Can people ever change, I mean really change? Can I
change? Am I and everyone else forever hard-wired to be
the way we are? Can we really experience change, not
of the superficial variety but in deep, gut level, heart stuff? The hope of the Gospel is yes—not all at once but little by little.
So how do we do it? When I first became a Christian, it all seemed so simple, just do it, i.e. Nike theology. Read the Bible and do what it says. Learn biblical principles related to my roles in life and apply them. As I succeeded more or less, I would experience change. Just common sense, right? Wrong! In my zeal, I forgot the Gospel and its logic. Common sense is often law-driven logic. I did not experience radical change. I was inflated with pride in the areas where I did well or felt strong and was deflated in despair where it was not working. But law-centered sanctification is self-centered sanctification which is an oxymoron. To be principle centered means that I am still in control, just doing it. I did not see the fruit of the Spirit, love for Jesus and others in my daily experience of life.
So how do we change then? Paul addresses this in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “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.” This verse comes at the close of a chapter in which Paul is contrasting the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit with the old covenant ministry of the law through Moses. First he compares the old covenant adversely with the new. The former ministry (old covenant) was marked by death (v.7) and condemnation (v.9), whereas the latter (new covenant) was marked by the Spirit (v.8) and righteousness (v.9). Paul’s negative assessment says since they neither observed the laws God gave them nor had any assurance of forgiveness when they broke them, the commandments became, not the source of life as originally intended but a harsh letter (v.6) which condemned them and destroyed their fellowship with God.
The new covenant however has exactly the opposite effect. If the ministry of the old letter kills, the ministry of the Spirit gives life (v.6). If the old covenant results in condemnation, the new issues in righteousness (v.9) which, since it is the opposite of condemnation must mean acquittal. This meaning is confirmed in a later passage where Paul associates the righteousness of God with God “not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The twin blessings of righteousness and the Spirit are new covenant realities. We are justified (declared righteous) by faith and we receive the Spirit by believing what we heard (Galatians 3:3).
So how do we change, or better put, how are we changed? 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us. We behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Old covenant believers were blind (veiled) to the glory of God but new covenant believers are unveiled and are enabled to see the glory of Christ. As we do we are changed by the Spirit.
What does it mean to behold the glory? In the passage 3:18 – 4:6 Paul refers to beholding the glory as seeing the light. The light we see is the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. The light comes by the Gospel or the knowledge of God. The darkness of spiritual blindness is gone and in its place is the floodlight of spiritual comprehension. As we through the Gospel behold continuously as an unchanging activity the glory of the Lord we are changed. We are transformed, “metamorphoo” in Greek, meaning changed inside out, like a caterpillar changed into a butterfly. The Holy Spirit produces in us His fruit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
The Gospel not only illumines our darkened lives; equally astounding, it transforms them little by little so that they resemble the moral and spiritual character of our Lord. The old covenant law-centered living brought only condemnation and death. In the Gospel of grace God reproduces through the Spirit the beauty of Christ in our lives. Only the grace of God is kind enough and the power of God strong enough to achieve this transformation in our broken and damaged lives. So how are we changed? We are transformed by beholding the glory of Christ in the Gospel.