A Fading Glory
Robert Wurtz II
For if that which fades away came through glory, how much more does that which is permanent have glory? Therefore, since we have such a hope, we speak very boldly, not like Moses, who kept covering his face with a veil to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of what was fading away. (2 Corinthians 3:11-13 ISV)
2 Corinthians 3 is a fascinating chapter where Paul is setting before the people the true evidence of the legitimacy of His calling and ministry. He tells the Corinthians in the first verses that they are his epistle (letter) of commendation. This is amazing. In the early churches of God it was sometimes necessary for a respected church leader (such as Paul or Priscilla and Aquilla) to write a “letter of commendation” to send with a person so that the churches and believers they visited would know they were legitimate. The Corinthian church knew all too well what this was, because one such letter had vouched for Apollos when he first arrived there (Acts 18:27). Paul begins this chapter by saying that when he came to them, he needed no such letter of commendation, because the believers themselves were the very proof that he was commissioned of God. The evidence of their changed life was clear for all people to see. Their behavior was as a living epistle before the eyes of all men. Paul was telling them that it was the grace that had been given to him by Christ that wrote that epistle (as it were) upon the fleshly tables of their hearts. It was this epistle in the heart that they were walking out in flesh and blood.
A heart of stone
Paul goes on in this chapter to contrast the ministry of the Old Covenant with that of the New Covenant. We learn elsewhere that the Law was spiritual, but unregenerate man is carnal and sold under sin. (Romans 7:14) The Old Covenant was tailor designed for the old Man, but the New Covenant would be tailored for the New Man (R. Bailey) Here, the heart of man comes front and center. It can do no other, because the heart of man is the central issue that must be dealt with before any lasting change can take place. Until the heart of a person is changed by God, all change is temporary. The hearts of men are found of God to be desperately wicked, and unknowable. Romans describes the hearts of men as uncircumcised, foolish, darkened (Romans 1:21, Acts 7:1-45), blind (Ephesians 4:18), obstinate, impenitent and hardened. (Romans 2:5) The word impenitent means unrepentant. Hebrews 3:10-12 describes people that see the proof of God, and yet they still refuse to believe, as having “an evil heart of unbelief that departs from the Living God.” Peter speaks of people that train their heart as would an athlete train his body, not in godliness, but in covetousness. (2 Peter 2:14) The Revelation tells of the heart that confidently boasts in its security as if it will never see sorrow. The time would fail to tell of Satan that set his heart as the heart of God, and the very people that followed in this attitude (compare Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:2-6, Isaiah 47:4-15).
The hopeless heart
“The heart is more deceitful than anything. It is incurable. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ISV)
Though God told Israel to make themselves a new heart, the use of means by man in the Old Testament to accomplish change was only of limited effectiveness and longevity. Man has a disease of heart that we know as sin. It is mortally sick and incurable. It constantly seeks to substitute the arm of the flesh for the living God. (Meyer) Its thoughts, intents and secrets are unknowable and must be discerned by the word of God (Hebrews 4:12) and the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 14:25) With all of this vileness and corruption it becomes plainly evident that man needs a new heart, given by God supernaturally. All unrepentant men and women are as Israel, that in a figure had hearts of stone such that only 10 Commandments could be chiseled out upon them. God desires to give men and women in this Gospel dispensation a new heart that are like fleshly tables where He can put His laws into them (Jeremiah 31:33). This law of God is the full expression of the living Word; that is, the person of Jesus Christ coded within the heart and manifest in the person’s behavior. If something is to proceed from the heart other than evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, etc. (Mark 7:21-23), God must replace it and write His personality into it. Amen.
A “change of heart”
The book of Acts tells us that God opened the heart of Lydia to listen carefully to Paul’s preaching as would a man open up a folding door (Acts 16:14). This is similar to when Jesus opened the mind of the disciples to understand the scriptures in Luke 24:45. There are times of visitation when God will open mens hearts to carefully hear and understand the Gospel. This is a crucial time.
As a younger believer I recall praying with a dear man for salvation. In my prayer I asked the Lord along this line to touch his heart and perhaps give him new heart. To my surprise, he opened his eyes and stopped me. “Don’t pray for my heart, I have a good heart!” he said. I was confounded by the thought. Here is a man that had a reputation for vile sin and rebellion against God and yet he somehow believed that deep down on the inside he really had a good heart and was a good person. I have given this experience much thought over the years. You see, many people think that they have a “good heart”, but as we have seen, this is not at all what scripture teaches. People use expressions like, “I have had a change of heart”, but this is not what God means by a new heart. Repentance is a change of mind upon a matter, but this is really only a first step. Man’s idea of a “change of heart” is more like a new years resolution. It is a superficial and shallow change compared to what God means. A new heart means exactly that, a new heart. This is not a rebuilt old heart, but a new heart.
