(2 Corinthians 3:7-11)
Sometimes it is easy to become complacent about the wondrous opportunity we have been given by God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we take it all for granted, not realising how truly blessed we are to live in this age where we can receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This piece of scripture looks at the gospel of the new covenant and does a comparison with the offer under the old covenant and we recognise just how blessed we are.
While there were many blessings under the old covenant of law, what we have today in Christ Jesus is far, far better. We have an opportunity that was not even remotely possible under the law. So we must take time and effort to understand the gospel and the teachings of the new covenant to take full advantage of ALL that God is offering and make full use of the blessings we have been given freely in Jesus Christ.
The New Covenant is Not Like the Old Covenant
I recall many years ago speaking to a minister of one of the denominational churches and asking him what the difference is between the old covenant of law and the new covenant.
His response has been echoed many times by other Christians I have discussed this matter with. He believed that the new covenant was basically just an extension of the old covenant. Many Christians today believe something similar to this, perhaps not even realising it, but they accept this through their words and actions.
Many Christians today believe that they are still sinners and are required to keep the law and that if they break the law they have sinned. They often refer to themselves saying, “I am a sinner, saved by grace” and in this statement they are recognising that they are still bound under sin and by extension bound under the law, since sin is the breaking of the law.
Thinking this way however, is contrary to what the bible teaches, and we see a glimpse of this in these verses of 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. Look at what Paul is saying here.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? – (2 Corinthians 3:7-8)
Right from the very beginning of when Moses received the Ten Commandments, which forms the pillars and foundations of the law, it was already recognised that it would not last. Paul shows us here that the law was, “…being brought to an end.” The law was not going to continue forever, but a time would come when it would fade away to nothing because something far better would replace it.
And that far better way is identified in the verses above as “the ministry of the Spirit” and it is much more glorious than the ministry of the law. Paul continues on here saying:
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. – (2 Corinthians 3:9-11)
Paul recognises there was a glory in the law, which he calls the ministry of condemnation, and there is great glory in the law. The law is holy, just and good and it is full of the wisdom of God. But it is not and was not ever the way God wished for man to come to Him.
Paul emphasises this fact saying that although the law “once had glory,” has now come to have no glory at all. The glory of the law has faded because there is something far superior and far more glorious that supersedes the law. And what is this more superior way?
It is the ministry of the new covenant, which is the ministry of righteousness, and righteousness is infinitely greater than condemnation.
And to make this point even stronger, Paul writes of the law in verse 11, that the law was, “…being brought to an end.” The time and the age of the law was finite. The law does not go on forever but was brought into being for a while until the age of righteousness under the new covenant was brought into effect when Jesus came and died for our sins and to remove the law so that righteousness could reign through grace.
A few more scriptures to consider in this discussion can be seen in Hebrews.
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – (Hebrews 10:8-10)
We see here that God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has done away with the old covenant of law and condemnation in order to establish the new, better and permanent way to come to God through the new covenant of righteousness, justification and holiness by faith in Jesus Christ.
Emphasising this point even more solidly, that the old covenant has passed away and the new covenant replaced it, are these words in the book of Hebrews.
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. – (Hebrews 8:7-9)
Here we see recognition that the first covenant, that is, the old covenant of law, was not without its faults. And the faults were that man could not keep it and the old covenant constantly condemned man as a sinner because he could not keep the law.
But we see in these words above that God was establishing a new covenant, and note the first words of verse 9. This new covenant was “…not like…” the old covenant God gave the people of Israel when they left Egypt.
Differences in the Two Covenants
Having seen all of this now, we should consider what are the differences between these two covenants.
The old covenant condemned man as a sinner when man broke the laws under the old covenant. This is why Paul called it a “ministry of condemnation.” The old covenant stood like a judge, standing over man and ready to judge him and punish him for every infraction.
No person was able to keep the fulness of the law (except for Jesus Christ) and so all mankind was condemned to sin and death.
God did not want man to sin. God wanted a people who would live in righteousness and who would choose to do what is right rather than seek to live in sin. But because the law could not be kept by man, God needed to establish a different way for man to become righteous before Him.
This is where the great blessings and glory of the new covenant come into play.
The penalty for sin was death, and even under the old covenant law, an animal sacrifice was made to atone for the sins of the people. Blood was shed so that the people could be cleansed of their sins. The death of the animal was a substitution for the death of the people so that sin could be forgiven.
But God did not want people to sin at all. He did not want to have to continually forgive people for their sins all the time when they came to Him with blood sacrifices. He wanted people to be sinless and to not want to sin. He wanted His people to be perfect.
So He established a way for people to be proclaimed perfect and righteous and sinless and separated from the law in the new covenant. He did this by grace. He saw fit in His kindness and loving grace, to overlook all of the sins and sinful ways of anyone who would come to Him and accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. And what that means is that anyone who would accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and put on the death of Christ in replacement for their own death, which they do through baptism and faith, God would declare to be righteous by faith and set free from past sins and the law so that they could not sin again in the future.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is far greater than the animal sacrifices for He took on ALL the sins of mankind who would come to Him in faith. And in this faith God declared that He would not just forgive our sins, but would take them away and remove them never to be seen again. And by removing the law, also through the death of Christ and by faith, God declared those who come to Him according to His word and way, He would declare to be righteous since they could not break the law any longer as they are no longer confined and bound under the law.
Can you see now why the new covenant has so much more glory then the old covenant of law? And the righteousness under the new covenant does not fade away but is permanent. Righteousness continues on into eternity because God is righteous.
But when Christians call themselves sinners, they are rejecting God's declaration of righteousness. They are saying that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was not strong or powerful enough to release them from sin and the law and they are effectively rejecting the freedom from law and freedom from sin that God has offered us through grace. And when they do that, they are putting themselves back under the law of condemnation rather than the ministry of the Spirit that leads to freedom.
Whee do you stand in this? Are you set free and no longer a sinner, ready to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ and the perfection of the Father by the Holy Spirit? Or do you call yourself a sinner and seek to be righteous under the law, which is not possible?
This is an important lesson we need to learn. Learn it well and seek to be found by God, righteous and free by faith in Jesus Christ, and not bound under the old covenant laws.
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