“…unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 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.” 2 Cor. 3:13-18
How can these veils be removed? The answer is clearly stated by Paul in the Scripture passage we are considering:
Only in Christ is the veil taken away! And as the apostle goes on to tell us, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (v. 17). Here is our first real key in moving from the old covenant to the new. The key is the Spirit. Some may be confused by Paul’s word that only through Christ can the veil be taken away. They may wonder, “Are we to turn to the Spirit or to Christ to have the veil removed?” The answer, of course, is that it makes no difference.
In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is frequently called the Spirit of Christ. It is His divine task and joy to enter the life of those who believe in Jesus and continually unleash in them the very life of Jesus himself. Thus, to turn to the Spirit is also to turn to Christ. It is by means of the Spirit that we turn to Christ.
We must further see that in practical terms “to turn to the Spirit” means to have faith in the promise of the Spirit, to trust the word of God. It is to expect the Spirit to act in line with what He has said He will do. Specifically, the promise is to apply to our practical, daily lives the full value of both the death and the resurrection of Jesus. His death has cut us off from our old, natural life, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:6–“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
When we agree with this word concerning the specific form of pride we are at the moment experiencing (that is, the particular veil we are hiding behind), we are immediately freed by the Spirit from its control. We have called the veil what God calls it, which is usually also what we call it when we find it in someone else. It can no longer be excused or justified–we repudiate it, and the fleeting pleasure it offers us. That is what it means to turn to the Spirit. As Paul describes it, “. . . if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13, emphasis added). Remember, we turn to the Lord, the veil is removed–and the Lord is the Spirit.
The second function of the Spirit is to make real to us in practical terms the resurrection of Jesus, as well as His death. This is the second part of “turning to the Lord.” The first act of the Spirit ends the reign of the old life over us. The second act releases to us the resurrected life of Jesus. That is what the Scripture calls freedom. “Now the Lord is the Spirit,” says verse 17, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
When by faith in that promise we have turned from the flesh with its lying promise of success and have trusted in the Lord Jesus, dwelling within us by His Spirit, to be ready to work the moment we choose to act, we have in very practical terms passed from the old covenant to the new. Nothing coming from us, everything coming from God! That is freedom!
The apostle goes on to describe this freedom in glorious terms: “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” (2 Corinthians 2:18). Note the term unveiled faces. By faith in the promise of God (that is, by the Spirit) we have ceased to look at the face of Moses and are now beholding with full vision “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The veil is removed. Moses and the law are gone; only Jesus Christ fills the horizon of our life–for that precise moment. It is altogether possible that a minute or two later we may, like Peter walking on the water, take our eyes off the face of Jesus and begin to look once again at our circumstances and our limited resources. At that moment, of course, Moses and the law return. The temptation to do this is not the act, and we can find our faith sorely tested while still having it fixed upon the face of Jesus. But when we succumb to these pressures and begin to trust ourselves or others, we are back in the old covenant, wearing a veil over our faces, and must repeat the whole process for deliverance.
But let us not despair or feel condemned when this happens. Remember that God has already made full provision for failure in learning to live by the Spirit. He anticipates our struggles and our defeats and only expects us to recognize them as well and return immediately to the principle of the new covenant. God is not angry with us or upset because we have fallen. We are angry at ourselves, perhaps, but that only shows us more fully how much we were expecting something to come from us. We need but to thank God for letting us see what we were unwittingly trusting in and then resume our confidence that Jesus is at work in us as we take up the task at hand again.
This continual return to beholding the glory of the Lord is doing something to us, says Paul. More and more areas of our conscious experience (our soul) are coming under the full control of the Spirit, and we are therefore reflecting an increasing likeness to Jesus; we are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another. This is what we often call “Christian growth” or “growing in grace.” Because of constant practice of the principle of the new covenant, it is increasingly easy to keep the eyes of the heart fixed on the face of Jesus.
Gradually it feels more and more “natural” to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The writer of Hebrews speaks of those “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). It is still possible, under sufficient provocation or allurement, to act in the flesh in any given relationship of life, but it is increasingly unlikely, for the heart is being “strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9).
Though this gracious effect is occurring in certain areas of the conscious life, it has not yet conquered all the areas in which we live. “Glory,” the glory of the life of Jesus, is becoming dominant in some areas, but in others the flesh still reigns triumphant and must be attacked and subdued by the Spirit so that another degree of glory may become evident. What is happening has often been pictured as a throne room in the heart, where at first Ego (symbolized by the letter E) is seated upon the throne, and Christ (symbolized by the cross) is waiting to be given his rightful place of rule, as in the illustration below.
