The ministry of death
2nd Corinthians 3
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 Or reflect
2nd Corinthians 4
3 our gospel is veiled, veiled to those who are perishing 4 The god of this age blinded the minds of unbelieversChrist, who is the image of God.
What is the ministry of death?
Paul gives us 10 characteristics about this ministry.
1) It brought death
2) It engraved in letters on stone
3) It has glory which was transitory/passing away
4) It brought condemnation
5) It came with a veil
6) It made minds dull
7) It remains today
8) It also covers our hearts
9) It prevents us from seeing the real Gospel
10) The god of this age uses it to blind the minds of unbelievers.
Most believers have seen it fit to call the Ministry of Death as the 10 commandments as the only part of the law which was engraved on stones. I personally think we missed the point. It must be said that while that may be true it is unfortunately not the complete truth.
Let’s look at how Paul speaks about the usage of the Law.
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.”
What are false doctrines to Paul? What is this meaningless talk?
“7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”
Paul is saying when you preach the Law to the righteous you are teaching false doctrines. In fact a few chapters in the same letter, Paul calls it doctrine of demons.
1 Tim 4:2
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
The doctrine of demons is actually preaching the 10 commandments to the righteous. The question beckons us who are the “righteous” here?
Dear friends, it is the believers. If you are a Christian, you are the righteous.
Hence what then is the ministry that brings death?
It is pertinent to note that Moses received the Law twice. Well-known theologian and founder of the Brethren church John Nelson Darby writes “When Moses came down from the mount the first time and broke the tables (Ex. 32), there was no veil. That was all on the supposition of there being the possibility of relationship between the people and God on the ground of law. He had nothing to do but to break the tables, since all relationship on that ground was gone. He could not give them to Israel (they had made the golden calf); so he broke them.
He goes up again (v. 30), saying, “Peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin,” and says to the Lord, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written.” To this the Lord answers, “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book,” etc. Then (chap. 33: 12-23), we find Moses, emboldened by his knowledge of the exceeding loving-kindness of God, interceding again. He beseeches God to shew him His glory; and God (in answer to Moses’ prayer), says, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee,” etc.
This is not merely law.
Moses hidden in a cleft of the rock (chap. 34), the Lord passes by before him, and proclaims, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.”
In a certain sense, that was grace; not the sovereign grace of God which we know in Christ, but His “goodness.” It is well to observe, in passing (this being often quoted, as a general statement of what God is), that it is not a revelation of what God is in grace, as now presented to sinners.”
“It is quite true that Moses’ face reflects the glory of the Lord, which it did not the first time. When Moses had been up in the mount forty days and forty nights,his face did not shine; but when he had been hidden in the rock, and the goodness of Jehovah had passed before him, he comes down with his face shining. The law never made a man’s face shine. Yet, with all this reflection of the goodness of God – of His glory.”
The ministry of death is as such a mixture of Law and Grace!
Mr. Darby then continues and states “Unless it be pure simple grace, the only other idea we can have is that God requires something; and if God requires anything, the more the grace and the goodness shown, the more guilty and failing are we, and the greater our condemnation; it only increases responsibility. If it is a mixture of law with goodness, man cannot bear to look at it.”
This was the brunt of Paul’s anger in Galatians. See Galatians 3.
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?[a] 4 Have you experienced[b]so much in vain – if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”
Do you see that Paul equates the flesh to the works of the Law? In the same letter Paul speaks about “sowing in the flesh”. However, sowing in the flesh is not described as sinning but simply going back to the Law for righteousness. “Sowing in the flesh” is simply placing your faith in circumcision. You sow into your flesh by cutting away your foreskin. Paul then says if you obey a part of the Law you are bound to obey the whole of the Law. So you see, it is either all law or all grace. You cannot mix the two.
See Galatians 6 in its context:
12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
What about the Old Testament?
12 ‘If the disease breaks out all over their skin and, so far as the priest can see, it covers all the skin of the affected person from head to foot, 13 the priest is to examine them, and if the disease has covered their whole body, he shall pronounce them clean. Since it has all turned white, they are clean. 14 But whenever raw flesh appears on them, they will be unclean.
Have you ever wondered why the above seems to be in the reversed?
If you are covered absolutely with leprosy, there is nothing in your flesh that is clean. However, if you are NOT covered absolutely with leprosy, you will probably think you are partly clean, partly unclean. You may be still relying on the flesh. God only pronounces you clean either, when you don’t have leprosy or when you are absolutely covered with leprosy. There is no mixture.
What about Jesus?
New International Version (NIV)
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
Jesus here is addressing the difference between how it is virtually impossible to fill people with the Holy Spirit into people with Old Covenant observance.
Matthew 11:16-19 Good News Translation (GNT)
16 “Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace. One group shouts to the other, 17 ‘We played wedding music for you, but you wouldn’t dance! We sang funeral songs, but you wouldn’t cry!’18 When John came, he fasted and drank no wine, and everyone said, ‘He has a demon in him!’ 19 When the Son of Man came, he ate and drank, and everyone said, ‘Look at this man! He is a glutton and wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts!’ God’s wisdom, however, is shown to be true by its results.”
“They are like children sitting in the marketplace. One group shouts to the other, ‘We played wedding music for you, but you wouldn’t dance! We sang funeral songs, but you wouldn’t cry!”
