Why True Converts Are True

Last Monday I discussed why false converts are false. Today I want to look at conversion from another angle, asking why true converts are true. John 6:60-66 showed how many of the disciples of Jesus were repelled by His teaching, after this in 6:67-71 comes the big test. “What will the twelve do?”

This is exactly the question Jesus poses to the twelve in v67, “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” That Jesus asked this to the twelve does not show any weakness or worry on Jesus’ part. He’s asking this to push them to one way or another, and displaying for them just how costly it is to truly follow Him. I think as much as the previous section of this passage challenged us, there is as much in this last passage to encourage us. Are some of you prone to doubt, prone to be rash, prone to be hotheaded, impatient, slow to understand, weak, small, insignificant, or foolish? All of these attributes are present in the twelve and more, and yet here they are in v67-71; probably feeling as much of the hardness of Jesus’ teaching as those before, but rather than leave like the rest they’re staying.

There’s only one question that comes to mind when we see them stay: why?

Why would they continue to follow someone whose teaching is so hard that it decreases His influence? Why stay when everyone else is leaving? Why stay when it costs this much to do so? Well, could we not ask similar questions of one another today? Being a Christ follower today doesn’t make one popular, if anything, it puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to advancement in most arenas within our current culture. Why do we stay? Why do we come to worship this One who is thought to be so out of touch with modern society? Why are we a part of this thing called Christianity?

That Peter answers Jesus’ question is no surprise to anyone familiar with Peter’s actions in the gospels. He is often the one who, for better or for worse, immediately says what he is thinking. There are places this did not help him, but what we see in v68-69 of him is beautiful. It is not only the answer Peter gives for himself and the twelve, it is also the answer we must give to the same questions in our present secular age. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” This confession of Peter shows that Peter, though not fully getting it, knows a few things really well, so well that he seems to be mastered by them. Peter knows that there is no one else worth going to. Peter knows what Jesus Himself said back in v63, that His words are spirit and life that give eternal life. And Peter knows what He believes, that this Jesus is the Christ He claims to be. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have moments in them where they record a similarly great confession from Peter. This is John’s. And in all four gospels, it’s after Peter’s confession that things begin to get very hard for Jesus and those following Him.

These words put Peter and the rest of the twelve at odds with the rest of the society around them because they publicly display that they are with the Jesus. In contrast to the false disciples who defected from Christ, Peter and the twelve stood out as true disciples who were devoted to Christ. And yes, if we claim the name of Christ this great confession must be our confession too even if what these words did for them they also do now for us; separating us from the world because they publicly display to the world that we are with Christ.

This is all good and true, but let’s come at this from another angle to peer deeper into this. What was it that separated Peter and the twelve from the false converts of their day? And, what is it that separates you and I from the false converts of our day? Answer: while Peter did not deny that the teaching of Christ was hard, he acknowledged that Jesus’ words were words of life. Do you? This was the one thing the separated the twelve from all those who left. They heard the teaching of Christ, felt the difficult weight and reality of what He was saying, and trusted Him anyway. Do you do this when the teaching of Christ doesn’t mesh with you? Or, when the Bible disagrees with you, do you understand that you’re the one in error and not it?

Did you see how Jesus ends the passage in v70-71? “Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for He, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” They have just been through a trial where they had to choose to follow Jesus even if that decision brought very public and unpopular consequences. Now Jesus, by ending this way, prepares His disciples for an even greater trial. John Calvin says it’s as if Jesus’ saying, “You twelve now remain out of what was once a large following. If your faith hasn’t been shaken by the unbelief of many, get ready for something harder. For our number, though small, includes one who is a devil.”

John Piper makes a good point here on this text. He points out that Jesus may confuse us at times. He may perplex us and may even provoke us with things He says. And yet, do you see enough beauty in Jesus, do you see enough worthy of your trust in Jesus to say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…No one ever spoke like you. No one ever acted like you. No was ever so strong and meek, authoritative and gentle, profound and simple, powerful and yet willing to be killed, just and yet willing to be treated unjustly, worthy of honor and yet willing to be dishonored, deserving of immediate obedience and yet patient with people like us, able to answer every question and yet willing to remain silent under abuse, capable of coming down from the cross in flaming judgment and yet committed not to use that power…no one is like You Lord, You are the Holy One of God.”