When the human will (the throne) is submitted to the authority of Christ, the Ego is cast off the throne and Christ rules as Lord in the heart, as illustrated below:
These diagrams have been helpful to many, but are inadequate, for they represent the human heart as a single entity and the will as a single factor governing the whole of the inner life at one time. I believe it is more accurate to recognize the word heart, commonly employed in Scripture, as referring to the soul and spirit combined, as below:
The Spirit of God Penetrates the Human Spirit: Ego is Dethroned
The shaded area is the “HEART” or SOUL (mind, will, emotions)
Note in this illustration that at the conversion of the individual, the Spirit of God penetrates the human spirit, dethrones the Ego (or the flesh), and replaces it with the Cross, depicting the life of Jesus. But that is only within the human spirit. The soul is still under the control of the flesh and remains so until the Spirit successively invades each area or relationship and establishes the Lordship of Jesus within. This is important to understand: There is a throne in every area of the human soul! The question of Lordship is fought out anew in each area, as indicated in the illustration below:
The Holy Spirit Invades and Establishes Areas of the Soul
† = The Lordship of Christ
E = Ego, or Flesh, in Control
This would explain why it is possible for an individual Christian to be in the Spirit one moment and in the flesh the next. A good biblical example of this is in Matthew 16:16 where Peter confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To this, Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” It is clear here that Peter spoke in the Spirit when he made his confession of the identity of Jesus.
However, in verse 22 of the same account, Peter actually rebukes Jesus for suggesting that he will be crucified and resurrected again. To this rebuke Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Here Peter speaks from the flesh in ignorant opposition to the will and purpose of God.
It is evident that when it was a question of Peter’s rational acceptance or rejection of the identity of Jesus, the Spirit had already successfully enthroned Jesus as Lord in that area of Peter’s life. But when it came to the matter of Peter’s involvement with the program of crucifixion and resurrection which that identity made necessary, the flesh was still very much on the throne and Jesus was not yet Lord of that area. But that was all in the realm of Peter’s soul (his conscious experience). In his human spirit, Jesus was Lord and had been ever since Peter responded to Jesus’ call and entered into life.
It is quite possible then, for you habitually to walk in the Spirit in one area of life–say, your relations with Christian brothers and sisters–but perhaps the moment you are involved with a member of your immediate family, you enter an area where the flesh is still unconquered and speech and attitudes are fleshly instead of Spirit-governed. This frequently happens with young Christians. From His vantage point in your human spirit, the Spirit of God exerts steady and unyielding pressure upon the area of family relationships, often precipitating several crises, until the will submits in that area and Jesus is enthroned as Lord there too. Thus another degree of likeness to Christ is achieved and another degree of glory manifested.
Perhaps it is the sex life which holds out against the control of the Spirit. Or it may be the vocational life. Many a businessman has learned to live in the Spirit on Sundays, but on Monday morning when he steps across the threshold of his office, he says, in effect, “Here I am in control. I have been trained to handle affairs here, and I don’t need God’s help. I know what is expected of me and I can handle things on my own.” That, of course, is the old covenant in its purest form, and such a procedure will guarantee the presence in that businessman of many forms of death: depression, boredom, resentment, anxiety, tension, and so on.
Since we can live only in one area of relationships of our life at any given moment, it is evident that we can be in a Spirit-controlled area one moment and in a flesh-dominated area the next. This is why we can be a great person to live with one minute (delightful, because we are in the Spirit) and then a moment later some old habit pattern of the flesh reasserts itself and we are right back in our old covenant behavior–harsh, nasty, or cruel. When we become aware of those feelings within, we know we will lose our Christian reputation if they are allowed to show, so we snatch an evangelical veil and hide the fading glory.
But how encouraging to know that the Spirit will never give up the battle. He seeks in a thousand ways to invade each separate relationship of the soul, and gradually He is doing so–sometimes faster, as we yield to Him; sometimes very slowly, as we resist and cling to our veils. The more we work and live with the face of Jesus clearly in view, the more quickly we find each area of our life being changed into His likeness. We cannot do that work. It is, as Paul says, all “from the Lord who is the Spirit.” He will never cease the work He has begun.