Growing up in Pentecostalism, there was always a focus on “what God is going to do” either in us, for us, or through us in Earth. In Pentecostalism, “It is Finished” seems to morph into “It will be finished for those who are filled in the Spirit”. We’ve looked at a lot of the Pentecostal proof-texts here in our CTT posts, today we’ll look one that is used to justify the Pentecostal push for the “new” and why they are always talking about being “in transition” or how we can’t “live in the past” or “rely on former glory”. It is most recognizable in the NKJV
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NKJV)
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Most of the time this gets truncated down to a cliche of “from glory to glory”, as a rationale for some teaching that the Holy Spirit is progressing Christians from one level of power to another. In “Presence” theology, term glory is often used to describe the presence of the Holy Spirit or the Shekinah Glory. Is that the referent here in Paul’s letter? Is Paul talking about a repeating cycle of progression from glory to glory to glory… until Christ’s return? Well, let’s look at what Paul is teaching here beginning at the first verse, paying special attention to the word glory. I’m going to switch to the ESV, but I’ll link the passages with ESV and NKJV side-by-side.
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 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.
Now this is a wonderful Gospel passage. The chapter begins with Paul asking of the Corinthians if they need to prove their ministry to them. He makes reference to others who needed “letters of recommendation”, and Paul tells them point-blank, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all“. Notice how quickly he takes the concept of “letter of recommendation” and creates a teaching point contracting a letter written with ink on paper vice a letter written with the Spirit on our hearts. He’s going somewhere with this. He then makes a shift from ink to letters in stone and compares the letters carved on stone against the letters written with Spirit on hearts. What is Paul comparing? He’s comparing the Law given to Moses with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In verse 6, Paul is closing out who they are, they are Ministers of the New Covenant (the Gospel) not of the Law but of the Spirit. For the letter kills (Law) but the Spirit gives life (Gospel). Paul went into detail teaching the purpose of the Law (to expose sin) and how the Spirit of Christ sets us free from that sin in Romans 8. Paul does not dismiss the Law outright. The Law is beautiful and it is of God, but it does kill us by exposing how wretched we are in comparison to a Holy God. You see in verse 7 Paul refers to the Mosaic Covenant as the ministry of death. That’s what the Law does, it kills us Justly. The due punishment for our sin is death. The Law makes that clear. And that Law, the ministry of death, came with such glory that Moses had to veil his face. That law which was to be brought to an end in Christ Jesus (who fulfilled the Law) was not without glory. However, once Jesus Christ, the Messiah, had come in His Glory, He would surpass the glory of the Law and the ministry of death. The glory of what is permanent, the Spirit of Christ, far exceeds the glory of the Law that was brought to an end in Christ. In fact, now that Christ has come the Law has no glory at all by comparison.
So we see that Paul isn’t talking in vague generalities here, nor is he suggesting there is to be some succession of glory that Christians or the Church are supposed to experience before the return of Jesus Christ. Paul is very specifically addressing the New Covenant’s replacement of the Old. The Glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, written on our hearts allows us to behold the glory of God with unveiled faces. Why? Because in Christ our sins have been paid and His righteousness has clothed us by faith. Those who would seek to remain under the Mosaic covenant, have no boldness or hope of being made righteous in His sight, not to the extend that we who are in Christ Jesus have.
Romans 3:19-20 (ESV) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
The veil remains over their hearts. They’ve rejected the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God and His finished work on the cross. But this isn’t just about the Jews who rejected Jesus. This is about all who have rejected God. For before Jesus arrived, the only glory on earth, the only hope of salvation was Israel, which means all others were lost. Notice, Paul says that the whole world may be held accountable to God. But now that Christ has come, the former glory of the Law is no more in light of the Permanent and Greater Glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are several passages the speak to the growing and learning and coming to fullness of Christ who is the Head of His Church. This isn’t what Paul is conveying here when he summarizes this picture of 2 covenants and how we are being transformed from one degree of glory (the Law) to another (the fullness of the Gospel). Until the day of our resurrection in Christ, we don’t graduate from denying our selves, taking up our crosses daily, our sins being mortified in the flesh by Faith in repentance and being forgiven and made righteous in God’s sight by faith in our risen savior, Jesus Christ. When Christ returns, we’ll finally be rid of this body of death and will see what for now we must hope for by faith in Christ. To suggest, that there would be any interim greater glories is to undermine what Paul is teaching in this letter to the Corinthians.
32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,