Jesus

Why Weakness Should Drive us Godward

Weakness, moral and otherwise has a way of pushing us away from God. It certainly does not serve as a confidence builder when approaching the holy God of the universe.

Hebrews introduces us to a different perspective, an incarnational logic. Take a look at Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The call in this passage is to “hold fast our confession” and to “draw near” to God with confidence that we might know the help of grace when in need. Note what grounds  the call, what forms the foundation of this confidence.

Incredibly, it’s how God engages our weakness. The “for” and “then” of the text drive us to the central confidence giver in the face of weakness—a sympathetic Savior.

We do not have a mediator who lacks understanding, a stand-between ignorant of suffering, a high priest incapable of meeting weakness with grace. He is sympathetic (συμπαθῆσαι). This is a description of the God-man. This is the fruit of  the incarnation and cross—understanding and sympathy.

The NIGTC commentary on Hebrews states that “Christ’s earthly life gives him inner understanding of human experience, and thus makes him ready and able to give active help.”

The very thing that drives us away from God should push us toward him. Our weakness is always met by a gracious, understanding Savior who desires to provide help. He does not engage our weakness with condemnation, but kindness.

Through Christ even our weaknesses are transformed into an invitation to know his grace and mercy. They are the occasion for experiencing God’s help.

Theology of Beauty in Action: Jesus

Beauty or Jesus

The rich young ruler loved his money more than anything in the world including the God who created him. We are all idolaters. Jesus comes to each one of us, points to our idol, and gives us an ultimatum. Give up your idol worship and follow me or perish in your idolatry. For the rich young ruler the call was to give up his money and possessions. We all know how the story ends. How about you? How does your story end?

Calvin once asserted that our hearts are “idol factories.” If this is the case then the idol of beauty is being produced in mass throughout our culture. For you it may be your golden calf; your replacement god that you worship with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you were in the rich young ruler’s shoes and Jesus was confronting the idol of your heart how would you respond? Would you leave all to follow him? Maybe you already have done this.

If you are a disciple of Christ it is good at times to be challenged in your loyalty and devotion. Is your answer to Jesus the same as it has been in the past? How does the story end for you? The reality is that we cannot serve God and mammon. And we cannot serve God and the idol of beauty.

If your conscience is heavy because the idolatry of beauty is something you grapple with, do not despair. Look to Christ. He is your substitute. His heart was a factory of goodness and perfection. And his perfect life has been accounted to you. He absorbed in himself the punishment for your idolatry. The result is that there is no condemnation hanging over your head as you struggle to be undivided in your loyalty to Christ.

He knows your heart and he knows the wrestling in your soul. He is a sympathetic, compassionate, and patient Savior. Fix your eyes on him whether your stride is strong or you are face down on the ground. Whether you are weak or strong, trusting or doubting, hopeful or despairing—-look to him.

The paradox in leaving behind the pursuit of beauty to follow Jesus is that you end up falling into beauty when you do. The principle of losing your life to gain it applies to beauty. By giving up an idolatrous pursuit of a certain physical appearance that is equated with beauty we come in contact with true beauty.

Our loss is always our gain. We meet beauty incarnate. By faith his beauty becomes ours. And by the Spirit he transforms us to reflect his beauty more and more. The rich man would have become truly wealthy if he would have given everything away to follow Christ. The person in pursuit of beauty does not lose it but truly finds it in Christ.

The Beauty of Jesus 

I have painted with broad strokes in attempt to capture some of the major biblical ideas that help us think well about the issue of beauty. I do not believe we have missed the forest for the trees. But I do believe a certain tree in the forest demands more of our attention. It is a tree in the forest of beauty that dwarves the rest. It is a redwood among pines, a sequoia among maples.

I have asserted that beauty is a Trinitarian reality made manifest in the person of Christ in the context of the gospel. The unveiling of Trinitarian beauty and gospel splendor intersect in God our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would know beauty we must know Christ.

