For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. (2 Corinthians 3:6-8)
Here is another vivid contrast between living by the old covenant of law versus living by the new covenant of grace. God’s perfect law is a “ministry of condemnation,” which compels people to draw upon man’s sufficiency. God’s glorious grace is a “ministry of righteousness,” which allows people to draw upon God’s sufficiency.
When we try to live by the law, we walk in condemnation. When we try to minister by the law, we put others under condemnation. This is inevitable, since the law is a “ministry of condemnation.” Living and ministering by the law depends upon human performance. The law demands righteous living. “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The only resources available for law-performance are natural human abilities (the flesh). All natural abilities are flawed by unrighteousness. “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This makes the flesh incapable of producing a righteous life. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). Consequently, when we try to live by law (that is, attempt to meet God’s standards by our resources), we sense condemnation. Others also experience condemnation, when we point them to the law for producing godly living.
On the other hand, when we live by grace, we grow in righteousness. When we minister the message of grace to others, they can also grow in righteousness. Godliness results from ministering the new covenant of grace, because it is a “ministry of righteousness.” The message of grace tells people that righteousness is available by faith. “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
In addition to this initial gift of righteousness (imputed, or credited to our account in heaven), grace also provides ongoing practical righteousness (imparted for our daily lives on earth): “That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). As we humbly depend upon the Lord, the Holy Spirit brings forth a more Christ-like life through us, by His grace.