RIGHTEOUSNESS

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Yesterday we saw that everyone stands condemned by the law under the old covenant, but today we are looking at the new covenant. Charles Wesley wrote, “No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness Divine.” Wesley must have had Paul’s words in mind, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit [Romans 8:1]. The law brought condemnation. The Greek word is katakrisis, meaning under sentence of death, but under the new covenant Jesus brought righteousness.

In writing about the new covenant Paul says it is the ministry of the Spirit and “a ministry of righteousness.” He uses the Greek word dikaiosune, normally translated as “righteousness” but more correctly translated as, “are made right with God” [verse 9 NLT]. The question to ask is, “What exactly is the meaning of being made right with God?” The theological word for being made right with God is justification. The word justification can be defined as, the act of God, whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Christ on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the cross. We need to unpack this definition:

Firstly, justification is an act not a process. There are no degrees of justification; each believer who has trusted Christ as Saviour has the same right standing with God. Secondly, justification is something God does. No sinner can justify himself before God. Thirdly, God declares us righteous. He does not make us righteous but declares us righteous. It is a legal matter. God puts the righteousness of Christ on our record in place of our sinfulness. He no longer sees us as sinners, but as complete in Christ. Fourthly, the sinner is justified by FAITH. It is when he confesses his sin, and turning from sin, trusts Christ as Saviour, God declares him righteous. God looks on us, and deals with us as though we have never sinned at all! Fifthly, Jesus bore, not just our sin, but also the condemnation of our sin on the cross. He paid the price to satisfy the justice of God and set those who trust Him free. In that moment when we trust Christ as Saviour God declares us righteous!

When the prodigal son returned home the father put a robe of righteousness on him. It covered all the stains of sin and shame, and declared to the son his full and total acceptance. As Paul says, “We are accepted in the Beloved.” We will continue to look at this wonderful truth of being made right with God in our reading tomorrow.

Questions:

How would you describe to someone else the meaning of “God declares us righteous?”

Why is it not possible for us to justify ourselves before God?

Read 1 John 4:19 & Romans 5:8. What do these verse say about God’s love for us? Will you now thank Him that he took the initiative in first loving us?

CONDEMNED

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; Mark 10:17-22

“For if the ministry that brings condemnation [the old covenant, the Law] has glory, how much more does glory overflow in the ministry that brings righteousness [the new covenant which declares believers free of guilt and sets them apart for God’s special purpose]! Indeed, what had glory [the Law], in this case no longer has glory because of the glory that surpasses it [the gospel]” [2 Corinthians 3:7-10 Amplified Bible].

Over the next few days we are going to consider two words from this passage of Scripture – condemnation and righteousness.

The old covenant was based on the law, but it brought condemnation because nobody could fully keep it. Isaiah clearly addressed this when he said, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” [Isaiah 64:8 NLT].

Paul explains this further in the context of God’s law, “Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” [Romans 3:19-20 NLT].

Recently I have been asked to speak to a fantastic group of young people on the subject of “You cannot earn the love of Jesus.” Sadly that is exactly what people do when they try to find God’s acceptance through good deeds and obedience to the Law.

One day a rich, young ruler came to Jesus, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” [Mark 10:17]. Jesus told him that he knew the commandments [verse 19], to which the young man answered, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth” [verse 20]. He thought that he had done good enough, but then Jesus challenged him to give his money to the poor. Jesus put his finger on the real issue, his god was money – in direct opposition to the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:1]. When you break one law you stand condemned as much as the person who breaks all the laws.

There is no way that we can gain God’s favour and be saved by our works – if that were possible then there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the cross. It was precisely because we couldn’t save ourselves that Jesus died on the cross!

Questions:

Why do people who try to earn God’s favour by good works actually make of no effect the cross of Christ?

Can you explain why the law brings condemnation but in Christ there is now no condemnation?

THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Yesterday we saw some of the benefits of the new covenant in Christ. They included freedom, being right with God and the privilege of the veil taken away so that we can come directly, with boldness, into the presence of God.

The ability to come directly into the presence of God is a major benefit of the new covenant, and today we will consider five reasons why this is so important.

