2 Corinthians 3:12–18
Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face that the sons of Israel might not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Introduction: Summer and the Theme of Love
Since February we have been talking about love. Now it is summer. And the theme of our summer together in worship is, "Summer Is for Seeing and Showing Christ." But we are still on the theme of love. Why? What does love have to do with seeing and showing Christ?
You know the answer to that. If we love each other, and if we love our enemies, if we love those who are hard to love, and those who do things and believe things that we disagree with, then people will see the reality of Christ in us. They will see Christ and we will show Christ. Jesus said in John 13:35,
By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
If we love, we show Christ. Paul put it this way:
We always carry about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:10)
He lived out the loving self-denial that Jesus lived so that people would see the sacrificial love of Jesus in his body. Jesus said,
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds [your love] and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
That's what summer is for. Summer is for seeing and showing Christ through love.
Our son, Ben, called us from Georgia last Thursday. He told us about the impact that one church's showing the love of Christ had on him. He rides his motorcycle to work about 40 miles one way, three days a week. Last week it was in the 90s in Georgia. As he pulled into the town hot and dehydrated from the ride, he stopped at a stop sign. There outside the church on the corner were people with bright Christian T-shirts giving away ice-cold cans of Coke. He took one and the news of that act of kindness spread to Minneapolis in a few hours in the name of Christ. That's what summer is for. Summer is for seeing and showing Christ.
Summer Declares the Glory of God in Jesus Christ
In the winter in Minnesota we are all surviving—running with our heads covered from one heated igloo to the next. In the summer, we try to get outside. The days are longer. The temperatures are higher. The grass and trees beckon us with their rich green. It is another world from January. And it is Christ's world, Christ's summer.
Thou hast established all the boundaries of the earth; Thou hast made summer. (Psalm 74:17)
So we must ask, what is God saying in the summer? What is summer saying about God? Psalm 19:1–2 answers:
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
The summer is showing the glory of God: the new angle of the rising sun; the new night-time order of summer constellations; the creation of leaves out of hard brown limbs; the pushing up of tulips; the snow-buried grass turning into soft carpets; the return of robins and the northbound honking geese; the unfrozen lakes mirroring the clouds; even, I dare say, the survival of mosquitoes through seven months of frozen swamps, and the mice that know to leave the house, and the ants that come into the house. All these things and a thousand more, if we have eyes to see, are telling the glory of God, and declaring the work of his hands.
For God, summer is for showing his glory, whom we know to be Jesus Christ, by whom all things were made, and through whom all things hold together, and for whom all things exist (Colossians 1:16–17). He has not left himself without a witness. And the witness is mercy to a fallen world—morning by morning, mercy in the rain and the sun and the upholding of the world (Acts 14:17), and the restraining of his wrath against sin (Romans 2:4).
Showing Christ Means Showing Love
So our aim is to join God in seeing and showing Christ this summer. And all that we have studied for the last three months tells us that showing Christ means showing love.
By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
Love is not the norm in our world. It sticks out. It comes from another world. It shows Christ.
Barnabas and I went to Subway for lunch yesterday, and as we were leaving, there were two young guys at one end of the parking lot shouting at two older guys at the other end of the lot. They were outdoing each other with obscenities and put-downs. It's a familiar sound in the city. And I thought, What a radically different thing it would be if one of these guys saw Christ, and was transformed into a man of love and came back into that situation and walked up to one of the others and said, "I'm sorry for the put-downs. I've got a new thing inside. It's called love. And now I'm for you and not against you. I'd like to get along together. I'd like to build something good together in this city. And I'd like to show you where I got this. His name is Jesus Christ." Love is not the norm in our society. We need to show it. We need to show HIM.
That's what we will focus on all summer. Seeing and showing Christ.
To Show Him We Need to See Him
The point this morning is that to show him we need to see him. And seeing him is what changes us into the kind of people that naturally look like him and show him. If you want to become the kind of loving person we were talking about last week—with tender affection for others—the key is to see Christ for who he really is.
You can see this in God's own Word by looking at 2 Corinthians 3:18,
We all, with unveiled face, beholding [= seeing] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Get the main point here and then we will try to unpack the details for a few minutes for the sake of our summer lives.
The main point is that Christian believers are being transformed—progressively, degree by degree—into the image of Christ the Lord. Be sure you see this: "We are being transformed into the same image [the Lord's image] from glory to glory [not all at once, but by degrees]." Now that means we are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God's will for us. That we be progressively conformed to the image of Christ. And we know that to be the image of love. Christ—for all his toughness and no-nonsense life-style—was a man of unsurpassed love. No one loved like Jesus loved. This was his glory. Now Paul says, "We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory."
You Become What You Behold
But this main point has another part to it in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Paul tells us how this is happening. How are we being transformed? Suppose you are jealous for this to happen to you. Suppose that last week, God touched you—as he did some in an extraordinary way—and you long to be transformed into the kind of person who loves other believers with authentic, tender affection. How does it happen?
Paul says in this verse,
We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
The key, Paul says, is that we "behold [see] the glory of the Lord." In other words we are transformed into his image by looking at his glory. You become like what you constantly behold.
In the five or ten years after I left Fuller Seminary, people would see me teach who knew Dr. Daniel Fuller and they would laugh at how many of his mannerisms I had absorbed. The reason? He was my hero. I loved his wisdom and his pedagogy and his spirit of humble teachableness. I was with him a lot and I looked and listened. Unwittingly I started to sound like him and move my hands like him and think like him and ask questions like him.
Now Paul says, when you "behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, you will be transformed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another."
