2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) … “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.”
This verse is the climax of the chapter, and it presents a truth so exciting that I marvel so many believers have missed it—or ignored it. You and I can share the image of Jesus Christ and go “from glory to glory” through the ministry of the Spirit of God!
Under the Old Covenant, only Moses ascended the mountain and had fellowship with God; but under the New Covenant, all believers have the privilege of communion with Him. Through Jesus Christ, we may enter into the very holy of holies (Heb. 10:19–20)—and we don’t have to climb a mountain!
The “mirror” is a symbol of the Word of God (James 1:22–25). As we look into God’s Word and see God’s Son, the Spirit transforms us into the very image of God. It is important, however, that we hide nothing from God. We must be open and honest with Him and not “wear a veil.”
The word translated changed is the same word translated transfigured in the accounts of our Lord’s transfiguration (Matt. 17; Mark 9). It describes a change on the outside that comes from the inside. Our English word metamorphosis is a transliteration of this Greek word. Metamorphosis describes the process that changes an insect from a larva into a pupa and then into a mature insect. The changes come from within.
Moses reflected the glory of God, but you and I may radiate the glory of God. When we meditate on God’s Word and in it see God’s Son, then the Spirit transforms us! We become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as we grow “from glory to glory.” This wonderful process cannot be achieved by keeping the Law. The glory of the Law faded away, but the glory of God’s grace continues to increase in our lives.
Keep in mind that Paul was contrasting, not only the Old Covenant with the New, but also the Old Covenant ministry with the ministry of grace. The goal of Old Covenant ministry is obedience to an external standard, but this obedience cannot change human character. The goal of New Covenant ministry is likeness to Jesus Christ. Law can bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24), but only grace can make us like Christ. Legalistic preachers and teachers may get their listeners to conform to some standard, but they can never transform them to be like the Son of God.
The means for Old Covenant ministry is the Law, but the means for New Covenant ministry is the Spirit of God using the Word of God. (By “the Law” I do not mean the Old Testament, but rather the whole legal system given by Moses. Certainly, the Spirit can use both the Old and New Testaments to reveal Jesus Christ to us.) Since the Holy Spirit wrote the Word, He can teach it to us. Even more, because the Spirit lives in us, He can enable us to obey the Word from our hearts. This is not legal obedience, born of fear, but filial obedience born of love.
Finally, the result of Old Covenant ministry is bondage; but the result of New Covenant ministry is freedom in the Spirit. Legalism keeps a person immature and immature people must live by rules and regulations (see Gal. 4:1–7). God wants His children to obey, not because of an external code (the Law), but because of internal character. Christians do not live under the Law, but this does not mean that we are lawless! The Spirit of God writes the Word of God on our hearts, and we obey our Father because of the new life He has given us within.
The lure of legalism is still with us. False cults prey on professed Christians and church members, as did the Judaizers in Paul’s day. We must learn to recognize false cults and reject their teachings. But there are also Gospel-preaching churches that have legalistic tendencies and keep their members immature, guilty, and afraid. They spend a great deal of time dealing with the externals, and they neglect the cultivation of the inner life. They exalt standards and they denounce sin, but they fail to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ. Sad to say, in some New Testament churches we have an Old Testament ministry.
Paul has now explained two aspects of his own ministry: it is triumphant (2 Cor. 1–2) and it is glorious (2 Cor. 3). The two go together: “Therefore seeing we have this [kind of] ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not” (2 Cor. 4:1).
When your ministry involves the glory of God—you cannot quit!