Firstly, it is God’s presence that gives us our direction. Just as the cloud and fire symbolised the presence of God and led the Israelites through the Wilderness, so His presence today leads us in the direction He wants us to go. God said to Moses, “My Presence will go with you,” [Exodus 33:14], to which Moses responded, “If your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” [Exodus 33:15].

Secondly, it is God’s presence that makes us different to everyone else. In a time when so many people are afraid to be different, God’s presence with us makes us different. God said to Moses, “For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth” [Exodus 33:16].

Thirdly, it is God’s presence that shows us the truth about ourselves. Isaiah recognised his sinfulness when he was in the presence of God [Isaiah 6:1-5].

A part of the difference is that we have found a place of rest and peace. “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest” [Exodus 33:14]. When we carry the presence of God people around us may not understand it, but they will recognise that we are different.

Fourthly, without God’s presence we are in great need. When the Lord departed Miriam was leprous [Numbers 12:9-10]. Samson flirted with sin too many times, and the Lord departed from him! Sin caused Adam and Eve to hide from God’s presence because they were afraid [Genesis 3:8-10]. David, following his sin with Bathsheba cried out, “Cast me not away from Your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” [Psalm 51:11].

Fifthly, God’s presence brings joy and pleasure. The Psalmist wrote, “In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” [Psalm 16:11].

Here is one of the most amazing privileges of the new covenant, that we can enjoy the presence of God in a way that was very spasmodic and limited under the old covenant.

Questions:

What does the presence of God mean to you personally in the way that you live your daily life?

Why do you think that it is that so many people are afraid to be seen as different and try to conform to the fashions of the day? In these last days when so many reject God are you prepared to be seen as different?

THE GLORY OF THE NEW COVENANT

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh” [Hebrews 10:19-20 NKJV]

Paul said that the old covenant led to death [verse 1], brought condemnation [verse 9] and was passing away [verse 7], and yet it was glorious! The face of Moses shone with God’s glory after he had spent time on the mountaintop in the presence of God. Because this glory was fading, Moses had to cover his face with a veil. There was no understanding of the truth among the people, and even today, as people read the Old Testament this veil and blindness of the truth remains [verses 13-14]

Does this mean that we should not read the Old Testament? Of course we should, and I suggest for five reasons. Firstly, it teaches us of God’s work in history – His plan and purposes. Secondly, it teaches a great deal about the nature and character of God. Thirdly, the Old Testament points to the New, and foreshadows things to come. Fourthly, the Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus used, and fifthly, The Old Testament gives us many examples so that we walk in right ways and not in ways of evil [see 1 Corinthians 10:1-6].

However, we can only fully understand the Old Testament by believing in Christ and turning to Him [verses 14,16].

The old covenant may have been glorious but in Christ there is greater glory.

On the cross Jesus made a way for us to enter into the presence. As He died the veil in the temple was torn apart and we have access into the Holy of Holies, literally the presence of God. It is no longer just one man who represents God’s people, but all may come. As Paul writes, in Christ the veil has been taken away. The glory of this new covenant is that we can be totally right with God [verse 9], we can enter with boldness into God’s presence [verse 12], we have freedom [verse 17] and as we spend time in God’s presence we are mirrors to others of His glory [verse 18]. We too can know, like Moses, and yet in even greater measure the glory of the Lord. Moses had to come down the mountain from the presence of God and back to the people, but we now dwell constantly in His presence. Jesus gave us a wonderful promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].

In this time of grace we never have to leave the presence of God!

These wonderful truths are all in Jesus. Paul makes it so clear when he says, “And this veil can only be removed by believing in Jesus” [verse 14 NLT] and “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, then the veil is taken away” [verse 16 NLT]. This is why we so often hear people, who turn from sin to Christ and believe on Him, say, “I can see it now!” Understanding follows the step of faith

Questions:

What are the five reasons why we should read the Old Testament?

What four specific blessings does Paul give in our Bible passage today for those who put their trust in Jesus?

