And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
II Corinthians 3:18
It is a story I read as a schoolboy that helps me better understand what it means to be a Christian. I remember liking the story as I first read it, but the passing years have only added to its mystery and charm. The story is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face”.
Hawthorne begins his story with a little boy named Ernest who lives in a small village where nearby is a rock formation called “The Great Stone Face”. High on the perpendicular side of a mountain, nature has strewn rocks in such a way that viewed from a distance they resemble a man’s face. Many believe that the village owes much of its prosperity to the stone man’s kindly face looking down on them. There is a prophecy that one day a child will be born in the area who will grow up to be the noblest and greatest man of his time, and whose face will look like the Great Stone Face.
When little Ernest’s mother first tells him of the prophecy, he claps his hands excitedly, saying: “I hope that I shall live to see the great man!” From that moment Ernest is enthralled by thoughts of the Great Stone Face; he spends hours just gazing at it, contemplating its every feature, dreaming of the day when the great man would come to their village.
Ernest’s childhood passes, then his youth and middle age, and the great man who looks like the stone face still has not come. But Ernest does not forget the prophecy or contemplating the image of the man’s stone face. Then one day an elderly Ernest ambles down a village road when a man sees him and begins to shout joyfully: “He has come! He has come! The great man who looks like the stone face has come!”
As Hawthorne tells his tale, Ernest has lovingly gazed at the Great Stone Face for so long that he bears the image of that which he contemplated. Hawthorne writes of the life principal that we become like that upon which we focus our attention and love.
It seems to me that this is what the Apostle Paul shows in today’s text: we become like the Lord Christ on which we focus our attention and love. Paul says that as we “contemplate the Lord’s glory” we are “transformed into his image”. It is in the focusing of ourselves on Him that the transformation takes place. It’s a fascinating Greek word Paul uses that is translated in our text as “transformed”; it is the word metaphorphoo. It refers to the process of metamorphosis by which a caterpillar enters into a cocoon and mysteriously emerges as a butterfly. The word signifies change beyond recognition. Yet the caterpillar’s transformation has nothing to do with its understanding of how the transformation takes place. It is simply God at work.
So our gradual transformation into the image of our Lord takes place without our understanding how it happens. It is the Lord’s doing, as it comes “from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. Our responsibility is to keep our eyes on Lord Jesus, and His responsibility is to transform us. And it is a gradual, ongoing process as we are metamorphosized into the Lord’s image with “ever-increasing glory”.
- The Christian life is transformation and not imitation
- The transformation is accomplished by the Holy Spirit (“comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”)
- The transformation is a process (“ever-increasing glory”)
- The transformation occurs as we keep our focus on the Lord (“contemplate the Lord’s glory”)
Bible scholar Norman Douty sums up the Christian life and our transformation:
If I am to be like Him, then God in His grace must do it, and the sooner I come to recognize it the sooner I will be delivered from another form of bondage. Throw down every endeavor and say I cannot do it, the more I try the farther I get from His likeness…Forget about trying to be like Him. Instead of letting that fill your mind and heart, let Him fill it. Just behold Him, look upon Him through the Word. Come to the Word for one purpose and that is to meet the Lord. Not to get your mind crammed full of things about the sacred Word, but come to it to meet the Lord. Make it to be a medium, not of biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ. Behold the Lord.
(quoted by Miles Stanford, The Green Letters: Principles of Spiritual Growth)
Grace and peace,