2 Corinthians 3:18, “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.”
Imagine for a moment that you and the person you have been discipling for a long time are standing on the beach, looking out into the ocean. The sun is setting, and it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. At that moment, you are caught up in the colors of the sky. There is a blend of pink and purple radiating through the cloud formation. It’s stunning. Feelings of gratefulness permeate your heart and mind. You say a quick prayer thanking God for such a beautiful creation.
But you choose not to keep that to yourself. So you turn to your friend to see if he is enjoying the sunset, and you find him on his phone checking the scores of the baseball game. You tell him to quickly look at the sunset because it is beautiful. He tells you to wait for a second because his phone is trying to load the score of the game. You judge him and get perturbed–you don’t want him to miss this! So you challenge him again to look up and see it.
But he’s frustrated at his phone, gets angry, turns his back and sits down. He doesn’t see the beauty of the sunset.
You look back up and find yourself lost in the moment. Then your phone rings…
The Act of Beholding
Paul tells us that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,” are being transformed. There’s a massive glory shifting in our lives for the Christian (“one degree of glory to another”).
He goes on to tell us that it, “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” When you repent of sin and trust Christ alone, you go from death to life, sin to Christ’s righteousness, unbelief to joy, and deadness to the new birth. You change.
But notice what word Paul uses here to qualify this transformation. He says that we are, “beholding” (Greek, katoptrizō). The word here means to “look at something as in a mirror; to contemplate something.” John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse, writes that it “sometimes means to hold out a mirror to be looked into, and at other times to look into a mirror when presented…the second of these is the more suitable to the passage before us.” In other words, we look to the Lord to see ourselves as we truly are.
The Identity of the Beholder
To put it differently, beholding leads to becoming. When we behold something or someone we begin to take on the identity of that object. For the Christian, and for us looking at the sunset, beholding something pushes us to delight in that object. Where our worship is, our hearts will fall in line. A tough question to ask in discipleship is, “What are you looking to for ultimate significance and satisfaction?” Be honest! On Saturday afternoons what are you doing? Obsessing over a sports score? Or discipling your family by talking about the glorious gospel?
And herein lies the challenge: Are you basking in the glory of the Christ of the gospel? Are you as stunned by the gospel as you were by the sunset? Or are you, like your friend, too busy on your phone to see its beauty?
Behold the Beauty of the Gospel
As a pastor, I’m convinced that the greatest thing I can do to train disciple-making disciples is to point people to the gospel continually. Surely we understand that the good news is what points us to Jesus and by implication has the power to save us (Romans 1:16). Many, however, fail to see the gospel as what changes or sanctifies us. I grew up with this understanding. I trusted Christ for salvation, and He saved me. But after that, it was all on me to grow as a Christian with my ever-so-fleeting moral effort. How ashamed I feel now!
But what is the role of the beauty of the gospel in discipleship? I think it’s like the example of your friend’s interaction. He is working with you in a formal discipling relationship, and by pointing him to the beautiful sunset, you’re pointing him to the beauty of the gospel. And oh, how beautiful the gospel truly is! The beauty of the gospel should stun our vision, arouse our emotions, stir our affections, motivate us for mission, and shatter our pride.
You are challenging him to renounce his idols by beholding Jesus (Galatians 6:8). You’re challenging him to grow in his understanding of God’s holiness by beholding God (Isaiah 6:1-7). You’re constantly helping him search the Scriptures to better understand his new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are, by the help and power of the Spirit, helping your friend appreciate more intimately the beauty of the gospel.
Beauty Over Brokeness
But it’s hard to appreciate something when our focus is off. It’s hard to see the beauty of the gospel when our hearts are misaligned and worshipping idols. When we worship things that are not God, our hearts become clouded and our judgment misappropriated. We turn our backs on the beautiful sunset and sulk in our idolatry.
And yet the gospel still speaks to us. The gospel, like the sun shining over us, meets us in our depravity. It jumps starts the heart as Christ and His Spirit pursue us. Paul says, “this comes from the Lord.” In other words, we are responsible for our actions, but at the same time utterly dependent on God who stands ready to receive us as His child (Phil. 2:12-13; cf. Luke 15:20). The good news announced by Jesus is news that is good every single day. (Sometimes we simply fail to believe that the news is good!) We can, in confidence, turn to Jesus who loves unconditionally. As it has been said before, we worship our way into sin, and we worship our way out by beholding the beauty and grandeur of the gospel.
And that’s the role of the beauty of the gospel: to be the object our affections, the purpose of our identity, the reality of our existence, and the joy of our salvation. It draws us in like a beautiful sunset, puts God’s glory on display, and challenges us to realign everything. In discipleship, we are simply pointing people to its beauty, asking them to find happiness there.