True converts are true because they see these things and love them.

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Why False Converts Are False

During the first part of Jesus’ ministry many people were attracted to Him. Some indeed wholeheartedly but certainly some only loosely. As John 6 progresses we see Jesus put this crowd following Him to the test. His claims about who He is and what He has come to do are becoming clearer, they are rising to the surface, and because of it we see a sifting taking place between those who are true and those who are false. In John 6:60 we read, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” After hearing their question we should ask our own. What did they hear from Jesus that was so hard? Answer: all Christ had to say to them in chapter 6.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude, right after the miracle and for sometime after, seeks to make Him king because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs, or to merely meet materialistic expectations, or to be the political leader they wanted Him to be. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever. He takes time to explain this to the crowds clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. In v27 He called them to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” After some grumbling Jesus makes a statement in v44 about God’s sovereign grace saying the only ones who’ll sink the teeth of their souls into the Bread of life are those whom the Father draws. In v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. In v51 we see another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Upon coming to v52 we see a shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52. And by the time v60 comes around it is no longer just the crowd who is having trouble with Jesus’ teaching, it’s His very own disciples.

That they said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand these things Jesus had just taught. They got it that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally about Him being the true manna from heaven, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They understood these to be claims of divinity. They understood the necessity of sovereign grace to reveal divine truth to sinful man. Most commentators say that by saying these were hard words they meant they were severe words, offensive words even, words that they found hard to accept, words that were more than they could endure. In his commentary on John’s gospel John Calvin comments here saying, “The hardness wasn’t in the teaching of Christ, but the hearts of those who heard it.”

So, Jesus knowing these things said in v61-65, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus doesn’t say anything here to help ease their grumbling or soften His teaching. If anything His words here call them out and therefore probably increase their grumbling. He says if they had seen His ascension to glory, where He was before He came to walk among them, they would believe and wouldn’t grumble. Why then do they grumble at His teaching? The answer is simple but it is difficult for us to hear: they grumbled in v60 because His Word isn’t enough. This then is why Jesus in v63-65 says only the Spirit, not the flesh, can give life. The words He has spoken are that very life-filled vocabulary and because they respond to it with unbelief shows that, though they have followed Him for a time, they are false. This doesn’t surprise Jesus, as v64-65 remind us, He knows the hearts of men. Then we see a sad scene after this rebuke in v66. “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

I wonder how v60-66 hits you.

When many others would have changed or altered their message to make it less offensive, Jesus doesn’t. Here we see false converts, those who followed for a time but turned back and left Him in the end. They had been interested in Jesus not for who He is or for what He teaches but for how they thought they could use Jesus for their own purposes. They’re false because when Jesus’ teaching doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas and agendas they leave Jesus.

This sounds an awful lot like today doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like you. I meet with a group of pastors once a month for fellowship, prayer, and study and at our last meeting one of them told us he had been preaching through the book of Romans and found that his congregation responded in a way that saddened him. During the series he said there were two times when people left the church. He said they left when he covered the sinfulness of man in chapter 1, and he said even more left when he covered the sovereignty of God in chapter 9. What happened? Why did they leave? The clear teaching of the Word of God didn’t fit into their predetermined box. Rather than submitting to what the Word says and living underneath it these people left and found another church that didn’t preach things foreign to what they already believed to be true.

Be challenged, most of you will say v60-66 doesn’t describe you, but ask: are you deceiving yourself? What this crowd in John 6 wanted Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered they would not receive. Does that describe you? If so, you have every reason to fear the wrath of God because regardless what you say you are, you’re lost and you too are a false convert. Or perhaps you truly do believe in Jesus but have come to the point where you’re frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, or have become frustrated with the Christian life because it isn’t as easy as you thought. If this is you, may I ask you a question? When did Jesus ever promise a life of ease in following Him? When did Jesus ever say His teaching was simple? Too many Christians in our day are coddled by the church and not encouraged to grow up and press on toward maturity. Too many of us are content and comfortable in our faith, and because of this we shy away from anything or anyone who’ll rock the boat too much.