When we play wedding music, one is suppose to rejoice! But they would not.
When we sang funeral songs, one is suppose to be sad! But they would not.
When John came, he did all what the prophets did, which is fasted, drank no wine. Dear friends, John came as a messenger of the law. He sang the song of funerals. But did they cry? No.
When Jesus came, he ate and drank. He was the messenger of grace. He sang the song of weddings and rejoicing. But did they dance? No.
What “sins” do you think therefore Jesus is referring to when he reproached them of?
The law came, they said “No”, Grace came, they said “No”.
Jesus once rebuke a group of similar Christians by saying “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
You see the sin which Jesus speaks about is this “sitting on the fence between law and grace!”
You must understand John’s ministry here is the law. That is why he is in sack cloth and eats only locusts.
7 signs of clear mixture teaching
My dear friend Paul Ellis, author of “the Gospel in 10 words” gives us 7 signs of what mixture teaching leads to…
1. You’re not 100% sure if you’re 100% forgiven
God doesn’t do forgiveness in installments. All your sins were forgiven at the cross (Col 2:13) when God the Son abolished sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb 9:26). Neither God the Father (Heb 8:12) nor God the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:17) remembers your sin any more. Still not convinced? Then read this.
2. You believe Christians have a duty or responsibility to serve the Lord
Duty and responsibility are synonyms for obligation so this is a mind-set that says we are obliged, or indebted, to God. I’ve heard it said that “Jesus has done so much for you, what will you do for Him?” Indeed, God has given us everything. Ever wondered why? He did it “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). He is not just rich in grace, but exceedingly rich. You cheapen His grace by thinking you have a duty or responsibility to pay Him back. Your responsibility is to believe that He is good and true! It is not our obligation to serve the Lord, it is our royal privilege. It is not our duty, but our great delight.
3. You suffer from performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety is a rational response to the uncertainty of life under the old covenant. But anxiety has no place in the new. We are to draw water from the wells of salvation with joy (Is 12:3). We walk under law in anxiety and fear, but we walk under grace with joy and thanksgiving! “Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned! Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!” (Rms 4:7-8, GNB) God has made us His Sons, and with such a Father we need not be worried about anything (Mt 6:32). He is our Provider who delights to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Mt 7:11). Those who serve under the law are insecure, but sons are secure.
4. You think, “God will bless me as I do my part”
The essence of a life enslaved by law is the mindset that says, “I must do something for God.” The motivation may be to earn salvation or some other blessing. But this mindset is anti-Christ and anti-cross. Contrary to what you may think, we are not justified by what we do but grace alone (Rms 3:24). Grace and works don’t mix (Rms 11:6). (And if you’re thinking of James 2:24, read this.) Grace, peace, and every spiritual blessing have been given to us by God our Father through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3). We are not called to work for God, but to do the work of God. (Click the link to learn more about mixing grace with works.)
Grace is God’s part; faith is our part (Eph 2:8). Faith is a positive response to what God has done. Faith is saying, “thank you Jesus!” Faith is healing the sick and casting out demons, because Jesus made provision for our healing and deliverance at the cross.
5. You think we need more preaching on repentance.
Repentance saves lives, but preaching on repentance doesn’t lead to repentance! A law mind-set emphasizes what people must do (repent!), but grace proclaims what God has already done (everything!). A law mindset uses inferior incentives (fear, judgment) that lead to temporary changes in behavior, but grace (God is good and He loves you!) changes the hardest heart. If you want people to genuinely repent, preach the goodness of God (Rms 2:4).
6. You think you have to overcome life’s trials or Jesus will blot out your name.
It really isn’t about you. Jesus is our overcomer and our victory (Jn 16:33). Everyone who believes Jesus is the Son of God has already overcome the world, because The Overcomer lives in them (1 Jn 5:4-5). Jesus promised the overcomers at Sardis that He would never blot out their name. Ever since then insecure performance-oriented believers have feared He might change His mind and do exactly that. For more on overcoming, read this.
7. You mainly think of following Jesus in terms of giving up things.
Christianity is a divine exchange, our life for his. No doubt you’ve heard people say that following Jesus costs you everything. And it does. You cannot call him Lord without renouncing the right to your own life. But see what you get in exchange! If salvation means nothing more to you than self-denial and personal sacrifice, you’ve missed the whole point. Christ offers us an unfair exchange; our life for His. God favors us with this exchange. We give him our sinful little selves and get everything in return. A law mindset looks at what we give up, but a grace mindset rejoices at what He offers in return! Stop thinking about what you gave up (nothing you could keep) and start enjoying what He has given you (everything!).
Let me just conclude by once again quoting Mr. Darby.
“Many a person fancies that, in mixing law and holiness together with grace, he is going to maintain holiness. No! He maintains unholiness, because he lets not in that full revelation of God which shews out man in all his unlikeness to God. We must not suppose that grace is an allowance of sin; we cannot separate the holiness of God from His grace.”
“The question of sin has been settled; it has been gone through with God. Christ being in the presence of God, it is there we see the unveiled glory. It is there Paul saw Him. There we see Him. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,” Rom. 5.
We are standing in grace, a present grace. It is not merely that Christ has done something that has put away our past sins; we are to “reckon ourselves dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ,” Rom. 6. “Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
For, in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” I have a right to say, I am dead, and alive unto God.”
Be very blessed.