A grandson shows me a cool-looking plastic car. “But watch!”, he says, eyes wide with excitement. Like a magician, he unfolds car parts here and there. Suddenly the car transforms into a robot superhero.
“Transformers,” boasts its web-site (yes, they have an official site, plus hundreds of different robots, plus a half-dozen or so movies), “are living, human-like robots with the unique ability to turn into vehicles or beasts. The stories of their lives, their hopes, their struggles, and their triumphs are chronicled in epic sagas that span an immersive and exciting universe where everything is More Than Meets the Eye. ”
Wow! Well, enough. Let’s see what Paul wrote about the “Transformer” . . .
2 Corinthians 3:7-18 is Paul’s elaboration on 3:6b–“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. For starters Paul contrasts the New Covenant (“the Spirit gives life”) with the Old (“the letter kills”). The Old is the Old Testament Law, the core of which is the Ten Commandments. The New is the New Testament, the core of which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!(3:7-11).
The contrasts are stark. But, even though the New is superior, both “came with glory” (from God). Let’s clarify the term–“glory”. Sam Storms (author and pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City) defines it well: “The term ‘glory’ refers to the visible splendor or moral beauty of God’s manifold perfections. The ‘glory’ of God is the exhibition of his inherent excellence; it is the external manifestation of his internal majesty.” Again, both covenants express God’s glory, but . . . .
The Old Covenant brought death to sinful Israel; the New provides the Spirit who gives life. The Old condemned sinners in their sin; the New offers right standing with God by their faith. The glory of the Old faded from Moses’ face; the glory of the New lasts forever. In other words, God’s splendor is more spectacular in the New, his moral beauty seen as more beautiful, his inherent excellence exhibited more profoundly and his internal majesty externally manifested more magnificently.
To summarize: under the New Covenant the Spirit gives life to the believer, who is declared by grace through faith in Christ to be in right relationship with God and begins to experience the unending glory of God. (That’s us! if we’ve put faith in Christ!)
Having contrasted the covenants and declared the New to have superior glory, Paul turns to the . . .
Consequence of the New Covenant
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away (3:12,13).
What’s Paul bold about? His weaknesses. Crazy confession, right? We try to hide weaknesses. At least I do. I don’t want you seeing me in my disability. But Paul began this letter explicitly revealing to the Corinthians “the hardships we suffered , the great pressure . . .far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life . . . in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (1:8,9a). Why reveal frailty? ” . . . this happened that we might . . . rely . . . on God, who raises the dead” (1:9b). In other words, Paul was bold about his weaknesses to give honor to God by relying on him. And he could be bold, because his standing didn’t depend on his strength, but on God’s. That’s how the New Covenant works–“the Spirit gives life.”
Gentiles comprised the majority of the Corinthian church, though some Jews belonged. And it’s likely some of the itinerant “false apostles” stirring up trouble there for Paul were Jews. It’s to those Jews Paul refers next . . .
“But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (3:14-16).
Generations earlier, they rejected God, despite his love. So he dulled their minds. Now when they take their seats in their synagogues to hear the words of Moses read, they don’t understand. It’s as if a veil hangs over their minds and hearts. Only Christ can take it away, so they might enjoy the consequences of the New Covenant.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all behold the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (3:17,18).
The first consequence of the New Covenant isn’t boldness (though Paul’s already mentioned it) but freedom–freedom from the veil of ignorance, freedom to “behold the Lord’s glory”. To “behold” is more than just “see”; it’s to “look at with contemplation”. We see a hole in the ground; we behold the Grand Canyon.
But how can we behold the Lord’s glory? In the Scripture as the Spirit gives aid. This must be more than a cursory glance. When we behold something glorious, we want to stay, and we return often. So it is with the Lord’s glory in Scripture. It’s to be lingered over and beheld time and time again.
Now here’s a really stunning consequence of the New Covenant: we can be transformed. Not like a plastic car’s parts unfolding into a robot. But like sinners-saved-by-grace “being transformed into [the Lord’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory.” That, Paul proclaims, is what happens as we behold the Lord’s glory: the Spirit progressively transform us into the Lord’s likeness.
I remember my grandson’s excitement about his transformer. And the Transformer (the Holy Spirit) presents us with exciting possibilities. Now before we go gettin’ all triumphant, remember the guy who wrote this was beset by weakness. The transforming process often occurs in suffering settings. That’s when it’s especially challenging to “behold the Lord’s glory” in the Word. But we must.
Which brings me to my final thought. Since the Spirit is transforming us by ever-increasing glory, you’d think older Christians would be most like Jesus. I’ve known some who are; but many are just older (and some, grumpier). I understand that. But it tells me that time for transformation isn’t the distinguishing factor. Beholding the Lord’s glory is. Day after day. Year after year. Beholding his glory in his Word helped by his Spirit.
We’ve been graced with a grand sight: the glory of the Lord in his Word. Let’s not let passing-away, trivial sights tempt our eyes away from the glory. In it, the Transformer changes us.