Is this the kind of faith you’ve bought into?

Let’s be real for a moment – the idol of comfort is one of the great sins of the American church. We love to be comfortable. If we thought about it long enough, we would see that we’ve unloaded all of this into our spiritual lives and have come to believe that Jesus exists to make us more comfortable in this life. That He exists for us rather than we for Him. Passages like this, where Jesus intentionally disrupts the comforts of others and does nothing to alleviate discomfort make me want to say – if the Jesus you’re following never makes your life uncomfortable, you’re not following this Jesus in John 6.

Jesus doesn’t give participation trophies, He gives a crown of life to those who persevere by sovereign grace! May you do just that.

Reader, Don’t Miss This. There’s A Chance You Could.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude than seeks to make Him king, right after the miracle and even into the next day, because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs or meet materialistic expectations. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever and ever. He even takes time to explain this to the multitude more clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. The multitude still didn’t quite see what Jesus was saying, so in response to the crowd’s obtuseness Jesus responds with some of the clearest and most powerful language thus far in John’s gospel.

This clear, powerful response is found in John 6:35-40. For us today, notice just v35-36.

After this multitude shows their shallow ability to understand what Jesus is saying He speaks in blazing clarity saying in v35, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to Me shall not hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” They were comparing Jesus’ previous miracle to the manna given by God to Israel in the wilderness, but Jesus contrasts Himself with that manna pointing out that the true bread of heaven isn’t something they can pick up and eat, it is nothing less than Himself. “He Himself is the food, the bread of heaven come down to give life, and it is only from this bread that men truly obtain the satisfaction we desire.” (Leon Morris)

Becoming a Christian can be described in many ways: being born again, becoming a new creation, getting saved, leaving the old behind and pressing into what’s ahead, turning away from sin and turning toward Christ, etc. Notice here in v35 Jesus describes it in terms of coming to Him and believing in Him. When one comes to Him or believes in Him what’s in view here is a move away from a life that is characterized by hunger, thirst, famine, lack, and an inability to satisfy or quench the deepest desires of our soul. v35 says we move away from that kind of life only when we move toward Christ. This means when we move toward Christ we move into an entirely new kind of human experience. We move into a kind of life where hunger and thirst are no longer possible, where famine and lack have no place or room to settle within us, and where the inability to satisfy or quench the soul’s deepest desires is a thing of the past.

For when we come to Christ He saves us, and when Christ saves us, He becomes the very sustenance of our souls. Of course I do not mean that all hungering or thirsting or longing in the soul vanishes when we’re saved, not at all. In a real sense it’s at the moment of salvation where we, for the first time, taste a true hunger and thirst to know God more and more. Thus, a new kind of hungering and thirsting is created by coming to Christ. So what kind of hunger and thirst then has vanished forever, never to return again upon becoming a Christian?

The deep longing of an unsatisfied heart, that is no longer part of our reality.

One of Jesus’s parables puts this on display. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” Here we see what true conversion looks like. John Piper is so helpful here. In the second chapter of Desiring God, Conversion: The Creation of a Christian Hedonist he says we are converted when Christ becomes for us a treasure chest of holy joy. When we see Him, recognize His vast worth, and then, in our joy we let go of all we hold dear so we can have Him! A crucified, risen, and reigning Savior who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His Person our greatest treasure. So saving faith, the kind of faith v35 speaks of that comes to and believes in Jesus, this kind of faith always involves a profound change of heart. It is not mere mental ascent to a certain set of doctrines. It is seeing Christ in those glorious gospel doctrines standing forth as supremely valuable and worthy of all the affection of your heart and soul. It is gaining a God-given new taste for the bread of heaven, and a new captivating sight of the beauty and glory of Christ!

Listen to John Piper describe this later in that same chapter, “Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God. He was an idea, maybe even a good idea or topic for discussion, but not a treasure of delight. Then something miraculous happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First, the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end…And then, faith – the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, I will share in His holiness and behold His glory.”