Of all the application we derive from a theology of beauty, this is the most important. Strive to permeate your heart and mind with the beauty of Christ. The longing of David to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps 27:4) is a desire that can only be realized as we focus on the gospel. As we look to Christ, our deepest creaturely needs and yearnings find satisfaction.

It is in his presence and before his face that we recognize the reason for which we were created. As we gaze upon him we know liberation from our sin and our selves. As we look to him we are transformed into his likeness. As we are overwhelmed by his glory and beauty we are driven to glad obedience. Beholding the beauty of Christ would be sufficiently fulfilling in itself. But the beauty of Christ is also functional. Things happen to us as we behold him. For the Christian, beholding beauty leads to becoming beautiful.[1]

My encouragement to you is to continue building your biblical framework for beauty by focusing your study on the person and work of Christ. Let his beauty be a topic of conversation with others. Where do you see his beauty? What is his beauty like? What language is used of Jesus that is similar to beauty? In what way does he challenge the cultural perspective on beauty?

Search, explore, ask questions, make observations, think fresh thoughts—just focus your heart and mind on him. Look at his incarnation, his ministry, his cross, his resurrection, his ascension, his return, his intercession, his second coming, and his eternal rule—all with an eye to beauty.[2] The voice of God cuts through the chatter of our culture and beckons us to come, and “behold the king in his beauty” (Is 33:17). If we follow the sound of his voice, we will never be the same.

For a link to this entire series in an article/paper format: Gospel & Beauty: A Cruciform Majesty.


[1] Ibid, 46. Mahaney asserts something similar when she says: “If I keep my eyes on the One who is loveliness incarnate, I will grow more beautiful by reflecting Him.”

[2] If you want to read outside of Scripture on this theme check out John Owen, The Works of John Owen Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965). Jonathan Edwards, “The Excellency of Jesus Christ” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Incorporated, 2004), 680-690. This sermon can also be found online in article form. Bruce Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005). Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008). Fred Sanders & Klaus Issler, Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007). This document was authored in August, 2011.

Theology of Beauty in Action: Men

Though we often equate beauty with femininity this study has sought to demonstrate that this is too narrow. If God is the essence of beauty and all the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus then beauty must also be masculine. The most beautiful human who ever lived was a man. Even writing that last sentence feels weird to me. Using beauty as an adjective for man just seems wrong. But if we go with the definition that understands beauty to be synonymous with glory it makes sense.

Beauty is the sum total of God’s perfections. All of the attributes of God comprise his beauty and glory. Since Jesus is God in the form of a man he is also glorious and beautiful. By the work of the Spirit both men and women are conformed to the likeness of Christ. As we are transformed to reflect his character we are changed to reflect his beauty. This beauty will be appropriately refracted in men and women. There is a masculine manifestation of beauty and a feminine one but they share the same source and character.

Men need to think deeply about beauty. We are influenced and shaped by our culture when it comes to beauty. Just as there is a standard of attractiveness for women (which is the equivalent of beauty in our culture) so there is for men. As men we are encouraged to be conformed to this ideal. We are also influenced in the way we view females. The elevation of physical appearance in our culture is mirrored in our minds. We are encouraged to use the cultural yardstick to assess women.

Our thinking, our eyes, and our speech betray the fact that we have bought into godless thinking about beauty. This error in our thinking is a factor in sexual immorality, lust, pornography, conflict in relationships and marriage, adultery, and divorce. We need our minds to be conformed to the mind of Christ on this matter.

Men are influencers and culture shapers when it comes to beauty. As men, we have done untold damage to women. By establishing or affirming the cultural standard of beauty we have contributed to the current state of affairs. Just who is responsible for excessive exercise, extreme diets, tanning booths, endless hours in front of the mirror, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery, and insecurity? We are wrong if we think our hands are clean. We may never encourage someone to get plastic surgery but by affirming the cultural standard of beauty we are essentially communicating that we wish they were different.

