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2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Most Wesleyan/Holiness folk ought to be somewhat familiar with a debate on the timing of sanctification. In some circles this debate has waned, but the implications of it remain. Do we believe that one can be saved and sanctified at the mourner’s bench in one go? Is sanctification done entirely or merely partially? Is one entirely sanctified in an instant or is there a process?  The pericope from 2 Corinthians may stir that debate once again as we prepare to teach. While Paul does not here explicitly use the word sanctification, he does talk about our transformation into the glorious image of Christ. This language can become cumbersome to those who are used to a rigid ordo or even via salutis. Some conflate justification or even entire sanctification with glorification. When Paul speaks of the glory into which we will be transformed, he is speaking to a time after the resurrection. For those who have been preaching from 1 Corinthians during Epiphany, glory can bring continuity. Last Sunday the Epistle spoke of bodies being “raised in glory.”[1]  Therefore, we should be clear that glorification is not something which happens prior to the day of the resurrection.  Our bodies have not yet been fully transformed. We do not know fully what that future will hold. By saying, “seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror”[2] Paul reminds his friends in Corinth that we only know in part and we only see in part as in a mirror.[3] He is describing the middle life, where Christians find themselves after turning to the Lord but before we have been completely glorified. This middle is where most in the pews find themselves. Many have turned to the Lord, they might not yet be perfected in grace, they might still be struggling with some sin. They might have only acknowledged in their head but not yet in their heart. Even those who might disbelieve but yet engage online or attend in person, they have a form of belief which the Holy Spirit can use to transform people. That is one of the promises of this passage. When we turn to the Lord, there is freedom. When we see the glory of the Lord, we are transformed, but this transformation is not a completed process. We are being transformed by seeing the glory, even if it is glory found in a mirror. What a hopeful word! God is not done with us. Things do not have to be as they were! I do not have to be as I was. The Church does not have to be as it was! 

This is good news for our present moment. Historians, theologians, and podcasters have been pulling back the veil, as it were, to show us the places where the church has failed to reflect the glory of the Lord. Often, instead, we have reflected the broader culture. Instead of being transformed by the renewing of our imaginations, we have allowed our social imaginaries to dictate the boundaries of the gospel.

As a result, many Christians have engaged in “deconstruction.”[4]  Most often what people are deconstructing is the ways in which the church has chosen secrecy, shame, or deception over transparency and truth telling. These last two, transparency, and truth are the way forward for all Christians. Surely, they require people to be courageous and resolute as they face the truth of themselves and their organizations. But they are the way forward for all Christians, because God is not done with the church. This Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent. We will be celebrating the transfiguration of Jesus where God’s glory shines through him. It is that glory which enables us to face the way through Lent. One of the greatest obstacles, however, is our own self-deception. This is especially true for those who are entirely sanctified. We can become convinced that we have out grown the cross, that we have already been transformed and there is nowhere else to go. We follow all the rules and do all the disciplines. For this we must be careful, spiritual disciplines are good, but we would do better to think of them as means of grace. The disciplines only make us holy in so far as they point us to see God’s glory at work.  Our transformation is not contingent on our effort, but on us letting Jesus pull back the veil so that we can see clearly who God is and who we are. We are beloved. We don’t let any lingering sins discourage, instead we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us who we are and where we must grow.[5]   Perhaps this is a Sunday to prepare the congregation for Lent. Maybe we lead congregations in prayers of examen. Maybe we encourage extended confession. Hand out journals and let people write their confessions down. One time my church was very dangerous and we verbally confessed sins to brothers and sisters in the pews. That Sunday we met by life changing conversations. Perhaps it is a Sunday for a vivid illustration- a testimony of one whose life has been transformed.  Maybe you hand out veils and ask people what they are hiding. What haven’t they let God transform yet? Where are we ashamed? What secrecy is preventing breakthrough? I will be handing out mirrors to my congregation asking where they see Christ’s glory being reflected in them.  This Sunday is a passage to celebrate the work which God is doing in and through us, but it also a call to continue that work, to press on even in discouraging times. [1] 1 Corinthians 15 [2] 2 Corinthians 3:18 [3] 1 Corinthians 13 [4] I am not using this term in its philosophical technicalities. Instead, I am using it as it is being popularly deployed. Many people are re-thinking their faith. Some are leaving, some are being revived.  [5] Any time I write on shame, Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly is living in my head. While I am not quoting her here, she deserves credit for my thoughts on shame.