“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 was a story in my grade school reader that made a big impression on me. The years since have only added to its fascination and mystery. It was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Great Stone Face.”
The story opens with the little boy Ernest who lives in a village beneath a rock formation resembling the features of a human face. Legend was that Ernest’s village owed much of its prosperity to the Great Stone Face looking down upon it. A prophecy even grew up that one day a child would be born who would grow up to be the noblest and greatest of men and whose face would look like The Great Stone Face.
As Ernest’s mother first told him the prophecy about The Great Stone Face, he said excitedly: “I hope I shall live to see that great man!” Ernest was enthralled by thoughts of The Great Stone Face; he spent hours on end staring at the rock formation, dreaming of the day the great man would come to his village.
The years passed and Ernest grew to manhood and old age, but the great man had not come. Yet, Ernest did not stop thinking about the stone image and the promise of the great man’s coming. Then one day an elderly Ernest tottered down the village road and a man saw him and shouted joyfully: “He has come! He has come! The great man has come!” Ernest had so focused on The Great Stone Face that he came to bear its’ likeness.
Hawthorne’s story of The Great Stone Face comes to mind as I read today’s scripture. It talks about how we “contemplate the Lord’s glory” and are “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” As we focus our thoughts and affections on Christ the Holy Spirit does His work in us.
I am fascinated by the word in our text translated “transformed”; it is the Greek word metamorphoo. It’s our word “metamorphosis” and refers to the miraculous process by which a caterpillar is “transformed” into a butterfly, or a tadpole “transformed” into a frog. Who can understand it! Who can explain it! It’s God at work!
And so is our day-by-day, step-by-step transformation by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ. It is the Lord who does it as we look to Christ! Norman Douty describes the growth:
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.” (Quoted by Miles Stanford: The Green Letters)
There is so much in these words of the apostle Paul in today’s scripture, but here are a few things that stand out:
- The Christian life is transformation and not imitation.
- The transformation is performed by the Holy Spirit living in us (“which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”).
- The transformation is a continuing process (“transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory”).
- The Spirit’s transformation takes place as we focus on the glory of Christ (“contemplate the Lord’s glory”).
All of this delivers us, as Norman Douty says, from the “bondage” of trying to be like Christ or to imitate Him. Only God can reproduce the life of Christ in us. So our calling is to stay focused on Jesus and to let the Spirit go about His work as we look “to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Grace and peace,