Reader, please don’t miss this. There is a chance you could.

There is a chance you could be in church every week for your whole life and miss this. See v36, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” That v36 comes directly after v35 shows that it is possible to see Christ and hear His teaching and see nothing of value, worth, or anything that amazes your soul. You don’t want to be part of this group. v35 is not a distant, abstract reality that we cannot grab ahold of. It is an offer extended by God through Christ that the human soul can feast on forever! To not embrace this offer is the epitome of folly, and to go through life near to Christ, near His people, near His Word and yet miss seeing the glory of who He is, is a horrific tragedy. You don’t want to be found in v36, but in v35.

Philemon Part 2: From Slave to Brother

Last week we looked into the greeting and first remarks of Paul to Philemon, and saw how much affection and bond of friendship Paul feels towards Philemon. We also saw how in the first 7 verses of this small letter Paul is preparing Philemon to hear the request he is about ask of him. Paul employs a careful and calculated gospel-logic in his appeal, and we can learn much from it.

Now let’s turn our attention to Philemon 8-16

Philemon 8-9

Paul here states clearly that though he could’ve commanded Philemon to obey his command with the power he wields in his God given apostolic ministry, for love’s sake he rather appealed to Philemon and simply asked, as a friend asks for a favor. Remember how Paul began the letter? He didn’t begin with his usual “Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus…” but “Paul, prisoner for Christ Jesus…” Now, there is a place and time for a command and a call to obedience rather than appealing using his apostolic authority. Paul even gives two reasons as to why he could command him. First is that Paul is older than Philemon and second is that Paul is a prisoner of Christ. But by simply asking rather than commanding Paul is making much of the love that should exist between two Christians.

By this example we get a window into the nature of the work of elders. If our work isn’t done with a sense of grace to it, it is done wrongly. Even more, elders of all people must be those who draw disciples with grace rather than dragging them by force. In this manner, leaders worth anything should be those who serve the people graciously rather than those who dominate or stand over and above the people only to look down disdainfully.

And did you notice what it is that elders are to teach the people? Look at v8, “…to do what is required.” Paul is only asking Philemon to do what godliness demands, nothing more. And here yet again we see the pattern for all who minister to others, the only thing we should teach or ask others to do, are those very things required of us to do in the Word of God and nothing else. So hear me closely: if you ever receive instruction from a leader that asks you do something other than what the Bible requires, not only call them on it, but it is your duty to disobey them and obey God instead. But if they plead or ask you to be holy graciously (like Paul’s doing here) and they point you toward the Truth, you should obey them.

Philemon 10-16

v10 Paul says “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whose Father I became in my imprisonment.” That he became Onesimus’s Father means that God through the ministry of Paul redeemed Onesimus, and that because it was Paul who shared the gospel with him it is fitting that Paul be viewed as his Father in the faith and that Onesimus be viewed as his son in the faith. Pail isn’t implying any opposition between God’s Fatherhood or God’s power to save with his own, rather Paul is seeking to show what God has done to save Onesimus through him. It is also striking and shows the power of God’s work through the proclamation of the gospel that a runaway slave would now have and own the name of ‘son.’

Never forget how strong the gospel is and how easily it re-makes us.

Whatever lie about yourself that you believe, whether you believe that you never measure up, that you’re too fat, too skinny, too tall, too loud, too shy, too young, too old, too much of a failure, etc., when you embrace the gospel what God says about you becomes more real and tangible than what you or others say about you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Also don’t miss how Philemon would’ve heard this because v19 reminds us that Philemon himself was saved by God through Paul’s ministry and therefore he is also a ‘son’ to Paul through the gospel. So all of the sudden, because of gospel-grace, Philemon and Onesimus, master and slave, are equals as brothers in Christ.

v11, “(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)” There is a wonderful word play at work here in the original Greek. Paul states that before Onesimus became a Christian he was useless to Philemon, but now that he’s been saved he is useful for Philemon and for Paul. The word play exists here in that Onesimus’ own name literally means ‘useful.’

Thus, by becoming united to Christ by faith and becoming a Christian Onesimus literally becomes what his name means – useful.

