The absolute greatest danger in all the world when you want to change, you want to change. This is not a matter of sincerity, it’s not a matter of willpower. You honestly want to change and then you believe – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously – If I just try harder.
Listen to what the Scripture says with regard to that. Paul, in II Corinthians chapter 3, he is defending his apostleship. He says the evidence of his apostleship, in the verses before that, is the changed lives of the people.
He says, “You know, we don’t need letters of recommendation from people. You are our letter. You are our epistle, written not with words but with the Spirit upon human hearts.”
He said, “If anyone wants to know whether I am really an apostle, I don’t get references. I just turn to people like you and say, ‘Look at their lives.’” And then following that, in verse 5, he says, “Now, not that we are confident in ourselves,” in other words, it’s not that Silas and Timothy are big shots, “or claim anything for ourselves, but our confidence, our ability, our power comes from God.”
Then he explains it, verse 6, “He has made us competent as ministers of the New Covenant,” or we call it the New Testament. It’s a new contract, it’s a new arrangement that God made, different from the old one He made with Moses and the nation of Israel.
Now he gives a little definition of what the difference is. “Not of the letter, but of the Spirit.” Not a set of rules, not a high bar that says, “Okay, to be good, you have to jump that bar.” And as soon as you jump it, you know how they do, they keep moving it up? He says, “Not of the letter, but of the Spirit.”
Now, notice the commentary on this little arrangement. “For the letter kills,” it kills. You develop a standard, you develop a set of rules and you say, “I am going to keep them. I am going to keep them. I am going to keep them!” You will fail.
In fact, Paul will teach us that the entire reasoning behind the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament law was never to bring life, but it was to set a standard so all men would learn that no matter how hard they try, they can’t reach it, and would turn to God for mercy and grace.
In fact, in this chapter, he’ll say, “The law that was etched in stone has been done away with, and there is a new and better and living way.” But the Spirit gives life. Power, freedom, change. The Spirit is what does it.
Now, we are in a series called: How to Change for the Better. We talked about integrity, didn’t we? We talked about looking down deep in your heart, unless you’re willing to face issues below the waterline, below just behavior, you’ll never change. That was one of those penetrating, Oh, gosh, right?
And then we looked at motivation. You remember the first verse of chapter 3 and the last verse? And we said motivation comes, lasting motivation, it’s not out of guilt – that is very short-term – but out of the fear of the Lord and the reality of accountability that we will be judged. And also the promise and the reward that God is going to reward us, that He keeps His promises.
And then we moved on. And we looked at the tongue. Do you remember that? I had to live with that sermon for a long time. You just had one shot.
And we said that our tongue gives evidence to what is really in our heart and if we can ever control our tongue, it is the only way that we will ever, ever change from the inside out.
Now, I am taking a timeout, a pit-stop, a meandering trail off of James chapter 3, because the comments I have been getting from you, and you really messed me up, by the way, see, I have been preparing for this series for quite a while and the next set of verses I’m in pretty good shape for. This message I wasn’t. It was like baking cookies from scratch.
But all the feedback I got from you all, you know what I was beginning to hear? In the context of the book of James, this is the first book written in the New Testament. Man, the Spirit of God is flowing and there is power and they realized that self-effort and the works of the law will never, ever bring about righteousness. That’s not their problem.
But you know what I started hearing from you as I interacted with you all? Okay, boy, I’m going to really focus on my tongue now. I’m going to look at my motivation. Integrity. And what I began to hear is, I’ll try harder. And so I am adding something that wasn’t designed in this series and I want to stop and I want to go back to the basics, because the people that scare me are not people that don’t care much about God.
You know the people that scare me? The people who are so sincere and the people who are really sincere who really want to grow, you know where you are going to be this time next week without this message? Trying harder, trying harder, then really trying harder! And then you’re going to hit a wall. And you’re going to be frustrated and then you’re going to say, You know something? I’ve been trying to watch my tongue, I’ve been trying to watch this, I’ve been trying to watch this. So far, all I feel is guilty and I realized how putrid my own heart is. Thanks, Chip.
And so we want to get a pit stop and we are going to take a huge lens back off and we are going to look at how God changes us, a reminder of how God actually changes.
So back to the basics, what I would like you to do is turn in your Bibles to II Corinthians chapter 3. We are going to do a thumbnail sketch and get a big view of how the Spirit of God works in transforming our lives.
