The Hope of Beholding

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And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

Have ever  lost hope in changing? Sin, in one way or another, can often present a rancid rhetoric of reminding you that you have always been this way and therefore nothing will ever be different. Maybe you thought after years of striving and struggling, you wouldn’t still be “here”, still struggling, still failing, still being disappointed. Like quicksand, the entangling of failed tests and succumbed-to temptations sinks us deeper into depression and despair. You look desperately around for a rope to pull yourself out. You hear that you just need to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” and try harder. Maybe you try to lengthen your already too long to-do list and, in the process, slowly make growth become marked by achieving and succeeding. Sin quotas become self-imposed measuring sticks of success. The more you accomplish, the longer you’ve gone “without”, the better you have become. The inverse, though, is devastating, as the more you fail, the more you sink, and the less the light of hope can seep through the thickness of despair. This accomplishment-driven mindset when it comes to change is extremely detrimental  to the spiritual growth and development of a believer. That’s because growing as a believer is not about accomplishing. It actually has little to with any accomplishment on your part. Growing, changing, transforming, it’s all about seeing. Personal holiness is the product of sanctification, but sanctification comes not by succeeding, but by beholding.

Already  Accomplished

Jesus accomplished everything we would ever need to accomplish for spiritual success through His life, death, and resurrection. Romans 5 tells us that it is through Jesus’ obedience that “the many will be made righteous”. When Jesus uttered the words “It is finished” from the cross, He was not just stating His time of death. He was relaying the cosmic message to the ends of the Universe, across the spectrum of time to saints gone, present and to come, that He had accomplished everything He had come to do. Jesus had the ultimate to-do list, and flawlessly completed every task. And through His accomplishments, we are counted as righteous.  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Rom. 5:18). And through His sacrificial statement of love, we not only have access to the throne room of the Father, presently and in the future eternally, but we also have the ability to grow and change, here and now. Growth for the Christian is not had by meeting any checklists for Jesus accomplished every task needed. His church attendance was impeccable. His morning and night prayer and reading time was consistent. His sin quota was non-existent. He was, is, and will always be everything we ever need because He is the only person ever to exist to have done everything He was supposed to do.

Since Jesus has accomplished everything for us, does this mean we have nothing to grow towards? Jesus’ accomplishments do not negate the goal set for us by God; they actually are what make reaching the goal possible. Sanctification is the method by which God, as the Supreme Vinedresser, prunes his branches (His children) into the Image of Jesus. Our goal, while on earth, is to grow and look more like Jesus daily (John 15). Colossians 3 tells us that since we have been raised with Christ, we are to seek the things above, where Christ is seated. The goal then is to have our thoughts, desires, affections, and goals be centered around Jesus and look like Jesus. We are called to “not be conformed to our former passions”, and to “be holy as the one who called He is Holy”( 1 Peter 1:14-16). And to be honest, I fail at reaching that goal quite often. Though I am saved by grace and not by effort, I am still fallen. I still have to wrestle with desires that wage war on my soul day-in and day-out. And sometimes these battles end in defeat. Looking back, it seems like I haven’t moved anywhere. Looking forward, the distance of “becoming” is overwhelming. The battle to fight depression and pick up the next foot to move forward is intense, raw, and can quite frankly seem pointless.

The Battle to Behold

Believer, allow me to pose a question: Have we made the growth itself the goal, or Christ? These seem like the same answer but they are actually nuanced differently. For example, if you struggle constantly with pornography, is your goal to not look at pornography, or to look like Jesus? You may say “Aren’t I looking like Jesus by not looking at porn?”. Yes, purity and sexual chastity are imperative in the life of a believer; but a change in behavior is not a change in Imagehood. You can never look at pornography, or fall into whatever same sin you always do, the rest of your life and still not look like Christ. That is because growth comes from changing what, and Who, you and I behold, not how we behave. The ability to break free of strongholds of sin in life comes not from confidence in ourselves to accomplish goals. This ability comes from beholding God through seeing the glory of Jesus.

 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord[d] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Beholding the Lord consists of turning and looking. Turning is not simply “not sinning”. Turning to the Lord is a sign of surrender that says not only do you admit that you cannot achieve any growth apart from Him (..”for apart from Me you can do nothing”), but also that in Him are found the attributes and character necessary for your growth. It is then, after the act of turning, that the veil is removed to allow the beginning and continuing process of beholding. And it is through beholding that we are transformed. As God removes the veil and we see more and more of Jesus rightly, The Spirit catalyzes the work of growth in us. We begin to accurately see why choosing Jesus is better: the better pleasure over sin, the better treasure over the world’s promises, and the better Object of our affections and adoration. And the more we behold better things, the less we desire lesser things.

And know this: the fight to behold is as daily and constant as the process of being transformed from one degree of glory to the next. In the life to come, when we see Jesus fully and rightly, our change will be complete and perfect. But for now, while away from our true home, transformation comes through war. This battle is rooted in practical applications of praying without ceasing, meditating on His Word day and night, and being deeply planted in truthful and loving community. Remember, these goals are not simply vain additions to our to-do list, nor are they the ultimate goal. Instead, these actions help to position our hearts and minds to see Jesus. It is through the petitioning of the Father through prayer to remove the veil as we read the Word and are constantly sharpened by our brothers and sisters that the hope of transformation becomes real. Not a hope that looks to our past mistakes and failures and sees our defiled track record, nor a hope that rest in performing perfectly. It is a hope found by looking at the immutable, constant, true and worthy character of God and eternally-standing obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By beholding God through Jesus, we see that hope for growth and change lies not in me being me, but in God being God. This is such good news! You can and will change! In fact, you must change, for you have no choice but to. If the event of change is hinged to the character of God, for His glory sake, we will change. Remember, it for His name’s sake, not our own, that we are led down paths of righteousness (Psalms 23:3); For when we are faithless, He is faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). As long as God is God, hope for growth and change exists. Behold rightly, hope rightly, grow rightly.