If you had to sum up the goal of biblical counseling in one word, which would you choose? You might say, “change,” or “Christlikeness,” or “transformation.” These answers are correct as far as they go, but I would like to suggest the word “glory.”
The glory of the Lord is a thread that runs through every genre of Scripture. From creation to consummation, this theme is front and center. As such, glory serves as a helpful category in defining the goal of biblical counseling. However, glory is one of those words we use often but may find ourselves at a loss when pressed for a definition.
Some theological terms are difficult to define because a concise definition is not agreed upon by theologians—think union with Christ or impassibility. Others are difficult because the word is used in various ways, in different contexts, to convey numerous meanings. Glory would fall into that second category. In attempting to capture the different nuances of this loaded theological term, Christopher Morgan writes:
The God who is intrinsically glorious (glory possessed) graciously and joyfully displays his glory (glory displayed), largely through his creation, image-bearers, providence, and redemptive acts. God’s people respond by glorifying him (glory ascribed). God receives glory (glory received) and, through uniting them to the glorious Christ, shares his glory with them (glory shared)—all to his glory (glory purposed, displayed, ascribed, received, and graciously shared throughout eternity.)
In this post, I would like to trace the theme of glory in Scripture from eternity past to eternity future highlighting the idea of God’s shared glory and applying it to our counseling. In other words, I’d like to attempt an answer to the question: What does it mean for believers to be transformed from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18)? Or to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4)? Or to have glory “revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18)?
Glory Possessed in Eternity Past
Before anything was, God was, and God was glorious. He remains glorious as the eternal, unchanging Lord of all that is. The Lord alone possesses intrinsic glory. In other words, He is infinitely valuable in and of Himself. He is not dependent on anyone else for his position, power, or prestige. His character and nature place him in an entirely different category than creation. The Apostle Paul erupted in praise when considering the Lord’s wisdom and wealth of riches: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). David exclaimed, “He is the King of glory!” (Psalm 24:10). Stephen referred to the Lord as “the God of glory” (Acts 7:2).
Glory Shared with Man
In his kindness, God created to display his glory and allowed his creation (specifically, man) to see and enjoy the public display of his wisdom, power, and nature (Ps. 19:1). However, God goes beyond displaying his glory by allowing his image-bearers, in some sense, to partake of his glory.
At the climax of God’s creative work, He made a creature unlike any other—a being in his image. As persons made in His likeness, God bestowed upon Adam and Eve a sort of glory. We see this in Psalm 8 where David uses royal language in describing man’s unique position before God. Man is “crowned with glory and honor” (v. 5) as an image-bearer of God. God designed man to serve as his representatives by carrying out his will in creation. Therefore, Adam and Eve possessed a sort of derived glory. The glory of Adam and Eve was their capacity as image bearers to engage in the activity of displaying God’s glory by fulfilling His will in creation and thereby reflecting His nature and character. This link between glory and image becomes an important theme of redemption.
Though all creation testifies to the glory of God, mankind is uniquely equipped for the task. What a position! What a privilege! Yet, as we know, much of this glory was squandered for an empty promise from a sneaky serpent.
Glory Lost in Sin
Though every person retains his or her status as an image-bearer, an essential aspect of this glory was lost at the fall. Paul sums up his teaching on sin by declaring, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The common assumption is that this oft-quoted verse means little more than we have failed to glorify God. Though true, this does not seem to be the Apostle’s direction of thought. To fall short means to lack something or to be in want. It seems Paul is arguing that in our sinful state, we lack the original glory that Adam and Eve possessed before the fall. Sin is so pervasive that it not only led to sinful actions, but the very ability and desire to reflect God’s character were destroyed at the fall. Thus, the glory Adam and Eve possessed—the capacity and willingness to fulfill God’s will by imaging him in creation—was lost. The image remains, yet the glory of actively reflecting God faded as sin ravaged creation.
Sin is so pervasive that it distorted every aspect of our humanity. Our minds were darkened and became futile in their understanding (Eph. 4:17-18). Our wills were bound by sin and selfishness (Rom. 3:11-12). Our emotions were misdirected and wrongly expressed (Jer. 17:9). Our bodies delighted in sin (Rom. 7:24). Part of what makes sin so revolting is that we used many of the benefits of being an image-bearer (Our mind, will, emotion, and body) to rebel against the creator. Again, we see the emphasis and link between imaging God and glory. John Murray summarizes the effect of the fall as it pertains to glory, “We are destitute of that perfection which is the reflection of the divine perfection and therefore of the glory of God.”
Glory Incarnated in Christ
In the incarnation, we see the glory of the image of God. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the radiance of the glory of God… the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). As the God-Man, Jesus uniquely demonstrates the glory of God as he impeccably lived in joyful submission to the will of the Father.
Of course, Jesus’ mission goes far beyond being an example. Jesus passed where Adam and Eve failed. Jesus alone perfectly fulfilled the purpose of humanity. He is truly crowned with glory and honor. But the path to the crown went through the cross. The author of Hebrews makes explicit the connection between Christ and Psalm 8:
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.Hebrews 2:9-10
In his death and resurrection, Christ paved the way for us to be reconciled to God and subsequently be brought “to glory.”
Glory Renewed in Union with Christ
The glory lost at the fall is being renewed in those found in Christ. From justification onward, the Spirit begins in us the process of being conformed to Christ. Paul argues that as this happens we are moving into greater glory, “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” (2 Cor. 3:18). This movement towards glory is what we often call progressive sanctification.
Notice again the link between glory and image—we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another as we are fashioned into the image of Christ who is the perfect image of God. Part of what makes salvation so incredible is that we are being renewed into the image of Christ. Our minds are renewed by his word (Rom. 12:2). Our wills are brought into alignment with God’s will (Phil. 2:13). Our emotions are progressively being properly expressed (Phil. 4:4, 6). Our bodies can be brought into submission by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 6:12-13). Beholding the Lord’s intrinsic glory, we are being conformed to the glorious image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Glory Restored Forever
One day this original glory will be fully restored. Indeed, it will be greater than the glory Adam and Eve enjoyed because we shall be like Christ. The Apostle John wrote: “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). From heaven will come our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). We will not become God; we will not be little gods. We will remain embodied humans for all eternity. Both body and soul are eternally redeemed through the gospel of Christ. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus ensures the future glorification of those given to him by the Father.
Implications for Counseling
What does this mean for biblical counselors?
First, God sets the agenda for counseling and his agenda is glory. That is, his goal is to glorify himself as his people behold his glory and are conformed to the glorious image of Christ. Through the means of God’s Word, biblical counselors have the opportunity to help others behold the glory of the Lord. And this act of beholding is transformative. Lord willing, counselees move from one degree of glory to another. Life change and godly habits are necessary, but we must place them under the more important goal of glorifying God.
Second, remember the hope of eternal glory as a motivation for growth today. In my experience, it is easier to point people back to the cross than it is to point them forward to eternity. However, both are means of motivating believers towards conformity to Christ. The glory that will be revealed in us ought to be held out clearly as we implore others to become like Christ because “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
We long for that day when we shall see God face to face. Until then, may we “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Psalm 29:2).
Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 4:23 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
John Murray. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960.