“To this very day at the reading of the law the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ” (2Cor.3). In the context of this passage, Paul is addressing at least two major problems exhibited by his detractors. The first, which was described in the previous post, is that of elevating appearances over substance. The second, is that of trying to use the law as a means of spiritual renewal.
We can see that Paul has transformation in view here, because when the veil is lifted, “we behold the glory of the Lord and are then transformed into that same image, from one glorious change to another.” Focusing on rules and laws (and even New Testament principles!) has a way of blinding us to the relational foundations of transformation. It is in engaging with God and discovering His character at work in us that changes us; not trying hard to live up to an ethical standard. And there are many ways in which this can be played out.
How many times have you heard, “It does not matter how you feel about doing the right thing, you just need to be obedient.” This may be in regard to forgiving someone or being kind to a person you really can’t stand, or whatever. The basic idea is that acting like Jesus is something we can force ourselves to do through willpower. And supposedly, this is “getting the victory” over our inward inclinations that want to do the wrong thing.
When I hear these words, I hear an iron veil clanging down around the heart, as transformation is deemed unnecessary as long as you have a strong enough will to override your actual desires. Compliance with God’s law in such an instance is then called obedience, and a true change of heart is assumed to be secondary, or a rare anomaly, or perhaps even impossible. Even as I write these things I can hear someone objecting: “Do you mean to say that we should do whatever we feel like doing?” It pains me to hear that objection, as it again reveals a veil over one’s heart. Because if the only two options a person can see are to either repress your feelings or override them, then they cannot see what the veil is hiding, namely the person of Jesus and His desire to change our heart to so that we are actually inclined to do what is best. Instead of overriding our inner self, we are able to live out of that self, once it has been renewed.
There is another manifestation of this veil that is also quite common. In regard to the wounds and regrets from the past that haunt us, how many times have you heard it said, “Just put the past in the past and move on. Get over it!” Again, a veil lies over the heart, and an effort of will is called upon to measure up to a law about what we should be able to do. But if a person suffered a stroke, such that one side of the their body was impaired, no one would expect that person to simply “choose” to walk without a limp. Some kind of transformation or renewal of certain neurons would be needed in order for the muscles to do what they were designed to do. Similarly, people who have been wounded by the intrusions and deprivations of life cannot choose by direct effort to live as God intended; nor can those whose lives have been malformed by years of coping with self-defeating behaviors; nor those who are riddled with self-hate; nor those who … the list goes on. We do not live well by simply ignoring the ulcers in our soul. No, we need God to heal these areas. And such healing is common, normal, even expected as a normal part of the Christian experience. Healing is not some rare event that only a few lucky Christians get to have.
Once we discover the liberty that Christ brings and how that trumps any legalistic attempt to obey by direct effort, then the veil is lifted.