MY FEEBLENESS – GOD’S POWER

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life” [2 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT]

Continuing to speak about his ministry, Paul emphasizes that the source of any blessing and success that he has had came from God. Many years ago a great Bible teacher, Graham Scroggie, wrote a book entitled “His Part and Ours”. In our reading today we can see God’s part and Paul’s part. Paul’s part is confidence and trust in God, and God’s part is to enable, empower and give Paul success. In 1856 James D. Burns wrote a wonderful hymn that contains the verse,

“As helpless as a child who clings,

Fast to his father’s arm,

And casts his weakness on the strength

That keeps him safe from harm;

So I, my Father, cling to Thee,

And every passing hour

Would link my earthly feebleness

To Thine Almighty power”

In those last two lines is the secret of Paul’s success. He recognised that of himself he could nothing of any lasting value. He doesn’t want to boast of himself, or of how good he is. The reason people understood the truth was because God communicated it to them. Paul recognised that he had no power by reason to convince or convert sinners. That was all of God. It was Paul’s responsibility to confidently trust God to work through him inspite of himself.

In September 1966 I preached in a packed Methodist Church in Yorkshire. It was a wonderful sermon about the prodigal son. Dozens of people responded for prayer, and after the service I walked among the people with my head held high, listening to words of praise for my preaching. I was just twenty years old.

I shook hands with people as they went home. Mavis grabbed my hand and said, “You didn’t glorify God tonight, did you?” That night I got before God and He began to show me my arrogance and wrong things in my life. It was life changing! Years later, as I spoke at four services each weekend in Singapore, whilst going through cancer treatment, I found myself praying before each service, “I link my earthly feebleness, to Thine Almighty power.” Now bring this principle to every aspect of what you do, whether be in the church, as a father or mother, in school or the market place, or business. Success and lasting value in anything we do comes from God’s enabling as we put our confidence and trust in Him.

Just two questions – What has God said and challenged you about today? and, “What are you going to do about it?

THE OLD COVENANT & THE NEW COVENANT

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:4-18; Galatians 5:1-15

Writing to the Corinthians Paul speaks about both the Old and New Covenants. Before we continue in 2 Corinthians chapter 3 it will be helpful to understand what the two covenants are and what the difference is between the two.

The definition of the word Covenant is literally a contract. It is an agreement between God and His people, in which God makes promises to His people and, usually, requires certain conduct from them. What is known as the old covenant is found in the Old Testament, and the new covenant in the New Testament.

The old covenant is a covenant of law whilst the new covenant is a covenant of grace. The old covenant as been set aside [2 Corinthians 3:11] but the law of God still remains. Speaking of God’s law, Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” [Matthew 5:17-18]. In other words, although we live in a time of grace, God’s law is still important.

In the Old Testament people looked forward to the cross and sought to keep God’s laws in order to please Him. Under the new covenant we are no longer trying to keep God’s law, but now the Holy Spirit who lives within us enables us to live a life that pleases God, as we walk “not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” As we live in and obey the Holy Spirit we will have the power to live right, and the law of God will be fulfilled in us! When you trust the Holy Spirit to lead you He will always guide you to do the right thing! Here is freedom!

You might, having read this, be asking the question, what is the point of the law? It is the law that teaches us God’s standard and that is absolute and never changes, but it cannot set us free. Law is external; grace is internal. The law is outside us – something I can point to and say, “That’s what I’ve got to do.” Grace changes us on the inside in such a way that it becomes natural for me to act the way God wants.

We have been set free from trying to please God by obeying rules and regulations. We have learned that we cannot earn God’s favour and blessing. Writing to the Galatians Paul says, “Stand fast in the liberty be which Christ has made us free” [Galatians 5:1]. Don’t be tempted to return to the old way of trying to please God by obeying the law – if you do so you will become estranged from Christ [Galatians 5:4].

Questions:

Why is it that we can never earn God’s salvation?

Read Galatians 5:18. How would you explain the words, “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law”?

