How the Glory of God Changes UsPastor Lutzer | May 16, 2010
It’s hard to be in the presence of God and remain unchanged.
Selected highlights from this sermon
How can God’s glory change us? How does He bring about a transformation in the human heart? It’s actually quite simple. All we need to do is behold Jesus.
If you are always looking at the things of the world, that’s where your heart is—greed, jealousy, sins of all shapes and sizes.
But by turning your gaze upon Christ, the veil that blinds us to the truth will be lifted and transformation begins. We will love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates - namely, our sin. And day by day, keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord, we will grow more Christ-like.
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How does God change us? You wives did bring your husbands, didn’t you, because you knew I was going to speak on this topic? How does God bring about a transformation within the human heart? I am talking about the change that is so deep that you begin to hate what you once loved, and love what you once hated. How is that brought about?
Now there are two barriers that exist between us and that kind of change, and the first barrier is our love of sin. We love it. You ask an alcoholic to part with his precious bottle and to him it is unthinkable. What is going to cause a person who is into pornography to give it up when the appetite has been so strongly cultivated, perhaps even for years? How do you bring about a change? Or you think about somebody who harbors bitterness and anger. To them it is of great comfort that they can have these feelings because they seem so right and so just and so justifiable, and yet, at the same time, those feelings may be destroying them, but who cares about being destroyed? “What I’m thinking about is only right,” we say to ourselves, so how do you dislodge that?
Well, this message is on transformation. Another problem that we have is the love of ease. Basically all of us, probably, are lazy, at least lazy about some things. We’d like to become spiritual by osmosis. We’d like it to happen while we are asleep. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go to sleep worldly and wake up with a heart that is hot for God?
And that’s what we’d prefer, but transformation doesn’t come that easily, and there’s a lot of pain, but there is a way.
Everything that I say in this message is important. The intro is important, and the middle is important and the conclusion is absolutely crucial, so you stay with me, but because we’re asking God for such a great miracle to actually change human nature, and to change what we once loved, we’re asking for a huge, huge transformation to take place. I think what we need to do is to pray one more time. Would you bow with me, and in bowing with me would you ask God to grant you the grace to do whatever he points out needs to be done in your life to be changed by his power?
Father, we are helpless in the face of our loves, and so we ask that you will change us. For those who come today with arms folded, hard hearts, intending to not change, we pray that you might surprise them with the mighty work of your Holy Spirit. And may all of us in one way or another be changed today for the better, for the glory of God, because after all, there is nothing else that matters. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The text today is 2 Corinthians 3. The Apostle Paul is contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant, and what he’s saying basically is that there was nothing wrong with the old covenant, but it was insufficient. It is now superseded by a new relationship with God that could have never been fully understood in Old Testament times, and so he’s talking about Moses going into the presence of God and in verse 12 he says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.” In the Old Testament in Exodus 34 it says that when Moses came down from the mountain his face shown and he didn’t even know it. There’s such a thing as unconscious godliness. Have you met a person like that? You see Christ all over their face but they don’t know it. It is just the reflection of Jesus after years of walking with Him and they are unconscious of how they do reflect Him.
Well, Moses was up with God for 40 days and 40 nights. If you could imagine, when he came down he was just glowing, and he was in the presence of God without the veil, but when he came down and spoke to the people afterwards he put on the veil, because he didn’t want to let them see that the glory that was on his face was fading. And Paul says that was symbolic of the fact that the old covenant was fading, and the new covenant has come. And then Paul, thinking about this veil, switches his use of the word. You’ve all had that happen. You are talking about something and an idea is triggered by what is said and then you go off on a slightly different direction. That’s what Paul does. He now likens the veil that Moses had over his face to the veil that is over some people’s minds, and this is what he says in verse 14: “But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
You see, the Apostle Paul goes from the veil that Moses wore to the veil that is over a hard heart, a heart that cannot see the truth, a heart that does not love the truth and does not want to see it. And he’s saying that even today, and certainly this is true today among our Jewish friends, many of our Jewish friends simply do not see Jesus Christ as Messiah. It is as if there is a veil over their minds. But the same is true of Gentiles, of course, as we shall see in a moment.
