Not Letter, But Spirit
As I took my seat on the plane, an energetic little boy came up the aisle with his dad. In my mind I thought, “I sure hope he’s not gonna be in the seat behind me.” As a frequent flyer, I know short legs tend to kick seatbacks.
As he walked past me, he smiled. Or was it a menacing grin?
Sure enough, his seat was behind mine. In a matter of seconds, the kicking began. For the first hour his father repeatedly scolded him, threatening the little guy: “If you don’t stop kicking that man’s seat, you’re going to be in big trouble. Is that what you want, big trouble?”
It’s all a matter of how we represent the character of God in our approach to people.
It was all to no avail. I got the distinct impression that all the threatening dad could heap on the little rebel was only stimulating more rebellion in him. So I took the matter into my own hands. Turning around in my seat, I looked up over the seatback and said, “Hi, my name’s Ty.” I reached my hand down offering to shake his. Hesitantly, he grabbed mine. Smiling, I said, “What’s your name?”
“Quentin,” he said, not yet trusting me.
“Cool name. As soon as I saw you, I knew you must have a cool name,” I said with a corny laugh. He laughed in response. Now we had a connection. I pulled out a piece of paper and drew a funny picture of him with his name over it. He laughed again. Now he liked me and we had relationship, or at least the beginning of one.
Then I said, “Hey Quentin, I’m gonna try to read, so don’t kick my seat, OK?”
“OK, Ty,” he said with a smile. And he never kicked again.
Paul had something like this in mind when he said that we are “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
It’s all a matter of how we represent the character of God in our approach to people. People are responsive to relationships and resistant to pressure. We can either hand them “the letter” of the law, expressing the truth in terms of requirement and forbidding, oughts and nots, in which case we can expect failed promises at best, rebellion at worst, or we can present the heart of God, as revealed in Christ, and watch them warm up and become affectionately responsive to Him.
The term “new covenant” is jam-packed with brilliant significance. It basically means, the Law of God internally formed by the motive power of love as opposed to externally imposed by the self-defeating cycle of guilt.
Paul goes on to articulate the powerful engine that drives the new covenant:
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Beholding the beauty of God’s character in Christ is the catalyst for transformation in the new covenant. In Christ, God extended His hand and His heart to us. He knew that merely dictating rules would never change our hearts. But when we look into His face and realize He likes us, everything changes. Now we’re eager to do what pleases Him.