Because Onesimus is useful to Paul in his gospel-labor, Paul says in v12-13 that he is sending him back to Philemon even though it would have been a very great help to keep him. Paul doesn’t waste words, when he says in v12 that sending Onesimus back is like sending his very own heart he means that to part with his new ‘son’ in the faith is like parting with his own heart. What language to use here! Have you ever had a brother or sister in Christ so dear to your own heart? They truly are a gift from God, and if you’ve known what that kind of relationship is like, you’ll understand how painful and difficult it is for that relationship to come to and end. v14, “…but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” Paul wanted to keep him, but didn’t want to act without the voluntary consent of Philemon. Even here in v14 we get a hint that Paul is asking Philemon something, but he hasn’t quite gotten there yet. What Paul is being implicit about here he will be explicit about in v17-21. That Paul didn’t just do what he wanted to do and would rather have Philemon agree to his request freely is gracious to say the least.

Saying more, I’d say this is the profound gospel pattern that’s at work within each of us. Rather than coercing us against our will, the gospel transforms us from the inside out so that everything in our hearts wants to obey call of the gospel and be reconciled with those at odds with us. The grace of God is irresistible. Once you see it, and once it takes a hold of you, you won’t turn away from it because everything in your heart will want it.

Lastly, look to the end of our text, v15-16, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Paul here gives a reason why Onesimus, under the sovereign plan and ordination of God, might have been allowed to run away. Hearing that God may have been behind the departure of his slave would have soothed the heart of Philemon because God intends a good purpose out of a frustrating thing. The reason given in (v15) is that because Philemon lost him for a moment, maybe now he’ll gain him forever. Meaning that Onesimus’ status as a slave is temporary, it will end one day, but Onesimus’ status as a forgiven, adopted, and redeemed member of the family of God through faith in Christ is forever, and that will never end. This changes things for these men. Sure they may be master and slave for a moment in the whole grand scheme of things but for all eternity what will they be? Brothers in Christ; worshipping the King of kings, and basking in His glory forever and ever.

Who would of ever thought this could’ve happened? Onesimus lived in a religious and holy family and by leaving Philemon’s household he deliberately went far from God and from eternal life. Yet God, in His wise and hidden providence, wonderfully directs his fleeing so that he meets the Apostle Paul. The elect of God are sometimes brought to salvation by a method that could not have been believed.

The gospel changes everything, amen?

The Complete Renovation of the Soul

In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”

Perhaps you feel, even in this quote, the disdain our culture thinks of conversion? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.

 

When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul.

Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphuo, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’ In regards to the transformation of conversion two passages drive this home to us.

An Unveiling Glory – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants. To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.

Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So from this first passage we learn that conversion is a transformative moment, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.

Creating A New Creation – 2 Corinthians 5:14-19

“…we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Here Paul is laying out the ministry of reconciliation all believers have received from God. He died so that those who live would no longer selfishly live for themselves but for the glory of Christ who died and was raised for them in v14-15. Because Christ died that we would live for His glory Paul says he no longer regards those who believe in Christ according to flesh in v16. How then does Paul regard believers? v17 tells us, he regards us as what we truly are – new creations of God. The old has passed, the new has come. How did this happen? v18-19 tell us. All of this is from God, who sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself and then give us the ministry of reconciliation after His resurrection.

This is all good and well but where does the Holy Spirit come into this? Through the theme of creation. Back in Genesis 1 who was hovering over the waters? The Spirit. What then did God do to create all we see today? He spoke His Word by the power of His Spirit into the darkness and created all things. Paul uses this exact argument one chapter earlier to describe how God made new creations out of us at conversion. In 2 Cor. 4:6 he says, “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, the meaning of 3:18 and 5:17 is that just as God accomplished creation through His Word and Spirit, so too, God accomplished our conversion by His Word and Spirit too, transforming us and making us new creations.

So…

Yes, change is needed. Yes, change is possible. Yes, we must become new, not just better. Yes, we must know the gospel, believe the gospel, and bank on the gospel. And yes, all of these things, all of this great work of God inside the soul of man that we call conversion, is brought about by living and enduring Word of God.

