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.
Prayer: Father in heaven, let those of us who know Christ set are minds on things that are above. Let us put an end to areas of sin. May we be a people who love you and who’s first desire is to know you better. Pray that your grace can be communicated to all of us. Remind us of the great forgiveness which you offer to all people. Let us approach you this day. In Jesus’ name, amen.
When I was in college, I had this pair of jeans that I loved. Every time, I put these jeans on, magic was in the air. Every time I put these jeans on, you could almost hear the angels sinning.
Every time I put these jeans on, I looked so good, that the girls on campus were too intimidated to even talk to me. Having such a perfectly good fitting pair of jeans was a joy that most people have never even known. But over time, the jeans began to develop a hole in them. At first, I ignored the hole. But eventually the hole got worse and worse until I eventually had to make the hardest decision I had ever had to make. What do I do with these jeans? I didn’t want to throw them away. So I thought about it. And then I got the idea to use safety pins to try to pin the hole shut. But I wanted to do a good job. So I used like a lot of safety pins. Pinned the jeans closed. Put them on. I thought “I am so smart.” Later that evening, I was going to an event and a friend came to pickle up. I sat down in the car. And the moment I sat down, ripped right open. We were still waiting on someone else to get to the car so I had a moment to think. Options were running through my head. I’m thinking “can I go like this? I can’t go like this.”
So I get out of the car and start walking back to my fraternity house. But as I’m walking, I’m getting poked by the safety pins. And no matter what I do, as I’m walking, I’m getting poked. It kind of felt like, imagine that you’re walking with a porcupine between your legs that’s attacking you. I tell you that story for this reason. You can have something that you really love, but that you need to let go of. Because holding onto it will cause you a lot of pain.
We’re continuing our series: the Forensics of Faith this morning.
Last week, we talked about regeneration. That’s being born again. It’s God giving us new Spiritual life. This week, we talk about sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy once someone has come to faith.
Regeneration happens once. Sanctification happens throughout life. When we are regenerated, we are given a new Spiritual disposition and volition to follow God. Sanctification is a lifetime of fruit of that work of regeneration.
Sanctification must be accompanied by regeneration. Because we cannot be sanctified without the means of the Spirit and we don’t have the Spirit without the new life which is found in Christ.
And the main idea from our text this morning is that God makes the unholy holy.
And we have two points today: who is sanctified and how we are sanctified.
I. First, Who is sanctified.
The text says: And we all, who with unveiled faces
I think that it helps to give some background. When Paul talks about our faces being unveiled. It’s referring to Exodus 34. In that chapter, Moses is given commands from God and Moses is in the presence of the Lord. As a result of this experience, Moses’ face becomes illuminated.
Moses’ face is radiantly glowing and the Israelites are afraid of this. You might be thinking “that’s crazy, I wouldn’t be afraid.” Yeah ya would. Half of us can’t handle seeing a spider, I’m pretty sure a man with a glowing radiant face would be a bit disconcerting.
So Moses would put the veil to preach to the people but when he was finished preaching, he would put the veil back on.
But the text in Exodus also tells us that when Moses would go to speak to the Lord, he would take the veil off. And so our verse this morning is saying that all believers are now able to approach God as Moses did, with unveiled faces. 2 Corinthians 3:16 says that when a person turns to God, the veil is removed.
We have the great benefit of all being able to approach the Lord. We have that privilege because of the work of Christ.
God grants us access to himself. God isn’t distant from us.
If you’re a private in the military and you need to talk to someone, you don’t go directly to the general. You follow the chain of command.
If you work for a large company and have an issue, you don’t go directly to the CEO, you go to your supervisor. There’s a chain of command.
God isn’t distant. He’s not too busy with other things. We have access to him. Something that is so utterly profound and wondrous that we oftentimes don’t even stop to question what a glorious privilege that is.
We don’t have this great wall of separation between us and God, because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus has enabled us to enter the presence of the Lord.
It’s true of all Christians and it is only true of Christians. Because we are sanctified through the Holy Spirit. It is given to all who have faith in the gospel. Which is why I make this point often. But a true and sincere faith necessarily results in a changed life. Because it’s not us who are making ourselves Holy. It’s the Holy Spirit who is making us holy.
II. How we are sanctified
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.
That’s profound. We who contemplate the glory of the Lord, who behold the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image.
