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“God’s Inner Spa Treatment”

Feb.10/13 Ex.34:29-35; 2Cor.3:12-18, 4:6


About a hundred years ago, between 1913 and 1935, a new philosophy arose in the United States called Humanism. Christianity, based on the teachings of the Bible, had held that there were certain absolutes - that God existed, He was good, that evil was real. Humanism evicted God and put humans on the throne, making us the judge of all truth. Evolution spurned the thought of purposeful creation and suggested we’re just accidental products of randomness and huge amounts of time. People began to pretend absolutes don’t exist. But this robbed them of definite meaning and led logically to despair. (For more detail watch the later episodes of Francis Schaeffer’s series on Youtube, How Should We Then Live?) A Harvard professor named Timothy McLeary in the 1960s recommended people try drugs in an attempt to bring some meaning within their own head - but debacles such as Woodstock and the fallout of addiction showed this was another dead-end.
    So there is a scramble in the secular world to try to find some meaning and purpose in life – but without absolutes, without a willingness to make oneself accountable to a Supreme Being, as long as we insist that we ourselves are the ultimate source and measure of all meaning, knowledge, and value – we discover we’re existentially bankrupt. We can’t come up with meaningful meaning. “What’s the point?” “Who cares?” some might say. Life has no absolute external reference points to give it uniformally-acknowledged value. As a review of Schaeffer’s book The God who is There puts it, “whether art, music, philosophy, the public came to understand that what they face is alienation, corruption, lostness, chance, randomness.” Despair. Or, to use a term with French roots, there’s what we call “ennui” - “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom;” “a feeling of listlessness and general dissatisfaction...” So, secular folk do their best to escape into entertainment or vacations or substance usage that hopefully doesn’t end in catastrophic addiction. Anything to numb the pain, the hurt, the boredom, our unfilled love-tanks. But there’s an undercurrent, a gnawing feeling perhaps fed by what remains of conscience that whispers, “There’s got to be more than this!” Even in church life.
    Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. The Gospels record that 3 disciples witnessed Jesus being physically transfigured, He underwent a metamorphosis so His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light, as he spoke with Moses and Elijah (Mt 17:1ff). That mountaintop’s a long way away; that story seems a bit hard to relate to, it’s a long way from our grimy everyday run-of-the-mill existence. But the apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians insists there’s a direct connection between that event and believers’ lives. 2Cor 3:18 “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.” Paul uses the same Greek word for “transformed” which the Gospel-writers used for “transfigured”! Is this what God means for us to experience ourselves? Why is my life so dull, boring, and mundane if Jesus is seeking to share that with me?


Paul piques our interest by three word-pictures (parables, metaphors, comparisons if you will) in chapters 2 and 3 that suggest we should have something inside that is appealing to those who don’t know God. The Lord wants to use us to tell others, He wants us to stand out in a noticeable way that will attract others’ attention. The first metaphor is PLEASING PERFUME. 2Cor 2:14 God “through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” V15 “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” V16 we are “the fragrance of life”; NLT a “life-giving perfume”. Can you recall the last time someone walked by and a waft of pleasing perfume caught your attention? That’s something like the way Christians should be catching the attention of others – not by our smell, but by our “sell” - our Gospel or “good spiel”, loving words and actions. Instead of “smelling like roses” we can be “smelling like Jesus”, the “aroma of Christ”.
    A second comparison Paul uses is that of a letter. A personal letter. If your physical mailbox gets stuffed like mine, snail-mail no longer has much thrill because it’s usually bills or solicitations. My email inbox gets so much impersonal mail that it’s often tedious to look through as well. At this point it’s when someone sends me a personal message on Facebook my curiosity is most aroused – spammers haven’t found that avenue yet! In that sense, the Lord seeks to “PM” other people through us.
    3:2 “You yourselves are our letter...known and read by everyone.” V3 “You show that you are a letter from Christ...written...with the Spirit of the living God...on tablets of human hearts.” It’s been said, “You may be the only gospel some people will ever read!” You know, we talk about the Gospel of Matthew, of Mark, etc - God’s Spirit is still writing the “Gospel of Susan” or chapter 9 in the “Gospel of Rick”. What is the letter of your life communicating to readers about the Lord?
    Paul’s third analogy is that of a mirror, or if he were writing today, maybe a car headlight! 3:18 “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.” The Greek for “reflect” literally comes from “mirror” - although the polished-metal mirrors used back then would be inferior to our mirrors today. Set that verse beside 4:6, “For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Light shining in our hearts; mirrors reflecting the Lord’s glory – sounds like a car headlight to me! What others see is not the actual bulb directly but its light reflected off the parabolic shiny surface. Your caring phone call, your helping hand, that expenditure for a thoughtful gift, the time you took to just show up – all these things are ways we “mirror” God’s goodness, allowing Him to shine into others’ lives.
    Robinson comments, “Miners carry a lamp on the forehead, Christians carry one in their hearts lit by the Spirit of God.”


