2 Corinthians



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Devotions from Second Corinthians


The Unveiled Christ Becomes our Path to Glory Now (8)

2 Corinthians 3:17, 18 (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX


Paul has sharply contrasted the lesser glory of the Mosaic Covenant with the much greater glory of the New Covenant of the Risen Christ. To highlight this contrast Paul quotes Exodus 34: 34, 35: "But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he could take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had  been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him." The glory of the Mosaic covenant was real but temporary.

In the new covenant, however, the role of the Holy Spirit is unique manifesting the glory of Christ amid sufferings and adversity. "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17).  As a result we now have perfect liberty to approach him without fear or condemnation. This is the true liberty to walk free from the shackles of the flesh and sin. "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6: 22, 23).  This comparison of "before and after" equates freedom with holiness and the GIFT of righteousness.

The ministry of the Second Person of the Trinity now interfaces with the active ministry of the Third Person of the Trinity in our lives.  While a mystery to our limited understanding that deep sharing of Christ's risen life is a reality of the first order. We walk with sacred step in the verses that follow.

An Unveiled Christ Is Ours by the Beholding of Faith   2 Corinthians 3:18

Paul condenses into one single verse the essence of a walk of triumph in a risen Christ. Such conciseness is a proof of divine inspiration.  We multiply words while the Spirit reduces words to their quintessence. "But 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 by the Spirit of the Lord" (3:18). First and foremost we see the sharp contrast with the former covenant. We all with unveiled face, steadfastly beholding and contemplating his glory, not temporary or transient, we are being changed into his image.

The pivot of this verse is the verb beholding, looking, gazing on his glory. This must be our beholding the wonder of the Cross, the absolute reflection of God the Father bruising his own son to forgive our rebellion, expressing his love for a lost world. That love expressed through the Cross is the acme of the God's person, his greatest glory.

The Essence of Faith is a Simple, Steadfast Beholding--in Justification and Sanctification

There are interesting usages of the concept of beholding and looking that provide in depth background.  Moses relates the story of Israel approaching Edom: "Why have you bought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread." God sent fiery serpents and many died. Their emotional response: We have sinned; Moses prayed and the Lord said: "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." Just as God said it came to pass: "when he looked at the bronze serpent he lived" (Numbers 21: 5-9).  The bronze serpent, Christ made sin for us, was raised up on Golgotha.  When Jesus encountered Nicodemos, he said: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that  whoever believes (looks on) in Him should not perish but have eternal life"(John 3:14,15).

Can you think of any action less meritorious than a steadfast look or a beholding?  Charles Spurgeon was saved looking: "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself" (Isaiah 45:22, 23).  We accepted the simplicity of his righteousness and none of our own, considering our utter unworthiness; the Holy Spirit brought forgiveness to our hearts.  Why have we made the Christian life subsequently so complicated? So often our walk consists of our efforts, our works, our service. We have accepted the simplicity of God's grace in initial salvation but confounded the issue of our daily walk. God's principles of grace through faith do not vary ever.

Paul reminds us of the simplicity of grace in our beholding as in a mirror the glory of the risen Christ.  We cannot look fully into his face and live (John 1:18), but his Word in the hands of the Spirit becomes a mirror that reflects his glory. We behold His glory in the Word, believing it and steadfastly contemplating  the very subject of that Word. While we do continuously behold him, the Spirit of the Lord does that work of transformation in us. The beauty of his face is now available to us and is reflected in us from glory to glory. It is an ongoing process, never complete, but an effortless beholding of faith.

The Process of Transformation - Sanctification or Holiness of life

The picture is graphic. Our word «metamorphosis» is that of a worm in its ugliness that in time allows nature--God's nature to operate.  The worm will become a beautiful butterfly with the shades of beauty unmatched by any artist.  Granted it is a divine process, but our share is in our beholding; true holiness is his beauty in us in whatever degree we allow God  to deal with the ugliness of the First Adam so the beauty of the Last Adam may be seen. Our true beholding becomes a daily active obedience to his Word.

Once again we return to the grammar construction to understand the divine initiative of the Christ life.  The verb is in the passive voice, implying action on us from another but at the same time it is a present tense, always operative.  We all  . . . are being transformed by our beholding Christ's life.  The Holy Spirit's work in us becomes the echo of his Word being allowed to reign in all areas of our life. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly an all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3: 16. Here is a true definition of personal sanctification or holiness.

Some may respond that such a view is much too passive a view of holiness.  We must do our part, they say.  I agree but what part did you play in justification /regeneration?  You did nothing more that repent and believe. The Holy Spirit responded to your simple faith and instantly begun the work of forgiveness and restoration. We sensed sooner, rather than later, the evidence of such a change of direction.

God has not changed his modus operandi. The absolutely only thing we can do is to look to Him, behold his glory, continue to look steadfastly and increasingly. "Knowing this that our old man was crucified with Him, that t he body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. . . Likewise reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:6.11).  "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the key that opens the door to his transforming power."For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

Yours in the Message of the Cross

Gordon E. Johnson