NOTES II Corinthians 3:7-18 (click here for study)

Paul has just told the Corinthians that they are his personal letter recommendation. They themselves bear the mark of the Holy Spirit, and their new lives are proof that Paul's ministry is true; that his teaching is the genuine gospel. In his discussion of their being a letter, Paul has introduced the contrast between the old covenant-the letter written on tablets of stone, and the new covenant-the letter written by the Spirit on tablets of human hearts.

Now Paul expands his discussion of the new covenant and its contrast with the old. He borrows an episode from Moses' experience and develops one of the New Testament's most picturesque metaphor to explain the differences between the two.

Paul compares the old covenant and the new covenant to two different ministries. A ministry is an administrative department headed by a minister. This definition of "ministry" explains Paul's comparison between the two. The old covenant Paul calls "the ministry that brought deathengraved in letters on stone." (v.7) He also calls it "the ministry that condemns." The new covenant he defines as "the ministry of the Spirit" and "the ministry that brings righteousness." (v.8,9)

The old covenant, delivered and implemented by Moses, administered the law to Israel. The old covenant was a shadow of the promised Messiah and his redemption of humanity from sin. The law, which was the heart of the old covenant, spelled out the behaviors and ceremonies Israel was to perform as God's representatives on earth. As God's chosen people, Israel was to produce the Messiah and to prepare the world for his coming. They were to live as people who knew God; they were to live by faith in their promised redemption. The law described how godly people would live; it also continually pointed toward the perfection and atonement with God that the Messiah would establish. Israel lived under the law, bound to its requirements, looking to it for direction and assurance that they were the people of God.

The law, however, had no power in itself to bring about the perfection and atonement it demanded. The ministry of the law was exacting and detailed, and it promised death to those who did not live up to its standards. It promised glory and blessings to those who did fulfill its requirements, but Israel soon found out that they were not capable of to that standard. The ministry of the law, which was glorious in its foreshadowing of eventual perfection and atonement, actually became a ministry of death because no one could achieve the things it demanded.


"Came With Glory"

This ministry that brought death, as inferior as it was to the coming ministry of the Spirit, nevertheless came from God with glory. When Moses descended Mt. Sinai bearing the tablets of stone engraved by the finger of God, his face glowed with the reflected light of God's glory. Glory accompanied the law because it was a revelation of God's expectations for humanity. Humanity was God's crowning work of creation on earth. He made us for fellowship and obedience and intimacy with him. He made us to be one with him, but humans had lost the perfection Adam and Eve had at creation. That original ideal was lost, and humanity had lost sight of what had once been reality. God gave the law to Israel to make them aware of his plans and intentions for mankind. He gave it to teach them that atonement and restoration would come to them, that he had plans to give them hope and a future. The law was a shadow of the glorious Redeemer that would make all things new.

The law brought sin to life in the consciousness of people who had lost sight of what sin was. (see Romans 7:7-16) The glory of the law revealed God's righteous requirements for mankind, but no person could keep or fulfill those requirements. God sent Jesus to fulfill the law so its requirements could be "fully met in us" who accept Him and live by the Spirit, restored to intimacy with God. (see Romans 8:3-4) The law is NOT opposed to the promises of God. (Galatians 3:21) Rather, it is a revelation of what God's promises will accomplish in us.

The law is good when it is used right, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:8-11. It is not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels. The righteous are those who live by the Holy Spirit in surrender to and acceptance of Jesus. Once we accept him, the law no longer has jurisdiction over us. We are no longer considered lawbreakers and rebels; we are righteous in the sight of God, clothed with the righteousness of Christ who claims us. Before a person accepts Jesus, however, he is spiritually dead. He does not belong to the kingdom of God; he is lost in the sin into which he was born. The law is for all those who do not know Jesus. It serves for them the same purpose it served for Israel: it points out sin and makes people recognize their need of a Redeemer.

