“Christ Transforms Us”
(2 Corinthians 3:12-18 – Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 14, 2021)
2 Corinthians 3:12-18 – 12Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech – 13unlike 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. 14But 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. 15But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18But 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.
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:
One of the most amazing miracles of nature is the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. It changes from being slow and wiggly, inching along the ground, to being swift and free, fluttering in the air. Yet the actual process of transformation may seem slow and boring. All we see is a cocoon on the outside, while all the change happens on the inside. But at last, out comes the beautiful butterfly!
When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, as we hear in our Gospel (Mark 9:2-9), the change was different. Instantly, He went from His everyday appearance to shining in His heavenly glory. It was as if He had taken off an outer layer to reveal a completely different side of Himself. From this transformation, Jesus’ disciples saw clearly that He was God in the flesh!
As believers in Christ, we also are under a process of change, a transformation. The same Greek word used for Jesus’ transfiguration is used here in verse 18, when it says we “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” On the outside, in our everyday appearance, we may not look like much. But already, God sees us in a new way in Christ. He has baptized us and washed away our sins by the blood of His Son. He has covered us in the perfect holiness of Christ as His children. And as God’s new creation in Christ, He is transforming us day by day. He is making us more and more spiritually mature and beautiful. Like the caterpillar, the change He is working in us can seem slow and difficult to see. But at last in heaven, He will transform us fully into His perfect, beautiful creation.
Let us consider how “Christ Transforms Us”: As our text leads us to see: 1) He transforms us by His unveiled Gospel, 2) He transforms us by the Holy Spirit.
1) He transforms us by His unveiled Gospel
Here Paul describes the difference between how a person hears God’s Word before and after becoming a Christian. On the one hand, many hear God’s Word and treat it as if it were all Law. They do not understand God’s plan of salvation as a gift of His grace, through faith in Christ. They want to believe that they can transform themselves into holy creatures before God by their own efforts, by obeying many laws. Of these Paul says in verse 15: “a veil lies on their heart.” On the other hand, believers hear the Word of God and rejoice in the Gospel. By the work of the Holy Spirit, they understand God’s gift of salvation. They trust that God declares sinners holy by the perfect work of Christ alone. Of these Paul says in verse 16: “the veil is taken away.”
Consider what it is like to live with a veiled understanding – to see in God’s Word only salvation by works of the Law. When God gave Moses His Law on Mount Sinai, and then Moses came down to tell the people what God had said, we read in Exodus 34:30: “Behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” With the giving of God’s Law came fear. Just the reflection of God’s glory in Moses’ face was too much for sinners. They realized, “How can I approach this holy God in Person and live?” What terror the Law strikes in the heart of guilty sinners, to think of facing God as the holy Judge with eternal consequences!
What do we do about our sinful condition before God? Shall we look intently into His Law, trying harder to fulfill it and transform ourselves, until we reach His level of holiness? Will our efforts ever save us from His righteous wrath against sin and make us merit eternal life in heaven? Not a chance! But that is how many blindly respond to God’s Word, for “a veil lies on their heart.”
But God did not give His Law through Moses to show the Israelites, or anyone, how to be saved from divine justice. Romans 3:20-22 says: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”
As glorious as God Law was, it had only a fading glory. As Moses preached God’s Law, verse 13 tells us that he would “put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.” The glory of the Law was not where people were to look for lasting peace with God. All the rules and ceremonies of the Old Covenant of Law simply pointed ahead to an unfading glory and fulfillment in Christ. He would come to reconcile sinners to God in peace by His blood bought redemption. He would come to restore us to the holy image of God by His fulfillment of the Law. He would come to bring us at last to His heavenly glory.
Yet as the apostle Paul recorded the words of our text, many of his fellow Jews still sought to earn a righteousness of their own under the Law, through holy living. He says in verses 14-15: “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.”
Today too, many teachers focus on the Law over the Gospel. Even some of the main voices representing Christianity teach under the veil of the Law. They want to transform sinners into saints by rules upon rules. They make promises under condition of obedience to God’s Law, like: “If you live the holy life God wants, then He will bless you with money, good health, and the desires of your heart.” At a funeral, their preaching focuses on the goodness of life in the dearly departed, instead of what Christ has done to save us from sin, death, and hell.
What happens if we pound away at a person with the Law, trying to transform them by telling them to behave? It may lead to a change in outward behavior for a time, but it does not change the heart. It is like when we see a police car parked along the road, representing the law. As speeding cars approach, they slow down. But what happens when they get around the turn, past the trees? As human nature goes, they speed up again. The law may change outward behavior for a time, out of fear of consequences or a desire to look good; but it does not change the heart.
