Back in Tunbridge Wells 30 years ago and more whenever we had a time of prayer we had great saint called Claud Martin who would always pray the same prayer. He would pray for revival. He would pray for an outpouring of “the transforming power of God – power which saves from the guttermost to the uttermost.” The transforming power of God! That is what Paul is talking about here in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
2 Corinthians 3 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
When a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly it becomes a totally new creature. A metamorphosis takes place. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! (J.B.Phillips)
But being born again is only the start of the Christian life. The start of a lifelong process of being transformed into the image of Christ. The transforming power of God is able to save from the guttermost to the uttermost! The power of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, can deal with everything in our past, all our sin and failure and ignorance and rebellion. Jesus Christ the Son of God has the power to transform the present and shape the future. The power of Christ which turns water into wine and heals the sick and opens the eyes of the blind and sets the captives free and even brings the dead to life. That power of Christ is ALREADY in our lives here – today – now!
The power of Jesus Christ who transformed the lives of all kinds of people. From ordinary fishermen like Peter and Andrew and James and John into the leaders of the Early Church. And one more man we know well who experienced transforming power of Christ was that feared enemy of Christians, the Pharisee Saul transformed into Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles by his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the Damascus Road. But Jesus also changed all kinds of people from respectable Pharisees like Nicodemus to prostitutes like Mary Magdalene and professional thieves (sorry, tax collectors) like Matthew and Zaccheus. Prodigals who were throwing their lives away, returning home and being transformed into children of God! “My Son was lost but now is found – was dead but now is alive again!” Sinners transformed into saints.
His touch has still its ancient power. There are Christians you meet and seeing them now it is almost impossible to believe that they were once criminals and prisoners, or drug addicts or alcoholics, or prostitutes or abusers. We can expect to see this transforming power of Christ in a number of ways.
It starts with the godly sorrow which produces sincere repentance, which in turn leads to a change in character. A.W. Tozer wrote, “The essence of repentance is to move across from one sort of person to another is: the liar becomes truthful; the thief, honest; the lewd, pure; the proud, humble.”
God is at work so that the Character of Christ is reproduced in us.
This will also involve transformed values. The gospel of Jesus Christ turns the world upside down. Or rather it turns this messed up sin-spoilt upside-down world the right way up again. Think about St Francis of Assissi who grew up very wealthy but gave away all his possessions, took vows of poverty and devoted his life to serving the poor and needy. Through the 20th Century there is no greater example than Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Transformed values.
The Bible word for this new life with transformed character and transformed values is holiness. In one of his books on revival, Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “The greatest miracle that God can do today is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, and make that man holy and put him back into that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” The end-product of the transforming power of God is holiness. Integrity and purity which stands out in this dark world. True holiness is rare!
In passing, our principal witness to the world is simply our transformed lives. “Evangelism is the overflow of our joyful faith.” Our Christian witness is simply our victorious Christian living! Our lives showing the life of Christ shining through us into the darkness. The difference Jesus makes to the things we do and the way we talk and the ways we think about things. That IS our Christian witness. That is our outreach.
So what is the secret of this transformation? According to 2 Corinthians 3:18 it starts with
Reflecting the Lord’s glory
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory NIV2011
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory NIV1984
seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, NRSV
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord NLT
The exciting word here is Katoptrizomenoi
The root meaning is reflecting as in a mirror (katoptrizomenoi). The present middle participle of katoptrizw. There is an inscription of third century B.C. using the same word referring to looking at one’s reflection in the water. Philo of Alexandria writing around the same time as Jesus was alive used the word meaning to behold as in a mirror. The Greek essayist Plutarch writing a bit later uses the word for mirroring or reflecting. Saint John Chrysostom the 4th Century Archbishop of Constantinople understands it that way.
So the meaning is probably that we reflect God’s glory with the secondary sense that we also behold or contemplate God’s glory in Christ.
