Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Three Essentials of Spiritual Development

by Doug Smith @http://www.sharperiron.org

A Meditation on 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV).

camera_smith.jpgAlthough electronic digital cameras with their instant results have exploded with popularity, perhaps you still remember or use a camera that requires actual film. These cameras cause an image to be captured as a negative on the film. The film is taken to a photo development lab, where equipment in a darkroom transfers the image from a negative to a positive print. While a digital camera allows you to see an image of the finished picture instantly, you actually have to wait (usually at least an hour) before seeing what the film captured.

Sometimes pictures do not turn out like we expected. A picture might show up completely black, or it may have several colors blurred beyond recognition. One should ask certain questions if a picture does not turn out as expected. The questions might include: Did I take the lens cap off? Did I give the camera sufficient exposure to the scene I tried to capture? What does the development actually show?

There is an analogy here for our spiritual lives. We are not like digital cameras that produce the image for instant viewing. Rather, we are in a process of development much more akin to the film we used to develop. However, we are not only like a picture—the Bible teaches that being a picture is part of our identity as humans created by God. We are a picture, and our spiritual development is of utmost importance.

God made man in His image to reflect His glory (Gen. 1:26-27), but this image was shattered by man’s rebellion against his Creator. Christ, the perfect image of God (Heb. 1:3), came to restore this image in those who believe in Him. God’s plan for His chosen ones is that they be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29 KJV). Second Corinthians 3:18 reminds us that iIn order to develop properly, we must keep three things in mind.

1. Your lens cap must be removed.

Proper spiritual development requires an unveiled face. In 2 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul makes use of contrast to bring home his point.

The first contrast is that of the Old to the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, only a privileged few, such as Moses, beheld God’s glory. However, because of the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant offers such beholding to all believers.

The second contrast is that of the veil that exists for those who do not trust Christ with the unveiled faces of believers. The Bible says that the veil Moses placed over his face to shield the Israelites from the reflected glory of God continues as a veil over the “reading of the old testament” to this day, unless they turn to the Lord, who takes the veil away in Christ. The Spirit of God accomplishes this unveiling through His omnipotent power—the same power that created the world. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6 KJV).

So the first thing to remember in seeking spiritual development is that the lens cap must be taken off. God does this step for those who turn to the Lord. He is the one who removes their blindness, gives them life, and shines His glorious light in their hearts. There is absolutely no growth in Christlikeness unless one is converted to trust in the Lord.

What do you think a blind man in a dark room would do if he knew that his sight had been restored? He would desire to get out into the light to see all the things he had been missing. In the same way, when God removes the veil so we can see His glory, we will desire to do so. That truth leads us to the second thing we must remember for proper spiritual development.

2. To reflect something as an image, you must have sufficient exposure to what you desire to reflect.

Just as a camera requires adequate exposure to an image in order to properly develop, proper spiritual development requires a steadfast gaze. In other words, we must behold the glory of the Lord. We must fix our eyes and give full attention for a significant period of time.

Where do we look? The thing we focus on is of utmost importance, as we see God in the place that He has clearly and infallibly revealed Himself—in the Bible, which provides all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3) and is so complete that God’s man can be “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17 KJV).

As we look into the Bible to see the glory of God, we want to make sure we are really beholding Him and receiving adequate exposure; otherwise, we will not properly develop. Stealing a glance here and there is not sufficient. In our busy, information-saturated age, we will receive God’s Word like all the other “water” that flows through a pipe (as George Müller observed) and retain little or none of it without an intentional commitment to pay attention. We want to be like plants rather than pipes and absorb the Word so we may grow.

Only by making time and intentionally spending it in God’s Word can we grow in our spiritual lives. Use a Bible reading plan. Pray through Scripture line by line. Meditate on it, chewing it as a cow chews the cud, “regurgitating it” throughout the day and freshly going over it again. Memorize it in verses and even in paragraphs, chapters, and whole books. Apply it to your life so that it sticks—obey it. Share it with others. Taking these steps will help us to have a steadfast gaze and, therefore, sufficient exposure to God’s Word.

