Our Calling As A Church – Where Are We Headed As A Church?
2 Corinthians 3:18
How does an ugly caterpillar, that crawls up tree and gorges itself on leaves, become the delicate butterfly that gently lands on a flower without defacing it? Even if we can’t explain the process, we know the word: metamorphosis. Metamorphosis describes the process of a caterpillar spinning a cocoon and somehow emerging later as a butterfly. In the spiritual realm, a similar transformation occurs as a person who was hostile towards God and enslaved to destructive sinful habits becomes a self-controlled, gentle, holy and compassionate individual. How does this happen?
In II Corinthians 3:18, Paul says, “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 by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Greek word for transformation is “metamorphoomai,” the same root word as metamorphosis.
First, let’s examine a couple of key terms in the transformation process. Regeneration is an act of God that turns a dead soul into a new and living soul. It begins at the point of conversion. Titus 3:5 says “According to His mercy, He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Sanctification is the process of transformation. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit as he progressively changes us, freeing us more and more from sinful traits and developing within us Christ like virtues. This takes a lifetime. William Plummer, a nineteenth-century pastor and commentator wrote, “In regeneration we become new born babes; in sanctification we attain the stature of full grown men in Christ.” “In justification we rely upon what Christ did for us on the cross. In sanctification we rely on Christ to work in us by His Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit’s work in us is a work of grace. In the Scriptures, grace has two distinct but related meanings. Grace is God’s unmerited favor to us through Christ. Grace also means God’s divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, the goal of sanctification is to make us like our Lord Jesus Christ. Second Corinthians 3:18 says we “are being transformed into [his] image.” Romans 8:29 states that “[God] also predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Christlikeness is God’s goal for all believers. Being transformed refers to the process; conformed refers to the finished product. We are being transformed so that we will eventually be conformed to the likeness of Christ.
Next, the process of sanctification in II Corinthians 3:18 is “with ever increasing glory” or more literally “from glory to glory.” This describes the Spirit’s work in moving us from one stage of glory or Christ-likeness to the next. There is conflict in the process because of the flesh, or the sinful nature, and the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:17 tells us “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” John Murray gives us some helpful insight into the difference between the struggle of a believer and a nonbeliever. “There is a total difference between ‘surviving sin’ and ‘reigning sin’; the regenerate is in conflict with sin and the unregenerate is complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us; it is another for us to live in sin.”
Finally, look at the means of our sanctification. In II Corinthians 3:18 we are being transformed by “the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The verb “being transformed” is passive, meaning the transformation is being done to us, not by us. We certainly have responsibilities in the sanctifying process, commands to obey and spiritual disciplines to be practiced, but it is God the Spirit who does the sanctifying. How does He do this? Look back at II Corinthians 3:18 and notice the phrase “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” As we contemplate the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel—the good news that Jesus died in our place—we are transformed more and more into Christ’s likeness by the Spirit. The gospel exhibits God’s highest glory displayed before men. Meditating on and preaching the gospel to ourselves every day is how we will behold the glory of the Lord and therefore, how the Spirit will transform us, sanctify us, into mature believers.