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THE TRANSFORMING GAZE – 2 Corinthians 3:18

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on August 14, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, August 14, 2016 from 2 Corinthians 3:18

Theme: The more we fix our gaze upon the indwelling Christ, the more the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ’s own image.

I ask that you turn with me this morning to 2 Corinthians 3—and to the verse we find at the end of that chapter. It’s a verse in which the apostle Paul makes one of the greatest declarations of the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ you’ll find in all his New Testament writings. He writes;

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 (2 Corinthians 3:18).

What good news that is to all of us who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus from our past sins, but who also long for growth in personal holiness! What good news this is for those of us who long to be like our blessed Lord and Master, but who feel so fallen-short! It’s the promise of ultimate victory—and of progress toward that victory in our lives even right now!

* * * * * * * * * * *

I have learned something about myself over the years. I have learned that I really enjoy and am personally enriched by biographies. I love to read the life-stories of great and accomplished people, or to watch their stories portrayed in film. I love to study and learn from the life and work of and character someone who stands out significantly in history or in culture.

But I have learned something else about myself. I have to be very careful which biographies I read, or which biographical movies I watch, or which significant person’s life I choose to study. And this is because I always end up taking a piece of that person along with me from then on. I find that I just can’t help doing that; that I end up imitating something about them in some way. That’s one of the great benefits of studying a biography—but it’s also one of the great dangers. Therefore, I try to choose carefully what person it will be that I will end up—to some degree—becoming a little more like; or what characteristics about them it will be that will end up becoming a part of who I am.

Perhaps you share this natural tendency with me—this tendency to become a little like whomever it is we admire and study. I believe that it was somewhere in Paul’s thoughts as he penned the words of our verse this morning. And his intention was to encourage us to gaze upon, and admire, and study our Savior first of all.

We who have believed on Jesus as our Lord and Savior are in the process—daily—of being transformed from our old way of life and into a new way of life. We are people in process. And the end goal of that process is that we will be completely conformed to the image of God’s Son Jesus Christ. As Paul put it elsewhere (in a passage that, as you are probably already aware, I tend to quote quite often);

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:28-29).

The good work that God has begun in us—the good word of our salvation—is one that He will see to full completion (Philippians 1:6); and that ‘completion’—that end product—is our total conformity to the image of Jesus Christ; even all the way to the measure of Jesus’ full glorification in His present state in the heavenlies. As the apostle John put it in 1 John 3:2;

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

Now; if you’re familiar with the doctrines of the Bible, then you’ll recognize this as the doctrine of ‘sanctification’—that is, that work of the Holy Spirit by which we are increasingly delivered from the sinful practices of the past, and are brought daily into greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. It’s a work that will not end until we are made to be like Jesus in the fullest sense, so that He truly is “the firstborn among many brethren”. How grateful we should be that this is a work that the Holy Spirit does for all those who are in Christ—and that it is one that will not fail!

But as you can see from this verse, we have a significant part to play in this progressive work of our sanctification. Just as we tend to become like whoever it is that we focus on and learn about, it is our part in the process to make sure that we keep our constant focus on Jesus Christ. We’re to study His ‘biography’ as it is given to us in Scripture, and to allow ourselves to be transformed by what we see of Him.

Let me read 2 Corinthians 3:18 again:

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 (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul, in this verse, is declaring that the more we fix our gaze upon the indwelling Christ, the more the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ’s own image. And so, if we want to become increasingly like Him in this world, that’s what we need to do!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; to really understand this remarkable declaration, we need to think of it in the context in which it was given.

Paul was writing to his believing brothers and sisters in the ancient city of Corinth about the differences between what the Bible calls ‘the Old Covenant’ and ‘the New Covenant’. A ‘covenant’ was basically an agreement that God made with His people; and in the Old Covenant, the agreement God made with the Jewish people was that His blessings would rest on them if they kept the law that He gave to them through Moses.

But that Old Covenant had a terrible problem attached to it. In their own power, God’s covenant people couldn’t keep God’s law. All that the Old Covenant could do was condemn them and result in death and loss. It was not that there was anything wrong with the law of God. Far from it! The law was good, and the covenant that it was based on was glorious! Rather, it was something wrong with the people. They—just like all of us—were fallen because of the sin of their ancient father Adam. You might say that all that Old Covenant did was demonstrate the problem. It couldn’t bring about the solution.

