Camden M. Bucey
Glorification is a term entrenched in the Reformed theological tradition, yet our understanding of the subject is weaker than we suppose. The Westminster Standards speak of “glory” in several places, yet the precise word “glorification” is nowhere present.
“Glory” is a difficult term to define, but for our purposes we will say that God’s glory is the sum total of his attributes. And so, to “glorify” God would be to demonstrate his attributes. Because God does not change, it is not possible to make God greater than he already is; nonetheless, God makes himself known increasingly through his Word and his works.
Perhaps the greatest of God’s works will be the resurrection of the dead on the last day, when our Lord returns on the clouds. This will certainly be the consummate expression of God’s glory in his people, yet we should acknowledge that God’s glory is demonstrated in us already. Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We glorify and enjoy him now, even while we will do so much more in the new heavens and new earth.
In Romans 8:30, Paul writes, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” The particular verbal form of that last word is most instructive. Paul’s grammar links glorification with predestination, calling, and justification as events that have been settled in the past. How then can glorification take the same form if it occupies the final stop on the Christian path of salvation? Some say it only emphasizes Paul’s resolute faith or the fact that glorification is accomplished in God’s eternal plan, though not yet in history. I am convinced it demonstrates that glorification has been inaugurated in the believer’s present experience. This is not the only place where Scripture indicates that glorification has already begun. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that by the Holy Spirit believers are “transformed into” the image of Christ “from one degree of glory to another.” Surely glorification is more glorious than we may have previously thought.
God glorifies us by making us like Christ. He forms within us a pattern that Christ forged, a life of suffering unto glory. But this suffering has a purpose and a reason. It conforms us to Christ, and therefore provides the meaning and context for our daily life. Paul reminds us of this truth: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). As believers carry around the death of Christ in suffering, his glory is also present. Indeed, the life of Christ is manifested in their mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11).
Christ was born under the law and suffered at the hands of wicked men, who even put him to death on a cross. Like a lamb being led to slaughter, he did not open his mouth (Isa. 53:7). Jesus understood that he needed to drink this cup of wrath for the salvation of his people. Yet for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2). That joy broke forth in his resurrection, in which he was declared to be the Son of God in power by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:4). According to his human nature, Jesus Christ moved from suffering and humility to glory and exaltation (Phil. 2:5–11). He is now the preeminent Son, both as eternal Son of God and as son of the virgin Mary (Col. 1:15–20; Heb. 1:1–4).
We readily confess what Christ has done for us. Praise be to God for his redemptive work! Yet Christ does not remain outside of us. He has sent his Spirit to work in us, making us like Christ. Human beings were created in the image of God, but fell into sin and lost the true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with which they were created. We continue to bear the image of God in a broad sense, though it is defaced. But the Holy Spirit who brought Christ to life in the resurrection is the same Spirit who brings life to dead sinners, according to the pattern of suffering unto glory. God is restoring his image in us. More than that, he is perfecting that image, raising it to glorious new heights.
This was his intention from before the foundation of the world. The entire purpose of foreknowledge and predestination was to replicate a family resemblance in Christ’s people. God chose you for a reason. He wants you to look like his Son, first in suffering and then climactically in resurrection glory. Romans 8:29 states, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Remember that wonderful truth even in the midst of your earthly suffering. God is using your suffering to conform you to the sufferings of Christ, so that you too will share in his subsequent glory.
What greater honor and privilege is there than to be made like our resurrected Savior? Christ’s resurrection is the ultimate revelation of his glory. When Christ was raised from the dead, he was “vindicated by the Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16). In that same resurrection, he was sanctified. And when the Spirit raised him, he was declared to be the Son of God in power (Rom. 1:4), nothing less than a climactic adoption. Christ, who has become for us life-giving Spirit, will do the same for his people. He is but the firstfruits of a greater resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).
When we gaze upon Christ’s resurrection, we can see a pattern for our own lives. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20; see also Col. 2:11–15). Paul, like all other believers in Christ, died to the old man and now lives in and through the resurrected Christ. This glorious truth characterizes the entire Christian life. It cannot be restricted to the future alone. All aspects of salvation demonstrate God’s glory, because he is making us more and more like Christ each step of the way.
Paul’s words in Romans 8 offer a beautiful lens through which we can view the entirety of salvation. We can speak of the bodily resurrection as glorification, but we can also understand justification, adoption, and sanctification as contributing toward the goal of God’s people resembling their Savior. When believers are justified, they possess his righteousness. When they are adopted, they are received into his family and become heirs according to promise. Sanctification reproduces Christ’s holiness in his people through the mortification of sin and the vivification of the Spirit. Each distinct application of salvation adds another facet to Christ’s glorious image in the believer’s life.
Glorification cannot be reduced to the last link in the chain of salvation. It certainly must culminate in bodily resurrection (Rom. 8:19, 23), but Christ’s people are being conformed to his image even now. Glorification, as a covenantal reproduction and revelation of God’s attributes in his people, is something we enjoy and experience now. Those facets of salvation, given in union with Christ, have been formed and are being formed in God’s people. They are reflecting his glorious light in brilliant ways, even while the finished jewel is yet to be revealed at the resurrection.
This work of being conformed to Christ’s image has already begun and is secure; however, we must remember that it is not yet complete. We still battle with sin. We now see as through a glass dimly, and we do not know as we one day will (1 Cor. 13:12).
God’s Word teaches us about two different ages, which overlap. We live between grace and glory. We have already received God’s grace in the finished work of Jesus Christ, but we have not yet entered into our glorious final rest. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). While we suffer now, we do so with a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), as those who are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).
This is a theologically rich, though intensely practical, framework for understanding the whole of the Christian life. When you think about the resurrection of our Lord, consider what it means for you and how encouraging it is. By faith you experience this resurrection power this very moment, because the same Spirit who raised our Lord from the dead dwells within you. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31–32).
Christ will return, and God will complete the work he has already begun in his people (Phil. 1:6). The triune God will bring glory to his name as he glorifies himself in us. When Christ returns and we are raised from the dead, we will be revealed for what we already are, the sons of God. When we see him, we will be like him (Rom. 8:20–23; 1 John 3:2) as we enter into glory, entirely free of suffering. Soli Deo gloria.
The author is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Grayslake, Ill. He quotes the ESV. New Horizons, April 2016.