Committed to Christlikeness (2 Cor. 3:16-18)

Approximately 28 minutes (Text below)

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 prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing 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. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplatethe Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

We are thinking our way through Lockwood’s vision statement, which is: Committed: to Christ, to Christlikeness, to each other, and to the world. Last week we looked at the commitment to Christ, which is the fountainhead from which the other three commitments flow.

When a person commits to Christ, the commitment to Christlikeness follows naturally. It is the primary way the commitment to Christ is expressed. Many people, if asked, will say that they have committed themselves to Christ, but far fewer will say that they have committed themselves to becoming like Christ. Yet, this is what committing to Christ looks like.

I trust that many of you have made some kind of commitment to Christ. You have prayed a prayer, accepted Jesus into your heart, been baptized. Many of you can tell me when you did so, but if I asked you whether you had committed yourself to Christlikeness, you wouldn’t be so sure. You might say, “Well sure, I guess so.” I hope by the end of this message, you will have made an intentional decision, a firm commitment to become Christlike. You’ll have no lasting satisfaction apart from becoming Christlike.

If you come to me wanting to know how to be at peace, or to forgive, or experience joy, or overcome anxiety and temptation – the things people come to pastors for – I will tell you: “Become Christlike.” And after you’ve jotted that down and said, “OK. What else?” I will say, “There is nothing else. Your fulfillment in the Christian life – in the human life – depends on you becoming Christlike.

That’s not what people want to hear. They want a technique. They want a formula – something they can turn to when things aren’t going well and ignore when they are. But that is not how it works. Your hope for fulfillment in life and for tranquility in death depends on you becoming Christlike.

When I was finishing out my time at college – studying the Bible, preparing to be a full-time Christian worker – it became clear to me that I was missing something. I knew that I had believed on the Lord Jesus and that God had forgiven me. Somethingreally had happened when I prayed to receive Christ. I had taken Jesus as my savior … but I had not taken Jesus as my life. My commitment to him only extended to getting into heaven, not to getting heaven into me.

I was unhappy, as half-committed Christians always are. I had made a commitment – uninformed and incomplete – to Christ, but not to Christlikeness. I wanted to get into heaven, but I had not even thought about getting heaven into me. That was for saints and not for ordinary people – and I was as ordinary as they come.

But my reading of Scripture (especially the Letter to the Romans), and my exposure to some real-deal Christians was opening my mind to possibilities I had not considered. I was coming to realize that a commitment to Christ might be about more than getting into heaven. In committing to Jesus, I was committing to a life and not just a destination. The light was dawning on me – I was seeing it everywhere in Scripture – that saving me and changing me were two sides of one coin. 

Long ago I made a commitment to become Christlike. I am determined to be Christlike. I take steps to be Christlike. I know that my happiness depends on it.

So does yours. Half-committed people are unhappy people. They blame their problems on others, on circumstances, on their genetics—but finding the cause of your problems will not lift you above them, only root you in them. I am not implying that your problems will go away if you commit to Christlikeness. Who knows? They may increase. But you, whether in the midst of problems or pleasures, will be increasingly satisfied. You will come to be glad that you are you and will know it is because you are his. And you will have “have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).

Now, perhaps the idea of committing to Christlikeness has never seriously occurred to you. You’ve just assumed that becoming Christlike happens without any effort on your part. That has not been my experience nor is it the teaching of Scripture, which is full of exhortations to “do your best,” to “strive,” to “make every effort,” to “be all the more eager,” and so on. The Bible uses the language of commitment.

I am asking you today to make a definite decision to cooperate with God’s Spirit by taking the steps he shows you to becoming Christlike. Your satisfaction with yourself and, frankly, with God himself, depends on it. The richness of your relationships with others flows from it.

Taking steps to become like Christ? What steps? We will talk a little about the steps this morning, but it is important to understand that the biggest problem Christians face is not ignorance of the steps but a failure to get on the path. To those who decide and intend to become Christlike, God will reveal the steps. Today, I want to encourage us to step onto the path to Christlikeness.

Our text is 2 Corinthians 3:12-18. This passage contains a running allusion to an Old Testament story that Paul’s readers knew. In that story, which can be found in Exodus 34, Moses had returned to the Israelite camp after meeting with God on Mount Sinai, and his face was shining – light seemed to emanate from it. The people – including his own brother – were at first afraid of him.

After that, Moses adopted the practice of wearing a veil over his face. He would take it off when he entered the presence of the Lord or when he addressed the people, but otherwise he wore it. Paul tells us that the radiance of his face would fade between his meetings with God, and that he didn’t want the people to see that.

Paul plays off of the idea of the veil to say that Jewish people have a veil over their minds and hearts that keeps them from seeing the truth about Christ in their own Scriptures (verse 13). “A veil,” verse 15, “covers their hearts” when the Bible is read.

The word translated “veil” is the noun form of a verb that means, “to conceal.” When Moses put on the veil, he did it to conceal his face from others. But there are two sides to a veil: it not only conceals a person’s face; it also obstructs a person’s vision.

Paul says that when a person turns to the Lord – he is thinking of Moses going into the presence of the Lord in the tent of meeting– the veil is lifted, as was Moses’s veil whenever he entered God’s presence. There is a richness of imagery here we don’t want to miss.

Things happen to us as we go to God that do not happen at any other time. When we go to God, things open up to us – we see and understand them – that remain closed to us otherwise. The psalmist writes of God, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). What C. S. Lewis said about Christianity is true of God himself: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”[1] When we are with God, things light up that we would otherwise not see at all.

But there is something else here. Each time Moses went to God, the veil was removed. Likewise, when “anyone turns to the Lord” (v. 16), the veil is removed. This not only means that they can see what they could not see before, but also that they can be seen as they could not be seen before. Remember the veil is something that conceals. It hides us and we hide behind it. 