So if we want to show Christ this summer so that people can see him in us, our strategy must be to see him. To see him for who he really is. To fix our gaze on him and look to him and think about him, and put him before us again and again. This is the key to becoming like him. Seeing is the key to showing.
Showing Christ: Slave Labor Vs. the Freedom of Love
Without this seeing, the burden to show him becomes slave labor. Let me try to show you this from the other words in the verse and the context. Let me see if I can simplify these verses about Moses and the veil and so on in verses 12–17.
In verse 13 Paul points out that back in the Old Testament when God communicated his will with Moses on Mount Sinai, Moses' face shown with a reflection of the glory of God, and he would put a veil on his face so that the people wouldn't see the glory fade away. Then he interprets this as a picture of the hardness of the minds of the people: "Their minds were hardened" (v. 14). And he compares it to the fact that there is still a veil between the people's minds and the true meaning of the law of God in Scripture. Verse 14b: "Until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted." In other words the true meaning of the law is veiled to the minds of the Jewish people (and Gentiles!)—until they turn to the Messiah. Verse 14c: "Because [the veil] is removed in Christ." Verse 16: "Whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." In other words, in Christ the mind is freed to see the true meaning of the Old Testament law. The veil of hardness is removed.
Now verse 17 gives an explanation of why that is. Why is it that when you turn to the Lord Jesus, the veil of misunderstanding is taken away? Verse 17: Because "the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." I think what he means is this: what the people saw, by and large, as they looked through this veil was a kind of law that enslaved them rather than freed them. They interpreted the law as commandments of God loaded on them from outside without any spiritual, transforming power inside of them to give them the desire to do the commandments. And that's the meaning of slavery. Slavery is when you get commandments from outside that you don't want to do on the inside. The result is either rebellion or legalism. You can say, "I reject the burden of your commandments." Or you can say, "I will try to measure up with external compliance," when inside there is no real delight in the commandments—no real 'want to.' That is slavery.
And the antidote to that kind of slavery is the internal transforming power of the Holy Spirit. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom." This is what the new covenant is all about—the enabling power of the Holy Spirit transforming us from the inside out so that we love the law of God. So Paul says in verse 17 that the reason this enslaving veil is taken away when we turn to the Lord is that "the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom." The reason the Spirit gives freedom is that the Spirit gives internal transformation that gives us the desires to do what God wills for us to do. Freedom is wanting to do what you are commanded by God to do. God says, "Love!" The fruit of the Spirit is love. Therefore, where the Spirit is, there is freedom.
Now what does that have to do with what we saw in verse 18—seeing and showing Christ? Well verse 18 ends with the words, "Just as from the Lord, the Spirit." In other words, our being transformed from glory to glory is "from the Lord"—he is the one working the change in us, as we look to him. How is he doing it? He is the Spirit. The Lord and the Spirit are one. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and he is working this transformation in us.
Always Looking to Jesus
But what's important for us to see is the WAY he is doing this. I want to be free this summer, don't you? I don't want to be enslaved. I don't want to live under the burden of being told to do things I don't have any desire to do. But I don't want to turn away from God and make my deceitful desires the center of the universe. That would be the worst kind of slavery, in the disguise of freedom. What I want is for my desires to be so transformed by the Spirit of the Lord that when God commands me to do something, my whole heart says, "YES, Lord!"
How shall that happen? It will happen, as verse 18 says, by steadily looking to Jesus, the Lord. The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of the Lord—has one main task, to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). To help us see him and show him. Therefore when we turn to the Lord and set our hearts on Jesus, the Spirit works to help us see him. He opens the eyes of our hearts to apprehend and appreciate and savor and cherish and treasure the glory of the Lord. And then by that means he changes our inner drives and desires and longings so that we want what Jesus wants, and are free.
When Jesus says, love your enemy, we are free because the Spirit is working this very love in our hearts as you look to Jesus. When he says love your neighbor as you love yourself, we are free, because the Spirit is working in us this very love as we look to Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is love. When he says, love one another with tender, family affection, we are free because, even though this does not lie in our power to do, we can, degree by degree, grow into this freely, because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. He is in us awakening those very affections as we steadfastly look to Jesus.
The Spirit is not working this transformation in us without reference to Jesus. Not while we watch endless hours of empty, trifling TV; not while we dribble our hours away aimlessly exploring the World Wide Web; not while we set our minds on things that ignore Christ. No. The Spirit moves and works and frees in a very definite atmosphere, namely, where we are "beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord Jesus" (v. 18). The Spirit exalts Christ. The Spirit opens the eyes to Christ. The Spirit applies the image of Christ to or soul. If we choose not to focus on Christ, if we go our own way and preoccupy ourselves with other focuses in life, then let us not say, "Where is God?" when we bear the painful fruit of our bondage to sin; and experience the law of God as a burden rather than a joy. He has told us the path of freedom. If we spend our days and evenings looking elsewhere, we will probably stay bound up in all our enslavements.
The longing of our hearts is that the Holy Spirit would come in power among us this summer; liberating power. This is called revival. And this is why we are meeting tonight and the alternate Sunday nights this summer at 7:00 (not 6:00) for worship and the Word and witness and prayer. God is moving all over the world in remarkable ways. We want his fullness. We want his freedom. Tonight I will share with you some of the ways I see the need for revival. Our strategy is simple: set our focus and our affections on Jesus; behold him. Summer is for seeing Christ. This is where the Spirit moves. This is freedom. And the freedom of love will show Christ with power to the world. I pray that God will give you a deep longing for this.
There are so many things we need deliverance from. I will mention some of them tonight. In 12 weeks may it not be said in our midst, "Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved." But rather may it be said, "He has come to us like the summer rain watering the earth and giving life."