LIVING EPISTLES

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:1-4

The teacher in children’s church asked the question, “How many gospels are there?” She expected one of two answers, one – the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or four – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Imagine her surprise when one little boy put up his hand and said there were five! Intrigued, she asked, “Why five?” to which he answered, Mathew, Mark, Luke, John and me. Give that boy a prize and praise his parents who teach him, because he was just echoing what Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He told the Corinthians that they are living epistles, known and read of all men. One version puts it in this way, “It is not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; not one carved on stone, but in human hearts” [verse 3 Living Bible].

In Paul’s writing he sees the Corinthian Church as a living epistle, but each individual is also a living epistle. The only gospel that many people come in contact with is you and I. In a recent TV quiz show one of the questions was, “According to Christianity, who was the Redeemer who died on the cross to save humanity?” to which a rather intelligent man replied, “I don’t know”. How will that man be challenged about salvation, if he doesn’t read the Bible or know about Jesus? It can only be what he sees in Christians. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 5:16]

The exciting but also challenging message is that every believer is a living epistle. I was deeply blessed recently in a reading told by Jeff Lucas in the January 2017 issue of Premier Christianity. It concerned a man named Ken who accepted a dare to go to church. He was dressed totally in black, his arms and face covered in crude self-inflicted tattoos. His knuckles were tattooed with a swear word and an abusive greeting. He was an angry drug abuser who spent more than half his life in prison. He was utterly determined to be unmoved. Jeff writes, “But then little Marge Sample showed up. Silver- haired, elderly, and with a smile that could light up a room, diminutive Marge was on duty as a member of the welcome team that morning. She boldly strolled over to where Ken was sitting, his arms folded defiantly. “Hello!” she chirped. “I’m Marge. I don’t believe we’ve met? She rested her hand lightly on his studded shoulder.”

Ken’s response was immediate and violent. He buried his face in his hands and wailed. He sobbed his way into the kingdom that day. No one had been warm and welcoming to him for a very long time, but a simple gesture of kindness unlocked a man who had been imprisoned by hate for decades.

Elderly and silver-haired Marge was the gospel in living form to a hard man that day, and the result was stunning.

Questions:

If Marge can do what she did, what hinders you from doing the same?

Read verse 3. Why is this a living letter? What is the meaning of the phrase, “Written by the Holy Spirit in human hearts?”

THE PROOF OF A PERSON’S MINISTRY

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:1-4

Does it sound like we’re patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we’re not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiselled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it. We couldn’t be more sure of ourselves in this—that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation” [2 Corinthians 3:1-4 The Message Bible].

Paul clearly states that the evidence of His God given ministry was the Corinthian Christians themselves. Paul had first visited Corinth during his second missionary journey in AD 50-51. Despite opposition he remained there for eighteen months, together with a couple named Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:1-19]. From a difficult start and humble beginnings the church grew. Many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptised [Acts 18:8]. The proof of Paul’s ministry was not letters of credentials, educational qualifications, or self-assertion, but the changed lives of the believers in Corinth.

We must remember that Paul is writing against a backcloth of opposition from some in the church who rejected his apostleship. In order to answer those false teachers Paul says that the Corinthian believers are a sufficient commendation of his ministry. In his earlier epistle Paul writes, “You are the seal [certification] of my apostleship in the Lord” [1 Corinthians 9:2]. Literally, the conversion of the Corinthians was a better testimonial of Paul’s character and integrity than any written letters could possibly be!

A young man approached me some time ago and shared with me that he was called to be an evangelist. Interested to know more I asked him if he had ever led anyone to Christ, to which he responded, “Not yet, but hopefully I will do so one day.” It is difficult to believe that a person is an evangelist if they have never led another person to Christ! Where is the proof?

Some amazingly faithful people are called to sow and do not see a great number of people come to Christ. They labour incessantly among hard and unresponsive people. God promises that a time of harvest will come. However, it may be another generation that reaps that harvest. Both the one who sows and the one who reaps will rejoice together [John 4:36].

Questions:

If you were brought to trial for being a Christian what evidence would the prosecution have to convict you?

Whether or not we see many people come to Christ is not the real issue. What is important is that we should be seeking to bring people to Christ. Who are you seeking to win for Christ, and how are you doing it?