Our Name Changing God

Johnny Cash’s famous hit, “A Boy Named Sue” pokes fun at the significance of names. Nobody wants a name that makes others laugh at them or that reminds people of a negative historical figure.

I recently preached a funeral for a deacon in our church with the middle name Adolf, a very popular name before World War II. Now no one names a child Adolf or Judas. This is why expectant mothers and fathers-to-be labor over the name of their progeny. When my wife and I were talking about names for our future children, I liked the name Clark for a boy, after my heroic great uncle, but my wife once babysat a Clark that forever secured in her mind the doctrine of total depravity. Likewise, my wife liked the name Autumn for a girl, but I knew an Autumn who would make you cringe whenever you saw her coming.

Names carry a sense of one’s identity. This is why we name children after godly relatives, heroes of the faith, or that remind us of characteristics we hold dear.

Why God Changes Our Names

Yet in Scripture, we encounter a God who changes the names of His people. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. When God renames people in Scripture, He is doing several things: He is asserting His sovereign authority over that person’s life, giving that individual a new mission to pursue, identifying a clean break from their former manner of life, and emphasizing a new character they will thereafter possess.

Abraham and Sarah were so renamed because they were to become the father and mother of all who believe. God gave Jacob the new name Israel because He had turned him from a “heal snatcher/cheater” into His blessed servant. Simon carries the idea of instability, while Peter means rock; a name change that identified a dramatic difference after Pentecost. Saul became Paul, a name meaning “small”, because the Lord had humbled His arrogant pride when He knocked him off his high horse on the road to Damascus.

Every Child of God Given A New Name

The resurrected Christ promises a new name for all God’s people in Revelation 2:17, when He states, “To the one who conquers I will give…a new name…that no one knows except the one who receives it.” While a person may go through the legal process of acquiring a new name, the Lord God gives each of His children something much more lasting and significant: an entirely new identity and life purpose. 

For the child of God, this new identity and purpose begins at conversion, where we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to God’s kingdom and adopted into the family of God. Paul describes the new identity of God’s children at conversion in these famous words found in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

How to Respond to Our New Names

If you are reading this and have never experienced this radical inward transformation known as regeneration or new birth, you must pray for God to make real to you your spiritually dead condition and show you the beauty of Christ’s person and work on the cross. If you are reading this and you have been born again and God has taken out the old heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart that loves His commands, you must rejoice and tremble. The rejoicing part may seem obvious, but we always need reminding of this. 

After the disciples returned from the mission Christ sent them on, they were rejoicing at the authority He had given them to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead, but Jesus called them to another source of joy. In Luke 10:20, Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In the very next verse, Jesus rejoices in the Spirit and dives into spontaneous prayer, praising God for revealing these things to the humble and withholding them from the prideful. 

Have you ever heard the expression that someone’s name was thrown in the mud? Because of our sin, we had dragged our own names through the mud. We have all lived in ways that ruined our name and our identity as God’s image-bearers. We have even blasphemed the holy name of God with our lives of selfishness, anger, bitterness, ingratitude, lust, hate, and gossip. Yet in His astounding grace, God has given us a new name through faith in Christ. At the cross, God poured out all His judgment on our sins on Jesus and by the Spirit has given a new and everlasting name to His redeemed people. Now we must rejoice always that the Gospel was received by us through the Spirit’s gift of faith and repentance. Yet our rejoicing must always involve trembling. It is possible to be connected to Christians and rich theological truths and yet fall away from Christ, proving we never knew genuine salvation. 

In such cases, Peter and Solomon are right when they say, “the dog returns to its own vomit, and the pig, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22). The dog was still a dog and the pig still a pig. We must tremble before the Lord, not in a fearful state of uncertainty concerning our salvation, but in a prayerful dependency that acknowledges our desperate need for preserving grace. God has truly saved all who persevere and all who persevere do so by clinging desperately to the cross of Christ. You and I ought never to think that our conversion has secured for us the freedom to go back to wallowing in the mire.

Rejoice that God has given you a new name in Christ and tremble so that you live in a way that verifies this name change.