Tuesday, September 21, 2010

“Semi-Live” Blogging the Ocean City Bible Conference; Session Eight

Wednesday morning, September 15, 2010

(Disclaimer: These notes are an attempt to capture the main points of the speaker; mistakes are inevitable and I’m certain not every word and phrase was captured exactly.)

Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace To You.

I loved what Fred Zaspel said this morning, “We’re in glory, but we’re not there yet.”

2 Corinthians 3:18 (John MacArthur’s favorite verse. He once wrote a book about it.)

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (KJV)

As always the context of a verse is crucial. Notice that in the early part of Chapter 3, Paul has been contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant, showing why the new is better than the old. This is one of Paul’s favorite themes. Fred Zaspel would say Paul is a new covenant theologian, and he was.

This is also one of the themes also of the book of Hebrews. First comes to this topic back in verse 6, where he answers a question he raised back in Chapter 2:16 where he asks “who is sufficient for these things?” And he gives an explicit answer for these things in verses 5 and 6 of Chapter 3. “We, the apostles of Christ, are sufficient for these things. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves. But our sufficiency is of God.” Here it is the word “able”, same word as sufficient. God has made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant.

Now one of the distinctives of Paul’s writing style, is the way he often breaks off a main thought and follows with another theme suggested by a word or phrase, so we have to pay careful attention to the context.

Here he goes from the truth that God has made him adequate as a minister of the new covenant, immediately to a short discussion about the superiority of the new covenant. And he contrasts the two covenants by these words: “…we are ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

Now the letter is Paul’s expression for the Mosaic Law when it’s considered by itself without inherent efficacy or power to enable us to obey. The law alone apart from the Holy Spirit’s application is a dead letter. Since its dead it cannot be a source of life.

Here he says the letter kills, the spirit gives life. The letter is Paul’s expression for the Mosaic Law, when it’s considered by itself. The law alone apart from the Holy Spirit’s application is a dead letter. Only the Holy Spirit can give life. So the Spirit here means the Holy Spirit, the true giver of life and the administrator of the new covenant.

For example Romans 7:6, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (KJV)

In Romans 2:29, he says that true circumcision is that of the heat and of the spirit, and not in the letter. Here he says the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

Now Paul is not saying the law is bad, but is saying it can’t give life to sinners. It condemns those who sin. The problem is not the law, it is we who are bad. The law is our judge and executioner, it cannot be a source of life.

Throughout this letter Paul makes a contrast between letter and spirit. It cannot give life. It is the worst kind of heresy to think that by your own legal obedience that you can obtain eternal life.

But the spirit does what the law cannot do by granting life to sinners. In Romans 8:3, he said, “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

And so as ministers of the new covenant, Paul says, we have a better message than the old, a message of life and salvation. The law was a message of death and condemnation.

Now, please understand, Paul was not teaching that people under the old covenant couldn’t be saved, nor that the way we were saved is different. Abraham, Moses David, saved by grace through faith. The whole point of Romans 4.

The new covenant makes clear what the old covenant kept veiled. The new covenant explained what was mysterious under the old covenant. That is why it was a better covenant. It brings people face to face with Christ.

In the old covenant law brought people face to face with their sin. In the new covenant, the veil is removed, that is the theme of this passage.

Look at this passage beginning in verse 7. Paul tells of Moses going on the mountain, when he went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the law, he asked to see God’s glory. In Exodus 33 describes what happened. “And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “

One problem though, he said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.”

And so as an act of mercy, God hides Moses in a cave or a cleft of the rock where Moses was shielded.

And God said, “And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”

Remember what happened? Exodus 30:4 Moses’ face shone and the Israelites were afraid of him, so Moses face had to be veiled to hide the reflection of God’s divine glory until if finally faded away.

Paul uses that passage to teach us a great truth about sanctification here in 2 Corinthians 3:7-14.

2 Corinthians 3:7-14: “ But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ. ” (KJV)

Here’s what he’s saying: the old covenant was glorious even though so much was kept behind a veil; the new covenant is much more glorious. It is explicit, nothing hidden. The glory of the new covenant is on display for everyone to see in Christ Jesus.

To see how glorious, look forward to 2 Corinthians 4:6: For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Moses saw God’s back, we get to see Jesus’ face. We get to look at the glory of God in person face to face in Christ with unveiled faces and we are transformed into his likeness. Not like Moses who got to look one time, we get to look and look and the glory transforms us.