It is only in the presence of God that we can truly be – or become, for we are in a continual state of becoming – ourselves. Remember what happened right after our father Adam sinned?  He and Mother Eve hid. And their descendants have been hiding ever since. We hide behind our veils – our masks – of professionalism, intellectualism, apathy, nonchalance, hostility, friendliness, hardness, hipness, whatever. But we only become ourselves when we take the mask – the veil – off.

God, David said, desires truth in the inner parts (Psalm 51:6). That is not because he is afraid that he cannot trust us. He knows us through and through – and he is not afraid of a thing. He desires truth in the inner parts because truth is the medium through which he creates the masterpiece of Christlikeness. As long as we are hiding, we are not changing. We cannot become ourselves behind the veil.

We’re talking for these weeks about commitment, our commitment to Christ, to Christlikeness, to each other, and to the world. But it is important to understand that our commitment is secondary. Our commitment is a reaction to God’s action, a response to his stimulus. Our commitment to Christlikeness means something only possible because of God’s commitment to conform those he foreknew to the image of his Son. God is committed to transforming many people into Christlikeness.

When we hide behind a carefully woven veil, God will not change us, for truth is the medium in which he works. What he will do is arrange our circumstances – his workshop – so that we have no choice but to become truthful. Remember: he is committed to transforming you into Christlikeness.

When the veil is taken away (v. 16) change begins to happen. When, like Moses, we enter the presence of the Lord (which for us means the presence of the Spirit), we experience freedom (v. 17). This is where real freedom exists.

Some people misuse this statement of Paul’s by suggesting that the freedom is freedom to do whatever they want. “In the Spirit,” they say, “I am free from the Law,” by which they really mean they are free from morality itself. In the name of God’s Spirit, they justify behaviors that dishonor God. But Christian freedom never means freedom from Christlikeness.

It is those who are being transformed into Christlikeness – those who are becoming themselves – who experience this freedom. Many a slave has had this freedom and has been freer than his master. This is not a freedom to sin but a freedom from sin. God wants us to be free. Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

What is this freedom like? This is a very imperfect illustration, but it might point us in the right direction. There are times when people from different walks of life – scientists, musicians, athletes, preachers, dancers, and others – experience moments of extraordinary freedom. Some call it “being in the zone.” One psychiatrist calls it experiencing “flow.” When a scientist is in the flow, she sees the reality – can feel it, taste it – even before the experiments are complete. The NBA player knows the ball is going in when he cannot even see the basket. The dancer achieves a grace that is stunningly beautiful. The musician can do things on his instrument than even he did not know were possible.

One consistent trait of this freedom is that people experiencing it forget about themselves. They stop (sometimes for the first time in their lives) worrying what others think about them. They are “free.” Something like that, only excelling it as the sun excels the pendant light in the dining room, awaits the person who becomes Christlike. When Christ returns, the drag force of sin and pride will be forever gone, but it will diminish even before that as we become like Christ. But this only happens in his presence: “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

But how does it happen? What means does God use to conform people to the image of his Son? Look at verse 18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory (instead of “reflect,” the NIV 2011 says, “contemplate,” but more literal still is the NASB’s, “looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord”) are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” It is as we look at him that we are changed.

Of course, that is how it works! Remember what we saw last week in 1 John 3? (And if you didn’t catch that message, that is the place to start. You can find it at www.lockwoodchurch.org/media. )  John wrote, “…when Christ appears, we shall be like him…”  But why shall we be like him when he appears? “…because we shall see him as he is.” Seeing him is what changes us. That will happen in a decisive and definitive way when Christ appears. But even now we are “being transformed into his likeness” gradually – it is “with ever-increasing glory – as we look at the glory of the Lord.

The mechanism of our transformation is seeing Christ. When faith becomes sight and we see him “face to face,” we will be changed forever, and that change will be nothing less than glorification. But God intends that change to begin even now.

The psalmist wrote, “Those who look to him are radiant” (Psalm 34:5). Moses, because he saw the glory of the Lord, was transfigured and his face shone. He was fearless because he “saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). The mechanism of transformation is seeing Christ, which we may do even now, “though as in a mirror,” through the eyes of faith.

No wonder Stephen, who looked up and saw the glory of God and (or as it could be translated, even) Jesus, had a faced that shone like an angel’s. Remember too what Jesus said: “…everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). The Psalmist rejoiced, “I will see your face; when I awake” (after death?), “I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

Are you looking at (or as the author of Hebrews put it, “looking unto”) Jesus? I know there are so many other things to focus on: your appearance, your feelings, your money, your failures, your to-do list, and your to-buy list. But looking at those things will not transform you into Christlikeness. You won’t look at them and “be satisfied.”

Get into the habit of looking to Jesus. One practice that helps – it has been central in my life – is a daily time for reading, thinking about, and praying over Scripture, for one sure place to see Jesus is in the Bible. For years, I have included a reading from the Gospels daily so that I would always be seeing and thinking about Jesus.

But while it is good and hugely helpful to search the Scriptures in order to see Christ, there is something more, something beautiful. Under the right circumstances, he will show himself to us. Jesus promised his disciples: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). And when he does, we are changed.

If you want to see Jesus, do what he says, and he’ll show himself to you! This is why obedience to Jesus is the fundamental means to spiritual transformation; there is no substitute for it. When we obey Jesus’s commands, he shows himself to us, and we are changed.


[1] C.S. Lewis, “They Asked For A Paper,” in Is Theology Poetry? (London: Geoffrey Bless, 1962), 164-165

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About salooper57

Husband, father, pastor, follower. I am a disciple of Jesus, learning how to do life from him. I read, write, walk, play a little guitar, enjoy my family.
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