Our Freedom to Be Bold in Spiritual Growth.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 teach us about the power, boldness, and freedom we have in Christ to grow in Christ-likeness.

If you do not understand who you are in Christ, you will not be growing in Christ-likeness. Growth is all by God’s grace just as salvation is.

“If you have met Jesus Christ, He has dramatically altered your life from the inside out. His grace and power are too great for you not to be transformed.”

“Honoring a man, tradition, rule, or regulation because someone has convinced you to be afraid of what might happen if you don’t is a Christ-less motivation for being holy.”

Paul reminds the believers at Corinth of the miraculous change that happened at their salvation and warns them to bolster their hearts against reverting to legalism.

The Person of Spiritual Change (Verse 17)

“Under the New Covenant, where the Spirit is the operative power, there is freedom. But in the Old Covenant where law reigns, there is bondage.”

The Judaizers taught that dependence on the Law could change people’s lives; but only the Spirit of Christ can bring transformation. Christ is the life-giving Spirit, the eternal express image of God, the complete picture of the Father’s glory and substance. (See 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, 2 Cor 4:4, Col 1:15, Heb 1:3, John 1:14, 14:9.)

“To contemplate Christ who is the Father’s image is progressively to be transformed into that image. The effect of continuous beholding is that we are continuously being transformed into the same image; that is, into the likeness of Christ.”

The person of the Holy Spirit also divinely underpins our growth in Christ-likeness. He was intimately involved in Christ’s earthly ministry as well. He regenerates believers (John 3:3, Titus 3:5). By His power, Christ was and we will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15). In the Spirit, we were chosen for salvation (2 Thess 2:13).

The People of Spiritual Change (verse 18a)

Verse 18 starts with the phrase “we all.” Paul gives the benefit of the doubt to the struggling Corinthian believers and assumes that God’s people will respond by grace to God’s Word. As Moses did in Exodus 34, we in the New Covenant have audience with God only in Christ (Heb 10:19-20).

We are part of the whole body, as each individual believer undergoes this divine process of beholding and being transformed. The Greek grammar indicates we each make a personal decision to grow, even as the growth is compelled by God’s grace. We are gazing on the glory and character of God, and as we do so, the Spirit transforms us into that character in Christ.

Believers behold the glory of the Lord “as the veils are removed from their minds and hearts, the truth of the Gospel is no longer hidden from them; thus it is in the light of the Gospel that they behold the glory of Christ who is the likeness of God, and they see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Law can bring us to Christ, but only grace can make us like Him (Gal 3:24). A remnant of the Corinthian church had stopped growing into the character of Christ, and this was a burden on Paul’s heart.

The Process of Spiritual Change (verse 18b)

Paul continues to assume that everyone who has been transformed by grace will grow in grace. Grace is powerful; it will make sure that you grow. That’s why professing believers who aren’t growing are uncomfortable in their spirit. Those who live by rules and regulations and evaluate others by their keeping of the same are usually not growing themselves.

Christ changed us internally when we were saved, and this must affect us externally. Our transformation is consistently gradual from one degree to another. The Greek word “Metamorphosis” describes this change and is only used 3 other times in the New Testament. In Romans 12:2, it refers to moral change. In Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2, it describes the physical transformation of Christ. Other words are used in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and Philippians 3:21 to describe our future physical transformation at Christ’s return. Multiple verses in both Testaments describe the spiritual transformation brought about in believers' hearts. (See Rom 6:1-4, 2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15, Jer 31:33, Ezekiel 36:25-27.)

“Believers’ lives approximate more and more to the likeness of God expressed so perfectly in the way Jesus Christ lived his life.”

Paul saw this in the Corinthians because their lives changed (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

These 2 verses start and end with the person of the Holy Spirit and of Christ. All is accomplished by grace. Paul uses the Greek word “Kurios,” or “Lord,” the translation of the Hebrew “Yahweh,” indicating that Christ is the I AM. The Holy Spirit’s activity is another major characteristic of the New Covenant.

Grace compels us to be counter-cultural in the way we live, distinctly reverent and joyful. This process of growth is just as miraculous as the day of salvation.

Application Points:

  • Have you ever meditated on the work of the Holy Spirit in your own personal growth?
  • Do you enjoy a bold approach and study of God’s character in Christ? This is an access that was unprecedented in the Old Covenant! Take full advantage of it and investigate the Word of God!
  • Assume people are growing, because that’s what God’s grace does. In teaching and discipling, we need to address change rather than focusing on sin that once dominated lives. Galatians 6:1-2 and Matthew 18:15-17 indicate that the Holy Spirit’s conviction comes first; then the Creator gives loving discipline (Heb 12). Lastly is the pathway for Christian friends to step in when they see a friend stuck. This should be a rare and unfortunate time. Are you constantly pointing out flaws in your family or church family? Stop and reconsider grace and how it operates.
  • How have you seen the grace of the Spirit of God compel you to be morally transformed into the character of Christ? What change in your life has come recently because of God’s Word? Are you growing up in your moral thinking and decisions?
  • We get into trouble when we shoulder the responsibility for our own growth. When we stumble, we compare ourselves with others and lose our focus on Christ who is our sufficiency. Remember the moment you were born again and worship God for this and every step He grants in your spiritual growth. When you see someone else stepping forward in the light of God’s character, thank God first, then encourage them with what you see.
Cross References to Explore:
  • Romans 8:1-17 - a passage to study the work of Spirit in a believer’s life.