And so, when the time was right in God’s redemptive program, He established a New Covenant. It was a covenant that resulted in life; because whereas the Old Covenant was mediated through Moses, the New Covenant is mediated through God’s own Son Jesus Christ. And whereas the Old Covenant failed because people could not keep true to God’s holy standards in the law, the New Covenant succeeds because God now graciously puts His law into the hearts of all people who believe on His Son, and places the Holy Spirit in them. And now, the Holy Spirit empowers His redeemed people and helps them to live as true ‘New Covenant people’—people in whom the life of Jesus Christ is increasingly lived out and perfected.

Look with me at 2 Corinthians 3:7-8. Paul was talking about this great difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant when he said;

But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? (2 Corinthians 3:7-8).

Paul is making reference here to a fascinating Old Testament story. It’s found in Exodus 34; and tells about the times when Moses went up upon the mountain and met with God on behalf of the Jewish people of old; receiving God’s instructions and commandments for them. The Bible tells us;

Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would 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 (Exodus 34:29-35).

Now; the fact that the Old Covenant—the covenant of the law—was glorious is clearly made evident to us by the fact that Moses’ face shone because of the holy presence of God. But why did Moses then later cover up his face with a veil? It was because of the fact that the glory upon his face from these Old Covenant meetings with God faded. And that was symbolic of the nature of the Old Covenant. It had glory; but it was a fading glory, because it was a covenant that could not be kept. The people sinned, and thus continually failed to uphold their end of the agreement.

And that’s why the glory of the New Covenant is an exceedingly greater and more eternal glory. God promised this New Covenant many centuries after the time of Moses. It was promised in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Can you see the difference? The Old Covenant demanded that people conform to a law that they could not keep; and so it had a fading glory because it resulted in failure and condemnation in death. It only revealed the problem. It couldn’t do anything to solve it. But the New Covenant is all about actually changing people from the inside out—putting God’s law in them, enabling them to keep that law from the heart. It has a greater and unfading glory because it results in transformation and eternal life! It is mediated by Jesus Christ Himself; who gave Himself on the cross to pay for our sins, and who takes up residence in those who trust Him.

Now; back to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3. In verses 9-11, he wrote;

For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious (2 Corinthians 3:9-11).

This all made Paul and his fellow apostles eager to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ—setting it all out before people in plain words, and appealing to them to believe on the Savior as the Mediator of this New Covenant! He went on to say;

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (vv. 12-16).

I love what Paul says in verse 17. It really displays the difference! He said;

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (v. 17).

There is such unity between the members of the triune Godhead that when we have the Holy Spirit in us, we have the Lord Jesus living in us—mediated to us in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Lord is the Spirit! And where the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ is, there also is liberty. Real liberty!—no more condemnation under the Old Covenant through the law!—now, only life through the life-giving, life-transforming ministry of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord!

And that’s when Paul sums up the life-transforming power of it all for us—and the crucial part we play in it—in the words of this morning’s verse:

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 (v. 18).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; God has graciously placed us under the administration of a New Covenant. It’s a glorious agreement—one that results in life-transformation from the inside out; one that is completed in us by the indwelling Lord—the Holy Spirit; one in which the requirements of God’s holy law are perfectly fulfilled in us by Jesus, and perfected in us in an ongoing and progressive way by the Spirit; one that will be carried on in it’s work all the way to our full conformity to the image of Jesus Christ.

But here’s our part of the agreement. We absolutely must keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ—the Mediator of this New Covenant. We must never think that we can just simply pray to receive Him as our Savior, and then carry on with life in our own power—ignoring Him, going on without Him, not living in daily dependence upon a relationship with Him. He must be our constant focus of attention, and the primary love of our hearts. We must continually fix our spiritual gaze upon the indwelling Lord Jesus; because the more we do so, the more the Holy Spirit transforms us into Jesus’ own image.

That’s the key to our part in this glorious New Covenant!

Let’s briefly look at this verse in a bit more detail and see how this is so. First, notice …


Paul tells us that we gaze upon Jesus “with unveiled face …” But he doesn’t mean that it’s our face that is unveiled—as if it were our own vision that was made perfectly unhindered. The word that he uses in the original language means “unhidden” or “uncovered”; and it’s put in the perfect tense, which suggests a once-for-all-time completed act. The literal translation is “with being-perfectly-unveiled face …”; and that wouldn’t be true of our own sense of vision of Christ, because very often, we fail in our vision because of our own sinful imperfections and distractions. Rather, it is Jesus’ own face that is the thing that is unveiled. Unlike Moses’ face in the Old Covenant, there is nothing hidden about Jesus’ face as the Mediator of the New Covenant. He is fully manifested to us—and through Him, so is the Father.

