Our passage this week has given us new imagery and language by which to tell the age-old story and admire its Hero.
Every descendant of fallen Adam is born, through no fault of their own, spiritually marred and mutilated: a veil covers their hearts that are set in stone against spiritual appeals, their minds are blinded and “made dull” (v. 14, NIV) to spiritual things, their veins are filled with ink, so to speak, they feel self-“sufficient,” though unbeknownst to them they are under condemnation and destined to death. A sinister force has maliciously engineered their baleful condition and fate.
Yet each of them had originally been designed and destined to be beautiful, spectacular, enduring, bearing the image and likeness of their Maker: forgiving, compassionate, merciful, loving, treating the whole of His creation as He would choose to be treated if He were in their place. And He has not forgotten even one of them. He is, among other things, an Artist. His severely wounded hands do not deter His plan to restore each of them to their original design and destiny: hearts sensitive and responsive to every impulse of His Spirit, finding in Him their absolutely reliable sufficiency in a world that has been hijacked by evil, His beautiful law “written [etched] . . . by the Spirit of the living God . . . on [the] tablets of [their] hearts” (v. 3, NKJV), resulting in lives of righteousness as natural as breathing, relating to God and others with no impeding veil of any kind between, and assured of eternal life in a world and universe designed for their happiness.
How does Jesus get them from the one condition to the other? By what mechanism does this transition take place? Simply by His Presence through the agency of His Spirit working among them and in them.
First, He “diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14, NKJV). He exposes every human being, regardless of when or where they were born, to “the fragrance of Christ,” the true light, the gospel, in some form recognizable to them as a way out of whatever condition they are in to something better, more “right,” just, enduring (v. 15; John 1:9). He comes through another person, or the Bible or other books, a pamphlet, a dream—He has many ways, but He persistently comes with the gospel in some form.
Second, through whatever multiple means He comes, He continues drawing, inviting, wooing, never forcing, until one either dies in darkness or “turns to the Lord, [and] the veil [of unbelief] is taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16). However eventful, uneventful, or unwelcomed in some cases it may be received on this earth, whenever one “turns to the Lord” there is great celebration in heaven (Luke 15:1–32).
Third, the amazing transformation continues in earnest from marred and hopeless conditions at birth to the original design, “being transformed into the image [of our Maker] from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18, NKJV). How does our beautiful, wounded Artist accomplish such a feat? Not by force, but by His loving Presence, “by the Spirit of the Lord,” (v. 18), continuing to draw us and invite us to behold Him more that we might reflect Him more (translators are divided on whether the Greek text emphasizes “beholding” or “reflecting”; it conveys both). As we continue to behold Him, spending time with Him in study, prayer, conversation, ministry, and sharing Him with others, “the Spirit . . . [of] liberty” sets us free for our own unique personality to emerge while we simultaneously become more and more like Him, reflecting His image and glory! This is the most momentous artistic accomplishment in the universe!
This is the spiritual, experiential message and appeal of 2 Corinthians 3, which can be totally obscured by an interpretation that merely and mistakenly pits the historical old and new covenants against each other.