The Gospel and Transformation
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
7 ¶ Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. 12 ¶ Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
I was in a conversation recently with someone talking about a counseling situation where the young man had created an alter ego. He came from a Christian home with parents who desired the best for him so from the beginning they named him Samuel, after the prophet who obeyed God. To him Christianity was all about obeying and pleasing God and earning his favor. He knew little of grace and became weary of trying to be Samuel. So he created Saul, another personality that would rebel against God and enjoy the pleasures of sin. He would revert back and forth from Samuel to Saul, between striving to please and living for his own selfish desires. He found happiness and peace in neither personality. In themselves, neither striving to be Samuel or Saul could lead to peace. Together, eventually it led to a psychological breakdown.
Now you may say, that’s pretty weird, but if you think about it, you can identify with either one of his personalities or maybe both. You live striving to please God but are wearied by it; or you live running from God and still wearied by it (or maybe you live a life of duplicity).
What the Samuel and Saul personalities have in common is that they both focus on the power of self to achieve happiness through obedience or through rebellion and the inevitable emptiness that results from both.
We are looking at text today that talks about the glory of God : 1) the glory of the Old Covenant (the law) represented by the reflection on Moses’ face; 2) the glory of the New Covenant represented by the person and work of Jesus Christ.
By ‘glory’ is meant a ‘a reflection of who God is.’ It is the same God behind the glory of the law and the glory of the gospel. Both the law and the gospel reveal the holiness of God.
In the law, the holiness of God is not propitiated (i.e. to take away the wrath and displeasure)
In the gospel the holiness of God is propitiated by the blood of Christ (Romans 3:24).
In the law, the un-propitiated holiness of God induces fear ( 30
Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. )
This fear exists because when sinful beings are confronted by God’s holiness they can only cry out as Isaiah the prophet did – Woe is me!
In fear people do one of two things: 1) they attempt to appease God by an obedience that earns his favor; 2) they run from God abandoning any hope of having his favor.
We try to manage this fear of God’s glory either by running from the glory or trying to appease the glory. Either way is futile. Neither Samuel nor Saul is the model for us.
Though there is a third option: As Isaiah, we can receive cleansing from God. The law reveals to us our need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
To alleviate this fear, every time Moses’ came from the presence of God he would put a veil over his face.
Our text, here adds a little more information about what this veil accomplished. Not only did it alleviate the fear of the law; it hid the fact that the reflection on Moses’ face would have dissipated in time – it hid the fading glory – the temporary nature of the law and the true purpose of the law.
Furthermore, the people’s response to the display of God’s holiness revealed that another veil existed – a veil over their hearts. This veil over their hearts coupled with the veil over Moses’ face brought about a distortion of the law: Because of the veil, the fear inducing holiness of God became a feint memory and the fading glory of the law was hidden so that with veiled hearts and blinded minds, the law, instead of exposing one’s need of mercy, became for many the means of earning God’s favor.
When the condemning and fading nature of the law are veiled and the human heart is prevented from seeing clearly the purpose of the law, the law becomes misused as a means by which to earn God’s face.
Because of the veil, they could not see the outcome of the law – which is to bring us to Christ.
Only in Christ do we see that the glory of the law (with its ministry of condemnation and death) has faded away and is replaced by the unfading glory of the gospel (with its ministry of righteousness and life).
Christ is the end of the law to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
In the gospel, the propitiated holiness of God invites us to enjoy the majesty and wonder of his Holiness.
In Christ, the veil is taken away from our hearts (this is the work of the Spirit in regeneration) and like Moses, with unveiled face, we come boldly into the presence of God. In contrast to Moses who hid the glory of God from the view of the people, we are bold to proclaim this unfading, life-giving and righteousness-giving glory of Christ.
Now here is the key to the relationship of the gospel and transformation in verse 18:
As we keep beholding, we are transformed into the image of the glory of Christ.
This is the work of the Spirit who is none other than Yahweh of the OT. The same Lord who gave the law is the Lord of the gospel.
How are we transformed? – while beholding (keeping the glory of Christ, as revealed in the New Covenant, in focused view), the Spirit transforms us.
We are active in beholding the glory of Christ.
Why is this gaze upon the glory of the cross so crucial to transformation? Because the cross exposes your powerlessness and it’s only in being powerless that you experience the transforming power of God.
We are passive in the transformation that takes place. This is the work of the Spirit of God.
There is a similar pattern in 2 Cor 4: (being renewed while beholding)
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal
2. Where do we behold the glory of Christ – in the New Covenant, in Christ, as he is revealed in Scripture, especially in the work of the gospel.
The Law – revealed the glory of God’s fierce holiness moving the heart to fear.
The gospel – reveals the glory of God’s propitiated holiness moving the heart to worship.
3. Who does the transforming? The Spirit of God.
4. This glory, rather than fading, increases – from glory to glory.
Moses reflected an intermittent fading glory of the law; we reflect a progressively increasing glory of the gospel.
“Consider well of the office, the bloodshed, and the holy life of Christ — His office is to expiate sin, and to destroy it. His blood was shed for it: his life condemned it. Love Christ, and thou wilt hate that which caused his death. Love him, and thou will be made more like him.” - Richard Baxter, quoted by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson in Counsel from the Cross (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009), 148.
“Isn’t it true, you know, that ultimately we become like what we worship? If we worship money, we become materialistic. If we worship power and prestige we become cold and calloused. If we worship an idol, we become as spiritually dead and lifeless as a stone. On the other hand, if we worship Christ, we will be conformed to His image. If the veil is off and we behold the glory of the Lord that shines in the face of Jesus Christ, if He is our ever-increasing preoccupation then we are imperceptibly being transformed into His image by the Holy Spirit. This is the goal of the new covenant and this monumental verse shows us the increasing glory of sanctification that takes place by the Holy Spirit in the new covenant.
Folks, ceremonial, sacramental, sacerdotal works-righteousness systems offer us nothing. They didn’t offer anything to the Corinthians and they don’t offer anything to you either. All you need is Christ. All you need to do is get the veil off, look into the face of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God begins the process of conforming you ever-increasingly into His image. That’s what Christianity is. It isn’t bells and whistles, it isn’t candles and robes, it isn’t Popes and Cardinals. Christianity is a relationship to Jesus Christ, it’s a one-thing life, gazing at the glory of the Lord that shines in the face of Jesus Christ and being transformed into His image. It’s the relationship that matters” (John McArthur).
- Transformation is New Covenant centered, which is gospel-centered, which is Christ centered.
- Transformation involves our action in contemplating the glory of the Lord.- primarily in the Word which we fail to read properly if we do not see the glory of Christ in the gospel
- Transformation takes place by work of the Spirit as we contemplate Christ, as revealed in the Word.
- Transformation is true freedom from trying to achieve God’s favor on our own.