Now, I’m not going to read it all. You’ve got the general flow. But what you do need to understand is that then, in the following verses, beginning at verse 7 through 11, Paul sets up a contrast. And the contrast is between the revelation or the Law that comes through Moses, and that which came from him.
And as you would read on, you’re going to find that Moses had some really interesting experiences when he went up on Mount Sinai, remember that? And he beheld God, face-to-face. And God gave him the Law. And it was such an overwhelming intimacy that, do you remember how his face would shine because he would radiate the glory of God?
And then Moses was like us. He wanted people to think that he had that kind of relationship all the time. Here’s where we catch Moses with a little less than authentic Christianity. And so what he would do is he would be the Lord and just His power and His transcendence, and His glory, then his face would shine. And initially, he would put it up because he would blow people away.
And so he put this veil on his face. And then he would kind of look in a stone or a mirror and he would realize he hadn’t been with the Lord in a while and it would start to fade. And the passage says that he would keep the veil on so that the other Israelites wouldn’t see it fading.
And so this chapter, I’m going to let you study it on your own. But what this chapter does, it contrasts the superiority of the New Covenant – God’s new arrangement through Christ on the cross – with the Old Covenant, or the old arrangement where He gave the Law and had the sacrificial system and all those animals that were killed, as pictures and forerunners to say that one day there will be a once and for all payment for sin.
And so he contrasts the two and over and over you are going to hear, as glorious, as magnificent as it was what God gave to Moses, that was a B plus and this is an A plus. This is superior. This is incredible. And that is what he develops.
So picking it up at verse 12, he says, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing on it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the Old Covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.”
Only in Christ, only in personal, dependent, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ do you get this new power, this Spirit dwelling within you.
“Even so,” verse 15, “to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” The understanding is given. “Now the Lord is the Spirit.”
By the way, just for you Bible students, this is as clear a passage in all of the New Testament for the deity of the Holy Spirit. The word here for Lord is that Old Testament phrase, Yahweh. Lord!
“Now the Lord,” Yahweh, Infinite God, The Great I AM, “is the Spirit,” and notice what he says, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” There is no bondage.
Now, I put verse 18 in because this is what I want to focus on. Verse 18 then, he summarizes, then how is it that God changes us as New Testament believers? “But we all, with unveiled face,” in other words, we have understanding, we have relationship through Christ, “but we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror,” in other words, it’s not accurate, one hundred percent clarity of who God is, but it’s a reflection. It’s a pretty good, “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image,” – what image? Like Christ. Like exactly what God is. How does it happen? “From glory to glory,” it’s progressive, it’s in degree.
And then notice, it’s like bookends. He starts with the Lord as the Spirit and He ends with, “Just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Now, I have made four or five observations and this is back to the basics. Every believer, this ought to be old hat for us. But we have got a lot of people here that haven’t been Christians very long.
I had a girl trust Christ last Saturday night, a guy the Monday night before that. Four or five people before that. There are just scores of people that trust Christ every few months here. So a couple of observations.
From verse 17, where the Lord is the Spirit, change is a work of the Spirit. Pretty simple, isn’t it? It’s simple but it’s profound. Because if you try and do it yourself, it doesn’t work.
Second observation, change is a byproduct of a personal, accurate, and deepening relationship with God. And I get that from, “We are beholding Him with unveiled face, as in a mirror.”
See, you know what happens in our Christians circles is we want to change for the better but we want to be more patient because it would make our lives better. We want to be more loving because we would get along with people at work or our wives or our mothers or mother-in-laws or whoever better.
See, change is a byproduct. Change is a byproduct of a personal, accurate [view of God]. If you really want to change, get to know God very deeply. And what will happen to you is what happened to Moses. The more time Moses spent with God and the more accurately he saw Him, whatever God was like started rubbing off on Moses - to the point that His glory was so great and the intimacy so powerful, that Moses’ skin actually would reflect the glory of God.
The third observation is: change occurs from the inside out. It’s not a set of rules, it’s not, Oh, I’ve got to do this. And I get that from this little phrase, “We are being transformed.” And the word for transformed is that old biology term. Remember? Metamorphosized? Or metamorphosis? Where the little worm gets into the cocoon and from the inside out, one day, becomes a butterfly.
It’s also the same word, remember when Jesus went up with His key disciples: Peter, John, and James. And He was transfigured up on the mountain. It’s the same word.
