But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 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 Corinthians 3:16-18).
I don’t know about you, but I have read this Scripture passage several times treading on its surface instead of diving deeper into it and trying to understand it. If you feel this way, then this article is for you.
The Scripture passage starts with “But when one turns to the Lord.” Beholding Christ begins with turning to the Lord in faith and repentance, and does not end there. You are not a Christian because you were born in a Christian home or you go to your local church every Sunday. You are a Christian because you have realized you are a sinner and you need a Savior and have turned to Jesus Christ in true repentance believing he died for your sins. Has there been a time in your life when you realized you are a sinner and turned to Christ? If your answer is “no,” would you consider turning to Christ now? I bet you would never regret making this important decision. If your answer is “yes,” you have made the best decision ever in your life. But this is just the beginning of something glorious.
Beholding Christ begins with turning to the Lord in faith and repentance, and does not end there
When you turn to the Lord, the veil is removed and you get to behold the glory of the Lord, that is, the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Once your minds were hardened, but not anymore. Once your minds were blinded, but not anymore. There is freedom now to behold the glory of Christ with your eyes opened. It is not our own doing because the Scripture says, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Isn’t this glorious?
You may wonder what the veil refers to. Moses wanted to see the glory of the Lord. Without any hesitation, Moses asked the Lord to show him his glory. The Lord answered, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). But the Lord did not want to disappoint Moses and so, he offered to show a glimpse of his glory. Moses was fortunate enough to see the backside of the glory of the Lord and his face started to shine. Aaron and all the people of Israel took notice of the skin of Moses’ face and were afraid to come near him. Moses decided to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites would not look at the glory of the Lord shining in his face and die because their minds were blinded. Thanks be to God! “The veil is taken away in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14). There is no death and condemnation for those who have turned to the Lord. You can therefore now behold the glory of the Lord in Christ and live.
You may also wonder what it means to “behold.” Beholding here refers to a visual encounter, that is, looking. Beholding is not superficial glancing, rather it is looking intently or paying careful attention. While this passage does not have a hearing encounter, that is, listening, beholding in other references in the Bible has a listening aspect. Beholding is not half-listening or pretending to listen, rather it is listening intently or listening carefully and attentively.
Beholding is not superficial glancing, rather it is looking intently or paying careful attention
Where can we behold the glory of the Lord in Christ? Primarily in the Word of God. In Colossians 3:16, Paul describes the Word of God as the Word of Christ. You cannot miss beholding Christ in the Word of God because the Scriptures bear witness about him (John 5:39). Wouldn’t that be the reason why David prayed “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law?” (Psalm 119:18).
You turned to Christ in faith and repentance. But you never stop there. With an unveiled face, you continue to behold Christ in the Word of God by looking at the Word of God intently and listening to him attentively.
Beholding Christ is not an end in itself. It is a means to being transformed into the image of Christ and reflecting Christ’s image and glory.
1. Being Transformed into the Image of Christ
Beholding Christ has the potential to lead you to be transformed into the image of Christ. You become what you behold. The more you behold Christ, the more it is possible for you to become like Christ. “Beholding” is not just a visual exercise. It is experiential. You experience Christ’s glorious presence and mighty power in your life by His Spirit as a result of turning to him and beholding him with unveiled face. You can never experience Christ’s glorious presence and mighty power, and remain unchanged. You are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another.
First, the passive voice, “are being transformed,” indicates that someone is making this happen. He is none but the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Second, the present tense form “are being transformed,” indicates transforming into the image of Christ is a continual process. Third, the phrase “from one degree of glory to another” indicates transforming into the image of Christ is a step-by-step process.
As you behold Christ in the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will continue to show your blind spots or areas you have overlooked that hinder Christlikeness and lead you to be transformed into the image of Christ. If you stop beholding Christ, you stop becoming like Christ.
2. Reflecting Christ’s Image and Glory
Beholding Christ causes you to reflect his image and glory outwardly because your heart has been transformed inwardly. “Beholding” is not just a visual and experiential exercise. It is reflective. While the ESV interprets the rare verb in Greek katoptrizomenoi as “beholding the glory,” the NIV interprets it as “reflecting the Lord’s glory.” I believe “beholding the glory” remains primary, but the encounter Moses had with the Lord and the subsequent reflection in his face presents the idea of “reflecting the Lord’s glory” as mutually inclusive.
Your changed life cannot be hidden. You will shine before others and point others to Christ so that others will turn to Christ, behold Christ, transform into the image of Christ, and reflect Christ’s image and glory. Your changed life cannot bring transformation in others. The incarnate, crucified, and risen Christ can alone bring transformation in others.
I would like to end this article with how our Tamil Bible interprets “beholding the glory” or “reflecting the Lord’s glory”. Our Tamil Bible interprets “beholding the glory” or “reflecting the Lord’s glory” as “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” I think there is some truth to this even though it conveys we behold by means of a mirror. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In both these verses, Paul does not intend to diminish our beholding now, instead he creates a longing and prepares us for a much glorious face-to-face beholding during his appearance. When Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).