Paul makes a remarkable claim in 2 Corinthians 3:18. He writes that we are able to see and reflect the glory of God in such as way that we can increasingly display His splendor throughout our life. Considering what I know about myself - and what I've seen in others - that seems like a very counterintuitive observation. But if Paul is correct, there is a principle here that can take us from merely what we are to what we can be.
Paul made this claim after talking to the early Christians about the difference between the Old Covenenant (as see in the Old Testament Law) and the New Covenant (as seen in Jesus).
The administration of the Law which was engraved in stone (and which led in fact to spiritual death) was so magnificent that the Israelites were unable to look unflinchingly at Moses’ face, for it was alight with heavenly splendor. Now if the old administration held such heavenly, even though transitory, splendor, can we not see what a much more glorious thing is the new administration of the Spirit of life... ? The present permanent plan is such a very much more glorious thing than the old.
With this hope in our hearts we are quite frank and open in our ministry. We are not like Moses, who veiled his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing its fading glory... But all of us who are followers of Christ do not have veils on our faces as we see and reflect the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendor into his own image. (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)
The Law was glorious because it was a teacher, a guide to show us how God wants us to live. Paul wrote elsewhere,
“The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.” (Galatians 3, as written in commentary by The Message)
If someone asked the Israelites, “What does God want me to do?” they had an answer – 613 answers, in fact. When God gave His Law, He gave something of Himself to His people. The will of God could be known. Do this, not that. If you are successful, you will be blessed.
That’s a “glory” I can wrap my mind around. I understand cause and effect; I see it all the time. I can lose weight or build muscle or make money or hit a softball or graduate or expand my vocabulary or play an instrument or get really good at Wii bowling if I know the rules and try hard enough.
I know how to earn glory.
But the Law also made it official that we the people (as seen in the Israelites) are never spiritually going to be good enough. God can tell us exactly what He wants us to do, and on our own we will just not do it. The law unfortunately offers a resounding "no" one of life’s most important questions: Can I be good if I try hard enough? Whatever glory we achieve by trying our hardest will inevitably fade.
Moses did not want them to see his fading glory.
If I am generous with Moses, I can see how this was a way for him to make sure the Israelites did not become enamored with a temporary glory. After all, it’s so easy to make a big deal about how we have managed to live well because of our self-control, willpower, external obedience to all the right rules, dedication to every obligation (real or imagined), and sacrifice of time, money, energy, emotion.
What we have is better than no glory (so that's good, right?), but in spite of all the hard work we have done, we will suddenly find we don’t have a reservoir of patience, or self-control, and emotion, and we can in a moment fail completely and utterly. Maybe part of God’s revelation to Moses included a clear picture of its temporary, frustrating nature of the Law. Maybe.
If I am not as generous with Moses, I can see how this was a way for him to make sure the Israelites did not see that he was not, in fact, perfect.
A glory that is so obvious to everybody – and then fades - is a great way for others to gauge just how well we are doing. Perhaps Moses was ashamed of his inability to be a good enough leader, no matter how hard he tried. Ron Ritchie writes,
“For Moses the veil represented a false sense of competence, power, authority, glory, and pride. He used it to cover his fear and inadequacy… he sought in his own strength to compensate for the glory that had faded from his face.”
Pride makes us hide the parts of our life that shame us. This less kind assessment of Moses seems more in line with how Paul describes the Law:
“The Law’s purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.” (Galatians 3, as written in commentary by The Message)
Paul would know. He was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees." His credentials were impeccable. Paul would certainly have created life in himself by that time - if the Law had that kind of power. It didn't, obviously, but in the next verse Paul explains why it didn't have to:
"By faith in Christ we are in direct relationship with God." (Galatians 3:25)
Our life with Christ is meant to be an ongoing transformation in which we increasingly behold the person and work of Christ, increasingly become changed deep in the core of who we are, and increasingly become filled in such a way that we display the glory of God by His presence and work in our lives.
We remove the veil of shame and secrecy because it’s not about us. It's okay if the glory we earn ebbs and flows. When the true glory of Christ is displayed by our lives, it won’t be because we were awesome. It will be because “we are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendor into his own image.”
This glory from Christ does not fade.
If this is the case - this glory will not fade - then this can't be just another way of saying that we will be awesomely impressive. That's painfully obvious; we all have times when what we reflect is not glorious at all. So what is this glory that just keeps on increasing?
I believe it is the glory of the Grace and Forgiveness of Christ’s Salvation. The way in which Jesus intends for the world to see his glory is not through our ability to live perfectly. It is through our willingness to be transformed by Him to become more like him. That's when the Glory of God is fully seen.
These are process words. Those are not words of arrival. We don’t have to display the temporary glory of our own ability or hide the times when we are unable to keep it up.
When we take the message of Christ to others, we don’t need to wait until our testimony is that we are perfect. We aren’t offering ourselves to other people. We are offering a Savior who takes us with all our impurities and continually cleans us up and makes us new.
We are meant to, without shame over the visible gauge of our (in)ability to be good on full display, let God display what real glory is like.