As I ride my scooter on the roads of my city, I find many dug-up places. The city sometimes looks ugly at the sight of these dug-up places. However, the only solace I have as I see these ugly sights is that I myself am like them. I am a work-in-progress. Yes, I am often very messy and ugly, but God is at work in me to put me into great shape!
The process of God digging up and putting us in good shape is what Christian theologians sometimes call sanctification. Recently, I preached on 2 Corinthians 3:18 and felt that this verse has one of the best definitions of sanctification. Paul describes the various parts of sanctification in this verse. Let us look at them one by one.
Sanctification is the Work of God’s Spirit
Paul begins by saying, “We all with unveiled faces…”. The veil in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 represents unbelief. Paul says that the minds of the Jews are blinded, and a veil covers them even when they read the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14). Paul then says that this blindness of mind and veil is removed only when “one turns to the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:16). But how does a person turn to the Lord? Is it by his own endeavour? Does he do it in his own strength? Paul answers, “No!” In 2 Corinthians 3:17, Paul talks about the Spirit and says that it is He who gives liberty. Which liberty does Paul have in mind? It is the liberty to freely choose Christ. God the Spirit removes the veil of unbelief by changing our hearts and enables us to freely choose Christ. This work of the Spirit by which He gives us liberty to choose Christ is often called regeneration.
But God’s Spirit does not leave us on our own after the work of regeneration. He continues working in us throughout our Christian lives. The phrase “unveiled face” in 2 Corinthians 3:18, refers to the entirety of our Christian lives. Paul also ends verse 18 with the phrase “just as by the Spirit of the Lord”. Thus whatever Paul describes in verse 18 is because of God’s Spirit. The entire Christian life (post-regeneration) is by the Spirit of the Lord. This truth should give us great relief that we are not on our own to work out our Christian lives.
Sanctification Happens By Beholding Christ
In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul describes the way the Spirit sanctifies us. The Spirit enables us in “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord”. To behold the glory of the Lord is to behold the person and work of Christ. The Spirit causes us to deeply adore who Christ is and what He has done for us. The Spirit convinces us of the divinity and humanity of Christ. Thus, causing us to deeply appreciate that this Divine-Human Saviour bled on the cross for us and rose up from the dead to seal our salvation. Our love for Christ increases as the Spirit of God works in us.
And the Spirit works this ever-increasing love for Christ by turning us to the Word of God. The “mirror” to which Paul refers is the written Word of God. Paul uses the same analogy here which he uses in 1 Corinthians 13:12. Paul’s point is that while we believers (on earth) do not see Christ in all his glory with our physical eyes (like glorified believers), we do behold his glory truly and sufficiently by turning to the Word of God.
This beholding of Christ’s glory produces in us an ever-increasing transformation. We are transformed from “glory to glory”. In other words, we learn to die more and more to our sin and live more and more to God. In doing so, we increasingly reflect Jesus Christ who is “the same image”.
So, what is sanctification? According 2 Corinthians 3:18, sanctification is the work of God’s Spirit wherein He turns us to the Word to behold the glory of Christ, and through that knowledge transforms us more and more into the likeness of Christ.
You should memorize 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And when you feel like that dug-up road and find yourself a mess, remind yourself that God the Spirit is at work in you. Turn to the Word of God by listening to good preaching and reading your Bible. These disciplines will help you to behold the glory of Christ and help you to love him deeply. If you struggle with these disciplines, ask your pastor or one of your elders or a mature Christian friend to help you cultivate them. Ask your leaders to pray for you, and pray yourself.
Remember, God is at work within you if you have trusted Christ. No matter how big a mess you are in, He is transforming you from glory to glory. Remember John Newton’s words, “I am not what I should be, but I am not what I used to be. I am what I am by the grace of God.”
Venkatesh Gopalakrishnan serves as the pastor of Anugraha Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bengaluru, Karnataka. He is married to Sarmishta and they have a son.