“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This was the note we ended on last time. Though we did not focus on that part of II Corinthians 3:6 in our last post, we will do so today. Here, Paul is contrasting the old covenant with the new one.
“The letter” is referring to the Law, rules and regulations given by God that we could never keep. And because we could never perfectly adhere to the Law, it brought death. On the other hand, the new covenant that was given through Jesus Christ gives life, as the Holy Spirit works in our lives transforming us from the inside out. One kills, the other gives life.
Why the opposing differences? What causes one to kill and the other to give life?
I believe Paul gives us the answers to these questions further down in II Corinthians 3. Take a look at this passage:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
~II Corinthians 3:17-18
Freedom. That’s the difference. The Spirit of God brings freedom. But freedom from what? Freedom from the dire consequences of our sin and freedom from the bondage of the Law. For the Law does indeed hold us in bondage. It shows us how far we have fallen short of God’s perfection and how guilty we are. However, with the new covenant and gift of the Holy Spirit there is freedom. Freedom to gaze upon the Lord and see Him for who He really is. Freedom to fully partake of His glory and become transformed into His image.
Now this might not sound like anything special because we’ve become accustomed to the freedom of the new covenant. So let’s go back a couple of verses in II Corinthians 3 and see what the context of this passage is.
“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?”
~II Corinthians 3:7-8
When the old covenant was given to Moses with incredible glory, he had to cover his face so that the impure Israelites would not unfittingly gaze upon the glory of the Lord. However, we, under the new covenant, can look fully upon the Lord with unveiled faces and can stand before His presence without shame.
This is life giving. The old covenant of bondage promised death and eternal punishment for our sins, but with the new covenant of the Spirit there is freedom which brings spiritual life. This is amazing and quite a gift! Some translations used the word liberty instead of freedom which has caused many people over the generations to use this verse out of context as biblical backing to do whatever they want—after all the Spirit of the Lord gives freedom or liberty. However, as we’ve already seen, this is not necessarily the meaning and context of this priceless truth.
Freedom in the Spirit does not mean that we can do whatever we want. Rather, it means that we are at liberty to be in the presence of God without fear. Therefore, let us praise God for His life-giving Spirit and the simple truth that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And let us also remember this warning and exhortation from Paul concerning freedom:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,
but through love serve one another.”
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