Veils can be over our minds as well, so that we just don’t get it. The facts are there; the rationale is there, but we don’t understand because we don’t prefer to understand.
And now Paul begins to contrast the old and the new and how we fit into the new, and this is where the transformation begins to happen. But I have a question for you. Do you think that after being on the mountain in the presence of God and coming down in the presence of the people Moses was changed? Did he come down from that mountain still loving sin? I don’t think so. I think it’s hard to be in the presence of God and to remain unchanged, and certainly Moses spoke to God face-to-face. He was permanently changed by the encounter. His desires, his aptitude, all that he was as a person was changed by God. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you were Moses? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live back in the Old Testament times when Moses could go into God’s presence and be transformed?
What the Apostle Paul is going to say is that in this new covenant we are much better off than the old covenant, and the privilege that God gave Moses is a privilege that is now open to everybody for the same transformation and for perhaps even a deeper one.
Now what I’d like to do is to give you four advantages that the new covenant has that the old didn’t, how you and I fit into it, and why this should change our lives, our behavior and our aptitudes.
First of all, you’ll notice now it says in verse 18 (and it’s the focus for what I have to say), “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.” That’s the verse and we’re going to look at it phrase by phrase.
First of all, in this new covenant era we have greater opportunity. Notice the little phrase, “and we all.” The opportunity that Moses had is going to be given to everyone. When Moses went high into the mountain, the people were to stand back. In fact, at Sinai there was a fence put around the mountain, and God said, “Don’t you dare come near. Stand back. God’s presence is coming.” Moses, of course, was invited up to the mountain. Then you have the priesthood. The priests were able to go into the Holy of Holies on one day of the year–Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Now what’s happening in the new covenant is God says we all are invited to the top of the mountain. We all have the opportunity of seeing God. All believers–weak believers, new believers, old believers, and defeated believers–are invited to what God has prepared for us. So he says first of all that we have greater opportunity.
The second advantage is that we have greater boldness. Now this is a remarkable statement. You’ll notice it says in verse 12, “Since we then have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses,” and that’s why the text says in verse 18, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord.” Moses put a veil on his face lest the children of Israel would see the fading glory, and Paul is saying to us today that we don’t even have to put a veil on our face. It’s our privilege to come into God’s presence unveiled, directly and boldly. Hebrews 10 says that because Jesus Christ died for us we have boldness to enter into the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. We come boldly.
And we come boldly because when Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple was rent and the opportunity that the priests had to go in one day a year is now open to everyone. We are in God’s presence, and we come through that blood and it is available for all people, because all of us are now priests before God if we’ve trusted Jesus as Savior. So we come with a great deal of boldness. In fact, did you know that in Romans 5 where the Bible says that we are justified by faith and have peace with Jesus Christ, by whom also we have received access into his grace wherein we stand, it’s not just that we have access to God, but the intention of the text is that in Jesus we have been brought into God’s presence and there we live in God’s presence. Whatever you do, you are in God’s presence. Driving along the Kennedy you are in God’s presence. Riding the El you are in God’s presence. If you are in an office, you are in God’s presence because Jesus has brought us close to God. And because of that we approach with boldness, with expectancy. I know that this translation says with confidence, but it’s the same idea. But we come boldly to God.
There is a third contrast and that is we come also with greater clarity. Now your Bible is open and you’ll notice it says there, “Beholding the glory of the Lord.” The footnote there says reflecting the glory of the Lord. Both ideas are there because if you behold the glory of the Lord you also reflect His glory, and Christians do both. In fact, as we behold, we also reflect, but we come to God with much greater clarity. You know, in James 1:23 the Bible is spoken of as a mirror. It is a mirror of our own hearts. It is also a mirror of God and of Jesus. If I can put it this way, in Old Testament times they saw Jesus as one might see one’s self in water. If you look in a pond of water you can look down and you can comb your hair, but you are not seeing anything very clearly, but in a mirror, now you can behold things in detail. Do you realize that the average Israelite knew that a redeemer was coming because of the sacrifices, but they didn’t know what that looked like? Now we see Jesus.
Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” and John says, “We beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now we see things that they didn’t see in the Old Testament, or I should say that we see a person that they didn’t see with clarity in the Old Testament. We are so fortunate to live on this side of the cross and not anticipate the cross as they did in Old Testament times. So we come with clarity, and we’re not expected to have any glory of our own. We behold His glory. We reflect His glory. I think that if the moon, which gives light during the night, could talk (and I don’t think it is talking), it might say something like this: “I’m so glad that the sun does not expect anything from me. I’m glad that the sun does not expect any light from me,” because all that the moon does is reflect the light of the sun. It just needs to be there.
You and I know that we are vessels of clay. We are weak. We are prone to sin. We have good intentions and then we don’t follow through. We are very, very ordinary and subject to flaws, but isn’t it wonderful to know that God isn’t expecting any glory from us, as if to say we reach down within ourselves and find it there? No, we behold Him, and then we reflect Him, but we can do so with greater clarity and understanding than they could in Old Testament times.
So we’ve looked at the fact that we have greater opportunity, greater boldness, greater clarity, and also greater transformation. Now let’s look at the text. “As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image, namely Jesus, becoming Christ-like, and are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. For this is wrought by the Lord, the Spirit.” The word transformation is the word metamorphous. Metamorphoō, in fact, is a transliteration of the Greek word that is used here. If you look at the word metamorphous in a dictionary it will define it as a profound change. In fact, the example that it gives is the creation of the butterfly and how the butterfly goes in that transformation. You have the caterpillar, and then the butterfly. It is an inner transformation. It is not simply a difference in appearance. It is even a difference in very nature. That’s how deep God’s transformation goes in our lives, so that that which we loved, namely sin, we begin to detest. That which we hated, namely Christians and the Bible and church and God, we begin to love, because there’s something happening within us that is deep and lasting and God is at work creating us into the image of Jesus so that we are more like Him.
You’ve heard me give the illustration before. Someone said to a sculptor, “How do you make an elephant.” He said, “It’s very easy. You take a block of marble and then you simply chip away everything that isn’t elephant.” And what God desires to do in our lives through our experiences and through our struggles is to chip away everything that isn’t Jesus and create within us the transformation that glorifies Him as we look at his glory.
What’s the bottom line and why should this transform our lives? First of all, the bottom line is that beholding is the way of becoming. You become what you look at. If you spend your life watching television, that is what you become. We become what we look at, and the whole emphasis here on the text is that the soul grows in relationship to what we gaze at, what attracts our attention. That’s what is birthed within us–a greater appetite for whatever it is that we feed. And so as we look at Jesus, and in a moment I’ll give you more instruction on what that looks like, we become transformed into His image.
Do you remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of The Great Stone Face? As I remember the story, there was this village and across a very large and long valley, there was a stone face. Nature, if you could put it that way, had thrown huge rocks together to form a man’s face. It seemed to be a very kind face. So in the little village there was this rumor that went from century to century and from one generation to another that someday somebody would show up in the village that would look like the great stone face. There would be a resemblance.
Little Ernest grew up in the village and he used to like to sit and just watch and look across the valley to the great stone face. He did that as a child. He did it as a teenager, and even as an adult. He never lost his fascination of that great stone face.
Various people came into the village and people thought, “Now that’s the one that is predicted to come,” but it always turned out that they never really resembled the great stone face. One day a poet came and they thought for sure he was the man, but they saw that his face was greedy. It was not like the great stone face.
When Ernest was an old man, he was addressing the people of the village. And as they saw him there, they saw the silhouette and they saw the resemblance and they said, “Ernest, you are the one that was predicted. You are the one that we are waiting for because you resemble the great stone face.”