SELF-PRAISE IS NO RECOMMENDATION

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:1-4

Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf?” [2 Corinthians 3:1 NLT].

Have you met people who boast of their abilities and achievements, and who seem to have such a high opinion of themselves that they think that everyone else needs them? When I was a boy it was constantly drummed into me that self-praise is no recommendation, and here it is in God’s Word, “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again?” J.B. Philips in his translation of the New Testament translates this as, “Is this going to be more self-advertisement in your eyes?” That’s exactly what self-praise is – it is self-advertisement! It is an attitude of “I have got what you want, and here I am.” It has a real feel of pride about it. Most instances of words that begin with the word self come from the lips of people who have never learned the meaning, or have forgotten the meaning, of being crucified with Christ.

There was a time when I became disappointed that a particular church no longer seemed to want me to preach, but in my heart I kept pushing for it. I asked a very godly friend’s advice. He asked me about my opportunities to minister in various parts of the world over the previous months. When he heard of the places I had been he responded by saying, “Then why do you need to preach in that church.” What a revelation! The wrongness of my attitude and my pride suddenly became clear to me, and I repented of it.

Over the next couple of weeks I received several invitations to preach in different parts of the United Kingdom, but imagine my surprise when I was asked to speak in the church that I had thought no longer wanted me. It was as though God had to deal with me first! It was when I let go of something that I had been holding on to that God then made a way for me. There is a vital spiritual principle here – what we try to hold on to we lose, but what we release and let go of God often gives back to us. It is so easy to begin to depend on our own gifting and develop an attitude of pride.

Early in the ministry I learned that a man’s gift makes room for him [Proverbs 18:16]. We don’t have to recommend or advertise ourselves, and if invitations don’t come then we wait for God. That is God’s responsibility. His Word says that promotion comes from the Lord: he puts one down and sets another up [Psalm 75:6-7].

Questions:

Is there a burden or some other thing that you have been holding on to that God wants you to surrender to Him?

However long we have been following Jesus we all have blind spots, and need the fellowship of more mature, godly people to speak into our lives. Do you need to humble yourself and speak to someone about the thing that you are struggling with?

THE DANGER OF MONEY

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

“You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us”  [2 Corinthians 2:17 NLT]

After more than fifty years in Christian ministry I recognise that one of the most difficult issues for Christian workers and churches is finance. I learned this very early on, when I mentioned to my stepfather that I enjoyed Billy Graham’s preaching, only for him denigrate this great preacher and say that he was only after people’s money. I discovered some years later that Billy Graham only took a Baptist pastors salary for himself and had a wonderful name for integrity among evangelicals.

Even in the Early Church there was an issue of people making money from God’s Word. Paul speaks about not peddling God’s Word as if it was a business to make money [verse 17, Amplified Bible]. This must have been an issue that some people had raised in Corinth, and used to criticize Paul and his ministry as an apostle, which is why he says that he and his team were not like that.

Many years ago my wife and I made a decision that we could share of how God miraculously provides but not to make our financial needs known. At times this has meant abundance and at other times shortage. In whatever situation we find ourselves it means learning to be content knowing that God is control. I recognise that not everybody would take the same position that my wife and I have taken, and that Christian organisations do need funds to continue their ministries, although sometimes I struggle with being constantly bombarded with requests to give more money. We should not doubt the value of good Christian causes, books, materials and preaching, but the issue behind everything that we do must be a pure and transparent motive.

There was a time in my own life when money was short and we had a young family. Although I always wanted to bless people with God’s Word, it was a temptation to be ministering for money, and my motives became mixed. That can be the beginning of a long road downwards. I praise God that He delivered me from this danger, but for some great and highly gifted Christian leaders it has caused them to stumble and fall.  Let’s walk in transparency, and with proper accountability in everything that we do, so that in no way we bring the name of Jesus or the truth into disrepute.

Questions:

Why do you think it is that money can be such a temptation and the downfall of Christian leaders?

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10,17-19. What does Paul say to Timothy about the dangers of material riches?

Are their ways in which we could simplify our lifestyle and bless others?