The Beauty of Christ and the Formation of the Soul

  • The Beauty of Christ and the Formation of the Soul 00:00

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void and smart;
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

—Ora Rowan[1]

What relevance does Christ’s beauty have on the Christian life? Perhaps you are not accustomed to thinking about Christ in such terms. Is it appropriate to think of Christ as beautiful? What does that even mean? There is, in point of fact, much biblical and theological warrant for thinking of Christ in this way. But before I mention such examples, a brief word on what I mean by “beauty” here may be in order. I am not here merely referring to the visual qualities of a beautiful painting or the audible qualities of a beautiful piece of music. These examples of beauty exist within a broader metaphysical consideration of the nature of Beauty. When I describe Beauty in this way, I am talking about transcendent Beauty—ultimate Beauty, archetypical Beauty, the essence of Beauty.

Since Beauty (along with Truth and Goodness) is a transcendental, it is appropriate for us to view it as a divine attribute. The Trinity is not merely truthful, good, and beautiful. The Trinity is ultimate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. All other truth, goodness, and beauty is true, good, and beautiful by virtue of derivation—our truth and goodness and beauty participates in and imitates God in some way. Rather than thinking of some abstract standard of Beauty to which God and creation both adhere, we must think of God himself as the standard. Therefore, wherever we see God’s glory—that is to say, God’s Godness manifestly expressed—considerations of divine Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are never far away. This is preeminently the case in the single greatest revelation of divine glory: the incarnation of the Son of God, the Exegete of the True, Good, and Beautiful divine nature. In the incarnation God speaks with flesh and bones. And since all divine revelation is a manifestation of divine glory, and since all manifestation of glory entails a manifestation of divine beauty (by virtue of God’s simplicity), the whole of Christ’s person and work is the apex of the divine revelation of Beauty.

So, as I said before, there is good biblical and theological warrant for us to think of Christ as beautiful, if for no other reason than that he reveals the glory of the divine nature, which is Good, True, and Beautiful. But we can go even further. Indeed, there is grammatical reason for attributing Beauty to Christ in a central way. That the Greek word kalos is rendered as both “good” and “beautiful” in English is worthy of attention. This does not mean that every biblical mention of divine “goodness” is interchangeable with the divine “beauty,” but it does bespeak their conceptual and theological proximity. In the Septuagint, for example, God promises to let his kalosūnā pass before Moses (Ex 33:19), and the psalmist seeks to dwell in the house of Yahweh to gaze upon his kalos forever (Ps 27:4), and in John 10:11 Jesus identifies himself as the kalos shepherd. He is, as virtually all of our English translations renders the word, our good Shepherd. And yet, it is no grammatical stretch, to designate the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Beautiful Shepherd.”

The Beauty of Christ and the (Start of the) Christian Life

Let me return, then, to my opening question. What relevance does Christ’s beauty have on the Christian life? It is not a stretch to answer this question with “everything.” For one thing, our Christian life begins by beholding Christ, in all his beauty, with the eyes of faith. For example, the relationship between regeneration and faith includes a Christological-aesthetic dimension, such that the newly regenerated saint experiences freedom from the satanic veil (in regeneration) so as to perceive the irresistible beauty of Christ’s glory with the eyes of faith (cf., 2 Cor. 3:12–4:6). When the Holy Spirit regenerates a sinner, he imparts the faculties necessary for such a person to behold the beauty of the Trinity mediated in Christ. The Spirit imparts these faculties by virtue of his own indwelling presence. In regeneration, then, the Spirit communicates—or, sovereignly brings the regenerate into participation with—the glorious a se beatitude of the Trinity, mediated through Christ. This he does by presenting Christ to the eyes of the regenerate’s heart, and by enabling such hearty vision—which is far more than a mere intellectual act but also includes the affections—with his renovative presence. Saving faith therefore includes an aesthetic dimension; it involves the existential recognition of Christ’s infinite beauty. Faith is the glad-hearted acquiescence to Christ’s divine Beauty. The glory that Christ reveals is a window into the beatitude of the Trinity. And so to be drawn by the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is to be drawn by the beauty of Jesus Christ.

