Unveiled Faces: A Reflection on Galatians 4:8-20

This week at New City we heard about Galatians 4:8-20.  In this passage Paul writes, “Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how can you turn back again…?”

Paul describes not knowing God as being enslaved to things outside of God. He is concerned that the people of Galatia will turn back to these old ways which he calls “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:9). When Paul describes where the Galatians are now, he does not just say that since they know God they should know better than to go back to their old ways but he says that God knows the Galatians. For Paul, God knowing people is the primary reason to not turn away from faith.

Why does Paul make this distinction between knowing God and being known by God in Galatians 4? Paul’s image in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 helps us grasp what Paul is saying to the Galatians.  In 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 Paul writes,

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 we all with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit

In Galatians we see language of enslavement, and in 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of freedom. Where does this freedom come from? Paul says it comes from the Holy Spirit. How do we learn about the Holy Spirit?  When we pray and worship we can see the Spirit working in our lives and other’s lives and we come to know the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. These are great ways to see the Spirit of God at work. However, in this passage to the Corinthians, Paul seems to offer another way to know the Spirit of God and the freedom it offers.

Joao Zeferino de Costa, Moses Receiving the Law

The first line of this passage offers the first step: “but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” When you see the word “veil” maybe you think of the veils women wore in this time that covered their faces. Or maybe you think of a veil worn at a wedding. Both of these images can add to our understanding; however, what Paul has in mind can be found in the verses right before this passage when Paul describes Moses putting a “veil” over his face after going into the presence of God in Exodus 34:34. Moses would go before the Lord with his face unveiled and, when he returned to the people, his face was shining.  Because his face shone so brightly, Moses would then veil his face when he spoke to the people in order to protect them from the sheer glory of the Lord.  In the same way that Moses got to speak with God with an unveiled face, Paul says here that the Corinthians too can have “unveiled faces” before the Lord.

However, Paul’s concern in his letter to the church in Galatia is that some people are approaching God as if they have veils over their hearts. The people want to get to know God without letting God get to know them. Psalm 139 tells us that God already knows us because he formed us from the start. Maybe it is scary to let God in on the pieces of ourselves we do not like or we do not think He would like; but Paul assures us that there is freedom in the presence of God’s Spirit. Just as Moses was invited into the presence of God despite his unworthiness, we too are invited.  On our own we are not worthy to be in God’s presence, but as Paul says, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”

This is not freedom to do what we want. This is a freedom to stand before God unveiled, to not hide our shame from God. When Adam and Eve hid and clothed themselves in Genesis, God looked for them and made a new covering for them (Gen 3:8-21). And God has made a new covering for us today in the person of Jesus Christ.  Paul says that if we are in Christ we are “clothed with Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  Because of Jesus and the coming of His Spirit, we do not remain in our sin, but “we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed” (2 Cor 3:18).

We do not have the enslavement of sin anymore, because Christ took the sins with him on the cross and he came back resurrected with new life. This is something we know about God, that he loved the world so much that he sent his son to die for us (John 3:16). Do we know that, because of Christ and his righteousness, we can now have unveiled faces before God? Do we know that when we are known by God he transforms us into his image? This is why we do not only seek to know God, but we rejoice in being known by God. This is why Paul begged the Galatians to not turn back to their old ways of enslavement, because they have freedom already in Christ Jesus. Instead of reaching for our veils, for our coverings for sin, we go into the presence of God and reach out to Him. We trust that Jesus really did take our sin to the grave, and returned with new life and freedom for all of us to be transformed.

May we live with unveiled faces, and invite others to do the same.

Mary Katherine Wildeman, New City Stories Contributor