Let’s unpack this verse. I used to teach junior high students, taught them to diagram sentences. Part of what he does for a living today is as a book editor. Forces us to pay close attention to grammar. Secret vice, likes to diagram sentences. If you diagram this sentence you see the center, “we all are changed”.

The main sense of the passage is this: “We all, beholding the Lord, are changed from Glory to Glory.”

Let’s take that phrase and break it into its parts.

Four key elements, phrases:

1) We all (the subject); 2) Beholding the Lord (participial phrase); 3) Are changed (verb); 4) From Glory to Glory (describes how)

I) We all.

Paul is making a contrast between to old and new covenant. Moses alone got a partial glimpse of God’s glory, and the only one who saw. The new covenant a new principle is in force, the priesthood of the believer. We get to see the glory firsthand. All of us.

This is all very practical. Here’s what this is teaching: the process how Christians become like Christ. If you are seeking to grow, this is how it happens. You don’t need a priest. What you need to do is come face to face with the glory of Christ. The effect is inevitable, you will begin to reflect the light of Christ’s own glory. This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:10, I want to know him and the power of his resurrection. This is a better privilege than what Moses had. We all with open face behold his glory and changed into his image. Moses was alone on the mountain, and the people were afraid. So much was left veiled in mystery, unexplained, symbols, with veiled in typology, rites and rituals; made the truth hard to comprehend. But the new covenant is different. “Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”. (2 Timothy 1:10)

The truth we have now is so much more full and clear.

The full life of God’s glory is revealed for us in a new way in Christ Jesus. A manifestation of God that you can look at directly.

Even the apostles didn’t always understand this. Phillip asks to be shown the father, Jesus replies if you have seen me you have seen the father.

Hebrews 1:3, Jesus is the brightness of God’s glory.

Colossians 1:15, he is the image of the invisible God.

Colossians 2:9, in him dwells all the fullness of God bodily.

1 John 1:5, this is the true God and eternal life.

In Christ is revealed more glory than Christ ever saw. Every Christian has the privilege of seeing Christ face to face and close up.

II) Beholding the Lord

We all behold as in a glass the Lord’s glory. We get to look at the glory. It’s not a physical manifestation. But its something even better, it’s the glory of truth. It’s the same glory as Moses saw, but we actually see it in a better way.

In the OT always a physical light, but Christ, it is accommodated to the limitations of our humanness. One of the great benefits of the incarnation. We can look at the glory of God without a veil.

It’s the same glory John beheld in John 1:14, we beheld his glory, the glory of Jesus the one and only full of grace and truth. Now John had witnessed the physical glory as well, but notice how he describes Jesus in John 1:14, nothing about the physical radiance, but the glory of grace and truth. The glory we behold is not a physical perception, the same glory, visible only to those who have the eyes of faith. But its real glory and its effects are real. We behold it with an open face. We see it as in a glass, as in a mirror.

Paul uses a similar expression in 1 Corinthians 13. There, Paul’s emphasis is on the imperfect vision, but here the emphasis is on intimacy. It’s personal, unmediated, direct. The glory the Old Testament saints saw was indirect. By contrast, NT Christianity is open, explicit more intelligible. In the NT not overlaid by types, symbols, priests, rituals. It’s not mediated by priests. Under the new covenant it comes to us by words and deeds we can understand. It is made manifest for us to see and understand and study, just the way you look into a mirror. And the mirror, in which we see that glory reflected, is the scripture. Remember in James 1:23-25, it says, “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

That’s where we see the glory of Christ. The clear vision of his glory transforms us.

The entire character of the New Testament is about contemplating and reflecting Christ. This is what sanctification is all about. Not by mechanical obedience, but what conforms us to the image of Christ is receiving him, see him as revealed in scripture.

III) We are changed

We all, beholding the Lord are utterly transformed. All of us individually as we behold the glory of the Lord by faith. Moses’ experience ultimately left him unchanged. It was a receding glory. Moses was unchanged, his was a receding glory, finally faded away. But the glory of the new covenant is a better glory because instead of receding it grows draws stronger and brighter. The luster of Moses was skin deep. The light we see in Christ is inward. It is permanent, ever increasing, changes us in the most complete way.

Look at this expression, we are changed. Paul uses the Greek word which is the same as metamorphosis, changed from the inside out. Same word used of physical appearance of Jesus at his transfiguration. Different from what happened to Moses at Sinai. Moses’ face though it shone, it was dim and fading. Christ’s was not skin deep, it came from within and was totally transforming.

