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Confidence in the New Covenant

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Corinthians 2:14–17; 3

Through a set of contrasts between the old covenant of Moses and the new covenant of Christ, Paul demonstrates that we have every reason to be confident and joyful in our relationship with the Lord.


There is a little children’s poem that goes like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

This poem first appeared in print in 1803. Humpty Dumpty was featured as a little man, in the shape of an egg. He had fallen and broken apart, and no one could put him back together. I would suggest that for the original poet, Humpty Dumpty symbolized the human race, and the rhyme was lamenting the fact that humanity is broken and no one can put the broken pieces of life back together again.

The average person today seems to believe that Humpty Dumpty can put himself back together if he just believes in himself—in his own power.

The world around us today is filled with formulas and techniques to boost self-confidence and self-reliance. I read an article some time ago that reported that preschool teachers, administrators, and child development specialists agree the most important thing for a child to learn is “self-confidence and self-reliance.” Let me tell you, the last place you ever want to look for confidence is in yourself.

Now as we sail back into 2 Corinthians 2, the apostle Paul will show us where to place our confidence. He writes this in verse 14:

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.

In other words, our confidence is not in our success, but in Christ, who has already won.

Paul is alluding to the Roman tradition of holding a victory parade for generals who return to Rome from some great victory. These victory parades were called “triumphs.” The conquering general would ride in his chariot, followed by his victorious troops. They would march through streets lined with cheering citizens. Special incense would be burning for just these occasions, and the city would be filled with the aroma of victory.

Paul is saying that our victorious Lord is leading a victory parade. But this victory parade is not for some military conquest but for the victory Christ won at Calvary—and for the empty tomb.

And, beloved, whenever and wherever you deliver the gospel, Paul says you are spreading “the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere.”

You might not feel like you are in a victory parade today—it might feel more like a funeral march. But the truth remains—and Paul reminds us of it here—this victory parade is not based on your strength or mine. It is not dependent on your faithfulness or mine. This is not about our confidence in ourselves but our confidence in our victorious Leader and Lord.

The wonderful news is that we are invited to march behind Christ as our King. He has chosen to make Himself known throughout the world through our testimony—even with all our flaws and failures. But again, this victory parade is not about us; it is about Him. Yet in His grace, He shares His triumph with us and through us.

Our gospel—and our testimony to it—becomes like a fragrance of Christ Himself to those around us. If we are thinking Paul is just being eloquent or sentimental, he reminds us here that the aroma of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb is not going to appeal to everybody. He writes in verse 16, “To one [it is] a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

To those who believe, this is the aroma of life; but for those who are hardened in unbelief, it smells to them like the aroma of death—they want no part of it. It is not fragrant to them; it is foolishness to them.

So, do not be surprised when people have no desire to hear your testimony. Do not be discouraged if they mock you or get angry with you. The kingdom of darkness does not like the sound of your victory parade in Christ.

Our confidence, beloved, is not in our success, but in Christ who has already won.

Second, our confidence is not in our commitment, but in the power of the new covenant.

Where do we find our confidence? In ourselves? In our commitments? If so, we are going to be discouraged every day. Our confidence is in the promise of the new covenant of forgiveness through Christ—He is always diligent, and He is always faithful. Paul takes all of chapter 3 to develop this truth, and he does so by giving us several contrasting situations.

He begins by encouraging the church in Corinth by telling them how dear they are to him. Most traveling preachers and teachers carried letters of recommendations with them, but Paul writes in verse 3 that the Corinthians themselves are his letters of recommendation. He says they are letters “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.”

Paul then contrasts the old covenant of law with the new covenant of grace. He writes that this new covenant is “not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (verse 6).

He is making it clear that no one can be saved by keeping the law. In fact, the purpose of the law is to strip away self-reliance and self-confidence. The law leads us, not to believe in ourselves, but to believe in the only one who can save us—Jesus. He alone kept the law, and then He died for our crimes. He is the only one who can put us back together again.

Paul then moves on to show the contrast between fear and freedom. In verse 7, he writes about the time when Moses’ face shone with bright glory because of his having been in God’s presence to receive the tablets of the law. The Israelites could not look at him. That glory, Paul writes in verse 9, communicated “the ministry of condemnation.” It was a fearful revelation of God’s glory and revealed that mankind did not stand a chance in His presence.

But in contrast, Paul writes, “The ministry of the Spirit [will] have even more glory” (verse 8). Salvation in Christ will allow us one day to be in the glorious presence of God in perfect freedom and without any fear.

Finally, Paul contrasts the temporary covenant with the permanent covenant. He writes in verse 11, “For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.”

He is saying that the old covenant came to an end, but the new covenant will last forever. Paul refers again here to Moses’ shining face and the veil he had to wear to keep people from being blinded by his presence. That glow eventually faded away; it was temporary glory.

But that veil over Moses’ face became a symbol of the spiritual veil over the heart of every person who seeks to know God through the old covenant. Here in verse 14 Paul is talking specifically about Jewish people who try to find God through the covenant that has passed away.

But this veil also symbolizes the veil of unbelief over the hearts of all who reject Christ. They are blinded to the truth. But they do not have to be. Paul writes, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (verse 16). Praise God for spiritual sight in Christ.

The fear of God is replaced with freedom to walk with God. As Paul writes in verse 17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

That sounds like we can be joyful, confident people, does it not? But beloved, we are not self-confident, or self-reliant. We are not impressed with our successes, and we are not to despair because of our failures. We are marching in a victory parade because of the ultimate victory we have in Christ.

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