“…for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:18b). In our last post (Part 3) we examined the wrong way believers sometimes go about trying to perform that which is good—human effort, vows, resolutions, a determination to self-reform, gritting our teeth, etc.—in a word, the flesh. Yet the Bible proclaims that the flesh is “weak” (Matt. 26:41), that it “profits nothing” (John 6:62), and that in our flesh “dwells no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). If we then would “do good” as believers, it cannot be by the flesh. It must be by another means. As the Word of God said to the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). We cannot begin the Christian life “in the Spirit,” that is through faith in the Lord Jesus and His saving Gospel, and then employ the principle of “the flesh” for our day to day Christian life. We cannot begin by grace and then be made perfect through the flesh—that is, human effort and ability. Real growth and maturity will not come through the flesh, for the only things the flesh can produce are the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19)—things like outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, etc. The flesh will perhaps give the appearance of growth, but it is not lasting change. Eventually the flesh will show itself for what it really is: impatient, unloving, unkind, selfish, etc.
We now want to examine one New Testament Scripture that very plainly declares the “method” (if we can so call it) to victory and growth in the Christian life and then continue in the final post with two more very clear Scriptures on this subject.
“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” (2 Cor. 3:18).
As believers, we would all readily profess the absolute beauty, perfection, holiness, and loveliness of our Lord Jesus Christ. “You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips,” the Psalmist says of the Messiah in Ps. 45:2. Others confessed as they heard His words, “No Man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). The Lord could boldly challenge those of His day, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46). No one could rightfully charge Him with sin, for He was spotless and without blemish. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26), and not only that, but also One who pleased the Father with every word, action, and thought. Three times in the Gospel accounts we read of God opening the heavens, as it were, to proclaim how pleased He was with His Beloved Son. Christ is “all” (Col. 3:11) and preeminent in all things in the mind of God (Col. 1:18). The New Testament’s overarching theme and focus is the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is where we should begin, for it is where God begins. What is our goal or aim as God’s church today? Is it the same as God’s goal? Our goals often include the following:
1) To lead a moral life
2) To put away sin
3) To live up to God’s holy standards
4) To be more loving
5) To bring glory to God
6) To be effective for God
7) To please God
These are all noble pursuits (and certainly find a place in the Christian life), but God’s goal is larger—much larger. His ultimate goal is to have a people “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29), or as Heb. 2:10 says, “to bring many sons to glory.” God’s greatest pleasure is found in His Son, and He would have more sons brought to glory in the same image. Does our mindset match God’s mindset? For one day, when the Lord Jesus is once again revealed, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). This is God’s grand goal for the believer, and He will accomplish it.
God’s order is to transform His saints into the image of the Lord Jesus, and when we are brought into this image, the list above takes care of itself; or more precisely, the Spirit of God works these qualities into us. For if we are changed into the image of Christ, we will be moral, overcome sin, live up to God’s calling of holiness, be more loving, bring glory to God, be effective for His name’s sake, and bring God pleasure. For indeed these are all qualities embodied in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.** But we tend to reverse this order! We often are found focusing on the “list” instead of the Lord, perhaps thinking that if we “do” these things we shall be like the Lord. This is backward to New Testament truth. The New Testament proclaims that if we are changed into the likeness of the Lord, we will do these things!
**Of course there is a major difference between us and the Lord before we are taken to be with Him in glory: our Lord never sinned, and in Him there is no sin. Even though we do gain the Lord’s likeness as we behold Him, there will be times we fall short, for we still dwell in these bodies of flesh.