The law with its curse upon all those who do not keep its righteous requirements was glorious when Moses presented it to Israel. It represented God's new agreement with his people. He was revealing to them how much they needed him, and he was explaining that he was sending a Redeemer who would restore to them the intimacy we all lost when our first parents sinned. Its demands and its promises were glorious-but that glory was insignificant compared with the glory of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Moses covered his face with a veil after meeting with God so Israel could not see the reflected glory on his face as it faded. The glory of the law was a fading glory. It was not itself the righteousness of God. It was not itself the power of God to make men holy. It reflected the power and righteousness of God, but it was not IT. It was glorious, but it would fade before the essence of goodness: Jesus Christ. Jesus would fulfill the law's righteous requirements and take all humanity's sin onto himself and give those who believe in him his perfect righteousness-an unfading glory.


Lasting Glory

On the other hand, the new covenant, established by Jesus and implemented by the Holy Spirit, administers atonement and Christ's righteousness to God's people. "For in the gospel," Paul writes to the Romans, "a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written." (Romans 1:17)

"But now a righteous from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the law and the Prophets testify," Paul continues in Romans 3:21. He goes on to say that everyone has sinned and not measured up to God's standards. But we "are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood." (Romans 3:24-25)

Paul further explains that Christ has set us free. "You who are trying to be justified by laws have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." (Gal. 5:1, 4-6)

We are receiving Christ's righteousness. The law could never inspire us to a holiness we could achieve. It held a rigid standard before us; it stated clearly that God would take nothing less than perfection. But it left us helpless, condemned by our inability to honor it. Jesus, however, set us free from this condemnation. He took the consequences of the broken law onto himself, and in exchange he gave us his perfection.

It's not a fair trade. But it is real, and it is eternal.

God seals his righteousness in us by giving us the Holy Spirit. It is the presence of God in us that makes us holy. We are not righteous in ourselves. It is only when we accept Jesus' gift and accept the new birth by the Holy Spirit that we become righteous in God's eyes. But that righteousness is literally the righteousness of Jesus living in us by his Spirit. Because of his Spirit we receive the amazing gift of the Spirit's fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) The Spirit's attributes become lived out through us when we accept his gift of forgiveness and life. God sees Jesus' perfection when he looks at us!

The most important point to understand in thinking about the righteousness we receive from Jesus is that it has absolutely nothing to do with our behavior or with our observing the requirements of the law. It is entirely a gift from God. We are completely undeserving. God himself sanctifies us and keeps our spirit, soul, and body blameless. (1 Thes. 5:23) God chose us and saved us through the "sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth." (2 Thes. 2:13)

Paul further explains that the righteousness we receive under the new covenant of Jesus' blood is entirely a result of our faith in Jesus. Israel, the people who had the law and the prophecies about the coming Redeemer, did not attain this righteousness "because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works." (Romans 9:30)

We were washed, sanctified, and justified "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11) "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

This ministry of the Spirit, this righteousness of Christ that becomes ours by faith, is infinitely more glorious than was the "ministry that brought death." The old covenant, the law on tablets of stone, was glorious. It was God's provision for people who needed to become organized and to know the hope and the future God had planned for them. But it was incomplete. It was only a foreshadowing of reality. The new covenant set in place when Jesus died has replaced the old shadow. We no longer need the law and its picture of perfection because now we have the real person the law pictured. We have Jesus. He fulfilled and kept the law. He took its penalty for all of us who have lived outside of God's will. He gave us his life and put his Spirit, his very presence, into our mortal bodies and brought our spirits to life. He has taken our shame upon himself and given us his holiness.

Moses glowed with the glory of God, but the glory faded from his face when he left God's presence. The physical presence of God did not go with him. What did go with Moses were the tablets of stone written by the finger of God. The glory faded from Moses because God was not actually in him.

We, however, literally have the Spirit of Christ living in us. When we accept Jesus and receive the new birth, God's Spirit makes his physical home in us. Instead of God's glory fading as it did on Moses, it will glow with increasing brightness as we grow in our relationships with Jesus. It will increase because we have Jesus in us. He doesn't go away. He will not fade from us unless we veil him. Moses had glory reflected from our transcendent God. We have glory generated by the immanent God who lives in us by the Holy Spirit.


