“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:14-16a)
No matter what we go through, in Christ we’re always going forward in triumphal procession, into glory, into Christ-likeness, into deeper appreciation of the cross and softer heart that genuinely loves God, into eternal life with Him, into God. There’s no such thing as back-sliding for Christians in the deepest sense.
We are the aroma of Christ. It’s not so much what we do as who we are just by our presence. People around us inevitably notice Christ within us, and respond in two different ways. One from death to death, the other from life to life. We can’t stay neutral, it’s impossible. We still love all, but not all respond with faith.
We are the “letter of recommendation written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Cor. 3:2). And “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:4b).
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19)
We have “a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6b).
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:31, 33b)
The old covenant of the letter written on the stone tablets killed. It was “the ministry of death and condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9a). It ended. (2 Cor. 3:7b) But the new covenant of the Spirit written on human hearts gives life. It is “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9b). It is permanent. (2 Cor. 3:11b)
- Old covenant: of letter, written on stone, of death and condemnation, ended
- New covenant: of the Spirit, written on heart, of righteousness, permanent
Before, it was simply rule-keeping that enslaved us under the tyranny of condemnation. And there was nothing we could do to get out of it because we could never keep the law perfectly. But Jesus set us free. He died the death that we deserved and lived the life that we should have lived. Our death became his death, and his life became our life. In Christ, we’re completely accepted by God through the work of Jesus. Gazing upon this truth genuinely transforms our heart. It wins our heart. We start truly loving God. At every turn of our repentance, we’re a bit more convinced that it is God that we truly need and love.
Yes, we still fall, and every fall is deeper than the previous fall since our recognition of what we’re capable of in terms of our sinful nature gets deeper each time. But at the same time, as we stand up once again for the thousandth time leaning on the grace of the blood of Christ, our recognition of God’s love also increases proportionately. That’s the dynamic of real Christian growth. That’s what the Holy Spirit does, leading us to repentance every time and helping us learn the depth of God’s love and grace.
The new covenant of the Spirit, the law written on our heart, therefore gives us freedom.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
Our motivation for keeping the law of God is no longer simply fear of condemnation and death. It is love. Our heart of stone is removed, and a heart of flesh is created. We love obeying God. It’s not simply a duty that we dread. It’s a duty that we love. In Christ, our duty and our desire finally meet and become one. What a life of coherence, of integrity, of peace and satisfaction, of thankfulness.
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God” (2 Cor. 3:4) “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Cor. 3:12).