The means through which the Lord sanctifies us are the pillars of Christianity that I talk about so often. God sanctifies us through knowing his Word.
2 Timothy 3:16 says All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
To know God’s word is to begin to know God. To know how he has revealed himself. To know what the Bible says about God, what it says about us, and what is says about his salvation in our lives. Without the Word, we are just guessing and inventing our own theology and our own God. But the Word points us to God and to truth.
Jesus prayed to God in John 17:17 “sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.”
We are sanctified by God by being connected and involved in our church and through fellowship.
Hebrews 10:24: let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
Real fellowship and community sanctifies us.
Proverbs 27:17: Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
And those are just a couple of examples. That list is not exhaustive.
A lot of the pillars of faith are the same means through which we grow and through which God sanctifies us. As well as things like prayer and service.
But the source of the sanctification is the Spirit. And it is through this daily focus and commitment to God that God sanctifies us.
Imagine how different life is for the person who is wholly devoted to these things. Not going through the motions, not doing things out of obligation, not making excuses to procrastinate with pursuing God, but sincere daily devotion to communion with the Almighty.
God does amazing things. He transforms. He sanctifies. He makes the unholy holy.
He’s working in the hearts of his people.
God had made man good. And humanity fell into sin. But through Jesus, who has redeemed everyone who trusts in him, God is doing a work of restoration.
Illustration – art
In 1505, the great Renaissance painter Raphael painted his Madonna del Cardellino which depicted Mary with the two babies: Jesus and John the Baptist.
Forty years later, an earthquake hit Florence and the masterpiece fell to the ground and was shattered into 17 pieces. In an effort to restore the painting, another artist used iron nails and tried to put the painting back together. He then used paint to try to cover up seams. Over yeas, other attempts were made. And other dust and debris accumulated on the painting.
In modern times, there was a new effort to restore the painting. Over ten years, 50 artists worked to restore the Madonna del Cardellino. They carefully got rid of added layers of paint. The restored the cracks and creases.
What had been a beautiful design had been tarnished. It was obscured. It was inglorious. But the skilled artist was able to restore the painting to its original vibrancy and luster. Was able to restore it to what it had always been intended to be.
That’s what God does in us as we are sanctified through His Spirit.
He sanctifies us differently though. He sanctifies us in different ways at different times.
When we place faith in Christ, while we are forgiven of all of our sins, that doesn’t mean all of those sins become immediately easily manageable.
In coming to faith, there might be things that quickly fall away, while other sins linger. You might become a Christian and know certain things are sinful while with other areas, it doesn’t even occur to you.
Maybe you’ve been walking with Jesus for a couple years and you just feel this tug at your heart from the Holy Spirit. Saying the language you use isn’t honoring to God. Or maybe you’ve heard multiple sermons that address the subject of giving, and you’ve never given it a second thought. And then one day, you feel moved to greater generosity.
Maybe you struggle with control issues. Always have. Never even thought of it as sin. It’s just been second nature to you for as long as you can remember. But maybe little by little, it becomes revealed to you that it’s an area where you need work.
Or maybe God is working on something else in your heart right now. Again, he sanctifies us differently.
One person might have a greater degree of sanctification in a certain area over someone else. Something that’s a sign of Christian maturity might come more naturally, while your struggle comes easier for the person sitting next to you.
Sometimes an area where God sanctifies us can be dramatic. Almost overnight. Maybe that happened when you first became a Christian with some things. Maybe you immediately realized that it was a sin.
Being more or less sanctified doesn’t mean a person is more or less saved or more or less right with God, because the entire process presupposes a person has faith, and it is that faith that saves. It is from God, so we must be aware that it is his work in us and not to use what God is doing as an excuse for boasting or pridefulness over someone who isn’t as far along on the journey.
It’s not that we are sanctifying ourselves, but we are enabled to participate in our own sanctification. How exactly that works contains an element of mystery. But an important part of that is obedience. Not obedience to trust in your salvation. But valuing the righteousness of God and saying yes to that.
Sanctification is never complete in us, this side of heaven. Heaven is a place without sin. And we will be fully sanctified in God’s presence. But between now and then, God is working in us. He is changing us. Where are the areas in your life right now where God is working?