Look a little ways further at 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Paul talked about the great plainness with which he and the other apostles proclaimed the gospel; and he said,

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

So then; it’s not our faces that Paul is speaking of, but rather the face of our Savior Jesus Christ. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3); and by gazing up Him, we are provided with all that we know all that we need to know of the Father. And this means that there is now nothing that hinders us from knowing God the Father fully through Jesus Christ. His face—unlike the face of Moses—is completely unveiled, once and for all time!

And then, notice …


Our Lord’s face—the face that reveals the Father fully to us—in completely unveiled; and we are to respond by “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord …”

How do we “behold” His glory, by the way? Obviously, it’s not with physical eyes. Rather, I believe it’s through the Holy Scriptures—preserved for us and illuminated to us by the Holy Spirit. It is His divine role to shine the spotlight upon Jesus for us; and He does this through the Scriptures. When we read the Old Testament stories and prophecies and psalms, we’re learning about Jesus—the eternal Second Person of the Trinity; and are encountering His holy character from the things we read. When we read the Gospels, we’re reading the story of His walk on earth and of His sacrifice of love for us. One of my Bible teachers—Dr. John Mitchell—used to tell us that we need to read a little from the Gospels every day; because we are to imitate Jesus in the way we live, and it’s through those Gospels that we learn what Jesus did as He walked this earth. When we read the Book of Acts, we learn about the work of the Holy Spirit in shining the light of Jesus into this world; and when we read the writings of the apostles in the New Testament, we learn the truths and doctrines about Jesus that the Holy Spirit wanted us to learn. We are to continually be gazing upon Jesus and beholding His glory through the Scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And I believe that what the apostle Paul says about this is one of the most encouraging and wonderful things we can think of with respect to our relationship with our Savior. He has so united Himself to those of us who believe on Him, and has so permanently taken up residence in us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, that we don’t have to travel the world or sweep through the heavens to find Him. He is very close to us. When we look in the mirror, we see the dwelling place of Jesus Christ looking back at us in the reflection! And as we behold Him, we find our true selves in gazing upon Him in His glory.

Next, consider …


Paul says that with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, “we all … are being transformed …” The “all” that he is speaking of isn’t all the people of the world; because not all of the people of the world believe on Jesus. Rather, Paul is speaking of those people who are true “New Covenant” people—people who have placed their faith in Jesus, and in whom Jesus dwells, and who—as the ongoing habit of their lives—keep their gaze upon Him in His glory. It is they who are being “transformed”.

I love how Paul says that, of those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus, “we all” are being transformed. There are no exceptions. For some of us, the transformation is quick and dramatic. For others of us, the transformation is slow and gradual. Some of us experience terrible stumbles and lapses along the way. But in the end, in all of us in whom He has begun this good work, the Holy Spirit will bring that work to full completion. All of us in whom Jesus dwells are progressing toward the goal of transformation into His image.

And I love how that word is “transformed” is put in the present tense of the verb. It suggesting an ongoing, continual action. We are all in the process of being transformed—day-by-day—in an ever increasing way! By God’s grace, we are not what we once were; and by His grace, we will be even better tomorrow!

And where is this all going? Consider …


We who gaze upon the glory of Jesus are being transformed—in an ever progressive and increasing way—“into the same image from glory to glory …” We are becoming like Jesus; and we will keep on growing until the day when we finally see Him face-to-face. And then, by God’s grace, we will be fully like Him—sharing forever with Him in His glory!

That’s what Jesus Himself prayed for. Before He went to the cross, He prayed to the Father for you and me and asked;

that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:21-24).

As I have often said, I wouldn’t dare to think of such a thing or expect such a thing if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus Himself already prayed for it! That’s where we are heading, dear brothers and sisters! We who keep our gaze upon Jesus are destined to be completely transformed into His glory—from glory (that is, His glory as the source) to glory (that is, us as the result)!

And it isn’t we ourselves who make all this happen. Note finally …


If it were all up to us, it would fail—just as was the case in the Old Covenant. But it isn’t all up to us. As Paul says, this transformation occurs “just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As the apostle Jude put it …

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And to present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy … (Jude 24).

* * * * * * * * * * *

As this verse shows us then, the more we fix our spiritual gaze upon the indwelling Christ, the more the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ’s own image. It is a truly transforming gaze!

So then, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; with all our hearts, let’s be sure that in all our doing, we keep the gaze of faith continually upon Jesus Christ—all the way to the completion of our walk on this earth!

What a glorious completion it will be!

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