When we think of veils, we often imagine a bride walking down the aisle with a veil over her face or the image of a Muslim woman who, because of her religion, wears one to cover her face. But the reality is that the majority of people who will attend church this Sunday will do so in a veil. Not a physical covering—those are obvious. I’m talking about the spiritual veils, facades, masks, and cover-ups people use to disguise their true identity.
It’s easy to be self-righteous and point a finger at someone when their veil is removed. It’s easy to express shock and even outrage when someone you know falls into sin. However, it’s much harder to admit you too are guilty of wearing a veil.
We all have them. They’ve been in style since the time of Moses, and we rarely go without them. We are grateful for them, and, though part of our daily attire, we usually hope no one notices. Moses himself—the man of God in his generation, a godly leader entrusted with leading the nation of Israel out of captivity—wore a veil. But he was hiding something.
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, his face was shining as he reflected the glory of God (Exodus 34:29ff). As he spoke to the people, they could see the glory on his face and were probably quite impressed. But let’s take a look at 2 Corinthians 3:
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. . . . Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (vv. 12, 13, 17)
This passage tells us something about Moses we don’t learn from reading Exodus. At first Moses wasn’t even aware his face was shining as he came down from the mountain. Once he realized what had happened, he wore a veil when he talked to the people. But what was true of Moses is true of us. Those “glory moments”—those fresh encounters with the living Lord—fade. The emotion and glow of the moment wane. Time grinds us down. Life wears on us.
Moses wore the veil, knowing the glory would eventually fade away. And he was afraid—afraid the people would see the fading glory.
Pick up again in 2 Corinthians 3:
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (vv. 14-16)
Remember that from the time Moses brought the Law down from the mountain to the time when Joshua challenged the people at the end of his ministry, the people’s response was the same. “We’ve got this, no problem. We’re on it. You can count on us. We will do what God says!” Nonetheless, before the day was over, they would be guilty of dishonoring their word and breaking God’s law.
Religion is one of the great cover-up schemes of the devil and our flesh. We convince ourselves, or the devil whispers in our ear, “Put up a front. Just pretend. Fake it. You can get away with it. Everyone else is faking it, so you’ll fit right in.” Thus the children of Israel—and countless numbers of believers in the twenty-first century—put on a religious facade. They cover up their sinful, miserable lives with religious activity. They convince themselves that just checking the box, showing up, doing good deeds, and tossing an occasional token in the offering plate is enough. We polish the shiny veneer because our pride won’t allow us to admit we aren’t cutting it spiritually.
Fast-forward 1,500 years after Moses, and Paul intimated that nothing had changed. The Jews were still trying to please God by keeping the law and going through the rituals. Has anything changed today? Aren’t we guilty of the same thing? Don’t you hear this all the time in church?
I can handle it.
I’ll try harder.
I’ll do better next time.
Those empty words mean nothing more than trying to please God in our flesh. But the flesh is offensive to God. Religion that tries to work its way to God completely undercuts the gospel of grace.