What are the things that are holding you back? What are your jeans that you can’t bring yourself to throw away? Pursue God today. Pursue his will and his ways. Live for him. Again we don’t sanctify ourselves. But we do participate in our sanctification. And if there’s something in your life today where the Holy Spirit is convicting you. If there’s something in your heart that you know you shouldn’t be doing. I know it can sometimes be hard to throw those things away.
But God is always better. His gospel is always sweeter. And in turning from sin, it is meant for your own good and for your own joy.
I’ve given examples of means which God uses to sanctify us. But as we continue in this verse, I think that everything largely boils down to one thing.
We all, with unveiled faces, who contemplate the Lord’s glory.
We contemplate the Lord’s glory, we behold the Lord’s glory, we focus on the Lord’s glory. In all of these things that we do in order to pursue a relationship with God, there is to be a focus on God, a mindfulness of God, an acknowledgement of the Lord’s glory.
There is something wonderful about keeping our eyes on God.
It’s hard to have deep fellowship with the Lord, and to take great joy in him when we are actively engaging in sin.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Of course we are free to approach him when we sin. But that mentality to approach him assumes a desire to have a change in the heart. We can’t have a mind, completely focused on the glorious God of the universe in a moment when we are also willingly rebelling against his will.
It’s not him, it’s us. It’s not that he is unwilling to forgive or be gracious.
It’s so hard when we fall into a particularly bad area of sin in our lives. It can be difficult to want to turn to God in the midst of our struggles. Rather we want to hide from him. We sew fig leaves together and pretend he doesn’t see.
But continually contemplating God is transforming.
The word translated as “transform” in this passage is metamorph-oumetha, from which we get our word metamorphosis. I think that makes the idea more tangible. It’s a metamorphosis that’s happening. God is totally changing us.
We all learned about this in school with butterflies.
It starts out as an egg and then hatches.
The larva of a butterfly is a caterpillar and it grows.
Then it has the stage as a pupa where it’s in a chrysalis, which lasts several weeks, and in that span, the caterpillar is undergoing a dramatic change as it emerges as a butterfly.
That’s what happens to us when God comes into our lives. We totally change. You might be a caterpillar today, but God is making you a butterfly.
We’ve seen it in the lives of others. For those of us who are in Christ, we have experienced it in our own lives.
Maybe you can think of an area that you used to struggle with, and that now, isn’t something you even really think about or miss. The goodness of God in sanctifying us. In not keeping us the same.
We see people who are full of anger become soft. We see people who are selfish become servants, people who are apathetic become empathetic. People who walk in fear begin to walk in faith. The power of the gospel in transforming souls.
We see it in the Bible itself, amazing things happening in the lives of God’s people.
There is a transformation in the life of Paul, the author of our book this morning. He has been a persecutor of Christians but Jesus was dramatically revealed to him in the book of Acts.
Paul went on to be the greatest missionary who had ever lived, writing this book and 12 others in the New Testament.
Sanctification points us to the power of the gospel like few other things.
People who are dead in their sin are made new. First God saves us, and he frees us from the penalty of sin. And in. his. goodness, he is working a metamorphosis in our lives. The change isn’t a punishment; it’s an act of grace. We all have issues, and things we wished were different. God purges the things from our lives.
There’s this show I’ve seen before called Hoarders.
It’s a show about pack rats on steroids. They save everything.
Imagine sin being like that. We’ve got all this junk, but God is the master-organizer. Little by little, he’s taking things away. We’ve got so much excess, that sometimes he takes boxes away, and we don’t even notice it’s gone.
Say that you come to faith, and you have 20 things that are real issues for you. You swear like a sailor, you drink like a fish. You root for the Packers. But God chips away at our areas of sin.
You’re forgiven, but all of those struggles aren’t going to go away instantly. Over time, we are becoming more holy.
Often times, there is a lot of growth when we first come to faith. That can be a really exciting time. Or maybe there’s been another period where your relationship with God seemed more palpable. Maybe when one of your kids was born.
But it’s not the same now.
It doesn’t have to be like that forever. But it’s hard for that to improve out of nowhere. We need to focus on God. With unveiled faces, we need to contemplate the glory of God. Is there anything more important that you could think about than this?
You might casually think, “Well yeah, God is glorious, I get it, so what.”
He is the most glorious thing in the universe! He is the ruler and sustainer of the universe, the creator of the universe, of all things visible and invisible, the holy God. In every quality which can be ascribed to him, he possesses it in its superlative degree. He isn’t just a king, but the king of kings, not just a Lord but the Lord of Lords.
