2 Corinthians 3: 7 - 11
Nostalgia can be deadly to your faith. I suppose there is always a temptation to look back at the past and imagine that it is better than the present, especially if you find yourself in a hard place. If you are old, you may wish you were young again. If your children have left home, you may wish they were young again.
Sometimes those nostalgic thoughts can lead us in a wrong direction: Those were happy days. These are hard days. Those were good times. These are bad times. Things were better then. Things are worse now.
Remembering the past is always important lest we forget who we are and where we come from, but living in the past can be deadly to our spiritual health. If we spend too much time pining for the past, we may miss God’s blessings in the present. We end up dreaming about what used to be instead of giving thanks for what we have right now.
The devil knows this, and that’s why he uses our hazy memories of yesterday to trip us up spiritually. If only he can get us yearning for what used to be, he can distract us from what God has given us right now.
That’s the basic background of 2 Corinthians 3. A group of false teachers had convinced the Corinthians of the great glory of Moses’ day. They spoke so much of Moses and the law that Christ somehow seemed diminished in the process. In replying to these false teachers, Paul nowhere denigrates the days of Moses. He makes one point and he makes it in three ways: We should be grateful for our blessings because what Jesus gives us is so much more glorious than anything we had in the past.
I was struck with the words “glory” and “glorious." In just 5 verses those 2 words show up10 times. If the false teachers said, “The law is glorious,” Paul says, “But what Jesus gives us is more glorious.” It’s not bad versus good but rather good versus better. What Jesus brings us in the gospel is better in every way.
How exactly is the gospel “better” for us? Paul provides 3 answers -
1. It Provides Life Instead of Death v. 7, 8
The law can not bring life. By giving us a set of standards, it tells us what is right and what is wrong, but it can’t inspire us to obedience. The law by itself arouses within us the desire to disobey. Suppose you are walking along and you see a sign on a bench that says, “Wet Paint. Do Not Touch.” What do you do? You reach out and touch the bench. Why do you do that? To see if the paint is still wet or not. But the sign said, “Wet Paint. Do Not Touch.”
If there had been no sign, you wouldn’t have touched the bench. In fact, the thought of touching the bench would never have occurred to you. The sign aroused the desire that led you to disobey. That’s why you have wet paint on your fingers.
Is the law therefore bad? No, the law is good. Is it weak? Yes, in the sense that it can only regulate outward behaviour.
The law that shouts from Mt. Sinai “Thou shall not” cannot compel me to obey its demands. It leaves me locked up in disobedience, a repeat offender who wants to change but lacks the power.
2. It Provides Forgiveness Instead of Condemnation. v. 9
That’s a strange way to put it. “The ministry that condemns men is glorious.” How can condemnation be glorious? Since the law comes from God, even my breaking it proves the rightness of the law. I am condemned not for doing right but for doing wrong. There is another way to say it.
I don’t “break” the 10 Commandments. I am “broken” by the 10 Commandments. I don’t “break” them. They “break” me.
The law upholds God’s glory by punishing those who do not meet his righteous demands. But that’s all the law can do. It leaves us condemned and guilty. That’s where the gospel comes in. What the law could not do, Christ has done for us. Rule keeping produces guilt and leaves us dead in the road. But when Christ enters, we find new life. Once you come to Christ, you’re a brand-new person. You can never go back to the old person you used to be. You can try, but you won’t like it. You won’t be happy. You won’t be satisfied.
The law demands but gives me no power to obey. When Christ enters, he “he gives me wings.”
3. It Provides These Blessings Permanently. v. 10, 11
Fading glory - You win and you’re the world champs. You lose and 10 people greet your plane on the way back home. But even when you win, the glory fades eventually. “If this is the Ultimate Game, why do they play it again next year?”
Fading glory - That’s all we get in this world. But in Jesus Christ we have something that lasts forever. Think of what that means. We are . . . Forgiven forever. Justified forever. Accepted forever. Redeemed forever. Delivered forever. Reconciled forever. Born again forever.
That’s the whole point of the New Covenant - God writes his law in our hearts and forgives our sins so that we might be saved forever. That’s why Hebrews 10:18 says, “Where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” You don’t need any other sacrifice for sin because the blood of Jesus Christ covers all our sins forever.
So, then, here is Paul’s answer to the spiritual nostalgia of those who want to go back to the law: Are you nuts? You were dead, now you are alive. You were condemned, now you are forgiven. All this is yours forever. Rejoice and give thanks to God. Why would anyone ever give this up?
Very Bold v. 12
Other versions handle it in different ways: “We use great plainness of speech” (KJV). “Nothing holds us back” (MSG). “We speak very freely and openly and fearlessly” (AMP). Phillips - “With this hope in our hearts we are quite frank and open in our ministry." It’s fairly easy to read 2 Corinthians 3 and to think, “This doesn’t really apply to me, does it?” The answer is, yes it does, if (big if) the hope of the gospel is firmly implanted in your heart.
If you know it . . . If you understand it . . .If you believe it . . .If you see what Christ has accomplished for you . . .If that truth ever grips your heart . . .You will never be the same again. You can’t be the same.
What God has given us in Christ so far surpasses anything the world offers that we ought to be “very bold” in our witness for Christ. Let me press home this point and we will be done. Do you have this hope “in your heart"? I’m not asking about your religious nametag - Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian. Those things matter but not when it comes to having this hope “in your heart.” Religion can’t give you a hope that makes you “very bold."
Religion makes you religious. Christ gives you a living hope.
A living hope is a hope so solid and strong that even death itself cannot destroy it. That’s a hope that will last forever because it is anchored in eternity. Do you have that living hope or are you still clinging to your religion to get you to heaven? You can have the fading glory of the law and all you’ll get for it is death and condemnation. Or you can come to Christ and you will have the unfading glory of life and righteousness forever.
Are we saved by what we do or by what Christ has done for us? Thanks be to God, we do not have to wonder about the answer.
Christ is all we need for salvation.
Christ is all we need for the Christian life.
Christ is all we need at the moment of death.
Christ is all we need, now and forever. Amen.