And just what is it about Christ that the beauty-hungry soul finds so desirable, so lovely? Before continuing, let me simply invite you to marvel with me a little at Christ’s beauty. Behold the beauty of Jesus, the second Adam who doesn’t passively watch the serpent deceive his bride, but instead bruises his heel by stomping on that snake’s skull. Behold the beauty of Jesus, the perfect Mediator, whose mediation is better than Moses’ because it does not merely only occasion God’s temporary appeasement of wrath towards his people, but rather satisfies that wrath entirely and writes God’s law on that people’s hearts. Behold the beauty of Jesus, the true Passover Lamb whose blood propitiates and diverts the condemning wrath of a holy God. Behold the beauty of Jesus, who is one with the Father and the Spirit in essence and glory. Behold the beauty of Jesus, the Word who was with God and was God and yet accommodated his infinite divine self for finite creatures by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Behold the beauty of Jesus, the eternal Son of God who emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, and added a human nature to his divine nature, such that he—in his human nature—lay bound by time and space, even while he—in his divine nature—sustained the cosmos he himself created. Behold the beauty of Jesus, the high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tempted in every way as we are, and yet is perfect in his ministry because he was yet without sin. Behold the beauty of Jesus, whose beautiful heart caused him to weep at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Behold the beauty of Jesus, who takes your record of debt that stands against you with its legal demands and nails it to the cross. Behold the beauty of Jesus, who takes your sin-nature—your old self—upon himself and nails it to the cross, and then buries in the grave. Behold the beauty of Jesus, who brings you out of the grave in him with his resurrection to walk in newness of life. Behold the beauty of Jesus, whose resurrection solidifies and announces that your sins have been paid in full. Behold the beauty of Jesus, who will make all things new and will wipe every tear from every eye, who will make all sad things come untrue and will make death work in reverse, and who is taking every single affliction and rendering it light and momentary in comparison to the weight of glory he is preparing with it. Behold the beauty of Jesus, which is the beauty of the Triune God—this beauty is able to save because it is not merely the beauty of a man, but is rather the timeless beauty of the incomprehensible, unchanging, self-existing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-holy, all-just, all-gracious, loving, undiminished glory of the Trinity. That glory is able to save. And when we look at the crucified and risen Savior in this precious book, we are looking at that glory of that God. Augustine says it powerfully:

Let us therefore, who believe, run to meet a Bridegroom who is beautiful where he is. Beautiful as God, as the Word who is with God, he is beautiful in the Virgin’s womb, where he did not lose his godhead but assumed our humanity. Beautiful he is as a baby, as the Word unable to speak because while he was still without speech, still a baby in arms and nourished at his mother’s breasts, the heavens spoke for him, a star guided the magi, and he was adored in the manger as food for the humble. He was beautiful in heaven, then, and beautiful on earth: beautiful in the womb, and beautiful in his parent’s arms. He was beautiful in his miracles but just as beautiful too in not shrinking from death, beautiful in laying down his life and beautiful in taking it up again, beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, and beautiful in heaven… Do not allow the weakness of his flesh to blind you to the splendor of his beauty. The supreme and most real beauty is justice: if you can catch him out in any injustice, you will not find him beautiful in that regard; but if he is found to be just at every point, then he is lovely in all respects. Let him come to us, so that we may gaze on him with the eyes of our spirit.[2]

So, the relevance of Christ’s beauty on the Christian life begins with the beginning of the Christian life. But is there anything else we can say? Yes. Beholding the beauty of Christ is not merely the beginning of the Christian life, it is the sum and substance of its entirety, both now (sanctification) and into eternity (glorification—the beatific vision). Beholding the beauty of Christ forms the soul into the image of Christ.

The Beauty of Christ and the (Rest of the) Christian Life

There is good warrant for linking progressive sanctification and glorification in the same sweep of transformation. Obviously, there is a definite transition wherein death and resurrection signal the actual distinction between progressive sanctification and glorification in the life of the saint. Even those who “will not all fall asleep” and will be transformed “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51) will not be so transformed in a gentle, unnoticeable way—as if glorification were merely the next small step in a long line of incremental changes. The Christian life now and the Christian life then are qualitatively different (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 Jn. 3:2).

However, Scripture does seem to hold the two topics conceptually close. Thus, the sanctifying suffering Paul describes as “light and momentary affliction,” he insists, “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Going from suffering to sanctification to glorification is the most natural thought progression for Paul. This is why, in 2 Corinthians, he moves immediately from discussions of suffering (2 Cor. 4:17) into a discussion about the groaning of our earthly tents (2 Cor. 5:1–3) and the heavenly home we march toward, wherein “what is mortal” will be “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). It is no coincidence that the same Spirit whose presence sanctifies us definitively and progressively (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pt. 1:2; Heb. 12:14) is named here as the “guarantee” of glorification (2 Cor. 5:5). Notice the continuity between the Spirit’s renovative work now and his glorifying work hereafter. Both now and then, the Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ by means of gracious participation with Christ.