By defining beauty as a certain color of eyes, type of hair, complexion of skin or shape of body we create a beauty complex for anyone who does not fit. When this happens on a large scale, the result is a caste system. Your status and value are determined by how close you conform to the standard.[1]

At one end of the spectrum is the outcast who fails in every way to conform to the standard. On the other end is the model, the embodiment of the standard. And then there is everyone in between. The goal of everyone below the standard is to move upward by any means possible. When we elevate physical appearance and equate it with beauty we do so to the detriment of women.

Men of God must be influencers and shapers of a culture based on biblically defined thoughts of beauty. The fact that we have contributed to the problem requires repentance. We must own the fact that our thoughts on beauty have not been captive to Christ. We must commit ourselves to changing our thinking on this issue so that our attitudes and actions might also be transformed.

We must strive to understand the biblical meaning of beauty. We must allow this perspective to permeate our homes, churches, and workplaces. We must make it our aim to help sisters in Christ understand their God and their position in him. We must also seek to do justice in the area of beauty. We must recognize that the issue of beauty in the world is tied to issues like prostitution, pornography, and human sex trafficking. The famous Edmund Burke quote applies here: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” A robust vision of beauty will compel us to justice. It will not do to remain silent and passive on these issues.

As men we have the privilege and responsibility of being fathers. As fathers we have the unique role of instilling in our children a God-centered perspective on beauty. This will not be easy. We will be rowing against the cultural current. It is imperative, however, that we model and instruct our sons and daughters how to think about the issue of beauty.

Our daughters need to know the freedom of true beauty. Our sons need to know how to properly view women made in the image of God. A robust theology of beauty in the home—centered in the Trinity and shaped by the gospel—will pay tremendous dividends for our children and their children. The prevalence of this issue in our culture should remind us of the urgency of this task in our homes. The voice of the father must rise above the voices of culture. And the children must discern in that voice the words of God.


[1] The letter of James identifies this sort of attitude as “evil.” The entire unit is worth a look. This is James 2:1-4. “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James condemns partiality based upon outward appearance. Here the outward appearance is focused on clothing. By deeming one person more valuable than another on the basis of outward appearance these people have become “judges with evil thoughts.” These are strong words for those who would build a standard of judgment on outward appearance. Since God does not look on outward appearance “but on the heart” he calls us to do the same (1 Sam 6:17). According to James, it is wicked to do otherwise.

 

Theology of Beauty in Action: Action, Sacrifice and Community

Beauty and Balance

This section provides an important qualification for all that has gone before. There is nothing innately sinful about pursuing an outward physical appearance that complies with our culture. In other words, there is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and wanting to look nice. In fact, we are called to be good stewards of our bodies, which includes our physical appearance. The key here is perspective and balance. Mahaney explains,

“Seeking to please the Lord does not mean that we neglect our personal appearance. Pure devotion to God will produce an appropriate concern for physical appearance. A godly woman will seek to present an outward appearance that honors God and attracts others to her character. It is not wrong to seek to enhance our own appearance, but we need to evaluate our motives and our commitment to modesty. It is not necessarily evil to wear stylish clothing and an attractive hairstyle. It is not sinful to wear makeup and jewelry. The Proverbs 31 woman wore colorful, high-quality clothing. The bride in the Song of Solomon adorned her appearance with jewelry. We are told that Esther underwent twelve months of beauty treatments—six months with oil and myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. The Bible does not condemn wearing and using these things. It is wearing them for the wrong reasons that God’s Word forbids. As John Piper says in his book A Godward Life: ‘With God at the center—like the ‘sun,’ satisfying a woman’s longing for beauty and greatness and truth and love—all the ‘planets’ of food and dress and exercise and cosmetics and posture and countenance will stay in their proper orbit.’”

The two major problems we run into when it comes to outward appearance are misunderstanding true beauty and idolatry. As we deal with these issues we are better equipped to maintain balance in this area.

