DISCIPLESHIP & CHARACTER
This week, our conversation about discipleship looks to the important issue of character and holiness. If discipleship is mirroring Christ, then that includes living and acting like him. Fortunately, we’ve got help.
Holy God — our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer — guide us this morning by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18; 6:14-7:1
Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 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 all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit…
Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.
“Change My Heart, O God” — Eddie Espinosa (YouTube video for in-home worship: https://youtu.be/CEtsHWFE6-w)
Change my heart, O God, make it ever true. Change my heart, O God, may I be like You. You are the Potter, I am the clay, mold me and make me, this is what I pray.
In the Book of Exodus, we find the famous story of Moses ascending Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. All in all, he spent forty days up there in God’s presence, and when he came back down to the people of Israel, who had been waiting not all too patiently at the foot of the mountain, his face shown forth with the very glory of God. (See Exodus 34:27-35.) The picture we get here of Moses reminds me of the way Stephen, the church’s first martyr, looked when he stood before the Sanhedrin: “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). Though Luke does not tell us specifically that Stephen reflected the glory of God or his light, he does suggest that Stephen’s countenance came from the fullness of the Holy Spirit within him. God’s presence and glory was upon Stephen and shone forth in his face, just like it did with Moses.
When we spend time in God’s presence, we begin to reflect that presence. We start to mirror it. Just as a disciple or apprentice is supposed to mimic whatever the teacher says and does, so as disciples of Christ we are to mirror his teachings and his ways. For Paul in 2 Corinthians, this mirroring has particular reference to Christ’s character. Because we are Jesus’ disciples and partakers of his Spirit, we shine forth with the righteousness of Christ and his glory (3:18).
Paul will later explain in chapters six and seven that, for those who believe in the gospel, they effectively transform into temples of the living God. We are houses for the Holy Spirit (6:16). In this way, God truly is with us through his Spirit. (“Immanuel,” we might remember, means “God with us,” which is just one more way that our mission is a continuation of Jesus’ original mission.)
Paul compiles a number of Old Testament quotes that together speak of God’s presence among the Israelites and the consequences such a presence demands. Living in God’s presence — that is, living as his temple — requires that we live holy lives free from sin, evil, injustice, violence, anger, envy — you name it. That’s a big list! (After all, Paul is referencing the time when Moses went up to get the Ten Commandments, and that’s a big list, too!) In fact, in order to maintain God’s presence and glory upon our lives, holiness is required because our holiness is the visible sign of the divine presence and glory (6:17-18).
But, Paul is not so idealistic that he does not realize that such holiness takes time and effort. As disciples, we are called to keep at it, paying attention to the ways that we’ve become immersed in the ways of the world that don’t match Jesus’ ways (“idolatry”) — greed, pride, hate, selfishness, and the like (7:1). Discipleship is a constant returning into the presence of God, a constant partaking of God’s Spirit, as we work to obey Jesus perfectly by daily mirroring his character and living according to his words and actions.
We must, then, continue to grow in our knowledge of Jesus’ life, death, and ministry — how he lived, whom he lived for, and what he taught. No wonder Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 is so central to discipleship! To mirror well, we’ve got to have a clear picture of the person we are mirroring, or else our reflection will be utterly skewed. Thankfully, Paul is again not so idealistic as to assume that we could ever do this on our own. Our very obedience is made possible by the Holy Spirit who works to change us from disobedient to obedient, from inglorious to glorious (3:18).
Questions for Reflection
- Are you prone to anger? jealousy? greed? gossip? lust? prejudice? unforgiveness? selfishness? not listening? Tell a trusted friend about it this week and ask him or her how you might be able to start mirroring Christ instead.
- When I was growing up, I heard a lot about having my own personal “quiet time.” Sometimes, though, it felt like God was being relegated to a box. My “God time” was weekdays from 8:00 to 8:15am, and that’s it. When I was done, God was done. My strict regimen of spending time with God actually led me to miss how Jesus’ life and teaching affected how I lived the other twenty-three and three quarters hours of my day. What could you do to help integrate God into every minute of your life this week?
Holy God, help us to be your disciples who through your power and grace proclaim your truth with boldness, perform your justice with compassion, and love all of our neighbors and strangers with faithfulness and sacrifice. We ask this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.