What Is the Veil?

"But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read," Paul emphasizes in v. 14. "Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts."

The old covenant consisted of the Law and the Prophets-the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and the prophets. The books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) outlining the law particularly spelled out the old covenant. The question remains: If God gave the old covenant to Israel, what is this dulling of the mind to which Paul refers, and why is it there?

There are several places in the Bible which refer to unbelievers having hardened hearts and minds. Isaiah 6:9-10 records Isaiah's message for backslidden Israel: "Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Israel should have had receptive eyes, ears, and hearts. But they had disobeyed God, and this passage in Isaiah continues to reveal that God tells the prophet this hardened state will persist until Israel is essentially destroyed. Only "the holy seed will be the stump in the land."

When people persist in ignoring truth, they become increasingly less able to recognize truth when it is before them. They develop a callous on their hearts; they become nearly unable to respond to God's grace. They would rather embrace deception and self-indulgence than risk the upheaval of allowing reality and truth to reorganize their lives permanently.

Romans 11:7-8 reinforces the idea of God sovereignly allowing hearts to become impervious. Paul says that what Israel sought-the redemption and freedom ushered in by the Messiah-they did not obtain, but the elect did. God gave Israel a spirit of stupor. Their arrogant refusal to obey God and to desire to understand his prophecies and promises as God meant them resulted in minds and spirits that could not make sense out of the gospel or out of the truth about Jesus. They had refused God as their ultimate arbiter of spiritual truth for so long, choosing instead to interpret scriptures as they understood them, that they no longer had hearts sensitive to truth. When confronted with the reality of Jesus, they simply could not recognize him or think clearly about how he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

Paul is even more direct in 2 Corinthians 4:4. "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

People's inability to perceive truth is not the result merely of insensitive hearts. Of course, insensitive hearts are involved, but Paul clearly says the god of this age has blinded them. Satan is the god of this age. He is the one who showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world during his 40 days in the wilderness and told him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." (Luke 4:6-7)

God has granted Satan jurisdiction in this world. Jesus' death and resurrection spells the end of Satan's reign of terror (Col. 2:15), but he still has a claim on this earth. When people refuse to know the truth when it's presented to them, Satan takes advantage of their equivocation and makes it even harder for them to perceive it the next time.

The veil that covers the hearts of those who read the old covenant today is the same hardening Isaiah talked about. It is the same blinding by the god of this age, Satan, that Paul explains in 2 Cor. 4:4. Jesus has come and fulfilled the old covenant. He is the complete revelation of the Father. He is our perfect sacrifice, our perfect high priest, our brother, our God. We no longer answer to an external law. We answer to our Savior, Jesus. When people persist in being subject to the law now that Jesus has come and has set us free in him, they are turning their backs on Jesus' sacrifice. They are refusing to embrace the truth that Jesus finished our work of salvation. They are refusing to acknowledge that "everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:2) has been accomplished already through Christ. They are replacing reality with its shadow; they are replacing Jesus with tablets of stone. They are spurning the ministry of the Spirit in favor of the ministry that brings death.

People who call themselves Christians yet continue to preach and uphold the law as a standard of behavior for believers are functioning with a veil over their hearts. They are not allowing the light of Christ to illumine their hearts and shine from them. They are stuck in their own works, insisting that their behavior is part of their salvation. Even if they say keeping the law does not save them, they say that a saved person will keep the law because the Holy Spirit helps them keep the law. Instead of their focus being on a relationship with Jesus that is growing and personal, their focus is on measuring their holiness by how well their minds acquiesce to the demands of the 10 Commandments and how well their behavior reflects their standards.

People who preach the law when Jesus has already fulfilled it are blinded by the god of this age. The law is righteous and good, but Jesus is the fulfillment of that good and righteous law. Jesus is the true LAW. He is the God of the universe, our creator, our Savior. The law is the shadow; Jesus is the reality. If we preach the shadow and insist that it is as important as the reality, then we have missed the significance of Jesus. We must turn completely around; we must face Jesus, the reality that casts the shadow. We must keep our eyes on Jesus instead of the incomplete picture of him portrayed in the old covenant.

