IN THE DAYS OF HIS POWER SERIES.
TOPIC: THE LETTER KILLETH, BUT THE SPIRIT GIVETH LIFE.
Rev. Innocent Chukwudi Peace-Udochukwu
President Living Fountain Ministries Int’l LIFOM
“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
2 Corinthians 3:6
There is a letter of the word LOGOS and the Spirit of the word RHEMA; meaning that the understanding one gets from reading the words of the scripture is different from a supposed meaning gotten from the Spirit of God.
Also, it isn’t the understanding gotten from the LOGOS that should be applied but that gotten from the RHEMA
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; hut our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
The apostle Paul states in verse 5 that God empowers his servants to be ministers of the New Covenant. Having a deep understanding of the Old Covenant Law, Paul proclaimed that the Lord had provided him with the skills necessary to serve as a minister under the New Covenant. This is also true for each of us. Although we may not be preachers, apostles, pastors, or prophets, we can allow the Lord to empower us to become who He desires us to be. As Christians, we are to pray that God instructs, equips, and uses us in a way that is honouring to Him. He will provide the capabilities necessary for us to achieve the impossible.
Paul served as minister of both covenants: the old and the new. Upon telling the Corinthians that they were to follow the New Covenant, some of them began to reject his leadership. They elevated the status of wealthy preachers and rebelled against him. The apostle shed tears as he strived to bring repentance and reconciliation to the lost through his letters. In his writings, Paul stated that the Old Covenant was temporary and Christ had not come to abolish the Law, but rather to fulfill it.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to focus more on the Saviour than the messenger or the way in which the message was conveyed. He reminded them that their competence was a gift from God. James 1:17 echoes this very well. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
The Lord has equipped us to serve as ministers of the New Covenant as well. We are no longer under the Old Covenant since Jesus died on the cross for our sins. To follow the Old Testament Law for salvation leads to death.
The Letter kills but the Spirit gives Life!
In this outline we point out what we received through our Lord Jesus Christ. How that when the LAW was given, on that day 3000 men died. However, when the Holy Spirit came 3000 men were born again.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
The law of God is holy and just and good; it is inexorable, and we have fallen under its just condemnation. That is at the bottom what Paul means by the “the letter killeth.’ He does not mean that attention to pedantic details shrivels and deadens the soul. No doubt that is true, within certain spheres; it is a useful thought. But it is trivial indeed compared with what Paul means. Something far more majestic, far more terrible, is meant by the Pauline phrase. The letter that Paul means is the dreadful handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and the death with which it kills is the eternal death of those who are forever separated from God.
But that is not all of the text. The letter killeth, Paul says, but the Spirit maketh alive. There is no doubt about what he means by ‘the Spirit.’ He does not mean that spirit of the law as contrasted with the letter; he certainly does not mean the lax interpretation of God’s commands which is dictated by human lust or pride; he certainly does not mean the spirit of man. No real student of Paul has doubted, so far as I know, but that he means the Spirit of God. God’s law brings eternal death because of sin; but God’s Spirit, shed abroad in the heart, brings life. The thing that is written killeth, but the Holy Spirit in the heart gives life.
The contrast runs all through the New Testament. Hopelessness under the law is described in the seventh chapter of Romans. “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But this hopelessness is transcended by the gospel. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord… For the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ The law’s sentence of condemnation was borne for us by Christ who suffered in our stead; The handwriting of ordinances which was against us—the dreadful ‘letter’ of which Paul speaks in our text—was nailed to the cross.
After his descent from the mountain, Moses was shocked and enraged to see the people worshiping a golden calf. He smashed the tablets and ordered the golden idol to be destroyed. Moses confronted them about their immorality and idolatry, but many of them refused to repent. He, therefore, invited those who wished to follow the Lord to gather around him and instructed them to destroy those who continued to sin. As a result, 3,000 men perished.
Read Exodus 32:25-28
As demonstrated by the Law, we are unable to live up to God’s perfect standard on our own. Those who follow the Law in order to be justified by God must not break a single commandment throughout their lives; otherwise, they will be guilty of breaking them all.
THE LETTER KILLS.
Since it reminds us of our sins, the Letter keeps us in a constant state of guilt, condemnation, and shame. As a result, we come to understand that we cannot be righteous simply by obeying the Law. Nevertheless, Paul says we should remain hopeful because the Spirit gives life.
THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE.
