By Rev. Nicholas Hanges — Foundation Church, Spencer
2 Corinthians 3:6 (NASB95)
“… the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We live in a world focused on other’s faults, seeking approval through social media and allowing other people’s opinions of us to determine our sense of well being. The world we live in is performance driven and earnings based. We are told that we can do it from a young age and become better people through self improvement and hard work. If we just work hard enough, we can achieve anything!
Well, hard work is biblical (Proverbs 10:4-5), but our hard work or sense of approval have never earned us a right standing before a holy God. All of our good deeds could never make up for the corruption in every single one of our hearts. From the most dedicated churchgoer to the Easter/Christmas service only attendee, we all have one thing in common. We are guilty of sin before a righteous God. No amount of following rules will ever change that. We desperately need grace every single day. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:6-7), not our works or being better people.
The only reason we become better people is because Jesus paid the price for us to be made right with God. This is justification and the Apostle Paul, after experiencing this transforming grace, distributed the very thing he received. It is what we receive freely that empowers us to walk in a way that pleases God. It is because of grace and how much Jesus loves us that we are empowered to walk free of legalism and religiosity and have genuine heart change.
Unfortunately, the church apparently does not “get” the new covenant, although we claim to be in it. I watch christians tear each other apart and judge one another based on movie choices and social drinking decisions. Christians elevate certain sins over others (i.e. sexual immorality) while they themselves are guilty of others (i.e. bitterness, envy and un-forgiveness). Believers exile their very own brothers and sisters in Christ. Believers impose their specific teachings or “camps” onto others and put heavy burdens onto the new believers so they feel like they have to live up to a certain “standard” to be right with God.
The Bible says it is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that took the weight of our guilt and shame. It is only by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ that we can be saved. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation or forgiveness from God. The difference from the old covenant to the new is simple. The “letter” was the law in the outward sense. It was written on those old tablets of stone. It was good in itself but in never empowered anyone to actually serve God because it did not change our hearts. It simply told us what to do so we had to keep striving. Paul said the letter kills because the law exposes our guilt and “kills” us before God. That was not the end of it, or we would be left living in guilt and shame.
The new covenant completes the work of the law in us. The Spirit becomes the law written in our hearts (inward change) and it brings us resurrected life free of guilt and shame. We are empowered to live for Jesus in a new way based on nothing we did to earn it, but all that Christ sacrificed for us. Why in the world would we want to go back to an outward change when Jesus died to change our hearts inwardly and eternally? Much of the New Testament is correcting the early church on these very issues. They went back to “telling people what to do” (the law) rather than telling people who Jesus is.
How dare we impose our ideas of what a perfect Christian should look like? How dare we make other people think they have to earn a gift that is free to us all? Jesus died to give you new life in a relationship with him, not a set of rules to make you feel better about yourself and look down on others who aren’t living up to your specific code of conduct.
If we can see through the lens of the new covenant and blood of Christ, we will be able to lay down the burden of striving to be perfect and changing everyone else’s behavior. By grace alone through faith in Jesus, we can truly live out what we often profess tongue-in-cheek; “I have a relationship with Christ, not a religion.”