This is not to flatten the manifold fruits of progressive sanctification to one mere act (i.e., seeing the beauty of Christ) in reductionistic fashion. Michael Allen is right when he says that “being spiritually minded and viewing the glorious Christ is not to be myopic . . . but to view all things in transfigured light. It is no narrow icon but the discipline of having one’s whole imagination recast.”[3] This seems to be the very point Gregory of Nyssa makes when he says,

“Admiration even of the beauty of the heavens, and of the dazzling sunbeams, and, indeed, of any fair phenomenon, will then cease. The beauty noticed there will be but as the hand to lead us to the love of the supernal Beauty whose glory the heavens and the firmament declare, and whose secret the whole creation sings.”

He goes on to say that “the climbing soul, leaving all that she has grasped already as too narrow for her needs, will thus grasp the idea of that magnificence which is exalted far above the heavens.”[4]

Which is to say, the beatific vision of Christ will have a similar affect as the faithful sight of those who behold Christ now. When the satanic veil of unbelief is lifted, those liberated by the Spirit behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and are transformed. And when the veil of fallen and unglorified nature is unveiled at the appearing of Christ, those who behold him will likewise be ineffably transformed. When we are invited to behold the glory (beauty) of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ, so as to be changed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), we are being invited further up and further into participation in the Trinity’s eternal, a se beatitude. The beauty we see in the face of Christ is the effulgence of the beatitude he enjoys in his divine essence of the Father, with the Spirit. Therefore, the beauty we see in the face of Christ is gratuitous—beckoning us ever deeper into communion with the Father of Lights. And there is no “soul-formation” without this kind of communion with the Trinity. This further and deeper communion never dissolves the Creator-creature distinction, but it does ever delight the soul as the everlasting telos of “the image bearer.” Holmes points out:

In this life, we do not know God in a direct sense—as does the Son the Father—but through faith, that “something else.” . . . The life of Christian discipleship is a matter (in part) of experiencing ever-greater intimacy with the Lord of the life to come. His goodness works in just this way, not only conserving but perfecting us in this life in the glories of the life to come.[5]

Holmes’s language of “perfecting us in this life in the glories of the life to come” is striking and important. What the Spirit does by his participatory rapture, wherein his indwelling presence enables the eyes of our hearts to see the beauty of Christ, is facilitate a kind of space-time portal, sanctifying us progressively with the heavenly glories that await us. These glories, both here and there (or rather, both now and then) are revealed to us in the person of Christ. Thus, in this sense, there is a continuity between our vision of faith in this life and our sight in the life to come. As John Owen puts it: “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight hereafter, who doth not in some measure behold it by faith here in this world.”[6]

The practical upshot of all this is an insatiable desire to see more of Christ’s Beauty, and to therefore embrace the reality of heaven’s joys more now by virtue of purification. In beholding the beauty of Christ, we develop a taste for heaven, which is a world of holy love, and so we long to be fit for that holy world by living increasingly holy lives. For those of us who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (and beautiful), sin is not only an affront on God’s name and our consciences, it is a tragic vision-obstruction. We hear the words of our Lord Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), and we grow to resent our remaining impurity because of its proclivity to keep us from beholding our heart’s desire. We want to be pure in heart because we want to see God.



The following piece contains excerpts taken from the book, Irresistible Beauty: Beholding Triune Glory in the Face of Jesus Christ (Christian Focus, 2022).

Image by  Ivanka Demchuk. “The Ressurection.” Used with permission

[1] Ora Rowan (1834-1879), “Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him,” Hymn. Public domain.

[2] Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 44 in Expositions of the Psalms 33–50; cited in King, The Beauty of the Lord, 211.

[3] Allen, Grounded in Heaven: Recentering Christian Hope and Life on God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018), 98.

[4] Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity xi.356.

[5] Christopher R. J. Holmes, The Lord Is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 162.

[6] Owen, Works of John Owen, 1:288 (emphasis original).

Picture of Samuel G. Parkison

Samuel G. Parkison

Samuel G. Parkison is Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Gulf Theological Seminary in the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of Revelation and Response: The Why and How of Leading Corporate Worship Through Song, and Thinking Christianly: Bringing Sundry Thoughts Captive to Christ.
Picture of Samuel G. Parkison

Samuel G. Parkison

Samuel G. Parkison is Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Gulf Theological Seminary in the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of Revelation and Response: The Why and How of Leading Corporate Worship Through Song, and Thinking Christianly: Bringing Sundry Thoughts Captive to Christ.