We are what we gaze at. Look at the things of this world, that’s what you become. Behold the glory of the Lord, and how do we behold that glory? We behold it through the transformation of the Word of God–the Word read, the Word memorized, the Word believed. After you read the Gospels– Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–you reread them and you let the Word of God dwell in your heart richly. But I don’t think that that’s the end. It is the Word and it is worship. When you worship Jesus supremely and He becomes more important to you than human relationships, more important to you than other people, and you begin to prize Jesus and savor Jesus and your relationship with Him more than anything else, that’s what beholding is all about.
But there’s something else in the text that is a little bit more painful that I need to point out. It is not just that beholding is a way of becoming, but even more basic, beholding begins with seeing. You say, “Well, that’s rather obvious; you can’t behold unless you see,” but the fact is that there are many people who will never behold because they don’t see. Look at what Paul says. He says, “The veil lies over their hearts but,” he says in verse 16, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
We have all kinds of veils that prevent us from seeing the truth and from seeing the beauty of Jesus. All of these veils have their roots in personal self-deception but we love those deceptions. If you are sleeping with your girlfriend, and you are listening to this message and you don’t intend to change your lifestyle I can assure you of this: This message will not change your heart. You will leave as you have come, because you see, whenever there are sins that we will not give up because they mean more to us than the opinion of Jesus or fellowship with Jesus, what does Paul say? He says, “There is a veil over their hearts,” and the veil remains unlifted. You see how deep the transformation has to go? Paul says we have to turn to the Lord.
There’s a great deal of self-deception in our lives. I’ve been around awhile and I know something about my own heart and I’ve observed human nature long enough to know that we want what we want, and we hear what we want to hear, and everything else is filtered out.
So there is that self-deception. There is pride. “I’m not that bad. I don’t need Jesus. I know better than those Christians. I know better than Jesus.” The veil remains unlifted and there is no transformation. There is pride. There is personal prejudice, and you can’t see Jesus. You can’t see His glory. You can’t see His beauty. You can’t see why He should be so important that you are really neglecting other things that you really want to do, and so the veil remains. But for those who turn to the Lord, you’ll notice it says, and I read it one last time, in verse 16, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
So the question is this: How seriously do you want to turn to the Lord? Of course there are other things involved in spiritual growth. There’s church attendance. There is involvement in Bible studies and all, but at the end of the day, what’s really at stake is how important Jesus is to us. Sin is always a threat, if I can put it that way, in our hearts to the sovereignty of Christ. The bottom line is we become what we gaze at.
Now, that’s the transformation of character, but you know to receive Christ as Savior, all that you really need is a glance, and that glance will eventually grow into gazing at Jesus. But isn’t it interesting that Jesus, when He wanted to explain the new birth, said to Nicodemus, “As the serpent was raised in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of Man be raised up, that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life.” This gets to the bottom line for some of you who are listening. Jesus used the Old Testament illustration of when people were ill and a disease was among them, and God said, “If you put up this brazen serpent, and if you look at that serpent in faith, I’ll heal you.”
In the very same way, when Jesus died on the cross His death was a sacrifice for us, and if you look at Him, even in your weakness and in your doubts, knowing that you cannot leave your sin behind on your own because you are too weak morally and spiritually, but you come to Him, that’s where the miracle of the new birth happens. And the rest of your life is being changed into the image of Christ, glory into glory, even as by the Lord, the Spirit, as you enter into the disciplines of the Christian life and determine once for all that Jesus and His glory are more important to you than anything that you are attached to-whether it is a person, whether it is sin, whether it is your own lifestyle and your own desires. Jesus is first, and Jesus loves to change us to be like Him.
Let’s pray together. I just want to ask you a question before we do pray and that is this: Could you identify in God’s presence the one or two things that stand between you and transformation? What is the one thing that is more important to you than Jesus, His opinions, and His fellowship? What stands there that says so far but no further?
Father, speak to all of our hearts even as You are speaking to mine. We come with great weakness. We come with great self-deceptions deeply rooted in the soil of human experience and self-justification. Pry us loose we ask, and show us the glory of Jesus, and we pray that we might let Him transform us into His own image. Thank You that You call all of us to the top of the mountain to behold Your glory. Thank you that there are no special privileges except those that have now been given to all of us by faith in Christ. Lead us to Him, we pray. Amen.