Notice what 2 Cor. 3:18 teaches. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image…” Believers have an “unveiled face” through the Gospel, for the veil was removed when we turned to the Lord (2 Cor. 3:16). With unveiled face we “behold” the glory of the Lord through revelation of Him in the Word of God and contemplation of His blessed Person, which then results in transformation into His likeness. For those who like equations, we could illustrate it thus:Unveiled face CONSTANT (An accomplished fact in the Gospel) + Beholding Christ’s glory VARIABLE (Our privilege, but often varies in our walk with the Lord) _________________________________ Transformed into INEVITABLE RESULT (when we behold the glory of Christ) the image of Christ
There are two parts to this equation, and both parts are necessary. The first part is a finished work in the Gospel of Christ. God has removed the veil in Christ. The second part is our great privilege and ought to be our occupation day by day: beholding or looking on Christ and His glory. H.A. Ironside once said, “Here is true Christian growth in grace. First, Christ has to be revealed to the soul, and then as you go on day after day, as you are occupied with Christ, you become like Him.” Another has well put it, “The more Christ in His glory is before our spiritual vision the more we gain His likeness.” But let us notice the strength of the word, “behold.” This goes far beyond observing the Lord and His glory. This is no casual glance. To BEHOLD something is far more intense. Jehovah said through Isaiah, “Behold My Servant” (Is. 52:13) to begin the song of His suffering Servant (see also Is. 42:1). John the Baptist cried, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). God would have His people occupied with and contemplating His Son, and when they do, the Spirit of God in His own way and in His own timing will change the person more and more into the image of the Lord Jesus. So it says this happens “from glory to glory.” This change is gradual and not all at once; it is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit until we are taken to be with the Lord. But the Spirit does the work, which means it will be a real, effective, and lasting work of change in our lives.
We thus should not be occupied with ourselves. This results in defeat. We should not be occupied with others. This results in disappointment. God would have us occupied with the Lord Jesus! When we behold Christ and His glory, the Spirit of God transforms us into Christ’s likeness. This is “how to perform what is good” (Rom. 7:18)! Paul found this out after his agonizing experience of trying to do good yet always failing. Have we not experienced this vicious, dismal cycle in our lives? Paul cried out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). Again, we suggest he did not proclaim himself to be “wretched” because he was a sinner (for he realized he was the “chief of sinners”—1 Tim. 1:15). From the context we rather see that it was because he wanted to “do good” and yet could not do it. He thus called himself “wretched” (or miserable) because as a believer in Christ he knew the law of God, agreed with it, delighted in it, desired to do it (willed to “do good”), yet could not find how to do it! Yet his misery turns into unfettered joy in the next verse when he says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” (Rom. 7:25). Consider the question and answer that follows:
Question:“Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
(Notice he asks, “WHO” and not “WHAT.” He realized no “thing” could deliver him from bondage.)
Answer:“…God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Christ is the answer! Some have understood this to mean, “I thank God that deliverance comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Others see it that Paul is simply thanking God through Christ that he no longer has to wallow in the wretchedness of not being able to “do good” as a believer. In either case, Christ is the means through which victory is obtained.
Many at this point will agree, but with perhaps a reservation or two. “This isn’t practical,” we have heard some say. “It is head knowledge with no application for our lives,” or “Christians like these are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good!” But surely “change” and growth are practical. For God is here promising change! But further, do not these reservations imply putting the cart before the horse? Is the mindset that this is “my” life and Christ is in my life to help me in my struggles (i.e. my life plus Christ added)? Or is the mindset that which we find in Gal. 2:20, that Christ is my life (i.e. all is Christ)? “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh [the body], I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Here Paul says, “It is no longer I.” The focus was not, “this is MY life.” No, the focus was, “Christ lives in me.”
The great burden of the apostle was not that morality and goodness be formed in believers, but that Christ be formed in them: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Paul labored to this end. For when Christ is formed in the believer, all of the lovely attributes of His blessed Person will be formed in them as well. Again, the apostle does not say, “For me to live is keeping God’s law to the best of my ability.” No, he says, “For me to live is Christ…” (Php. 1:21). The Christian life is from first to last Christ. When we behold the glory of our Savior and are occupied with Him, then the Spirit of God mightily transforms us into the image of the Savior from glory to glory. Surely, this is immensely practical! For through this “method” God takes a lowly sinner and gradually conforms him into the image of absolute perfection—the image of Christ Jesus our Lord!What has stripped the seeming beauty From the idols of the earth? Not a sense of right or duty, But the sight of Peerless Worth.
– d. wolfe