Living Letters.

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV

One of the recurring problems Paul faced in his ministry was the pervasive presence of a group of individuals often referred to as Judaizers. These were Jewish believers who were strong proponents of the Mosaic law. It was their belief that salvation, as offered through Christ, was only complete when accompanied by strict adherence to the Old Testament law as given by God through Moses. So in their opinion, any Gentiles who came to faith in Christ through Paul’s ministry were required to keep the commands as outlined in writings of Moses found in the Pentateuch. This would include such things as circumcision and observance of all the dietary restrictions. These individuals seem to have followed Paul wherever he went, causing a great deal of confusion among the new believers. These Judaizers even raised doubts concerning Paul’s qualifications as an apostle and the efficacy of his ministry. So Paul found himself constantly having to defend himself. Unlike the Judaizers, who carried letters of recommendation to validate themselves, Paul preferred to use the transformed lives of those who had come to faith in Christ as proof of his calling. He asked them, “do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV). Their transformed lives was all the evidence necessary to validate Paul’s words and work. Their hearts had been changed dramatically and permanently by the Spirit of the living God. Paul describes them as a letter from Christ “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). Here he makes a clear comparison between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant. The tablets of stone are a reference to the Ten Commandments as given to Moses by God. During the period of the Old Covenant, men were required to keep the Law in order to remain in a right standing with God. God had made perfectly clear His expectations regarding man’s behavior. The law spelled out His commands pertaining to man’s vertical relationship (with Him) and horizontal relationships (with others). God expected obedience. But God also knew man was incapable of keeping the law. That’s why He made provision for man’s disobedience by instituting the sacrificial system. It made possible forgiveness for sin. But it was a temporary fix and could never provide complete forgiveness for sin. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared” (Hebrews 10:1-2 NLT). God had never intended the law to be the means of man’s salvation. It was meant to show us our sinfulness. No one could keep God’s law perfectly. Again, the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 NLT).

Paul told the believers in Rome, “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:21-22 NLT). So why was the law given in the first place? Paul tells us. “It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). Then he adds, “Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian” (Galatians 3:24-25 NLT). With the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, everything changed. Man’s salvation and sanctification were no longer dependent upon his keeping of the law, but on faith in the finished work of Christ. Which is why Paul so vehemently states, “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:38-39 NLT).

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been made right with God, not based on our own human efforts or attempts at righteous living, but based on the sacrificial death of the Son of God. And we have been given the Holy Spirit as evidence of this fact. He lives within us, providing proof of our transformation and power to live as what we have become in Christ – new creatures. Which is why Paul tells us, “And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says, ‘This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds’” (Hebrews 10:15-16 NLT).

Our changed lives are all the proof we need that what Christ did on the cross was effective. The Holy Spirit’s convicting and comforting presence within us encourages us to believe that we truly have been changed. Our sins are forgiven. Our debts have been paid. Our salvation is assured. Our eternity is secure.

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