Let us be sure our lens caps are off and that we are getting adequate exposure to God’s Word. We should remember that steadfastly beholding God in His Word is a sure means to spiritual growth. However, things may not move as quickly as we always hope; this development is a process.

3. You must look for development over time.

Proper spiritual development occurs as a progressive change. To be changed and conformed to the image of Christ is a process that takes time. The amount of time it takes for pictures to develop with older cameras compared to modern digital ones is a major difference in those types of technology. There is no instant digital process to immediately make Christians as Christlike as they need to be, apart from that glorious day that is our blessed hope, when believers are changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump” (1 Cor. 15:51-52 KJV). There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity; no one suddenly attains to sinless perfection in this life. Remember that the apostle Paul wrote of his struggles with indwelling sin in Romans 6 and 7, referring to his experience as a believer.

However, praise be to God, believers do become more Christlike as they behold the glory of God in His Word. The Spirit of the Lord is changing believers “from one degree of glory to another,” like the stages of a metamorphosis He has activated in us. We are no longer dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), but we are like men with a deadly disease that is being reversed by the antidote. The cure has begun its work, but full recovery takes time.

Because spiritual development is a progressive change, we must remember that we will never “arrive” in this life. No one reaches a point where he or she can no longer grow as a Christian. This fact reminds us that we should be teachable as long as we live and open to change and challenge if clearly instructed from God’s Word.

The fact that we can always grow spiritually means we always have something to look forward to. As we continually expose ourselves to the glory of God in His Word with our unveiled faces, the indelible stamp of His image on our lives will become more and more obvious as the days and years pass.


So how is your spiritual life developing?

Is the lens cap off? In other words, are you converted? Are the words of God a mystery and nonsense to you? Or has God’s Spirit unveiled your face? This blindness is everyone’s natural condition because of man’s rebellion against God. Although the image of God has been marred and shattered in man, Christ came to redeem us. This sinless One lived a perfect life and died as a substitute for sinners, bearing the punishment we deserved. He rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is returning to the earth one day. If the lens cap is still on and all is dark, look to Him for this change that you can never make. You can never turn over enough “new leaves” to make yourself a new creation and raise yourself from spiritual deadness, but the omnipotent God who spoke the world into existence and raises the dead can do this by His Spirit. Turn to the Lord; trust in Jesus Christ the Lord, so that you will know what it is like to have an unveiled face.

Are you receiving sufficient exposure? In other words, are you getting quality and quantity time in God’s Word or just glimpses here and there? Be sure you are setting aside regular, daily time to read God’s Word, meditate on it, and apply it to your life. There is no spiritual development if you ignore the Word of God, where you see the image that God changes you into. Gaze at His glory in His Word; steadfastly behold it, looking intently to learn what He would teach you.

What does your development show? Are there signs of growth? Are you on an upward path? True Christians, as all living things, will grow. But remember that this growth is a process. Do not compare yourselves to others, but to God’s Word, which is the standard. Comparison to those who are not as mature may lead to pride. Comparing yourself to those who are more mature may lead to despair. Comparing yourself to the rule of God’s Word will give you an accurate picture whereby you may assess your spiritual development. Over time this comparison should lead to a growing hatred of sin and a deepening love for God, His Word, and His people.

Be sure that your lens cap is off, that you are getting proper exposure, and that you are seeing signs of progressive development. May the Lord increase in us our desire to be like Christ, and may He hasten that blessed day “when he shall appear” and “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 KJV). Until then, may God continually make us more like Christ as with unveiled faces we gaze at His glory in His Word.

smith_doug.jpgDoug Smith is happily married to Krystal. They are the parents of three children. They are members of Cornerstone Chapel (Bristol, TN).

Doug teaches hermeneutics with the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply and also does supply preaching. He is pursuing the M.Div. degree from Southern Seminary (Louisville, KY).

You can view his blog at http://glorygazer.blogspot.com.

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