Beauty and Action      

In our culture we do not put beauty and action in the same category. Since we tie it to physical appearance it is something that a person possesses rather than something they do. We have seen from Scripture that it is in fact both. Beauty is something possessed and something dynamic. Action reveals character and character determines action. The two are inseparable, which means that beauty must be understood as both attribute and activity.

Practically speaking this means that we must learn to discern beauty in the things we often do not. There is beauty in feeding the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, helping the widow, and protecting the orphan. There is beauty in hospitality, writing a letter of encouragement, praying over someone, sharing the gospel, and weeping with someone grieving. Actions rooted in love are beautiful.

Beauty and Sacrifice

At the heart of our discussion on beauty stands the cross. I have suggested that the very core of beauty is sacrifice. We have seen in Christ the self-giving and sacrificial nature of the Triune God. Beauty is manifested in us as we take up our cross and give our lives away (both figuratively and literally). In our culture physical appearance is so valuable that we are encouraged to sacrifice in order to possess it or maintain it.

Jesus was willing to have his physical appearance “marred” to such a degree that he was unrecognizable (Is 52:14). He sacrificed everything for us that we might know grace. The beauty of this is not in the disfigurement itself, but in the heart and purpose behind it. The Holy Spirit labors to create within us this kind of heart. When we put our lives on the line for the sake of others we reflect this beauty.

Beauty and Community

In the West we tend to think of beauty as an individual thing. Either a person is beautiful or they are not. It has nothing to do with anybody else. Each person stands alone to be measured by the cultural yardstick of beauty. The mirror is the final standard of beauty, nothing else. As we have seen, this is a flawed perspective. Beauty is relational to the core. The beauty of God is the beauty of community. The beauty of the image of God is tied to relationship. The beauty of the church is a corporate beauty.

Practically speaking this means at least two things. First, if you have confessed Christ as Lord then you have been incorporated into his church. The church of Christ is his bride. Through his death and resurrection he has purchased and beautified his bride once and for all (Eph 5:25-27). Individually then you are a member of a body that is considered beautiful and pure in the eyes of God. You belong to a beautiful community.

This communal perspective on beauty is difficult for us to grasp. But we must grasp it if we would understand beauty. From God’s perspective it is this corporate beauty that seems to take precedence over individual beauty. If you read Revelation 19-22 with an eye to the beauty of God’s people you will see that the body as a whole rather than its individual parts is the focus. When Jesus returns to consummate his saving work the end result is a beautiful bride. There is beauty in belonging and we belong to the Triune God and to his church.

The second thing is that beauty is manifest in community through the way we relate. How we interact at home and in the church has everything to do with beauty. If beauty is seen in the way the Father interacts with the Son and the way the Son engages with the Father then certainly it will also be manifested through our interaction with one another.

As we interact with love, patience, gentleness, kindness, compassion, honesty, generosity, grace, forgiveness and selflessness we reflect the beauty of God in our community. If you want to assess your beauty the mirror is not the place to look. Turn your attention instead to your relationships. Let the mirror of community probe you and measure you.

The Gospel and the Beauty of God’s People

We have established that God in himself is uncreated and eternal beauty. Man made in his image is created beauty intended to reflect him. The image of God in man is essential to understanding the pinnacle of created beauty in the world. The whole of creation speaks to us about the glory and beauty of God. But none of this beauty is comparable to that of the human being.

This beauty, however, has been marred since the image of God within us has been fractured. As broken image bearers we stand in need of God’s mending work. The solution to our distorted image is found in Christ, the true image-bearer, who comes to restore us. There is a strand of New Testament thought that links together Christ, the image of God, and our salvation.

The apostle tells us explicitly that Jesus is “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4, 1 Cor 15:49, Col 1:15, 2 Cor 3:18). Jesus was a perfect man who yielded to no temptation (Heb 4:15), never sinned (1 Pet 2:22) and lived a life of unbroken worship and obedience before the Father (Rom 5:18-20). This means that Jesus was and is the perfect image bearer. When we look at Jesus we see what a human being was intended to be.

