James 1 and 2 Corinthians 3 –
This first chapter serves as an introduction to the method used in making striking comparisons between the principles of law and grace. It focuses on two mirrors found in James and 2 Corinthians, in which we see the reflection of our true selves and the glory of Christ, respectively. By comparing these contrasting images, we gain insight into the difference between the principles of law and grace, and how they relate to our Christian walk.
The main part of the book will use the same method of comparison, focusing on two mountains mentioned in scripture: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Through exploring the features, behaviors, and inward atmospheres of the heart associated with each mountain, as well as the type of ministers produced by their continued association with either law or grace, we will gain a panoramic view of the difference between the principles of law and grace, and how they impact our relationship with God. This book is ideal for those seeking a deeper understanding of the Bible and its teachings on the two contrasting principles of law and grace.
I wonder if you’ve ever noticed, like I have, that there are two times in the New Testament where the word is likened to a mirror. One is in James, and one is in 2
Corinthians 3. If you look at these mirrors closely, they each tell us what we’re seeing in that mirror. What’s interesting is that they come to different conclusions about whose image we’re looking at in the mirror.
James 1:23-24 states: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 states: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.
Paul says “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into that same image from glory to glory.” In context, Paul is talking about a fundamental turn from the law of Moses that was engraved in stone, which he calls an administration of condemnation and death (2 cor 3:7). The letter of the law becomes a veil, so that when one reads the scripture according to the letter, it becomes a veil to them, hindering them from seeing the glory of the Lord. This veil was represented by the curtain that separated the Jewish people from the presence of God in the tabernacle, where the glory dwelt in the holiest (Heb 9:3).
The bible itself can be a veil to anyone who reads it according to the “letter” (2 Cor 3:6). Unbelieving Jewish people have the Bible in their hand, and Paul says that if they read without beholding Christ, they are veiled to this day, just as Moses was veiled when he came down from the Mount. He had a veil on his face, representing the fact that there was a glory that was passing away because he had received a ministry of condemnation and death, represented by those two tablets and graven in stone.
After these arguments Paul says, “But we all, with unveiled face are beholding, (really, it’s literally beholding and reflecting) as a mirror the glory of the Lord.” This glory is that which is which is shining in the face of Jesus Christ to illuminate the knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6-7).
So, there was the glory that shone in Moses’ face, which was a fading glory and was covered with a veil, and then there was the glory that shines in the face of Jesus Christ. The glory shining in the face of Christ is a shining and permanent weight of glory that is wrought into to us as we believe (2 cor 3:7-11).
Paul was actually comparing his ministry to those who desired to be law teachers. He said that the ministry that came from Sinai was the ministry of the letter, the law which kills, versus the ministry of the Spirit, which gives life (2:Cor 3:6). It’s the ministry of righteousness which imparts the life in Christ, and he goes on to say that when he and the apostles minister according to this new administration of righteousness, God is doing a kind of writing, not on tablets of stone, but on the fleshy tablets of your hearts.
Paul says, “For you are an epistle of Christ, known and read by all” (2 Cor 3:2). Paul said that when he speaks the gospel of Christ, he is speaking for the words of life, and the Spirit reveals the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. That shining is in the heart of the hearers and those who are now unveiled so that they can turn to the Lord and behold Him directly in their hearts.
That writing actually impresses something permanent, a “weight of glory” (2 cor 4:17) into their heart that never fades, so they become living, eternal epistles of Christ.
So this is the contrast between the ministry of condemnation, represented by the tablets of stone and the veil in the tabernacle that were part of Moses’ administration, and the New Testament ministry of the apostles of the risen Christ, which is the “ministry of righteousness and the ministry of the Spirit which gives life.”
The things from Moses’ administration were said to be earthy, dissolving and passing away (Heb 8:13; 2 Cor 3:7; Heb 9:9-10; Gal 4:21-23). But the New Testament ministry is heavenly and is eternal, according to the exceeding weight of eternal glory represented by the glorious risen Christ! (Heb 8:1-2; Heb 9:11-12;Col 3:1-2; Heb 1:1-4).
James says when he walks away from it, he forgets what kind of man he was shown to be.
In James, you see a man who is not beholding Christ when he comes to the word but is beholding himself, his natural man, which Paul said cannot receive the things that are of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). James is saying, “Look, if you come to the word and you hear it but are not a doer, you’re looking in the mirror, and you’re beholding yourself.” The truth is, that mirror should have exposed you. You should see when you look in that mirror, that there are blemishes. You should think, “Oh, there’s a spot.” How do you know? Because the law magnifies those things (Rom 3:20; Rom 4:15). The law is a mirror to show you flesh and its fallen condition.
However, a legalist is a veiled and insensitive person. When he examines his fallen condition in the light of the law, it becomes clear to anyone who has dealt with the law with a good conscience that something is amiss. He never seems to reach the crisis that was intended to produce change. A legalist will stare at himself in the mirror, see his flaws, and walk away, forgetting what kind of person he is supposed to be. What will he do?
