FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 10:45am service, 2014-05-04

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:18 

I would like to direct our thoughts to the goal of salvation. If you were to ask people what the goal of salvation is, many of them would probably answer,  “The goal of salvation is to rescue people from going to hell so that they may go to heaven and have eternal life.” 

Now, it is true that salvation does accomplish that, and that we should preach the gospel widely out of compassion for the lost. But it does not follow that this is the goal of salvation. What then is the real goal of salvation? Let us find out as we look now at our passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 3:18 – “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 

The key word here is “changed.” This word is actually the verb form of the Greek word ‘metamorphosis.’ This is the same term used to describe the transformation of an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. Change is the real goal of salvation. There are four basic questions about this change that will be answered as we study this passage and other related passages of Scripture. The first is… 

I. What Kind of Change Is This?

Firstly, it is a change that we all need. The words ‘we all’ in v.18 does not refer to unbelievers. “We all” refers to Paul himself and to all the believers at Corinth. This change is for all believers to experience as a result of our salvation. And it is not just any kind of change. E.g. A difficult child stops complaining and fussing (which is desirable), but only because his parents have given up disciplining him and they have given in to all his demands. A lazy office worker becomes a lot more productive (which is desirable), but only because the boss he hates and cannot work with has been transferred out. Has there been a real change? No, because once the former conditions are restored, the child and the office worker would revert to what they were before. 

The change that v.18 speaks of is also not a superficial one – it is not achieved by changing your outward appearance (e.g. by plastic surgery, slimming packages). It is not achieved by taking courses that promise to change your life in 28 days or 12 hours. The changes that all these achieve are only superficial. What we really need is a change that takes place at the deepest level – the level of our hearts and minds. Why is this so? It is because these continue to manifest some residual effects of the old sinful nature that used to control us before we were saved. 

Here then lies the source of every believer’s sins, and we struggle with it every day. Its presence in our life is described in Romans 7 where Paul wrote, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.  Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” (7:19-20). I too must confess that I have this same struggle each day with the residual effects of my old sinful nature. It makes me seek to promote and protect myself above all things. It makes me dislike having to submit to any authority or having to conform to any standards, because it enjoys self-rule and craves for self-advancement. If you want to know whether the effects of your old sinful nature are present in you, just ask yourself: Is having your own way still important to you? Do you still feel upset when you can’t have the things you want? Do you feel upset when things are not going the way you planned? How fearful are you of making embarrassing mistakes in public? 

Each of us here may be struggling with different sins, and some of us may struggle more with certain sins than others – e.g. pride may still be a problem for some of us, but for others it may be gossip, or anger, or lust, or greed or hypocrisy. Whatever the problem may be, one thing is very clear: All of us need to be changed, and it is God’s will for us to be changed. This then is the goal of our salvation: God has saved us from sin and eternal death so that we may ultimately be changed into the glorious image that He originally made us to bear. What image is this? It is nothing less than His own image! This answers the next question…

II. What Image Does This Change Produce?

Let us look at v.18 again: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image…” The glory of the Lord mentioned here is the one revealed in the Scriptures. We can derive this from the context of our passage. Look at verse 14 – “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.” Here Paul explains that the Jews could not behold God’s glory whenever they read or heard the Word of God. Why? It was because of their unbelief. This unbelief acts just like a veil. It obscures the glory of God from their view. Then in v.18 he says that we who are in Christ are able to behold God’s glory in it. Why? It is because the veil of unbelief has been removed. And this glory we behold is the image that we are now being changed into.

We must be very thankful that God has not left us in the dark about His image. We can actually know what we are to become, because God has mapped it out for us in His Word. But where in His Word can we find this image of God’s glory? We find it in all that it says about our Lord Jesus Christ! God’s will is for us is that we may be conformed to the image of Christ. As Romans 8:29 says,  “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” This image is seen when our attitudes, ambitions and actions are conformed to His. We can recognize that we are like Christ when we can see His humility, His servanthood, and His self-sacrificing unselfishness reproduced in ourselves. This image includes the fruit of the Spirit as mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance.” (Other attributes of Christ can be found in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12, the qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and the 8 graces listed in 2 Peter 1:3-11.) We can find all these attributes of Jesus described in the four gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as in the many prophecies that were made about Him in the Old Testament.

Now that we know that the image of Christ is found in the Scriptures, we must go on to know how that image may be transferred from the Scriptures to our lives. So we now come to the next question…

III. How is this Change Produced?

A. By Our Active Beholding of His Image.

There are two things that we need to do. The first is found in the word ‘beholding’ of v.18 – “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass…” We need to have enough exposure to God’s glory that is revealed in all the attributes of Christ in the Bible. 