Certainly, we preach God’s Law as part of His whole counsel. It tells us how He wants us live. But no sinner is transformed into a saint by the Law. It does not produce spiritual life and freedom from sin. In fact, the Law by itself actually rouses the sinful nature to disobedience. Paul wrote in Romans 7:11: “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.” Living under law upon law will not bring reform and peace with God, but rebellion and death, as it constantly shows our failures as sinners. That is life under the veil.
But in verse 16 Paul says: “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” God would have us turn from the Law to focus on Christ our Lord, as our all-sufficient Savior.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, a kind of veil was lifted for the disciples as they looked to Christ alone. They saw Jesus’ divine glory shining through His human nature. Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here!” It seemed like heaven on earth, like they could live forever this way in the presence of God’s glory. But all this changed as a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they heard the voice of God from heaven. It was similar to what had happened when God appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai, in the fearful giving of the Law. Now the disciples fell on their faces in terror. It was clear that as sinners they could not dwell in the bare presence of God’s glory, not based on any holiness in themselves. But where did that voice from heaven direct these terrified sinners for salvation and peace in His holy presence? God said: “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him.” And presently, when they looked around, they saw no one but Jesus (Mark 9:2-9).
Here alone is where we find peace in the presence of God. It is not by looking to anything in ourselves that makes us worthy to stand before the glory of God. It is only by looking to Christ, who has come to accomplish our salvation. In His Gospel, Jesus says: “Do not look to the cleanness of your heart, or how holy a life you live to try to find peace with God. Rather, trust the cleanness of My heart, and the holy life I have lived to fulfill the whole Law for You.” Jesus says: “Do not trust in how sorrowful you feel over sin, or how well you have tried to put off sin. Rather, trust how I have suffered the depths of sorrow for you on the cross, and how I have removed your sins once for all by My precious blood. ” Jesus says to us: “I give you My full forgiveness, I give you My righteousness, I give you My eternal life – I give it all to you as My free gift.”
Here, in Christ’s unveiled Gospel, comes the true power of transformation. Christ sets us free to live a new life in God’s grace, to live in the peace and joy of His salvation.
2) He transforms us by the Holy Spirit
And in this freedom, He transforms us by the Holy Spirit. As it says in verses 17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 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.”
Previously, Paul described the transformation we have received by the Spirit. In 2 Corinthian 1:21-22 says: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” God gave us that anointing in baptism, in which we received “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-6). We were born again of the Spirit, and by faith brought into Christ’s Kingdom (John 3:3-6). So God has transformed us into His new creation in Christ. He sees us washed by the blood of His Son and clothed in His righteousness; and God sees us restored to His perfect image. He declares us to be His holy children in Christ, and heirs of eternal life with Him in heaven.
This Gospel is where transformation begins – not in what is demanded of us, but in what is freely given to us as a gift, through the Spirit and faith in Christ. As it says: “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” When we see how God loves us so much that He gave His own Son to live and die for us, this liberates us. It sets us free to live a new life to the glory of God – not out of slavish fear of punishment, not in the drudgery of trying to earn His favor – but in the glorious liberty as His children, and in the joy of His salvation and eternal life. God’s Spirit unveils the Gospel and shows us all He has freely given us in Christ. And by the power of that Gospel, He leads us to respond as the new creation He has made us. And so we say: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
When a caterpillar changes into a butterfly, the process may seem slow; but change is going on inside. Christ is transforming us, making us more spiritually mature and beautiful. It may be hard to see. It may feel like we are forever in a cocoon. It may be frustrating if change does not happen as we want. Why can’t we just turn from all sin after baptism? Why aren’t we suddenly perfect in our relationships, in our work, in our faith? We may wish we were like Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, instantly changed from an everyday appearance to heavenly glory.
But life is not like that. If we try to hurry the growth process by demands of the Law and human effort, it only makes things worse. The key to transformation is to look with unveiled hearts to the Gospel, to look to Christ as our all-sufficient Savior, and let His Spirit change us.
Take heart! Already God sees us in a new way in Christ. He sees us cleansed by the blood of His Son and clothed in the beauty of His holiness. As His new creation in Christ, we have the promise that one day we will join Him in glory. Like Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, we will be transformed from our everyday appearance in this world to a brilliant heavenly glory! There at last, we will be made perfect in every way, even as He is perfect!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.