Someone once said, “God saves us from death and grants us eternal life when we are born again through the power of the Holy Spirit.” It was through the death of Jesus on the cross that the Law was fulfilled. Consequently, we can now enter into a new covenant known as the Covenant of Grace.
Read Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Luke 22:20
Since we are under the New Covenant, the forgiveness of sin no longer requires animal sacrifices. The final sacrifice was made by Jesus – the Lamb of God when He shed His blood for you and I on the cross.
Are you striving to obtain salvation by following the Law? Are you seeking to become a good Christian through the observance of the Ten Commandments? If so, you are on the wrong path. You cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven by simply obeying the Law. Christ’s sacrifice for us provides the means by which we may enter into heaven. The Old Covenant was temporary, whereas the New Covenant is permanent. As opposed to the Old Covenant which was written on stone tablets, the New Covenant is written on our hearts and sealed with His blood.
Read John 3:3-8
In this passage, Jesus explains to Nicodemus how to be born again. In the Old Testament, when a person violated the Law, he or she was required to sacrifice an animal as a form of atonement. This is not the case anymore as the Holy Spirit now indwells every believer forever. As Christians, we walk in righteousness, not to be saved, but because we are saved.
Read Ephesians 1:13 and Galatians 5:22:23
If we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, abundant fruit will be produced in our lives. As opposed to the Old Covenant, which has ceased to be relevant, the New Covenant is eternal and far more glorious.
Read Acts 2:41
According to this verse, 3,000 people repented of their sins and surrendered their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. What a stark contrast it is from the 3,000 men who lost their lives for rebelling against God.
John Piper once said to future pastors:
Don’t turn Christianity into a mere list of rules, whether it’s the Ten Commandments or any other list. Because without the work of the Holy Spirit, commandments and rules kill. That is the meek self-sufficient heart. It produces either self-exalting rebellion by rejecting the rules or self-satisfying self-achievements by keeping the rules. In either case, death. The Letter kills and the Spirit gives life.
Christians are called to ministry. Is your ministry one of death or one of life?
We [we gospel-preaching apostles] are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
2 Corinthians 2:15
In other words, some people smell the aroma of the gospel as a toxic stumbling block and noxious foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). And they die. The gospel itself becomes for them “a fragrance from death to death.” It meets a dead heart, and it leads to death.
But where the Holy Spirit does his life-giving work, then the gospel is a fragrance from life to life. The letter kills — the letter of the law kills, the letter of the gospel kills. But the Spirit gives life.
Which brings us to the second question: What does the Spirit actually do so that the letter does not kill? How does the Spirit turn a murdering letter into a means of Spirit-given life?
As Paul’s argument continues, he gives the answer in 2 Corinthians 4:4–6: The Spirit takes away the deadly blindness of the heart so that the eyes of the heart can see and treasure the letter as it really is in its true relationship to ultimate reality — to the glory of Christ, and God, and the cross and faith, and God’s revealed purposes in the world.
Jesus came to give us an abundant life, or life “to the full” (John 10:10). The Holy Spirit living in believers is how Jesus fulfills that promise. The abundant Christian life is marked by the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).
The Old Testament Law could not produce any of that fruit; only the Holy Spirit can, as He lives in us.
The Spirit gives life in that He enables us to reach God’s ultimate goal for us, to be transformed into the glorious image of God’s own Son (2 Corinthians 3:18; also see Romans 8:28–30). Until the day that we see Christ, the Spirit intercedes with God on our behalf, ensuring our continued forgiveness and preserving the promise of God (Romans 8:26–27).
“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Elsewhere, Paul teaches the same truth: “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6).
That phrase, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” could be the title of Paul’s biography. He had been a ‘letter’ man, a Pharisee born and bred, loving the law with its imperatives and human embellishments and all its inability to give anyone a good conscience or grace to attain the righteousness of God. He had become a killer, agreeing with the death of Stephen and dragging many away to prison and death. The letter surely kills. It killed compassion and wisdom in the life of this man. The proof of this axiom is Saul of Tarsus.
Who loved the letter more? Yet who was more dead? But then the Lord met him, and announced forgiveness to him, and indwelt Paul by the Spirit. God the Spirit made him alive, and gave him gifts, inspiration, office, power, unction and fruit. Paul preached in the Spirit, and prayed in the Spirit, and wrote in the Spirit, and worked in the Spirit. It was the Spirit, and he alone, who makes men competent ministers of the new covenant.
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