One analogy is that of getting a sun-tan. A fair-skinned person who wants to get a nice tan can only do one thing – spend more time in the sun. No one can get tanned unless he spends enough time being exposed to sunlight. In fact, if a dark tan is really important to him, he will not be looking at his watch all the time to see if his 15 minutes of time in the sun is up. He will be watching his skin to see whether it has reached the colour he wants. And after that if he wants to maintain that tan, he must get such exposure regularly – or else he will lose that tan soon (like many who go on vacations to get a tan).

In the same way, if we want to become like Christ we have to spend time being exposed to Him. The more time we spend being exposed to Christ through His Word, the more we will see its effect on our lives. Instead of watching the clock to see when our Bible-reading time is up, we will be watching for signs of change in our lives. And even after our lives have changed, we must keep up the same level of exposure, otherwise we may lose it. 

What encourages us to get more and more exposure to the glory of God is when we are moved by the experience. The more that we are illuminated with the glory of Christ’s attributes, the more we realize how far short we are of this glory – this was what the disciples experienced when Christ washed their feet. According to John chapter 13, when all the disciples came to the Last Supper none of them was willing to carry out the custom of foot washing for the rest as it was a very demeaning task. But Jesus Himself took a basin of water and a towel and washed their feet. This act of Jesus really taught them an important lesson. It really showed them how much humility they lacked. And this is the effect that we should experience whenever we see the glory of Christ in the Scriptures – No matter how much we have grown spiritually, or how mature we think we are, it should humble us and make us realize how far short we still are of the glory of Christ. 

But the more we are illuminated with that glory, the more we also see its great beauty and worth. That glory of Christ is so pleasing to behold, as we are told in 1 Peter 1:8 –  “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Thus we are rewarded with a wonderful sense of joy, peace and satisfaction whenever Christ’s glory is revealed to us. All these things are used by the Holy Spirit to move us and make us more willing and more enthusiastic about becoming like Christ. 

Unfortunately many Christians are not benefiting from the Spirit’s work because they are simply not giving themselves sufficient time for quality exposure to the Lord in the fullness of all His attributes. It is just like a marriage relationship – to make it work, husband and wife must have mutual interests, mutual devotion, mutual dependence and mutual intimacy. That is the kind of relationship that we need to have with God. We should never be satisfied just to be ‘on speaking terms’ with Him. He should be the One we know best and love best above all the rest! 

Hence, our responsibility is to obtain consistent, maximum exposure to the glory of God, through keeping our daily devotions well. When was the last time that you spent real quality time with the Lord? E.g. in a personal retreat? What do you look for when you read your Bible? Very often we look for promises to encourage our hearts, or for principles we need to obey. But the main thing we should look for is the Person behind all these promises and principles. Every time we read a passage of scripture we should always look for what we can learn of God Himself that will draw us closer to Him. Isn’t this what Jesus showed the Emmaus disciples that caused their hearts to burn within them? Luke 24:27 tells us that “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Jesus Himself says in John 5:39 –“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” 

Let us make Christ the object of our search whenever we read the Bible. The Holy Spirit can then do His work of revival in our lives. This leads us to consider the other part of the answer to the question on how God’s image is produced in us:

B.  By the Holy Spirit’s Work of Changing Us.

This is mentioned at the end of our text: “…even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” First we must be saved – only then will we have the Holy Spirit working inside us. Without this basic pre-requisite of salvation, a person can never ever change into the image of God, since the sinful nature still dominates his life. Jeremiah 13:23 says – “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”  Only God can change us from within, and we need to depend on Him for help.

There was once a 6-year old boy named Johnny who wanted to buy a bike. His father had been giving him a dollar every week for helping him to wash the car. But Johnny was never able to save up enough money to buy a bike because he loved eating sweets and always ended up spending his dollar on sweets. But one day Johnny told his dad, “Dad, remember you gave me a dollar every week to help you wash the car? Well, this week I saved it because I want to buy a bike. I didn’t buy any sweets for the whole week.” His father answered, “Now you are really serious about buying a bike. Well Johnny, if you think you are ready to get a bike, let’s go shopping!” After finding the bike Johnny likes, his father looks at the price tag - $200. That’s a lot more than what Johnny had saved. He asks him, “Son are you sure that this is the bike you want?” Johnny replied, “Yes, this is my dream bike, and I’ve saved up a dollar for it!” “OK then, let’s go to the counter and pay for it.” Little Johnny brings the bike to the counter, gives his dollar to the salesman and says, “I want to buy this bike.” The salesman looks at the father, and the father tells Johnny to wait outside the shop while he talks to the salesman. As Johnny leaves, his father pays the balance of $199 and then joins his son outside. On the way home, he tells Johnny, “Son, I want to tell you how proud I am of you today. Every week you had been spending your dollar on things which do not last. But this week you saved your dollar and decided to buy something that would last much longer. That is a good decision. I can tell that you are growing up.”

