on things above and laying up treasures in heaven — the heavenly-mindedness of our Lord! As we gaze on His glory in the Word, we learn more and more to be humble, self-denying, loving, obedient, trusting, even as our Lord was. Yes, we are being changed into the same image as our Lord, made more and more glorious as He is! Amazing wonder of grace, applied by the Spirit!
Are you conscious of this transformation? Do you see the evidence of the Spirit’s work in you? Is Christ-like character and Christ-like conduct visible in your life?
Remember, this change takes place only as we are beholding with open face the glory of the Lord! That is the Spirit’s means to make us like Christ in glory. If you are failing to look for Him and gaze on Him in the Word, you cannot be changed into His image. If you are neglecting to behold Him in the preaching, you cannot be transformed from glory to glory. Only when you and I look upon the glory of the Lord are we changed. Therefore, get looking, believer! Behold Him in the Word, written and preached! Study His glory, and the Spirit will mold you into your Lord’s image! Gaze on His reflected face, and the Spirit will move you from glory to glory!
And then you will also reach the ultimate goal of this transformation — final glorification with Christ in heaven! That certainly is implied in those words “from glory to glory.” God has determined that we shall be perfectly like His Son — sinless, holy, heavenly. And God will see to it that this purpose is achieved, “even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” He directs the Spirit to begin the work of transformation in us; He directs Him to continue it throughout our lives; and He directs Him also to finish it.
And so He does. That perfect transformation occurs, first of all, when the believer dies. Then according to the soul he is renewed in the perfect likeness of Christ. His sin is removed and he is made wholly holy. He is lifted out of the realm of the earthly and made wholly heavenly. He fully reflects the glory of his Lord. Such are those in glory now. But this transformation will be even more complete for the believer in the return of Christ at the end of this age. Then, through the resurrection his body too will be transformed into the perfect likeness of Christ’s, without sin and blemish, without weakness and disease, in perfect holiness adapted for life in the glory of the new creation. What a change that will bring! Then our sight will be perfect too, for we shall see our Lord at last “face to face” and not in a glass darkly (I Cor. 13:12).
This is our sure hope! The goal is certain, not doubtful. Not because of us and our sight of the glory of the Lord. But because of the Father’s election, and the Son’s redemption, and the Spirit’s sanctification. Because the sight and the transformation are of God alone! Let us live in the full confidence of that work being accomplished in us.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2).