His life of perfect image bearing was lived in our place as our representative. His perfect life and his sacrificial death are equally necessary for our salvation (Heb 2:5-18, Rom 5:17-21). His life and death are in fact a dual substitution. He lived as a blameless image bearer and died in the place of broken image bearers. In his death he received in himself the punishment due every fractured image bearer (Note the connection between Romans 1:18-32, Rom 3:23-25, and Rom 8:28-32).

The problem with a fractured image is that it no longer gives a true reflection of that which it was created to reveal. We tell horrendous lies about God with our lives though we were created to reveal the truth about him. Jesus, the true image bearer, lived a life that told nothing but the truth about God.

In his death, however, he died like the biggest liar in the world. God piled upon him all the sin of our broken imaging. Indeed, he became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He took this upon himself and the Father consumed him with wrath, punishing him in our stead. Then the Son rose from the grave with a glorified body (1 Cor 15: 42-48) to complete our justification (Rom 4:25).

The New Testament teaches that the Spirit of God regenerates men and creates faith in them in order to unite them to the Jesus (1 Jn 5:1, Eph 2:8-10). Once united to Christ all that is his becomes ours and all that is ours becomes his (Rom 6:1-12). His righteousness and perfection is now ours while our sin and filth is swallowed up in him (2 Cor 5:21). Through Christ we are considered perfect and blameless (Col 1:22). God sees us in Jesus as perfect image bearers once again.

The reality of our perfect standing before God progressively becomes a reality in our experience here and now. Paul tells us that this was God’s predetermined plan. “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his son” (Rom 8:29). Through the gospel and suffering the Spirit molds us into the image of Christ. As we behold the glory of the Lord in the gospel we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

As we suffer hardship God works all these sufferings for our good that we might finally be molded in to Christ’s likeness (Rom 8:28-32). The Spirit labors within us aiding us in putting off the old man and putting on the new man, which is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10, Eph 4:23-24). At the final resurrection we will put off forever our mortal bodies and be clothed with immortality. It is here that the image of God within us will be fully and finally renewed. For it is at the resurrection that we will “bear the image of the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:49, see the larger context of 1 Cor 15:42-58).

Implications   

  • Jesus is the one in whom the beauty of God is deposited. Since Jesus is the perfect image bearer it follows that he is the fullest expression of God’s beauty. Once again we see that an accurate definition of beauty must be centered in Jesus.
  • Since Jesus is fully and perfectly human it follows that he shows us what human beauty genuinely looks like. What does this mean for beauty? It means it is not restricted to gender, it is not preoccupied with the physical (though it includes this), it is tied to character, it is not static but active, and at heart it is sacrificial service for another’s good.
  • The beauty of God in Jesus Christ saves the world. The place where beauty is most clearly displayed is the same place where God restores the beauty of this fallen world. Begbie puts it like this: “In Jesus Christ is the measure of divine beauty, so also of created beauty. In Jesus Christ, divine beauty has, so to speak, got to grips with the wounded and deformed beauty of the world; in the incarnate Son, crucified, risen, and now exalted, we witness God’s re-creation of the world’s beauty.”[1]
  • Jesus provides all that is necessary for broken image bearers to be restored. By faith in Christ we are reckoned righteous, clean, and whole before God. Jesus makes us beautiful by saving us. The beauty of humanity is once again a gift that comes from outside of us. The work of both creation and new creation are the work of God. God alone creates and recreates beauty.
  • Beauty is here connected to the saving work of God in our lives. The Spirit is laboring within us with the tools of gospel and suffering to make us more and more like Jesus. It is a beautiful thing to be regenerated, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified. We are God’s workmanship and we reflect the beauty of his handiwork. Beauty is not something we strive after it is something given us in Christ. In position, we are considered beautiful because we are united to Christ. In experience, we are progressively being conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, we reflect who we are in Christ more and more as we follow after God. The beauty of the Christian does not fluctuate. Gregory of Nyssa nailed it on this point. “He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me a partaker of his beauty.” We are participants in his beauty and this cannot be altered. As the Spirit sustains our faith in the gospel and produces the obedience of faith in us he works out the beauty that is already ours in Christ. We do not become more beautiful we simply manifest what we are in Jesus. Through Christ we hold the position of beautiful image bearers and it is this reality that works its way out in our practice.
  • Glorification is the final stage of restoring the image of God within us. This is significant for a few reasons. First, this confirms the fact that the image of God includes the whole person. It is not enough to be renewed within we must also be renewed from without. Apart from restored bodies the image of God would still be broken. Second, it follows that beauty is also external and physical. There is a unique beauty to the resurrected existence of Christ. Paul refers to his resurrected body as “glorious” (Phil 3:21). At his return our bodies will be conformed to the beauty and glory of his (Phil 3:21, 1 Jn 3:2). One day we will “shine like the sun” in the Kingdom of God (Matt 13:43). Just like the angels and Moses reflected the light of God’s beauty when coming from his presence so shall we. Our bodies will reflect the luminescence of Christ’s glorified body. Third, all of this points to the fact that even physical beauty is a reflective beauty that comes from God. There are three components to the physical beauty of glorification: conformity to the glorified body of Christ, the reflective radiance of seeing God and residing in his presence, and the restored cohesion of both internal and external elements of an individual.