The word is in the present tense implying a continuing action. The point that Paul is making is that we will not lose the glory as Moses did, just as long as we keep on beholding and keep on reflecting the glory of Christ. As long as we do so, that glory then transforms us to be like Christ.
We don’t have to manufacture the character of Christ in ourselves. That is God’s work, as we reflect, or contemplate, the glory of Christ.
Being transformed into his image
Greeks told many stories of people who became “metamorphosed” or “transformed.” Greek philosophers spoke of being transformed toward divinity by contemplating divine things. The Dead Sea Scrolls spoke of the righteous reflecting divine splendor. Paul could be using culturally relevant pictures like that but really the basis of his picture is simply how Moses reflected God’s glory. Those under the new covenant behold God’s glory even more plainly than Moses could. As a result, like Moses, they are being transformed to reflect God’s glory.
18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. NRSV
We are being TRANSFORMED. The same word is used of Jesus at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2). Metamorpheo – metamorphosis.
2 Corinthians 4:4 talks about “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Human beings were created to be the image of God and Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God
Colossians 1:15 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, …. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
Colossians 2 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.
Believers are being transformed into the image of Christ. This is God’s purpose for our lives. C.S. Lewis once used a strange phrase when he said that it was God’s purpose “to people the world with a lot of little Christs”. To transform every Christian to make them like Christ.
Romans 8 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
The primary goal and the ultimate destiny of believers is to become like Christ. This transformation into the image of Christ will not be completed until heaven, but it has begun already.
1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
Our transformation starts now, but will only be complete when Christ returns in glory.
1 Corinthians 15 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
2 Cor 3 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. NLT
And we are being changed “from one degree of glory to another”. More and more glorious. Day by day and year by year each of us is supposed to be becoming more like Jesus.
JESUS, YOU ARE CHANGING ME,
By Your Spirit You’re making me like You.
Jesus, You’re transforming me,
That Your loveliness may be seen in all I do.
You are the potter and I am the clay,
Help me to be willing to let You have Your way.
Jesus, You are changing me,
As I let You reign supreme within my heart. (Marilyn Baker)
It is as we continue to contemplate and to reflect the glory of Christ that God is transforming us into His image.
Which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the Helper, helping us to be like Jesus. It can be hard to become like Jesus. In the daily struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil, it is so easy to give in to temptation and so hard to show the kind of love and forgiveness God shows towards us. What a difference it makes to know that GOD is inside us! It is the work of the Holy Spirit to change us into the image of Christ! This comes from “the Lord who is the Spirit.” One of the clearest verses in the Bible showing us that the Holy Spirit is indeed God. God living inside us!
“All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The Spirit “metamorphoses” us into the image of Christ. He is the HOLY Spirit and His work is to make us holy too. That ongoing process is called “purification” or “sanctification” depending on which book you read. But Oswald Chambers rightly said, \“Sanctification is not something our Lord does in me; sanctification is himself in me.”
The Spirit helps us to avoid doing wrong Ephesians 4:30-32
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to help us to turn away from sin and evil. And then the Holy Spirit also helps us to do what is right, bringing the fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5: 22-23. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
So the Holy Spirit comes to develop the character of Christ in us.
Andrew Murray said, “You can only have as much of the Spirit’s power as you are prepared to have of His holiness”. Becoming holy is a lifelong process, and it isn’t completed until we get to heaven. There’s no one overwhelming experience of the Spirit that makes us completely holy instantly in this life. In this process of sanctification there are the two sides working side by side – God’s transforming power and our ongoing repentance. But it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the grace to repent.
So we don’t have to get depressed and discouraged and defeatist about becoming more like Jesus. WE HAVE GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT INSIDE US TRANSFORMING US! As we both contemplate and reflect the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ, God is working inside us to make us like Jesus.
NLT 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. NLT
The Message: Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
JESUS TAKE ME AS I AM,
I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You,
Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone,
Crystal clear and finely honed,
Life of Jesus shining through,
Giving glory back to You.