And what is important about that is that it says, “And He shone brightly,” it wasn’t like, heaven didn’t come with floodlights on Jesus and Peter and James are going, Oh, wow, look at that! What they saw was the light, it was like He unzipped His humanity and He opened up Himself and deity came out! The change came from the inside out.
When He transfigured, what He did is He allowed them to see Him in His power, in His glory, and that’s why they fell down as dead. And so change, it happens the same way. The Spirit of God, when we trust Christ, enters our lives, manifesting the presence and the power of Christ in us; we are sealed by the Holy Spirit; we are adopted into His family; and we are empowered then and so God wants to change us from the inside out. That’s how it works.
Finally, change is a progressive, ongoing process. Notice it’s from glory to glory. It’s like from degree to degree. And this really makes people like us crazy. Because, see, we want to change. I made a decision; I want the change now! I’m working on being patient; I want it now! Hey, that was a good illustration about your wife having a lousy self-image, you know? This is the way you talk in the coffee shop. You would never say that to our faces.
But you would say, Wow, I want what she got! Or, boy, could my wife use that or could I use that! And you know what you forgot? We talked about fifteen years of work, remember? Of renewing of the mind. Of trusting God. Of growing.
And so the questions I want to ask are: How does change occur, when does it occur, what is our part, what is God’s part, why do we keep on sinning if they say our sins are forgiven and they are taken away? Some basic stuff.
Where does change begin? It begins, the origin and the whole process, it begins at spiritual birth. John 3:5. “Unless a person is born again,” spiritually, “he’ll never see the kingdom of God.” What do people need to hear or believe in order to be born again? And that message is the gospel! The good news.
And that is found in I Corinthians 15:1 through 4 and then also, the verse that most of you know that has it in capsule form, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world,” – remember this? “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe,” or, “trust in Him shouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life.”
That is the message that must be believed for a spiritual birth to occur. What is the biblical term for all of this? It’s called, salvation. The clearest understanding is in Romans chapter 1 through 5. And in parentheses, what we are talking really about here is justification.
It’s a word used in Scripture. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” That’s Romans 5:1. Now, what is justification? Some of you are starting to turn me off. You’re thinking, It’s a big word! I’ve never heard words like that! And a lot of you are thinking, That’s an old word.
What is the definition of it? It is twofold. Justification is a coin. On the one side, definition, it’s a legal declaration of our standing before God. It’s God looks at you and He is going to make a legal judgment. You have sinned. And then He looks at Christ’s work on the cross and He is going to take your sin and place it on the cross and look at you because now you are pure and His legal standing will be, “I declare you innocent. I declare you forgiven.” It’s a legal thing.
And then after He takes away your sin, He flips over the coin and He imputes the righteousness of Christ to your standing. And this is a terrible illustration but it communicates for me.
You know the Star Trek deals? When they get there and they go, Bzzzzzzzzz, “Beam me up.” And then some of the really weird ones, have you seen one of the weird ones where this guy, he goes, Bzzzzzzzzz, and another person comes into his body? Have you seen some of those? Right? Okay. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ is like that.
What He does is He takes away your sin legally. We’re not talking just experience. We’ll get to that in a second. But He legally takes your sin, puts it as far as the east is from the west, and then, Bzzzzzzzzz, He imputes, or pours forth and puts in you the righteousness of Christ so that the old Sunday school term, justification, it’s just as if I didn’t sin.
And you possess the very righteousness of Christ. That’s what happens at salvation.
Now, the time, when does it begin? It begins at a point in time, the moment a person repents, turns away from whatever he is trusting, and believes in Christ. A point in time.
The basis of it, it’s by grace through faith, “For by grace we are saved through faith – it’s not of yourselves, it’s a gift of God – not as a result of works, lest any man should boast. Regarding sin, it deals with your guilt and the penalty of your sin. That’s critical. Your guilt is gone! And the penalty is gone.
The means of grace? It’s the gospel as you hear it or you see it in the lives of others. It’s the Spirit’s convicting ministry, John 16. He’ll convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. And it’s creation. Creation lets us know there is a God that we are accountable to.
And then finally, what is our response? Our response to the gospel is faith. We believe it, and that always leads to obedience.
And so trust and obey, that old hymn, is still pretty accurate. “If any man is in Christ, salvation, he is a new creature. The old things,” progressively, “pass away. New things come.” That is your standing. That’s called, salvation or justification. You got it?