Moses and the veil
Israel had a stoney heart as individuals and that reality was one of their primary problems. We have to keep these things well in our minds or we will not rightly understand what follows. Paul moves on to our opening passage in 2 Cor. 3:11 and gives an additional and insightful revelation about the workings of God in the life of Moses and Israel. You will know that Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days without food or water to get the commandments and to spend time before the face of the LORD. (Exodus 34:28-35) It was him and God. He was consumed with being with the Lord. Moses surely came to understand during these 40 days, as spoken of by our Lord, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that is proceeding from the mouth of God. For those 40 days Moses was dead to everything and everyone but God. What an amazing experience! When he came down from the mountain his face was shining with the residue of God’s glory as evidence that he had truly been with God. The people could see this as evidence that he was truly commissioned of God to lead them. Their reaction to his radiant face was fear. They had seen the gods of Egypt, but nothing remotely like this. The mountain was on fire and Moses face was glowing with the glory of God. Yet, they would not draw near. I would have thought they would have desired to see God’s glory and possibly even beg to go up into God themselves, but they did not. Why?
The beauty of holiness
Moses was face to face with God. We might say, he was eye to eye. This was not a feeling that was stimulated from meditation or music or anything in the soulish realm; he was truly with God and in the presence of God. Many people mistake a feeling for the presence of God; but when God comes near there is a holy reverence that accompanies Him. The mountain was on fire and Moses trembled before the people. God was revealing himself as a consuming fire as a reminder that sin has no place in the presence of God. When God is near, sinfulness and uncleanness leads to fear (see Isaiah 6). Now Moses came down with a radiant evidence of the presence of God and the people were afraid. I think it is a false idea that men will want to “be like us” and “have what we’ve got” when they see God’s glory in our lives. Many people want a feeling, but they don’t want holiness. “Holiness will command reverence; but the sense of sin makes men afraid of their friends, and even of that which really is a favour to them.” (M. Henry)
The glory that never fades
Moses found this to be true as he watched the people reel from him as he had shown forth the radiance of God glory. Sadly, He placed a veil over his face except when he was speaking with God. This is sort of like blunting the edge of the word of God by preaching it without the accompanying evidence of the holy presence of God. Paul tells us that when he preached, he did not veil (as it were) the glory of God, but allowed the full effect of the word of God to be brought to bear upon the hearer by the power of the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12-13) This is not eloquence or volume, it is the Holy Spirit backing the words by His unction. Why? That our faith would not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5) He later told the Corinthians that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and that knowing the fear of the Lord he persuades men. (2 Cor. 5:11) “Many today regard this as a played-out motive, but not Paul.” (Robertson) When the Holy Spirit is present He will convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. There was something about Paul just as there was something about Moses that brought men face to face with God when they preached. The difference is that Paul did not put a veil over the manifest glory, but set forth Christ crucified evidently among the people. (Galatians 3:1) This would have had the effect of bringing those he preached to unto their own Damascus road experience.
Some say Moses placed the veil on his face so the people would not see the glory fading away. Some say the glory was still evident when he died 40 years later. Obviously both of these statements cannot be true. No person over the period of 40 years could observe such a slow fade. Rather, I suggest, as Paul, that the glory on Moses face was a fading glory, just as the Old Covenant had a glory that was fading. It was only temporary and completely dependent on an outward refreshing on the mountain. When the mountain trips ended, the glory eventually faded away. The Old Covenant, as did Moses face, eventually waxed old and vanished away according to the writer to the Hebrews. It ended for good when the Temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD and there was no more means of servicing the covenant. The fire for service (light) went out, but was superseded by the Fire (light) that fell at Pentecost. This is an inward source or refreshing. (2 Cor. 3:18) We are to be being filled with His Spirit as a perpetual reality. Not as the Samaritan woman worshipping on this mountain or that mountain, “we know not what” (John 4:22) and never being changed at all, or as Moses that experienced a transient glory (though awesome it must have been!); but continually being refreshed into the very image of God from glory to glory. For those that experienced Pentecost they no longer moved in a transient glory, but became lights in this present evil world. How? Because the very source of that glory (as manifest on the mount of transfiguration when Peter, James and John became eyewitnesses of his glory) came to live in them. Amen. Jesus Christ was not dependent on coming into the presence of the Father in order to gain a fading radiance of glory as did Moses; He was the brightness of the glory of God and the express image of His person. Now He wants to bring many sons unto glory.