Turning away from the shadow and walking toward Jesus, the reality of our salvation, is the only way to experience the new birth. As long as we keep the law as an icon in our hearts, the Holy Spirit is being superceded as our guide for living. We cannot experience the freedom of living in Christ, connected to God, trusting him completely, if we continue to uphold the law as a standard by which we must live. The ministry of the Spirit has replaced the ministry of the law. We now live by the ministry that brings life instead of by the ministry of death. We must choose to take only Jesus as our standard and our object of worship.


Unveiled Faces

Paul concludes this discussion of hearts veiled by the law by stating, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (v.18)

As Christ-followers sealed with the Holy Spirit we have come out of darkness, out of the veil of legalism and shadows, and we stand before God with faces unveiled by the shadow of the law. We are restored to intimacy with God, and his glory shines from us not as a reflection from an external source but as the original light of the risen Christ dwelling in us.

Even though he is in us and we love him, however, we still do not personally see the fullness of his glory. We are still limited by flawed physical bodies, time, and space. Having the Holy Spirit in us gives us glimpses of his glory. We become aware of eternity and truth in new and significant ways. Our worldview changes. We recognize God's power and sovereignty. We know his love, and we know him as a person. We are overwhelmed with his awesome majesty and his deep and personal concern for us and for his people. But the glory that we do see is limited. We see his glory indirectly, as a reflection in a mirror instead of face-to-face.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face," Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12. "Now I see in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

When we belong to Jesus and he seals us with his spirit, he knows us completely. We become aware of his love, and our hearts are filled and transformed by loving him. "But the man who loves God is known by God," Paul further said in 1 Corinthians 8:2.

We worship and honor God with faces unveiled by deception or self-protection or pride. We have entered the new covenant, the ministry of the Spirit, the ministry that brings glory. We have already begun to share in his glory. But this isn't where our change ends. As we behold Jesus' reflected glory, as the Holy Spirit transforms us, we are being made increasingly into the image of Jesus. We "are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (v.18) We are being changed from the glory of being the mortal but living temple of the Holy Spirit, who accomplishes this change in us, into the growing likeness of our Savior. Ultimately we will inherit our redeemed bodies, and we will see Jesus face to face and know him as intimately as he knows us.



God wants to unveil all hidden, scarred places in your heart. The shame that defined you when you were separated from God is no longer your identity when you accept Jesus. You no longer have to fear exposing the places inside that are cracked or broken. Jesus and his love are already at work to heal you from the inside out.

Jesus does not ask us to abandon our sins and fix our flaws before his enters our hearts. He asks us merely to say "Yes" to his love, to his death, to his resurrection. Our "Yes" to Jesus takes the "fixing" out of our hands. Our flaws and broken places become the province of the Holy Spirit. With eternal love God himself begins to wipe us clean of the shame and self-destruction that defines us. Our healing become God's responsibility, not ours.

When we enter the ministry of the Spirit, we begin to change quite apart from our determination and hard work. Our desires and sensitivities change, and we begin to desire the changes God works out in us. It's no longer about our willing and working to change ourselves. Rather, our experience becomes one of surrender. As God reveals the deep secrets of our hearts, as we begin to realize that nothing is hidden from him, our only response can be that of offering these flaws and sins to God. It's not our job to fix them; God wants us to give them to him. He saves us IN our sins; then he works in us to rid us of them.

God is asking you to rest from you work. He's asking you to turn away from the law, from your desperate efforts to become holy and pure. He's asking you to look fully into the face of Jesus and to surrender to him your heart, your fear, your shame, and your loyalty. He wants to give you a new birth, a new life, a new reality.

God loves you, and Jesus died to save you. The Holy Spirit wants to make his dwelling place in you. Praise God for the ministry of the Spirit! Praise Jesus for his sacrifice that paid the price for our life. Praise the Holy Spirit for making us new.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted March 2, 2002.
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