When God introduced his people to the first covenant, Moses described it like this, “And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.” The first covenant involved Ten central Commandments, they were written on the two stone tablets, and they required performance by the people in order to bring about God’s blessing.
When Jesus introduced the second covenant, Paul described it like this, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” In this case, the new covenant involved Jesus doing all the work for our redemption, requiring him to lay down his life for his sheep. The covenant was in his own blood, not on stone tablets, and it was to be received as a gift, expressed by the Church’s drinking from the cup that was given to them.
The early church was hit with a particular strain of false teaching where people claimed that believers required the salvation that came through the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, but still needed to keep the laws that were given under the old covenant. However, the two covenants are so different that, just as stone and Spirit, they cannot be combined.
So, Paul teaches us that the covenant “carved in letters on stone,” which we know to mean the Ten Commandments, was called “the ministry of death,” and “the ministry of condemnation.” The reason was that the first covenant declared what man would have to do to earn right standing with God, and all the years of Israel living under that covenant proved that it could never be done. Hence, everyone remained condemned under the sentence of death.
On the other hand, the new covenant is described as “the ministry of the Spirit,” and “the ministry of righteousness.” When Jesus shed his blood for our sins, the law was perfectly satisfied, all just demands against us were met, the price for us breaking the covenant carved in letters on stone was paid by one whose body was nailed to a tree.
This contrast between two covenants is presented in beautiful expression when Paul wrote,
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8)
The law of sin and death gave us condemnation. The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from sin and condemnation to live in fellowship with God. The law, which was weakened by our sinful flesh, could never do what it set out to do, which was to make people in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, God presented a new covenant in which he sent his Son in the image of man, condemned him for our sins, satisfied the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf, and set us free in Christ Jesus to walk according to the Spirit.
Now we have a covenant that is “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Now we have a covenant in Jesus’ blood, “not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” That is why Paul would write, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Freedom from the “law of sin and death,”and into the “right to become children of God.”By faith in Jesus Christ, those who were once under a ministry of death and condemnation have this promise that, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
When Paul was dealing with the false teachers trying to squeeze the Spirit into the stone tablets, he wrote:
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
Those who have faith in Jesus Christ are no longer under the guardian that could only give us death and condemnation. Now we are in a new covenant, in the blood of our Savior, written on our hearts, securing our return to the image and likeness of our Savior. This is why Paul could conclude II Corinthians 3 with that beautiful verse I wrote about in my last post: “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.”
Fact is, deliverance from sin had to come from the Lord who is the Spirit, because letters of law, written in tablets of stone, weakened by sinful flesh, could never bring it about. Jesus wanted a creature in his own image and likeness, and through the new covenant, that is what he has accomplished.
© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~ email@example.com
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)
 Deuteronomy 4:13
 I Corinthians 11:25
 John 10:11, 15
 The whole book of Galatians is Paul’s strong focus on ridding the church of such heresy.
 II Corinthians 3:7-9
 II Corinthians 3:7-9
 II Corinthians 3:3
 II Corinthians 3:6
 II Corinthians 3:17
 Romans 8:2
 John 1:12
 Romans 8:14
 Galatians 3:23-26
 II Corinthians 3:18
 Genesis 1:26-27