This conformity to Christ is what links us back to the first stage of this process. For as we become more like Christ, the Holy Spirit communicates more of the beauties of Christ to us. The Holy Spirit delights to reveal Christ. He reveals Christ to us by shaping us into the very image of Christ. You see the admirable nature of Christ, for you are increasingly wearing it in the inside.
Jonathan Edwards saw this well:
And it is to be considered that the more those divine communications increase in the creature, the more it becomes one with God; for so much the more is it united to God in love, the heart is drawn nearer and nearer to God, and the union with him becomes more firm and close, and at the same time, the creature becomes more and more conformed to God. The image is more and more perfect, and so the good that is in the creature comes forever nearer and nearer to an identity with that which is in God. In the view therefore of God, who has a comprehensive prospect of the increasing union and conformity through eternity, it must be an infinitely strict and perfect nearness, conformity, and oneness. For it will forever come nearer and nearer to that strictness and perfection of union which there is between the Father and the Son. So that in the eyes of God, who perfectly sees the whole of it, in its infinite progress and increase, it must come to an eminent fulfillment of Christ’s request, in John 17:21, 23. That they all may be ONE, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be ONE in us; I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in ONE ((Jonathan Edwards, The End For Which God Created the World))
He reveals Christ through illumination, opening our eyes to Christ’s beauty. St John of the Cross wrote in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, “God communicates Himself most to the soul that has progressed farthest in love, meaning that its will is in closest conformity with the will of God.” God will reward the hungry heart with the sweetness it seeks, an illuminated understanding of Christ.
Jesus said of his own relationship with the Father: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Matthew 11:27)
Christ’s love for the Father and the Father’s love for the Son become ours as we are controlled by the Spirit and conformed into the image of the Son. As Edwards said, the indwelling Spirit is our communion with God. Just like a child who becomes more like his father’s friend as he grows up, so our conformity to Christ makes the communion with God closer, sweeter and deeper. And so the cycle begins again.
The one who is holy enjoys deeper intimacy with God. The Spirit illuminates us in proportion to our Christlikeness.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14)
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
In the same vein, the one living in love is in step with God and will enjoy his presence even more.
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
Though God loves us infinitely in Christ, as we practically become more like him, the Spirit is pleased to communicate the beauty of Christ to one whose heart is in step with his own. Christ spoke of the experience of the obedient believer:
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21)
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:17-19 demonstrates that the one who is rooted and grounded in love, is in the place to better comprehend the four-dimensional love of Christ. He is holier and more loving, and therefore more able to enjoy communion. Charles Spurgeon said, “The blessed man has God already, and for this reason he seeks him. This may seem a contradiction: it is only a paradox. God is not truly sought by the cold researches of the brain: we must seek him with the heart. Love reveals itself to love: God manifests his heart to the heart of his people.”1 As Jesus put it: ” As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10 )
Put simply, the more we love like he does, the closer our communion will be. We will resemble him more, and we will see him more, leading to a new and deeper cycle of communion, conviction, confession, cleansing, conformity and communication.
Nicolas of Cusa said, “Hence, I must see to it that, as best I can, I be made more and more capable of receiving You. But I know that the capability which conduces to union is only likeness; but incapability results from unlikeness. Therefore, if by every possible means I make myself like unto Your goodness, then according to my degree of likeness thereto I will be capable of receiving truth.”2
Another way of seeing this cycle is to call it the Spirit-filled life. The Holy Spirit is the one active in mediating Christ to us, causing conviction, applying and enabling cleansing, and communicating Christ to us. On our part, we must walk by faith – seeking to commune, actively confess, continually consecrate and deliberately conform our minds and hearts to Christ’s. On his part, he provides all the grace – indeed, even the grace to confess, consecrate, conform and commune.
With a new God-thirsty nature, combined with the Christlike postures of death and resurrection, we are in the best place for the exposure to God’s beauty, during which we taste and see that the Lord is good. Here is how love for God is developed.
However, this exposure cannot be sporadic and haphazard to form a deepening desire. It must cement and strengthen through structure and repetition. Spiritual disciplines, both biblically prescribed and suggested by the better part of wisdom, will be the means that nurture regular exposure to God in communion. In other words, the spiritual disciplines are not the end of the Christian life, but they are means towards reaching that end. The final part of this series will consider the new nurture that our natures need to see and enjoy the beauties of God.