By the time 2Corinthians was written, there were false teachers going around casting doubt on the validity of Paul’s ministry; the “circumcision party” or Judaizers tried to convince Gentile converts they needed to be circumcised and start following Jewish traditions if they really wanted to be holy. As Paul explained in more detail in his letter to the Galatians, this would have been a huge step backwards. In the latter part of 2Cor 3 Paul contrasts the limitations of the old covenant with the dramatic truths of the new covenant, the “ministry of the Spirit”, in a way that should ignite our fervour and help us appreciate afresh what God has done for us, so we want to share it. It’s a helpful exercise to draw a line down a page and draw a table contrasting the old and the new. I see two main categories, the essence and the effect.
    First, the “essence” of the covenants - factors that describe their inherent differences. EXTERNAL vs INTERNAL: v3 the old covenant at Sinai was carved “on tablets of stone”; the new deal is written “with the Spirit of the living God...on tablets of human hearts.” There are echoes throughout this section of Jeremiah’s prophecy about a “new covenant”; here, 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” External vs internal, God wants to do an “inside job” on us, a complete interior renovation project.
    DRY vs DYNAMIC: v6 says the old covenant was “of the letter” whereas the new covenant is “of the Spirit.” Letters and papers and books are great but they can’t MAKE you do one thing differently. If theology just stays a study of books, your spirituality is very dry; we need the Holy Spirit quickening our spirit dynamically.
    DIM vs SUPERIOR: Paul’s not saying the Torah or Jewish laws were bad; in Romans 7 he admits they were holy, righteous, good, and spiritual. But the principles only went so far. They were given at Sinai in glorious fashion but the glory on Moses’ face faded. V7 that ministry “came with glory” but was “fading”; v11 “what was fading away came with glory”, v10 “what was glorious has no glory now in comparison...” By contrast, the New Covenant is superior: v8 “even more glorious”, v9 “how much more glorious”, v10 “surpassing glory”, v11 “how much greater is the glory”.
    Another essential difference: REDUNDANT vs REMAINING AND RELEVANT. V11 the old covenant is “fading away” / NLT “has been set aside”; however the New Covenant v11 is “that which lasts” / remains forever. The old one is now outmoded post-Pentecost.
    Even more interesting than the ESSENCE of the covenants is their EFFECT on people. DEADLY vs ENLIVENING: v6 “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” In Romans Paul spells out in more detail how sin inside us seized its opportunity through the law, starting to covet when commanded not to covet, so sin perverted the law into become an accomplice to our spiritual death. By contrast, the Holy Spirit makes us alive, gives us new birth spiritually-speaking when we trust in Jesus, producing in our lives the fruit of love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22f). A question for personal reflection here: “Does my faith look alive?” Are you just going through the motions, stuck in a routine? Is reading the Bible and church attendance mechanical for you? Do you cultivate spiritual interests by your reading or do you just plug in to the umbilical cord of the world when you have spare time? DEADLY VS ENLIVENING.
    Effect 2, SHAMING VS SAVING. V9 “If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” NLT the old covenant “brings condemnation”, the new one “makes us right with God”. The law kept score, identified trespasses, like that cribbage peg-board - you knew what you’d done wrong. But Jesus in the New Covenant actually did what no one else could do, laid down His pure innocent life in our stead so we could be forgiven, our guilt expunged, our shame washed away, making us fit for communion with a holy God.Hallelujah! Jer 31:34, “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.” Question for reflection: “Do I act like I’m condemned OR connected?” Jesus saves! Stop wallowing in the shame of sin from which He’s delivered you.
    Effect 3, HIDING VS ENCOURAGING. V13 “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.” He hid his face because the glory didn’t last. But for the believer in Christ, v12, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” Paul uses a Greek term here related to courage; not just bold, but “very bold”! Question: “Do I try to hide my faith or boldly share Jesus?”
    Effect 4: OBSCURING VS SHOWING. Under the old covenant, in v14 Paul describes the Jews’ minds as being “made dull” or hardened; a veil covers their minds; v15 a veil covers their hearts. Whereas when a person believes in Christ the veil is “taken away”; v16 “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” V18 with unveiled faces we “all reflect the Lord’s glory” and are being transformed / transfigured / metamorphed into His likeness “with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” NLT we are mirrors brightly reflecting the Lord’s glory, become more and more like Him, and reflect His glory even more. When other people look at us, they will see a resemblance to Jesus - not long hair or beard but sacrificial love-in-action. Are you an “icon” of Jesus? In the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy, “I will be their God and they will be My people.” Question for reflection: “Are people seeing Jesus in me? How so?”
    And a last Effect, #5: FREEDOM. V17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The Spirit ‘quickens’ or makes alive our spiritual inner being; the Spirit also beckons us to keep in step with Him, follow His dance-moves as it were. Not in bondage or enslavement to sin; we’re freed from our “hurts, habits, and hang-ups”. Jeremiah 31(34b) “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” How free are you? Have you quenched or grieved or somehow resisted the Spirit’s influence in your life? Maybe ask yourself this question: “Does my religion come across as DUTY or DELIGHT?” The Spirit makes us WANT to please the Lord out of love for Him - it’s entirely different from an attitude of rule-keeping or checking off do’s and don’ts. The Lord has so much more for us to mature in as we listen to His living voice.


The Mission to Haiti team shared much of their experience on their blog. It was touching to see the photos of the orphans and villagers, and hundreds of children being nurtured spiritually by VBS and physically by beans and rice. But God was also working in the lives of those who went. There were tears in the medical clinic when lack of resources limited options for critically ill patients. There were more hugs and tears of a happier sort when families were welcomed into sturdy new concrete-and-steel-roof homes. One man I know was described as having his face “crumple” with emotion. Ezekiel prophesied of the New Covenant, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek 36:26) May the Lord bless and lead you into a fuller experience of His New Covenant, one that allows your heart to “crumple” rather than be stony. Let’s pray.