The Glory of God and the Goal of Biblical Counseling

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).

Sources

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.

The Image of God and Your Social Media Engagement

Remember the good ole’ days when your social media timelines were filled with balanced, useful, and encouraging words from all your friends and family? Yeah, me neither! I find myself commonly thinking two thoughts as I scroll social media: (1) What were you thinking when you posted this?, and (2) What was I thinking when I posted this?

I don’t want to be overly optimistic but there is hope for social media. If we are going to notice any real change on our timelines it has to start with each one of us having some theological awareness. Specifically, what I am arguing for is that we discipline ourselves to filter our social media habits through the theological truth known as the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

When we talk about the image of God we are talking about how God’s likeness is imprinted in us as created beings (Genesis 1:26). Human beings stand alone as beings created in the image of God (Psalm 8). No other being, whether it be an animal or angelic being, is created in the image of God. That being said, to be created in the image of God means that we are like God, not that we are God.

In a 2016 ERLC post titled ‘What does it mean to be made in God’s Image?’ David Closson convincingly argues that the image of God in man boils down to both who man is and what man does. First, when we think of the image of God in man as who man is we are talking about our capacities. Specifically, we have in mind our intellectual, emotional, and relational capacities. These are all things that are possessed by us because they are true of God, whose image we are created in. Second, being created in the image of God has to do with what we do. God not only gives us certain capacities He has designed us to use those capacities for His glory. Kyle Gangel summarized this aspect well in his post ‘My Worth and My Unworthiness’ when he says that God “commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. […] We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him.”

As a result of mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 3) the image of God has been negatively impacted. We still retain the image of God in some sense (James 3:9) but imperfectly so. Rather than use our God given likeness to love God and serve God, we use our image bearing qualities to love and serve self. God transforms us through the Spirit to be more like Christ to restore image of God in us because Christ is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15-16).  

How does the image of God impact the “big” things?

Being theologically aware that we are created in the image of God impacts how we see and interact with the world around us. For instance, as Christians we are quick to point out that the basis for racial equality and protection for the unborn is that all people are created in God’s image. Because we are made in the image of God every human life has intrinsic value, dignity, and worth. If being created in the image of God impacts how we see and do everything, its relevance cannot be isolated to just these particular big issues. We have to allow this theology to work its way through all dark areas of our lives and bring us into the light.

How does the image of God impact the “small” things?

One area we often fail to see the relevance of the image of God is how it changes our engagement on social media. The people we disagree with, or struggle to get along with, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect on the basis that they are created in the image of God. Our posts, comments, likes, shares, and retweets must be theologically aware of the reality we are engaging with (and about) those who have intrinsic worth.

To mock or ridicule someone through clever memes based on their looks, voice, demeanor, intellect, or personality is to belittle and attack the image of God. Furthermore, to capitalize on a person’s misuse of the image of God by mocking them in their sin is equally unhelpful. At the very least this type of interaction fails to communicate the grace and mercy of the cross. Unfortunately, how funny something is often takes precedence over whether or not it meets any other criteria before being shared. As image bearers we can choose to function better than this.

James actually makes a connection between our talk and the image of God in James 3:9, “With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (ESV, see below). We think our words are a relatively small thing but God has a much different view. Sometimes the things we think are small and insignificant are actually vitally important to God. Our words, memes, and likes are all part of how we communicate and they make up a sizable part of our lives. Our talk matters to God because people matter to God.

Closing Thoughts

God hasn’t called us to police others on social media but he has called speak the truth in love and to help our brothers and sisters in Christ do the same. Here are a couple of questions to consider as we engage on social media:

  1. Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way degrade or belittle someone created in the image of God?
  2. Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way monopolize on someone else’s failings in order to make a point?
Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

My Worth and My Unworthiness

Imagine King David stepping out onto the roof of his house on a cool, clear evening and staring up into the night sky (having learned his lesson not to stare down at others). As he ponders the magnitude of God’s creation, the thought enters his mind, “… what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:4-5 (ESV). David is immediately struck by two truths that seem to be in tension with one another:

  1. The insignificance of humanity in relation to God.
  2. The significance bestowed on humanity by God.

Like many doctrines in tension (e.g. God’s sovereignty & man’s free will, God’s love & God’s wrath, etc.), it is easy to sympathize with one above the other. We are tempted to believe we need to diminish one to uphold the other. However, in order to have a proper understanding of who we are, we must affirm both our insignificance and our significance, our unworthiness and our worth, our depravity and our dignity.