In the same way we are completely transformed into a real and lasting glory. Same Greek word as in Romans 12, be transformed, by the renewing your mind. Contrasts conformed with the world with being transformed from the inside out. The word conformed there speaks of a cosmetic change. Transformed describes a transformation from the inside out.

Not a superficial or cosmetic change. A real change.

Two principles at work here. First you reflect what you see. That’s what happened to Moses Happens in physical realm. Look into your wife’s eyes, you’ll see your own reflection. Our wives reflect what they see. True physically, but also true spiritually as well. Your wife, your children will reflect what they see in you.

Second, more importantly, you become like what you worship. You take on the characteristics of what you worship. Presented clearly in Psalm 115:4-8 “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.”

They are lifeless. Look what he says in verse 8: “They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” (KJV)

If you want to become spiritually deaf, dumb, blind and lifeless, there is no more efficient way than to worship a stone idol or any idol.

Worship money, you will become materialistic.

Worship entertainment you will become trivial and worldly.

Worship power and prestige you will become cold and callous

Worship yourself and you will become hopelessly selfish.

But if you truly worship Christ you will be transformed into his likeness. Study him intently and you will accelerate the process. In fact, the process of glorification will be finally and instantly complete the moment you come face to face with Jesus in heaven.

We see this in 1 John 3, “when he appears we will be like him for we shall see him as he is.”

Which is the same thing David wrote in Psalm 17:15; “As for me I will behold thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness.”

It’s not by might or by power. Its not through sheer force of human willpower, it’s through worshiping the glory of Christ. We are changed into the same image of the one we worship. That’s the only sanctification the scriptures know about.

IV) From Glory to Glory

We sing about it, several hymns have that expression. John MacArthur explains, it is from one level to another. From one level of glory to greater and greater glory.

Paul’s emphasis is on two things, it’s being ever increasing and its permanence.

Moses’ temporary radiance was skin deep and fading, ours keeps going and going lifting us to higher and higher levels. It may seem slow and halting, may take a lifetime.

It does progress, despite setbacks. God uses even those to conform us to the image of Christ. That is God’s eternal purpose for us, he is conforming us to the image of Christ.

According to Romans 8:29, that is the purpose and the ultimate end to which God has predestined those who believed. Back up just one verse, this is what the familiar promise of Romans 8:28 is about. The reason why all things work together. Even the trials and setbacks are used to this end. God uses even your sin to purge from your life whatever is not Christlike.

Hebrews 12:10, “he chastens us for our profit that we might be partakers of his holiness.”

Verse 12-13, Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, do not despise the chastening of the Lord.

And verse 5 and 6, “And despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” It’s all part of the process of conforming you to the image of Christ.

Submit to it by taking the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the glory of Christ, and you will be changed from glory into glory.

Nothing can stop the progress. Romans 8:30 goes on to say that all who are chosen by God are called and all who are called will be justified and all who are justified will be glorified. It’s an unstoppable process. God made us for that. Why he created Adam in the first place. Sin has marred the image of man, most people feel that deficiency, sense we have lost the glory feel the utter futility of trying to regain this glory for ourselves. This is why people are obsessed with self esteem.

He represents an even greater glory than the glory that was lost by Adam.

Paul in Romans 8:18 reckons that the sufferings of this world are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.

That glory is my greatest desire.

I’m always conscious in crowd of this size that there may be those who don’t have a saving knowledge of Christ.

If you are here and if you have never embraced Christ as your Lord and Savior, notice the context of verse 14, their minds were blinded, which veil is removed in Christ. Which is true of every unbeliever. They can’t even comprehend the glory of Christ, much less be transformed by it. Look at Chapter 4, verses 3 and 4: “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

So what is the solution? Look at 3:16, “Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” You must come to Christ in faith or you will never see his glory.

When you see it you will believe. You might think seeing is believing, but scripture says believe and you will see. We’re not talking about a glory we can see with our physical eyes.

Notice what Paul says in 4:18: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (KJV)

That’s why it is so important to see the glory of Christ with the eyes of faith. It is actually a more clear and more eternal vision of glory. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. If you have never trusted in Jesus, I urge you to turn to him in faith.

Christ himself makes this promise in John 6:37, “the one who comes to me I will in no means cast out.” And if you are weary from the weight of your sin, and sensing your spiritual poverty, call on the name of the Lord right now.

Romans 10:13 says, “whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

That process will begin by which you will be ultimately transformed into the perfect likeness of his great glory.

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