This exploration into the theme of beauty has not been comprehensive. But it has provided us with the necessary anchor points for constructing a framework for a theology of beauty. We can identify these anchor points as the nature of the Triune God, the image of God, the person of Christ, the cross of Christ, union with Christ, the church and the doctrine of glorification.

We have viewed each of these doctrines under the umbrella of God’s nature, dwelling, and people. By taking this angle on the question of beauty we have learned some new and fresh things. It is my hope that your thinking on beauty has been challenged, shaped, and sharpened. Now we need to put this framework to action—hence the next posts on the theology of beauty in action.


[1] Jeremy Begbie in The Beauty of God: Theology and Arts, 27. Bruno Forte agrees. “Crucified beauty leads us back to Beauty at the end victorious.” The Portal of Beauty, 119.

 

The Gospel and the Beauty of God’s Place

In the Old Covenant the temple was the chosen dwelling of God where he manifested his beauty. With the coming of Christ and the inauguration of the New Covenant the temple continues to be the chosen dwelling where his beauty is made known. The difference is that the temple is no longer a stationary building. The temple in the New Covenant is the person of Jesus Christ, individual believers united to him, and the corporate people of God joined to him.

John says that Jesus “tabernacled” among us (Jn 1:14). He identified himself as the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days (Jn 2:18-21). He made it clear that true worship would no longer be tied to a physical locale but would take place as people came through him, the true temple, to his Father (Jn 4:20-25). In Jesus, the true temple, the fullness of God’s presence was manifest (Jn 1:14, 18, Col 1:19).

In Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwelt in unique fullness making him a fitting temple (Jn 3:34). In Jesus, the beauty of God was located (2 Cor 4:6, Heb 1:3). As people were united to Jesus by faith the Holy Spirit came to dwell within them thus making them temples of the living God (1 Cor 6:19). This is extended to the church corporately. The people of God are understood to be a temple where God’s Spirit resides and therefore where his beauty is now made manifest (1 Cor 3:16-17, Eph 2:21, 1 Pet 2:5). As we are united to Jesus the true temple we become the temple of God individually and corporately.