What is Man that You Are Mindful of Him?

Two characteristics of humanity cause David to ponder our insignificance. First, we are created. As David considered the ease with which God created the entire universe, he began to wonder why such a powerful God would ever take notice of man. After all, the moon and the stars are the work of God’s fingers. Why would God stoop so low as to care about an individual, even someone as powerful as King David?

Not only are we created beings, but we are rebels against our Creator. Genesis 3 records what is commonly referred to as the Fall. Adam and Eve were given one prohibition not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Naturally, a prohibition seemed intriguing and with a little help from the Tempter, they disobeyed God. Since that tragic moment rebellion has been characteristic of humanity. In light of our rebellion against this all-powerful God, we stand before God as unworthy beings. Certainly, as unworthy beings God views us as worthless, right? Not so fast.

Crowned With Glory and Honor

It is clear from the opening pages of Scripture that man is the crowning glory of God’s creation. The fast-paced creation narrative slows down when it describes the origin of Adam and Eve. God rewinds in Genesis 2 for a closer look at man’s creation. Despite the immensity of the universe, it is man who has been “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). There is something significant about mankind that sets us apart from the rest of creation. The distinctive feature of humanity is that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Herman Bavinck says it this way, “…among all creatures only man is the image of God, the highest and richest revelation of God and therefore head and crown of the entire creation.”

We are crowned with glory and honor because we are made in the likeness of the King of Glory. It is this high position and calling of being an image bearer that makes humanity dignified above the rest of creation. R. C. Sproul sums it up well, “Man’s dignity rests in God who assigns an inestimable worth to every person. Man’s origin is not an accident, but a profoundly intelligent act by One who has eternal value; by One who stamps His own image on each person.” As those made in the image of the infinitely worthy God, we possess worth and dignity that far surpasses the rest of creation.

Our significance, our worth, and our dignity are grounded in the truth that we are created in the image of God. This is important because many Christians have overreacted to the self-esteem/self-worth movement by insisting that we are worthless. It can sound righteous to say, “we are trash, we are worthless, we are nothing.” However, in affirming both the unworthiness and worth of man, David simultaneously rejects a therapeutic—improve your life by improving your self-worth— view of man and an overly spiritualized—man is totally worthless—view of man.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

If our dignity comes from being made in the image of God, we must have a firm grasp of what it means to be an image bearer. There are two primary features of the image of God. First, God created us like himself in many ways. We are not God; we are not little gods; we will never be gods; we are, however, made “in his likeness” (James 3:9). As those who are made in the likeness of God, we can think, feel, speak, desire, choose, create, and relate on a level that is unknown to the rest of creation. This is possible because we are made in the image of God who thinks, speaks, desires, chooses, creates, and relates.

God not only endows every person with immense worth by stamping them with his image, but he also commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. This is the second aspect of being made in God’s image. We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him. One of the most important ways we were supposed to do this was by reflecting God’s character. We were designed to be holy because God is holy, just because God is just, Kind because God is kind, etc.

Unfortunately, we continually fail to reflect his image. Though we remain image bearers in our essence, we imperfectly mirror him as a result of our sin. The irony of sin is that we use the very abilities we have as image bearers and use them for our sinful gratification. For instance, We abuse our ability to communicate by engaging in slander and gossip. We abuse our ability to reason by rationalizing our sin away. We abuse our ingenuity to find new ways to rebel against him.

Our Ultimate Hope

Needless to say, the answer is not found within ourselves. We needed another to come to our rescue. Surprisingly, the rescuer came in the form of an image bearer. God became a man. He became the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the perfect picture of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). Our ultimate hope rests in Jesus, the perfect image of God, who himself became a little lower than the angels. Hebrews 2:9 says, “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” (ESV). He tasted death for us by bearing the wrath of God on the cross that we deserved. He rose from the grave offering forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who would turn away from their sin and rely on his finished work.

In God’s wisdom and grace he begins to transform his followers into the image of Christ. We progressively begin to look more and more like the perfect image-bearer. What was broken at the fall begins to be restored until one day the recreating work of God will be complete as we become fully like Christ when we are with him in eternity (1 John 3:2). We will perfectly image God forever.


Credits

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 8:4-5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

RC Sproul. In Search of Dignity (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1983), 94.

Herman Bavinck. Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004) 531.