This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is here.
In part one of this two-part series, we defined glory and explored how the glorious God invested glory in his creation, including humans, how we sinned and forfeited that glory, and how God came as King Jesus to repair the glory deficit, paving the way for the full restoration of God’s world.
Corrupt Glories and Detached Glories
The desire for glory is not wrong in itself; our longing for glory is at its heart a longing for God himself. In Romans 2:6-7 we read, “He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality….”
A redeemed person not only desires to praise, honor, and give glory to God, but he or she desires to receive glory from God. C. S. Lewis says it like no one else:
In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised…. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.1
How can we manage our glory hunger in a way that makes us more like Jesus and serves his glory restoration project in the world? This is just another way of approaching our overall blog theme of discipleship and unity.
In this world we can choose two types of counter-productive glories: corrupt glories and detached glories. Corrupt glories are those kinds of pleasures or satisfactions that don’t accord with God’s moral law or his revealed will. This category encompasses not only egregious crimes and traditional “lusts of the flesh,” but any kind of behavior, legal or otherwise, that prioritizes and elevates self at the expense of others.
Detached glories are good things deriving from God that we do not recognize as coming from God. The apostle Paul observes that people can see evidences of God’s glory all around them, “yet though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude” (Romans 1:21). While they bear responsibility for this, it’s also true that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
When we who actually know this God encounter a sign of his glory in a meal, a song, a pet, a child, or a sunset, we should reflexively “glorify him as God and show gratitude.” But even we, who have been given the capacity to see the glory of Jesus the Christ and his many gifts, must beware of developing spiritual cataracts.2
God’s Glory in Jesus
The most direct and powerful way we encounter God’s glory is in Jesus himself: “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 12:3).
Paul tells us how God gradually grows the seed of glory he placed in us at the new birth: “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory [or, from one degree of glory to another]; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is a description of the process of growth, or sanctification, or discipleship.
Though we see the stunning magnificence of Jesus most explicitly in Scripture, we can also behold his glory wherever and whenever we experience glory in this world and acknowledge him as the source. My Christian high school math teacher, Mr. Zimmerman, faithfully taught generations of students that as we behold the glory of God in the beauty, power, and perfection of mathematics, we progress in glory, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 says. On every math quiz and test Mr. Zimmerman ever gave, you could count on these two questions being included: (1) How do we see the glory of God in mathematics? (2) Write out 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Shaped by What We Behold
Never has it been more obvious that people are shaped by what they gaze at and whom they listen to. How much am I beholding Jesus? How much am I beholding Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and other media? Am I beholding Jesus in such a way that I am being changed toward his likeness, “from one degree of glory to another”? Am I encouraging other believers to turn their gaze toward Jesus?
The answers to these questions must go beyond a statement of aspiration or intention. If we truly desire to be changed by steadily beholding the glory of Jesus, we must, as Dallas Willard memorably put it, move from Vision to Intention to Means (VIM). This will be the subject of a future article.
The more we become enamored with the glory of Jesus, the greater will be our foundation for unity and witness to the world. Our differences will fade, in the words of the hymn, “in the light of his glory and grace.” We will see this world as glory-drenched, joyfully giving praise to God for all the beauties we see. This is not a sugar-coated denial of painful reality, but a recalibration of perspective based on the overwhelming, overarching, glorious purpose of God. The world desperately needs to encounter people and multiethnic communities with this perspective.
1 C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis)
2 2 Peter 1:8-9 — “For if you possess these qualities [faith, goodness, knowledge, etc.] in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins.” Hebrews 3:12-13 — “Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”