Implications   

  • Since Christ is the true temple of God he is also the place where God manifests his presence, beauty, and glory. This is yet another line of evidence that firmly locates the beauty of God in the person of Christ.
  • Since the presence of Christ is the presence of beauty then where he chooses to dwell is where beauty will be found.
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who comes to dwell within us to make us the temple of God. The beauty of God’s dwelling place is therefore closely linked to the presence of the Holy Spirit. The presence or absence of the Spirit is therefore the presence or absence of beauty.
  • The fact that believers are temples of the living God makes them repositories of the beauty of God. The beauty of God manifest in the incarnate Christ is now becoming discernible in regenerate men and women. Since sin still resides within us there is a conglomeration of beauty and deformity in our make up. This beauty is made a reality within us from a force outside of us. It is the presence of God within us manifested through us that makes us beautiful. Beauty is never located in the human being apart from God. It is God’s handiwork, image, or presence that makes a human valuable and beautiful. Our beauty is always and ever contingent upon God.
  • Beauty is a corporate reality within the Triune God and it is also a corporate reality among human beings. The fact that the church is the corporate temple of God points us to another place where beauty is to be known and seen. We are a people bound together by the Spirit and as our interaction is reflective of the Triune community we show forth God’s beauty. Beauty is impossible without others. Beauty exists in the context of relationship. Since the church is a congregation of broken people its reflection of God’s beauty will be fractured until Christ returns and purifies his bride completely.
  • Practically speaking, the presence of God is beautiful among us as he leads is into cruciform obedience and love. It is as we reflect the beauty of Christ in the gospel that we are beautiful. It as we reflect the unity and love of the Triune God that we are beautiful. God’s presence within us empowers us and shapes us in such a way that gospel beauty is progressively a reality in our existence. God’s beauty is his being in action. He works this in us as well. He transforms our being at the deepest level and out of that transformation produces action that is in line with his beauty.

 

Gospel & Beauty: A Cruciform Majesty

“He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me a partaker of his beauty.”

Gregory of Nyssa

The cross turns the world upside down. Power is weakness, wisdom is foolishness, greatness is service, humility is glory—this is the logic of Calvary. You cannot speak of love, justice or peace apart from Good Friday. The cross defines reality. Luther was right, “the cross alone is our theology.”

Our task is to bring everything in life into gospel orbit, to create a robust dialogue between all things and the cross. As we do so our thoughts are formed and chastened. Certain ways of thinking and being are put to death while new ones are brought to life. The gospel is a gracious yet painful dialogue partner.

God will use his gospel to challenge, convict, and reshape our vision of reality. Every arena of life must be submitted to the gospel of God. The aim of the Christian is none other than to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27). God intends that the gospel shape, challenge, and rule our lives in every way.

Beauty is a captivating reality that has always been a driving and shaping force in every culture at every period in history. Our culture and time frame are no different. Whether the magazine rack, a commercial, or the latest movie we are consistently confronted with the question of beauty. It is never far from our mind or desires.

We are called to pull the theme of beauty into the gospel orbit. Even the notion of thinking biblically and theologically about beauty drives us to some very basic questions. What is your starting point for thinking about beauty? How do you define beauty? Who defines beauty? Why do we think of beauty the way we do? In what ways is your perspective on beauty driven by your culture? Do you have a theology of beauty? Where would you start? How does your view and thinking about beauty affect your every day life? How important is the issue of beauty to you?

We are all profoundly influenced by our culture. Beauty in our world is tied to a certain physical appearance. This cultural view of beauty is a standard of judgment we use to assess others and ourselves. It shapes our thoughts, actions and goals in subtle yet profound ways. Beauty is a force.

We need a biblical and theological framework for rightly thinking about such a powerful reality. I suggest three anchor points for building a cross-centered view of beauty: the beauty of God, the beauty of God’s place, and the beauty of God’s people.[1]

We will work through these themes from an Old Testament perspective and then comb back through them again in light of the gospel. As we work the themes we will explore important implications from each section. The next few blog posts will be dedicated to exploring this theme.


[1] A similar three-fold division is used by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001). He understands God’s kingdom as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. These are three significant themes of biblical theology and so happen to be important to a theology of beauty.