It’s not that he simply ignores spiritual things. Rather, he does not let the implications of what the law shows him sink in. He walks away from his time of “devotion” after having “made his vows” thinking that he is going to actually keep the law, be better, and thus be blessed for his deeds. This is a forgetful hearer, who is also not a doer. How do we know he is not a doer? Because James said that if you break the law in one point you’ve broken the whole thing (James 2:10).
There are no doers (Rom 3:10-12). But the legalist is veiled and doesn’t know it, and is insensitive to his condition, having forgotten it.
The glory of Christ is hidden, and the law is present to do its work. As Paul revealed, its ministry is to condemn and bring death, exposing your sinful nature and showing you for what you are.
That’s the purpose of the law, not so that you can better yourself by it, but to show you the spots and the blemishes so that you look for a solution. But the person who remains in the law, continuing to hear it and not doing it and doesn’t let that become a crisis to him, is a person who’s forgotten what the law shows, and he is lifting that mirror and walks away from it. He forgets. He’s forgetful. It’s not good. James does go on to say, “Look, if you’re not a forgetful hearer but a doer, you’ll be blessed in your work.” What does that sound like?
In Deuteronomy 28, which presents the old covenant in terms of blessings and curses, Moses says, ‘See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death evil…Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live’ (Deuteronomy 30:15, KJV). Deuteronomy 8 outlines the law and promises blessings in the city, in the field, and in all areas of life for those who obey it (Deut 8:1). They will be the head and not the tail, above only and not beneath. However, he also warns that disobedience to the law will bring curses upon the people (Deut 8:19). They will be cursed going in and cursed going out, and will be judged according to the curses listed in the book (Deut 8:20).
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, says that all who rely on works of the law are under a curse because ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Galatians 3:10). James also emphasizes the point that keeping the whole law is the requirement ‘For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all’ (James 2:10). The reality is that everyone has broken the law in many points, again and again and again.
You know, pastors love to say, “Hey, all you have to do is love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, love your neighbor as yourself! It’s not that hard. You just don’t want to do it.” I’ve heard so many pastors say that, and I notice, they say it really fast. Why don’t they slow down and present each word and phrase for consideration? When God says love god with “all your mind, all your soul, all your strength…” it means the entirety of your being from start to finish with no interruption and no breaking. Otherwise, it’s not “all.”
The only person who fulfills that is Christ. He lives entirely for the glory of God and not for Himself at all, and that’s what’s required. The pastors are wrong. Many Christians, zealous and misguided absolutely desire to do this and hope that one day they can! We recognize that there’s something in us that corresponds to the law, and we want to do it. Paul says “I delight after the law in my inner man. But I find another law in my members…(rom 7:22-23)”.
Wanting to do a thing and actually doing it are not the same thing! If we come to the law looking for something to do and walk away from it not learning this lesson, we are not allowing that mirror to show us who we really are.
Eventually, though, you’re going to have to flip the mirror . You’re going to realize, “this is not the path to blessing. In this situation, I can only come out cursed!”
And so you’ll have a turn, and that’s what Paul’s talking about.
Paul says, “And when it shall turn to the Lord,” you shall be “unveiled”. And when you’re unveiled, when you come to that mirror, you’re not looking at the law and yourself and what to do. You’re looking at Christ and what He’s accomplished and seeing the glory
God shining in the face of Jesus Christ 2 Cor 3:16-17). And that is how we learn to approach the Bible. We have our devotional time not so that we can hear from the Lord about what we should do, but so that we can forget ourselves and let God describe to us the inheritance we have in Christ.
Incidentally we should change the name of “devotional” and call it something else. The very word indicates that we think we are devoting ourselves to God and have done so in that time we spent with him. What forgetful people we are!
Summarizing our Comparison:
|Nature of the Mirror||A representation of the law (James 1:23-24; Rom 3:20; Rom 4:15; James 2:10)||A representation of the glory of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Cor 4:6-7)|
|Focus of the Reader||Focuses on themselves, their natural man, and their fallen condition (James 1:23-24; 1 Cor 2:14)||Focuses on Christ and what He has accomplished, and the inheritance they have in Him (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Cor 4:6-7; Col 3:1-2)|
|Behaviors and Thought Life Generated||Legalism and insensitivity (James 2:10; Rom 3:10-12)||Transformation and being transformed into the same image (2 Cor 3:18); the ministry of righteousness and the ministry of the Spirit which gives life (2 Cor 3:6, 3:9-11); beholding Christ and letting God describe to us the inheritance we have in Him (2 Cor 3:18)|
This introduction was the inspiration for the chapters that follow. In these next few chapters of In this short book, we will compare and contrast Law and Grace through the perspective of two mountains mentioned in scripture: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Mount Sinai represents the Law, while Mount Zion represents the freedom we have in Christ. These mountains are directly referenced in Galatians 4, Hebrews 12, Romans 7 and 8, and 2 Corinthians 3.
As we explore the contrasting descriptions of their features, the people associated with them, their behaviors and inward atmospheres of the heart, and the type of ministers produced by continued association with each mountain, we will gain a panoramic view of the difference between law and grace. By the end, we will have a breathtaking, full understanding of the contrast between principles of law and grace!