One day, when Johnny has grown up he will learn that that his dollar was merely a vote that he used to choose to buy a bike rather than sweets. He will learn how dependent he was on his dad to buy that bike, and not only that but many other things that a 6-year old boy could never imagine. In the same way, we like little Johnny need to realize how dependent we are on God for everything, and especially for help to change into His image. Without Him we can do nothing. Therefore being changed into His image is a cooperative effort – We can’t do it all alone by ourselves. But neither can we just do nothing and wait passively, expecting God to do everything for us. We have to constantly let the Spirit of God lead us and empower us to fulfill three important responsibilities: 

(1) Mortify the Flesh (Through the Spirit’s enablement) Romans 8:13 – “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”  To mortify the flesh is to deny the flesh what it craves for. To extinguish a fire, you need to cut off its supply of fuel and air. Likewise, we must cut off those things which feed the cravings of the flesh, e.g. the worldly entertainment we indulge ourselves in, our materialistic pursuit of possessions (clothes, electronics, car, house, etc), and the friends that we choose to associate with. If we keep on indulging in worldly entertainment, worldly pursuits and worldly friends, we will have a difficult time trying to mortify the flesh. Galatians 6:8 tells us that if we sow to the flesh we will definitely reap corruption from the flesh. Therefore we must maintain personal separation from the world. Many of us are quite careful to maintain a ‘fat-free’ diet for physical health. Let us be as diligent to maintain a ‘flesh-free’ diet for our spiritual health! Our second important responsibility is to: 

(2) Meditate on the Word (Through the Spirit’s illumination) Psalm 1:2 – “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.” It is through meditating on the Word that we develop the ability to think like God. This requires discipline from us, because we often forget whatever we have heard before, after some time. In order not to forget, we need to take time to meditate or reflect deeply on the truth that God gives to us, until it becomes a permanent part of our thinking, and it makes a difference in our lifestyle and practice. (This meditation is different from the worldly concept of meditation which is associated with yoga and emptying the mind.) Biblical meditation is similar to the habit that some people have of worrying – where the mind keeps on dwelling intensely on one thought all the time. 

Worrying is not productive at all, but meditating on the Word is worth all the effort we put into it, as it will give us the mind of Christ, and then we will be able to respond rightly to every challenge we face in life, so that we can be stable and not fall out of usefulness to God. We go on to our third important responsibility, which is to… 

(3) Manifest Christlikeness (Through the Spirit’s Fruit). Philippians 2:12-13 “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Here Paul tells the Philippian Christians to continue in their obedience to God’s commandments which they had heard from him. But at the same time, Paul also reminds them that they can only work out (or make operational) their salvation, as God works in them to will and to do of His good pleasure. This working of God in believers takes place through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only creates the desire in us to do what pleases God. He also gives us the ability to do God’s pleasure. 

We on our part must humbly allow Him to take control of our lives. Ephesians 5:18 calls this ‘being filled with the Spirit.’ What we need to do therefore is to maintain submission to the Spirit’s control instead of self-control as much as possible. It requires effort to keep on saying ‘No’ to self and say ‘Yes’ to God, because the self that is within us constantly wants to take back control from God. 

Besides the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, God uses other means to change us into His image: Temptations, trials, the ministry of the local church and even Christian friends. These are like the different tools a very skilled sculptor uses to shape a rough piece of marble into a fine work of art. One application is that we must avail ourselves to all these means, even though some of them may not be pleasant to endure. We can never grow into Christ’s image if we avoid any of them. The only way to live the Christian life successfully is to humbly let God have His way with us completely (full surrender). 

But many are not willing to do this. Why? It is because they fear that God will ‘mess up’ their lives and make them do things they do not like. But there is nothing to fear. God is our good and wise heavenly father who willnever mess up your life. He knows how much you can bear. His timing is always perfect. And that is why He does not make us change overnight – that would be too drastic and too painful for us. But sometimes we become impatient with the long process, and we so ask…

IV. When Will the Change Be Complete?

The answer is given in the words of our text: “…changed into the same image from glory to glory.” These words ‘from glory to glory’ reveal that it is a progressive process, where change takes place in small little steps: We have probably heard our kids sing the chorus “Little by little.” (Little by little every day, little by little in every way, Jesus is changing me… though it’s a slow going but there’s a knowing that someday perfect I will be.) That is how we can expect to change – little by little! But many Charismatics do not see it this way – they believe that they can be changed all at one time, and they call it the second baptism. But Paul said otherwise in Philippians 3:12 – “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” 

In the meantime, we must be patient both with ourselves and with others. Let us not be too hard on ourselves whenever we falter or fail, because we are, after all still ‘works in progress’. God isn’t done with us yet! His work will be complete only when we are promoted to glory. In the meantime let us help one another to change into His image, while we depend on Him to change us in His own good time.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25