March 12 – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Main focus: Before we talk about what the Spirit does, we have to talk about who the Spirit is—he’s eternal God, accomplishing God’s temporal work for God’s eternal glory.
This week, we’re turning our attention to the Holy Spirit and his role within the Trinity. Over the next four weeks, we’ll look at what the Holy Spirit does and how he works, but today we want to set the proper foundation by getting a good look at who the Holy Spirit is and his place within the Trinity.
To clear up any potential muddiness, depending on how you grew up and the church tradition you could have been exposed to, you might instinctively call him the Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, or the Spirit of God. These are all synonyms for the same deity, the third person of the Trinity. It is also worth mentioning that while the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, he is not third in authority, rank, or order. This error is a heresy called subordinationism. Now when we think of the Holy Spirit, different things may come to mind, but a common image is that of a cosmic waiter who delivers blessings and answers prayers on behalf of the Father and the Son, only to fade into the background once doing their will.
But in turning to 2 Corinthians 3:16-20, we don’t see this at all. In verse 17, Paul writes that “the Lord is the Spirit,” giving us another glimpse of the Trinity in showing that the Holy Spirit is the Lord. Elsewhere, we read that the Holy Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). A few weeks ago, we discussed how Jesus was and is present with the Father, all the way back to creation. It’s the same here with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is eternal and has always been present in perfect community with the Father and the Son.
This is where we sometimes get lost. How could a being exist as three persons? It is tough to explain this briefly and correctly, and I don’t want to cross into any unorthodox territory or heresy, so to get a fuller grasp of how this perfect unified relationship works, I’ll punt to Shaun Cross, our Vintage Durham pastor. He wrote up a lovely resource for us here. To give the cliff notes on it, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God in three divine persons who are coequal and coeternal. There never was a point in time where the Father was, and Jesus wasn’t, or Jesus was and the Holy Spirit wasn’t, or where the Holy Spirit was and the Father wasn’t. All three share authority, deity, and eternality because they are the same person.
Now returning to 2 Corinthians, we continue reading Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit. Verse 18 says, “and we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image, with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” When we read “unveiled faces,” that probably doesn’t mean much to us or is just confusing, but if we look back to Exodus 33, we read that Moses, when passed by God’s raw, unfiltered glory, had to hide his face from it. Verse 22 says, “while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”
Here we read that God’s actual glory passed by Moses, and it was so magnificent that he had to hide in a crevice in the mountain. Comparing this to our passage in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, we read that “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed,” and “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image.” A veil is what covers someone’s face, and previously we had to be separated from God in this way. Furthermore, Paul uses the veil to describe our lack of access and knowledge about God. The veil must be lifted for us to see God in the face of Jesus and by seeing him to know him personally.
Now, the veil doesn’t need to separate man from God. In fact, the literal veil was torn at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:45-51). Paul then writes, “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” With his reference to Exodus 33, Paul is using “Lord” there in reference to the Divine Name, Yahweh—the Spirit is Yahweh, fully God, and it’s by the power of the Spirit that God reveals himself to us and we can experience a relationship with Jesus. This same power from the Holy Spirit was sent by God in Acts 2, causing them to be “amazed and astonished” by what the Lord was doing in them through the Holy Spirit.
In discussion, we’ll talk about what it means for us to have this veil lifted, and we’ll turn to 1 Corinthians 2 to explore more fully our need for the Spirit to reveal the things of God to us. Because we no longer have to be separated from God, we now have access to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. How beautiful is it that we have an advocate for us to the Father through the Holy Spirit, who is God himself? Because of the unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can have an individual and church-wide relationship with him through the Holy Spirit, growing daily in our walk with and trust of him.
• Can someone read 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
• What stood out to you from this passage?
• What does this passage say about the Spirit of God?
• Look at verse 16—what do you think he’s talking about here?
• Could someone read 1 Corinthians 2:9-15 for us?
• How does this help you understand your need for the Spirit?
• How might this influence the way you talk to the Spirit?
• How can these passages encourage us to trust the Spirit in our daily lives?