Recently on our vacation, we took a drive on the Skyline Drive in Virginia. I thought it would be an opportunity to share the majestic views with my wife and daughter. You see, I had memories of being on that road fifty years ago with my parents, and I could still recall the sunny day and pulling off at various overlooks to take in the scenery. However, there was just one unanticipated problem with my plan to share the joy. This time the mountains were immersed in thick, thick fog. Sadly, too many Christians live in thick fog, when they ought to be enjoying the view of the Lord’s glory. Here are a few reasons for this deficiency.
- Worldly influences producing a compromised way of life
- Living by the circumstances of their life instead of by the gospel
- Failing in the struggle with remaining sin
- Trying to live apart from others in the body
- Poor teaching that leaves them in effect in an old covenant way of life
- Failure to combine sound Biblical teaching with faith
My job is to present you sound teaching and to encourage you in your walk of faith with your brothers and sisters in Christ. I can take you to the “majestic overlooks” of the Scripture. But you are responsible to clear the fog out of your life. And I must remind you that this can only happen by the Spirit of God.
I. The Lord of new covenant ministry (3:17)
Comment: The first part of verse is a clarifying elaboration on the words “the Lord” in verse sixteen. Paul has said that that “whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away”. At first glance, you might think that he was speaking of the Father or the Son, especially since the bulk of times the expression is used in the Scriptures, they intend either the Father or the Son. So Paul must clarify his usage of “the Lord” at this juncture in order to make his point in context.
A. The Spirit of God is Lord in new covenant ministry.
1. Christ’s new covenant people are no longer under the Ten Words written on stone tablets. As has already been demonstrated, new covenant worship and life takes place in or by the Holy Spirit. When you are in Christ by faith through the power of the Spirit, the veil is taken away. Now by the Spirit you can see God’s lasting and surpassing glory in Christ. You can understand what was written in the Old Testament Scriptures about Christ. “The sufferings and the glory” written about him (1 Pt 1:10-12) now make sense.
2. Think of the day of Pentecost. What happened that day? “We should see the essence of it… in the fact that at nine o’clock that morning the Holy Spirit’s new covenant ministry began, giving each disciple a clear understanding of Jesus’ place in God’s plan, a robust sense of identity and authority as Jesus’ person in this world, and an unlimited boldness in proclaiming Jesus’ power from his throne….” [Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p.89]
3. To turn to the Lord, who is the Spirit, involves turning from worship and fellowship with the living God by the ministry of the law with all its regulations to worship and fellowship with God by the ministry of the Spirit. This means more than a polite statement such as “of course we no longer bring sacrifices because of Christ’s sacrifice”. That is correct in itself, but it is insufficient. Even Reformed Christians have become far too proficient in saying what something is not. But it is rather difficult to live on a “not”. We must live in the Spirit making known the incredible riches of the Lord Jesus Christ to us. So it means coming in the boldness of adult sons of God with joyfulness. It means displaying love to God and brotherly love to one another. It means letting the peace of God rule in our hearts. It means having the precious fragrance of thankfulness permeate our way of life.
B. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! The apostle has already set forth this freedom in this context.
1. It is freedom from the veil and to speak and act openly (3:12, 14-16).
2. It is freedom from the old covenant and its effects (3:6, 14).
3. It is the freedom of righteousness (3:9).
4. It is the freedom of surpassing and lasting glory (3:10-11).
Apply: Are you living in this freedom that Christ has given to us (Gal 5:1)?
II. The essence of new covenant life (3:18a)
A. We contemplate the Lord’s glory.
1. During the old covenant Moses as mediator had the privilege of seeing the “form” (Num 12:8) or “back” (Ex 33:23) of the Lord. But those who are in Jesus Christ now can contemplate God’s glory with permanently uncovered faces. There is nothing to obscure the glory of the Lord Christ to us.
2. The NTS give us the picture of Christ as the Lord of glory. Think of John’s confident testimony about Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Jn 1:14; 2 Pt 1:16-17). Peter declares that God raised Christ and gave him glory (1 Pt 1:21).Think of the account of his ascension (Ac 1:9; cf. 1 Tm 3:16), of Stephen’s sight of Christ at his martyrdom (Ac 7:55-56), and of Paul seeing Christ at his conversion (Ac 9:3-5). James calls us believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (Js 2:1); Paul says that Christ is the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8) and that Christ in us is the hope of glory (Col 1:27). We are called through the gospel to share in Christ’s glory (2 Th 2:14; 1 Pt 5:10), will appear with Christ in glory (Col 3:4), and will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Pt 4:13). And we can think of John’s visions of the glorified Lord Jesus (Rev 1:12-18; 19:11-21).
B. We contemplate the Lord Christ’s glory through the word, especially the gospel.
1. What amazing news it is that the Son of God would show us the greatness of God’s love by dying on the cross (Ph 2:6-8).
2. This greatly simplifies the practice of true spirituality. We do not need to search for methods of “spiritual disciplines” or wonder almost despairingly about how to have a closer relationship with the Lord. The Holy Spirit uses the word of God to reveal to us the glory of our Lord and Savior. Pray for the Spirit’s help; read the word; meditate on what it says; live in faith on what the Spirit makes known to you.
Apply: Are you seeking the Lord in his word? Everyday a table is spread for you to feast at! You can have breakfast with Jesus! Are you?
III. The outcome of new covenant life (3:18b)
A. An ongoing transformation
1. When we come by grace to know the Lord, we become new people in Jesus Christ in the continual process of renewal (Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:9-10). God the Spirit enters the heart of the believer and begins to show the glory of the Lord Christ. There is “ever-increasing glory” or “from one degree of glory to another”. “When Jesus was transfigured, the change was outwardly visible (Matt 17:2), but when Christians are transformed, the change is essentially inward, the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2), and becomes visible only in their Christ-like behavior” (Harris, NIGTC on 2 Corinthians, p. 316).
2. This ever-increasing glory will be consummated when we see the Lord at his return. Then our bodies will also experience glory (Rm 8:29-30; 1 Cor 15:42-49; Ph 3:21; Col 3:4; 1 Jn 3:2-3). Finally, we will be done forever with sin (Rev 21:1-14).
B. This comes to us from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
1. The Spirit is the leader in this new covenant age. No longer are we under the law (Rm 6:14), but we are in Christ and so have the promised Holy Spirit. “People aren’t changed by therapy or analysis—not even biblical analysis. They are changed by God. God is in the business of change… Transformation is the special work of the Holy Spirit” (Chester, You Can Change, pp. 47, 51).
2. As leader (Rm 8:14; Gal 5:18) of the new covenant learners of Jesus, the Holy Spirit exercises an impelling power to pursue and practice holiness (being set apart for God). Sometimes he might work a disgust for sin in us; other times he might create a hunger and thirst for Christ-likeness or give us a delight in the Lord. The Holy Spirit “sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts… and thence fills them with joy, peace, and hope; quieting and refreshing the hearts of them in whom he dwells; giving them liberty and rest, confidence, and the boldness of children” (Owen, Works, Vol. 2, p. 258).
Apply: What is happening in you? Are you experiencing in large measure the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit? If not, dear friends, it is our fault. The first disciples went to Jesus to awaken him when he slept in the stern of their boat. They did not let him sleep, so that they could go on in their terror. No, they called upon him, and he stood and calmed the storm. So then, let us go to him in prayer, asking him that he would fill us with the Spirit of God and glory.