Monday, April 28, 2008

On Beholding the Glory of Christ

For the last two weeks I have been preaching on what it means to say that “at one you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). And I have tried to argue (1) that the way we transform from one to the other is by beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), (2) that the way we grow in holiness and Christ likeness is by beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), and (3) that the destiny of every Christian is to be thoroughly and totally transformed by beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ (1 John 3:1-3).

If these things are true, and I’m convinced they are, then the question is, How do we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ? There are many important answers to this question, but here are a couple of thoughts from John Owen’s The Glory of Christ (Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, PA, 1994).

“How, then, can we behold the glory of Christ? We need, firstly, a spiritual understanding of his glory as revealed in Scripture” (115). Owen does not explain what he means by this, but I take him to mean that we cannot behold his glory until we have come to faith in him. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the “natural person” must be overcome by grace through faith in order to have sight of Christ. But ironically, the way the “natural person” is overcome is by being granted the sight of Christ.

Consider 2 Corinthians 4:6—“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And consider the implications of the language in Ephesians 1:18 and Hebrews 10:32, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…but recall the former days when, after you were enlightened” (see also John 1:9 & 2 Tim. 1:10). The implication of these verses is that coming to faith in Christ is equal to seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ and believing in him. Darkness flees in the presence of light, and when the light of Christ overcomes the “natural person” he or she is now in a place, more properly, to behold and comprehend and enjoy and praise the glory of Christ.

This leads us to Owen’s second bit of counsel: “Secondly, we need to think much about him if we wish to enjoy him fully (1 Peter 1:8). If we are satisfied with vague ideas about him we shall find no transforming power communicated to us. But when we cling whole-heartedly to him and our minds are filled with thoughts of him and we constantly delight ourselves in him, the spiritual power will flow from him to purify our hearts, increase our holiness, strengthen our graces, and sometimes fill us ‘with joy inexpressible and full of glory’” (115).

Here’s one way to summarize what Owen is saying: if you want to behold the glory of Christ, then you must strive to behold the glory of Christ. The sight of Christ does not come by laziness or apathy or the kind of “faith” that sits on a couch and waits for life to happen. It comes as faith seeks sight. It comes as longing strives for fulfillment. It comes as light aggressively seeks to overcome the darkness. It comes as love for Christ overwhelms 1,000 other desires. As Owen said a bit later in his argument, “When we fall in love with someone we often think about them. So, when we fall in love with Christ we will be constantly thinking about him” (117).

Beloved, let us then strive after Christ by the same grace that saved us. Let us behold Christ by striving to behold Christ, dying along the way to 1,000 lesser pleasures. And let us hang on to the promise that sometimes, by the mysterious grace of God, this pursuit of Christ will fill us “with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9).

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