One of my favorite passages in the Bible – which has turned into a promise I claim frequently (pretty much daily) in prayer – is 2 Corinthians 3:18. There, the Apostle 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.” It’s the Bible’s way of saying: “By beholding we become changed,” which is a wonderful thought.
But one part of the verse has always perplexed me. What exactly does Paul mean by the phrase “from glory to glory”? How are we being transformed into Christ’s image from “glory to glory”? I always kind of had a vague sense that Paul meant we were going to mature in our Christian walk from one point of victory or maturity to greater victory or maturity. And this makes sense to some degree.
But yesterday, as I was praying this prayer, I became dissatisfied with this explanation. And so I came up with a “novel” idea (not really novel at all, of course): why not study Paul’s usage of the word “glory” in the preceding verses in 2 Corinthians? Ingenius!
As it turns out, it didn’t take long for me to discover what Paul meant. This is because he repeatedly uses the word “glory” in the verses that immediately precede 2 Corinthians 3:18. And the way he uses the word is incredibly enlightening and powerful.
Notice: “But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory [supplied in the English] was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious” (3:7-11).
Don’t miss Paul’s powerful point: He is in the middle of trying to justify His apostleship, saying that he and Timothy are “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (3:6). He justifies their ministry by comparing and contrasting the two covenants, noting how the old covenant had glory, but the new covenant has much more glory. In light of the glorious truth about the new covenant – whose glory far exceeds the old covenant – he says that “we use great boldness of speech” (v. 12). He then explains that, just as of old, many people have a veil over their hearts when Moses is read, “but the veil is taken away in Christ” (v. 14). To take away this veil so that people can see God in all his glory is Paul’s and Timothy’s ministry. This is why, in 4:1 (right after the passage in question), he says, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.”
The point in all this is that for Paul, being transformed “from glory to glory” has a very specific meaning: it means that as a person encounters Christ, and looks into His face, that person becomes progressively transformed from the glory of the old covenant to the glory of the new covenant. The Old Testament is no longer about death and condemnation, but about liberty (v. 17). A relationship with Christ changes progressively from being about trying to escape death and condemnation (which is an “old covenant” motive), to a relationship based on love (a “new covenant” motive). Instead of the law being about the letter, written on stone as an external standard that we strive to attain, the law becomes about the Spirit, written on our hearts.
Simply put, when the veil is removed from our hearts and we spend time looking at Christ and His love, our lives will be less and less characterized by externally-motivated old covenant behavior, and characterized more and more by a heart-response to the love of God in Christ – to the point that, eventually, we will reach a place of glory where “when obeying Him we shall but be carrying out our own impulses” (The Desire of Ages, p. 668).
And it was to point people to this new covenant – this greater glory – that Paul ministered.
And thus, we are being transformed “from glory to glory,” from the old covenant to the new.