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, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. [2 Corinthians 3:7-11]
This verse embodies Christianity well (and so does the rest of this chapter – read it). First of all, we should look at what this ministry of death actually is. It’s referring to the law that was given to Moses in the Old Testament. The 10 Commandments, does that ring a bell? It indeed came with such glory that Moses had to cover his face, and people could not gaze at him (Exodus 34). It was a big deal. This was a time in which people were fighting to remain pure and holy and blameless before the Lord. These stone tablets were what people used to do that. If you even know the 10 Commandments off the top of your head (I don’t) then you will know that they encompass everything someone would ever need to do or not do in order to be righteous before the Lord.
If you know that, you’ll probably know how impossible that is. These people were almost doomed from the beginning. They were to follow these 10 laws perfectly in order to be righteous. Looking back in 2 Corinthians, you will see that it is also referred to as the ministry of condemnation. Why? Because that’s exactly what it is.
The 10 Commandments were given to the people for a reason. The reason wasn’t for us to follow them perfectly and we would be perfect people who lived perfect lives and then went to heaven. No, the purpose of these 10 Commandments was to show us how completely imperfect and worthless we are. If you look back through Scripture, even the purest of the pure failed to follow these Commandments. We wouldn’t even really know what sin was without these laws. We will never be good enough. These laws prove to us that we are DOOMED.
Once we can get over the initial shock that we are crappy, worthless people who can do no good that will be good enough (see Isaiah 64:6), we can start to see the purpose of Jesus.
Apparently, there is a ministry of righteousness. This new covenant that has come through the Spirit is Jesus Christ’s covenant. He is the glory that surpasses the ministry of death. He is the ministry of life. Look at who Jesus was. He was literally God in the flesh who came down and lived a completely perfect life. How is this even possible? Uh, because he was God.
Here we have a “man” who followed the Commandments perfectly. He was sinless. Something that is embedded in our being was not embedded in his. Jesus lived an absolutely perfect life; something we could never accomplish. And then, he gave himself up to be brutally murdered on a cross. When he did that, the sins of the entire world were thrust upon his shoulders. He then took the punishment, the wrath of God, in our place. God essentially put the punishment on himself. For us.
This is the new covenant. The laws of Moses are no longer necessary. Why? Because we do not need to follow any laws in order to be counted as righteous. We do not need to follow a purity code or make sure we are “clean.” Our purity, righteousness, and cleanness comes from surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ. It comes from forming a relationship with God through the bridge that was made when Jesus took the punishment for my sin.
In fact, the people who are still stuck on following “the rules” and “laws” are the ones living in darkness. They are like the Pharisees, who can’t seem to understand this new covenant. They are stuck in a moral way of living, a way of living that only will lead to death. But do they know any better? Take Matthew 7, for example:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. [Matthew 7:21-23]
This is such a perfect example of the person I was just a few years ago and what I refer to as the typical “American Christian.” These are people who genuinely believe that because they are following the appropriate laws and rules, or just “doing what the Bible says,” they are going to heaven. This is a terrifying place to be. I was this person. I lived morally enough. I was a youth leader at my church and I memorized Scripture. But what Jesus is trying so desperately to tell us all is that unless we know him, we will never enter into the Kingdom. I lived according to the ministry of death for many years. I know now that my deeds are worthless and that my relationship with Christ is what truly saves and reconciles my soul.
Because of this, I cannot expect someone who doesn’t have a personal relationship with Christ to understand this. I can’t expect someone who doesn’t know Jesus to be able to follow him. I am filled with the Holy Spirit, and the non-Christian, well, isn’t. There is the difference. While the new covenant of righteousness is within me, the non-Christian is still bound to the law. The non-Christian must follow a moral code in order to feel righteous and holy. I do not. I know that I am righteous and holy. The new covenant is Jesus. Think for a moment how FREEING it is. We are no longer bound to the law! It used to hold us captive (Romans 7:6) but it doesn’t anymore. We don’t follow the old written code anymore, because it is carved into our hearts the moment we give our lives to Christ. It’s a beautiful freedom for people like me who can’t seem to wake up on the right side of the bed most days.
There will come a day when we all will fully and completely understand the reality of God. We will know for sure, 100% just how real and powerful and true he is. And on that day, you will either enter into his Kingdom and spend eternity in his presence, or you will be thrust into Hell and be separated from him for eternity. You will have full and complete knowledge of who God is and how freaking amazing he is, but zero access. For eternity. That is a completely terrifying thought. And it’s guaranteed to happen if you don’t know Christ. Following a list of rules and commands will get you absolutely nowhere. This may seem like a hard truth, but it’s simply what I believe. I don’t believe that being good, moral, rule-following people will do anything. God doesn’t call for me to be perfect. He wants me to be real, and he knows that me being real is me being imperfect. But I have to make the conscious decision to chase after him every day. That’s what he wants. He wants a relationship with me. Not a list of good deeds I did today, and not a list of how much I screwed up.
Does this free gift of righteousness mean that I am okay to delight in sin and live a life of rebellion? No, as a matter of fact it does not. However, I am just as much human now as I was four short years ago when I was not a Christian. My sinfulness still exists. I still fall to evil temptations. Hey, even Paul did (Romans 7). But I have a much greater purpose now and I have the Holy Spirit. I am learning how to love Christ through my life every single day. I am learning how to fight sin in my daily life. I will never be free from sin until the day I meet Jesus in eternity. And what a beautiful day that will be.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6]
When I think about people who are lost souls wandering around in the darkness, this is what I want them to hear. I don’t want people to see a list of rules they must adhere to in order to be accepted by Christ. I want them to hear that they don’t need to be enslaved to morality. I do want them to see that there is a special freedom waiting for them in a relationship with Christ. There is a beautiful, comforting Truth within reach. We Christian people have the privilege to share an amazing gift with non-Christians. The goodest of all goods. How can we possibly keep silent about THIS?