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Over the last several months there has been one particular verse that I have often found my attention drawn to, especially when it comes to the issue of dealing with sin in my own life. And that is 1 Corithians 3:18. 

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.

Later in 2 Corithians 4:4-6, Paul tells us that the glory of God is beheld in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. It has been a tremendous reminder to me to pursue right behavior not through my doing, but rather through my beholding. The power to life the life that honors God does not come through human invention or adherence to a set of does and don’ts (even if the list is the ten commandments). The life that honors God is empowered by beholding the glory of the Lord in the person of Jesus Christ. It comes through dependence upon “His precious and magnificent promises” which He has given to us by “His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet 1:2-4)

This morning I was reminded again of one of the most fundamental displays of “His own glory and excellence” in the uniting of two natures (God and Man) in the person of Christ. Why should that seem so amazing? I think it is amazing to think first of the nature of God, who is the infinite, eternal, self-existant, self-sustaining, God who has no need of us and who would be perfectly glorify first without every having created the world, but also in the eternal condemnation of that creation once it had fallen. And then, to think that He would condescend to take on human flesh – not only to further glorify Himself – but in so doing to redeem a part of His creation from their fallen state. And furthuremore, to think that He – The Sovereign Creator – would allow His creation to nail Him to a tree so that He might be able to extend mercy to them and yet uphold His righteousness and His justice. What a great encouragement that is to me that if the One who would undertake such on loving act on my behalf is also the One who governs the course of history and the events of each day of my life.

Surely, you have heard someone say, “Once saved, always saved.” But what about those people who come to church for awhile and then decided they want nothing to do with Christianity. Surely, those people who have committed apostasy are not going to go to heaven are they. So then what should we concluded…that they were once saved, but because of their sin they have lost their salvation. May it never be! The very notion that someone can lose their salvation because they committed a certain sin implies that their salvation is contidition on their not committing that particular sin. But that does not square with the rest of scripture: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). 

As I mentioned yesterday we must remember that salvation is ultimately not a work of man, but a work of God upon the human heart. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) Because Paul accepted the reality that it was God who had began a good work in the Phillippian believers, he could confidently assert that He would also finish that which He began. So then assert that someone can lose their salvation is at best ignorant and at worst blasphemous. If you believe that a person can lose their salvation, you must either believe that salvation is ultimately not dependent upon God, but upon man (he did something that caused God to withdraw salvation). Or you must believe that God is somehow insufficient for the work of salvation (ironically, either way you believe God is insufficient). You must conclude that God lacks the resource, the will, the power, the desire to finish the work which he began or else you must simply call God a liar. “Yes, God I know your word says ‘He who began a good work in you will perfect it’. But look at all the people who have been Christians and then denied the faith either in word or in deed. Clearly, they cannot be saved. You cannot still be working in their life.”

And to some degree that person would be right, God is not working in their life. However, they have made the wrong conclusion. God is not currently working in their life, because He was never working in their life. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19) This truth should either be of great encouragement to us or great concern. If God is working in your life to sanctify you and conform you into the image of His beloved Son, you should be greatly encouraged that God is faithful and that which He begins, He sees through to the end (What a great reason to give Him thanks and praise). On the other hand, if God is not currently working in your life, you should know that God has never been working in your life, and you should seek Him for mercy…beg Him to begin a work in you…plead with Him to see the glory of the gospel…ask Him to grant you the repentance that leads to life.

The more I talk to people about the grace of God revealed in the gospel and about what it means to be a Christian, the more I realize that most people don’t really get the gospel. They don’t really understand the nature of reality. Any professing Christian that has any sort of biblical understanding would readily admit that salvation is by grace. But how is that we recieve grace? How do I know if I have found mercy from God?

The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he said, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). The problem is most of professing American Christianity does not realize that recieving mercy does not depend on them, but upon God. What would you say if I told you that reading your bible, going to church, praying, or any other religious duty did not guarantee that God will be gracious to you? Do you think that being a Christian means that God will show mercy to you? Or do you think you are a Christian because God has shown mercy to you?

You see we do not become Christians when we start to do something, but rather when God begins to do something in us “He [God] who began a good work in you” (Phil. 1:6). And so we are called to examine ourselves to see if we have been born of God or whether we are yet in our sins (see 1 John). While I can’t give an exaustive list, let me list a some of the evidences that one is born of God (i.e. that you are not a Christian in name only).

  • You have beheld the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6)
  • You’re life displays the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • You’re life is being conformed into the image of God in Christ, that is, you are becoming more Christ-like. (Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3)
  • You’re life is being changed not by adhering to a set of rules and regulations, but by beholding the glory of God in Christ. (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3, 1 John 4:19, Col. 2)
  • You crave the pure milk of God’s Word and delight in it. (1 Pet. 2:2, Ps. 119, Rom. 7:22)
  • You count all your righteous deeds to be polluted rags and rejoice in the the righteousness of another, “the Lord our righteousness” (Phil. 3:7-11, Jer. 23:6)
  • You live a life of ongoing repentence, since “the grace of God has appeared…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12, cf. Rom. 8:1-13, Heb. 12:4-11).

The bottom line is this: If you have been experienced the grace of God, it will be evident in your life. If your life is not being conformed to the image of Christ, it may be evidence that you have not recieved mercy from God. If you have need of mercy you must come to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God. There is no other who is fit to be the dispenser of God’s grace, than the Son of God who clothed Himself in likeness of sinful flesh, so that He might glorify the Father through His perfect obedience and His perfrect sacrifice on behalf of those who would trust in Him. “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4)

I was reading through The Glory of Christ: His Office and Grace by John Owen earlier this afternoon and I was reminded about the great priviledge (and duty) we have to behold the glory of God in person of Jesus Christ. I cannot help but think that be struggles with the love of the flesh and the love of this world would soon evaporate if I more clearly beheld the glory of God and allowed my heart and affections to be captivated by the contemplation of such a worthy object as Christ Himself.

“In this [beholding his glory], then, our present edification is principally concerned; for in this present beholding the glory of Christ, the life and power of faith are most eminently acted. And from this exercise of faith, love to Christ principally, if not soley, arises and springs. If, therefore, we desire to have faith in its vigour or love in its power, giving rest, complacency and satisfaction to our own souls, we are to seek for them in diligent discharge of this duty; elsewhere they will not be found. In this would I live; in this would I die; upon this would I dwell in my thoughts and affections, to the withering and consumption of all the painted beauties of this world, to the crucifying all things here below, until they become to me a dead and deformed thing, no way suitable for affectionate embraces.” (Owen, page 48)

We as Christians in the 21st century could learn much from men like Owen. When was the last time you stopped to consider that your growth [edification]  as a Christian is principally as a response to your beholding the glory of God in Christ. “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) Therefore, it is chiefly to this duty that we should commit ourselves.

There is no greater way to have “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16) put to death in our hearts than to contemplate the glory of Christ until they appear “a dead and deformed thing, no way suitable for affectionate embraces.” We should put as much effort into cultivating our affections (and others) for the glory of Christ as we have in cultivating our affections for the things of this world. It is a shame to think that we are willing put more effort into convincing ourselves and others of the value of worldly things, than we are to convince ourselves of “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).