We have gathered together to worship the living God today. God’s being throbs with eternal, self-sufficient, all-powerful, joyous life. As the Three-in-One God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—shared perfect life and love together, the living God decided to create humans and to give us life. But in our folly, we refused to love and trust God, rejected his authority and word, and rebelled against God and his law. This refusal, rejection, and rebellion that the Bible calls sin brought God’s judgment upon sinful people, because the wages of sin is death. But in his amazing grace and mercy, God chose to make sinners alive in him. He sent his Son to save his people from their sin, and the Lord Jesus did all that was necessary to save us. The Father and the Son also sent God the Holy Spirit to apply that new life to people lost and dead in sin.
The living God also sends people who know him to tell others the good news. Paul the apostle was one of those people, and as we read this section, we observe that he wants to readers to know that their new life depends totally on the saving power of God through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rm 1:16). God has made a new solemn agreement or covenant in Jesus, the Son of God, and he gives righteousness, life, and a relationship with him in this new covenant. Life does not come by any kind of human effort or the practice of set forms of religion. It comes from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit of the living God. The Spirit gives life, and the Spirit gives life according to the new covenant in Jesus Christ.
I. The manner of new covenant ministry
A. Christ’s new covenant ministers are able to have confidence before God.
1. Paul was able to talk boldly about what the Lord had done through him in the lives of the Corinthians believers. Their congregation was the result of his ministry (3:3).
2. But Paul’s confidence was not pinned on such a happy outcome. Instead, it is a Christ-structured confidence. It is “through Christ”. This was the way Paul looked at his ministry at all points (cf. Rm 5:1; Eph 2:18). We must buy into this idea. We must not look at a church as something that can be built with insightful vision and mission statements, cool programs and superstar people. Every congregation of Christ’s new covenant people must be built on (1 Cor 3:11) and through Jesus Christ.
B. Christ’s new covenant ministers are able to have a proper mixture of pride and humility. Immediately, you are probably questioning how a person can properly mix pride and humility. They seem like they can’t go together, like oil and water. But pride and humility can coexist, if each is of the right kind.
1. True humility starts by seeing oneself in the presence of the Lord. Once you know how glorious and holy the Lord is, then you see your unworthiness. You begin to understand that the good produced in you is from the grace of God (cf. 1 Cor 15:9-10). So Paul was not proclaiming his own achievements. In himself he knows his own lack of competence. He is unashamed to admit it. This is different from the attitude of our time, when churches seek ministers with glittering worldly accomplishments. “What degrees have you earned? Do you have a proven track record of success? Are you a man of vision?” Churches would do far better to ask questions like, “Do you know and love the Lord and his word? Do you love people? Do you depend upon the Lord?”
2. A correct pride boasts in the Lord. A man with this attitude will be talking a lot about the Lord, what he has done, and his word. We need to boast about the right matters (Rm 4:18-21; 1 Cor 1:31; Gal 6:14; Ph 3:3-9).
Apply: Where is your confidence about the present and the future of the church? It must be in God through Christ by the Spirit. How will this change how you “do church”?
II. The power of new covenant ministry
A. Two different covenants
1. The old covenant was a ministry of the letter. In the context this means that it was written on tablets of stone. God formed a relationship with his old covenant nation on the basis of the law covenant that was written on those stone tablets. It was holy (Rm 7:12), because it declared God’s will for the people. Although it informed the people correctly, it lacked the power to transform them. Therefore, all it could do for sinners was to kill them.
Illustration: How do vines produce grapes? Do they do it by an act of Congress that declares that all grapevines must produce grapes? No, they do it because of the life that is in vine. In the same way, sinners could never live by the law covenant declaring the holiness of God. It takes the power of God to give life. This life comes by the Holy Spirit.
2. The new covenant is a ministry of the Spirit. This means that all our relationship with God depends on the Holy Spirit, whom we have received from God the Father. We receive the gospel by the Spirit (1 Th 1:5), pray in the Spirit (Eph 6:18), sing in the Spirit (Eph 5:18-19), serve in the Spirit (Rm 7:6), walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), worship by the Spirit (Ph 3:3), love in the Spirit (Col 1:8), put the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit (Rm 8:13), guard sound teaching with the help of the Spirit (2 Tm 1:13-14), cry, “Abba, Father” by the Spirit (Rm 8:15), say “Jesus is Lord” by the Spirit, we have access to the Father by the Spirit (Eph 2:18), and have fellowship with the Spirit (2 Cor 13:14). We receive the Holy Spirit when we believe (Ac 2:38-39), and he fills us for bold witness (Ac 4:31). The Spirit poured out God’s love in our hearts (Rm 5:5), and the Spirit leads God’s children (Rm 8:14) and testifies with our spirits that we are God’s children (Rm 8:17). The Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Rm 8:26). The Spirit produces his fruit in us (Gal 5:22-23). The Spirit seals us for the day of redemption (Eph 1:13-14; 4:30). The Spirit helps us (Ph 1:19), and makes us a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit (Eph 2:22). So then, the new covenant is the ministry of the Spirit, and not of the law.
Point: A church that does not depend on the Holy Spirit is nowhere. Its ministry is nothing.
B. The Spirit gives life. How does the Spirit do this during this new covenant age?
1. He does it directly by his almighty power (Ti 3:5). The Spirit of the living God is able to come on us, to give us new life, and to draw us to turn from sin and to rely on the Risen Christ.
2. He does it by using the means of the word of truth, the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ (1 Pt 1:24; etc). The Spirit reveals the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, showing us that Jesus is able to save. The Spirit leads us to see the all-sufficiency of Christ’s finished work, persuading us that Christ’s sacrifice is able to take away sin and his resurrection life to guarantee our righteousness in him forever. The Spirit gives us confidence in Christ’s word, so that we trust in him as Lord and Savior.
Apply: Has the Spirit of the living God made you alive in Christ through the gospel? If not, you need the Lord Jesus Christ right now? Let’s quietly consider this right now….