gaze at the portrait before you look in the mirror

Following our Equip gathering on Sunday afternoon, a wonderful church member asked me a really great question. Here’s what she wrote (via email):

I was never taught to see the gospel throughout the Bible, so I am trying to wrap my brain around this. This may sound like a silly question, but are the scriptures always about God and the gospel and never about us? For instance, the passage on Abraham last night (Genesis 22:1-18), is it wrong to apply it to us and how we learn faith or obedience from it? Most printed Bible study material I have seen throughout the years always seems to have an application for our lives. Of course they point out what God has done or is doing, but they seem to end with how I am going to change because of what He has done.

This isn’t a silly question, and its one that I’m sure others are asking. My answer, however, might seem silly, at least at first: The Scriptures are always about God and never about us, however they are always for us. The main point of the whole Bible, and the main point of any passage in the Bible, will always be about God, who he is, what he is like, and what he has done for us. That’s because Scripture is God’s gracious revelation of himself. But God’s self-revelation (if we receive it rightly) will always produce a response. So while Scripture isn’t about us, it is for us. We will always be changed by meeting God in his Word. There will always be something for us to do, in light of what Scripture reveals about God.

Inside-bridgestone-museum-of-art-tokyo-japan+1152_12954877382-tpfil02aw-26630It might seem like I am splitting hairs to make such a distinction, but this is a place where getting the nuance right is very important. By nature we are people who become what we behold. If we look to Scripture and behold ourselves – who we want to be, what we want to be like, and what we ought to do – then, at best, we’ll become improved versions of ourselves. But if we look to Scripture and behold God, we will become something altogether different than what we are now.

That is the point of 2 Corinthians 3:18: “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.” Notice carefully the logic of the statement Paul is making. Because we contemplate the Lord’s glory, we are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory through of the work of the Spirit. We become what we behold. If we behold ourselves, we might become improved versions of ourselves. But if we behold the Lord, we will be transformed into his image. That is categorically different – categorically better.

Considering all of this, it isn’t wrong to read the Bible and think, “How should I respond to this?” But if we ask that question first, without asking, “What does this reveal about God?”, we’ll actually miss the transformative power of God’s Word. To put it another way, its not wrong to read God’s Word and then take a hard look in mirror to see where you fall short or how you need to grow. But before you look in the mirror, gaze long and hard at the beauty of the Lord as Scripture reveals him! All of Scripture is a portrait of our God…look lovingly and passionately at this portrait. Behold him. Then, when you look in the mirror to consider your own appearance, you will have the Spirit-driven transforming power of God to transform you into his image with ever-increasing glory.


  1. Thanks, James. I had a person ask me the same basic thing following Equip #2. I assured her that, if she attended the Equip sessions to come, her questions and doubts would be answered. So often we have been taught/modeled to process the Word incorrectly. Thank you for leading us to clarity, even though it may be uncomfortable for some. Betty Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2015 12:31:09 +0000 To:


  2. What a great and necessary distinction James. I think we can often miss the point that the Bible isn’t foundationally what we as Christians should be “doing” for God, but rather, the Good News that God has already “done it” all on our behalf. And the appropriation of this sublime gift in our hearts and minds is the fuel for all of our “doing” as Christians.


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