May we all have minds utterly enamored by the wonder of God.
Like I’ve said, God sanctifies us. We don’t transform ourselves, we don’t transform our own hearts. But in participating in our sanctification, we can actively pursue God.
Philippians 1:6 says, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”
God is sanctifying, he is working.
It ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it can be like we are going two steps forward and one step backward. But God is transforming us.
The text says that it is with ever increasing glory. The ESV translation says “from one degree of glory to another.” Literally it’s saying we are being transformed from glory to glory. God has transformed us into his glorious image to one point today, but it’ll be at another place in five years. It’ll be at another place in ten years.
We are being transformed into the image of Christ. We are being transformed into a greater resemblance of his character.
And the fact that we are progressively being changed into the likeness of God should give us hope. We aren’t where we will be, but we’re better than we were. It gives us the hope of what the gospel promises. Of the work that God will do in someone who is walking in faith.
It should give us hope that for areas where we have seen defeat throughout our lives, God is still at work, we are not done. The sculptor keeps chipping away at the hard block of stone to reveal a wondrous creation. Who you are now is not who you always have to be.
We undermine the power of the gospel when we think a person can’t change. People are being introduced to God everyday. Addictions are being broken everyday. Broken marriages are being reconciled everyday. Don’t forget the power of God and what he can do. Don’t forget what he has done in your life, what he can do in your life, and what he can do in the lives of others.
I’m a huge fan of the musical Les Miserables. I’ve always been struck by the relationship between Jean Valjean and Javert. Valjean, the protagonist, spends several years of his life in prison. Javert is a policemen. Valjean goes on to be an honest man, but Javert keeps recurring throughout his life. For Javert, despite the fact that Valjean is an honorable man, he is, and always will be, a criminal. He is so focused on what Valjean has done, that he is blind to the changes in his life.
But God transforms. Whatever it is you’re struggling with, God has pulled people up from greater darkness, from lower places.
We are being transformed with ever-increasing glory
The verse includes with Which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
We are sanctified by God the father through the Holy Spirit.
If you study the whole passage we’re in this morning: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul was referring back to Moses and the blessings from God during the time of Moses. But Paul is saying that this is a new era, this new covenant is even greater than what they had in the time of Moses. Now we have the Holy Spirit which has been given to the faithful. The Spirit enables us to understand God’s word, convicts of sin, equips us with various Spiritual gifts, and many other things.
It says that we are being transformed from the Lord, who is the Spirit. The point here is that the new covenant, after the time of Christ is being experienced in believers through the Spirit. We are sanctified by God the father, and also through the Holy Spirit.
The gospel is the power of God for our salvation.
As we close this morning, two stories of redemption come to mind.
John Newton was a debauchorous and hedonistic sailor in the 18th century. In his twenties, he was on a ship that was caught in the middle of a tremendous storm. It was a monumental event in his life and was a catalyst in the process of his finding faith.
But Newton went on to be a slave trader. Epilepsy took him away from sailing a few years later. He began to more fervently study God’s scriptures. He would go on to serve as a pastor in England for more than 40 years.
The fact that Newton had been a slave trader would become a source of regret in his life, and he became an avid abolitionist in England. He also wrote the most famous hymn ever penned in the English language, Amazing Grace.
A second story comes to mind:
Kelly Gissandaner was executed in Georgia in September of 2015. In 1997, while having an affair, Gissendaner convinced her boyfriend to murder her husband. On death row, Gissendaner found faith, took up the study of theology, and became a mentor and Spiritual role model to other women in the prison. She went from being a woman full of hatred to having a metamorphosis that can only come from God.
God can lift you up from whatever you’ve done. Anyone who comes to him in true faith, God forgives.
In the moments leading up to her death, as the drugs were being administered, Gissendaner could be heard singing those words of John Newton, “amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, yet now I see.”
The power of God in the gospels shows us Jesus healing lepers, feeding thousands, walking on water, and conquering death. It takes sinful people in their separation from God and makes them God’s people.
Surely it can take a hateful person and make them loving. Surely the gospel can take a criminal and make them remorseful. We must not think that a person is undeserving of grace. None of us truly deserves it. But no sin is so great, no person is so sinful that the cross of Christ is incapable of forgiving it.