A fading glory (a testimony)
I wish to close this entry with a bit of personal testimony. I knew of God as a child by the hearing of the ear. I attended Sunday School from time to time, and would read our family Bible (usually when I was troubled). But I never really knew the Born Again experience. I believed God’s word when I read it or heard it. As a child and teenager, I answered more altar calls than I care to count. I repeated the sinners prayer over and over, but I was never changed. My heart was as corrupted and evil as ever. I must have asked God to forgive me of all my sins every night for years and years just trying to escape judgment.
You see, I didn’t understand that when God was dealing with me about things, that I needed to submit to His Holy Spirit. I needed to be told to stop quenching the Holy Spirit and resisting the authority of the Holy Spirit. God wanted control of my life, but so did I. I would come to meetings and receive ‘something’ of the workings and glory of God, but as soon as I left the meeting the experience started to fade. Like the little glow-in-the-dark toys that used to come in the cereal box, I would be held up to the light of God’s grace, but would walk out the door with a fading glory. The longer I stayed in a meeting or the more evident God’s manifest presence seemed to be, the longer the excitement and zeal seemed to last; but by Wednesday I was already faded out again and was in a carnal mind.
|“Glow in the dark” toy when fully charged|
I tremble to admit, that I knew when I got up from the altar of prayer that I was not changed. Upon reflection I can say that I was only slightly serious with God. I figured I could give God part of me, but He wanted all of me. He wanted to bring an end (death) to my former person and resurrect me in the power of His Spirit as a new creature. In time God brought me to a place where I knew it was impossible for me to serve God in my own strength and I loathed all of my sins. I knew I was wretched. My mind was often tormented by the things I had done. I got to the point where I doubted I could be forgiven. I was all undone. For several weeks my life was as Isaiah 6 when he declared “woe is me”. I had done so many sinful things knowing better. I was ashamed. I was vexed. My conscience was in me like a scorpion stinging me heart and mind over the sins of my past and present. What happened? God led me into His word to speak to me on a one on one. It was then, while reading the Bible, that I realized that I had to stop quenching the Spirit when He would deal with me about issues in my life. When He brought things before my eyes or checked me not to do things or prompted me to do certain things, I had to start obeying. So I did. And He started leading me and dealing with me. As I repented and turned from things He placed His hand on, I grew in desire to be right with Him utterly and to truly receive His Holy Spirit. God was opening my heart to hear His word and desire Him. As soon as I completely surrendered to him, it was as simple as praying and asking for His Spirit. I was in total desperation. I had laid down all of my arms. I had no back-up plans. it was under these circumstances that a man of God laid hands on me to receive the Spirit and I received the Holy Spirit for real. I knew instantly I was a changed person.
The changer of hearts
By God’s grace it was a radical heart change. To Him alone be the glory. It reminds me of when God changed out Nebuchadnezzar’s heart in Daniel 4, only He gave me a heart after His own heart instead of the heart of a beast. It didn’t take two years or ten years, it was as swift as when God swapped out Nebuchadnezzars heart. He used to be at home in the palace and now he was at home in the field; likewise I was at home in sin, but now I am at home in the Kingdom of God. Suddenly all my desires were different. I was a different person in a moment of time. The thing that happened too is that I was no longer a “fading glory”. Christ, the Light of the world, came into me and began to consume things as it were a great fire. I didn’t need a phone call each week to make sure things were OK. A Fire had been started. This Fire God gave me a desire to feed with the good word of God and things that edified and built up. It was God that worked inside to will and to do His good pleasure. My meat was to do the will of Him that sent me.This does not mean I have not sinned and made mistakes, because I have and I have repented numerous times. It does not mean I cannot harden my heart now and backslide. But I am not the person I used to be. The gift of God in the New Covenant is the capacity to be changed into Christ’s image from glory to glory. Instead of fading, we can keep on refreshing by His Spirit; that is, if we will hear His voice and not harden ourselves. If we will leave off quenching and resisting the Holy Spirit we can be the lights that God called us to. In that way we can be as the disciples in Acts that were full of the Holy Spirit, on fire and ready for ministry on the way to the meeting… and not just fading out, like I used to do on the way home.