Do this and live the law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better way His grace doth bring;
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
This is the crux of the matter — the means for reactivating the New Covenant. This is the fulcrum upon which everything pivots. It’s all about adequacy. This is the answer to the rhetorical question from chapter two: “And who is competent (adequate, sufficient) for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16) This is the answer. The ultimate answer is: “We are,” but only as it comes with a realization that we aren’t. I know that sounds like double talk, but it is exactly what Paul says here. He answers the question of adequacy by saying, in essence, “we aren’t adequate, but we are.” We are not adequate in and of ourselves, but in the New Covenant, God has made us adequate.
Depending on what Bible translation you use, the word could be either “competent,” “adequate” or “sufficient.” That’s because the Greek word being translated here is all of those things. It’s like one of our MemberPartners who signs her emails, “I wish you enough.” That’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about having enough for life. And, according to the New Covenant, we don’t have to wish it; we already have it. We just need to act on it, and stop acting as if everything was coming from us.
We are talking primarily about empowerment. Do we have what it takes for life? This is why so many Christians live frustrated, guilt-ridden lives. They want to follow Christ, they want to do the right thing, but they’re trying to do it the wrong way. Nobody told them about the New Covenant, and chances are, if they haven’t heard about the New Covenant, they are not counting on it in their lives. They are trying to follow Christ under their own strength — doing everything from themselves — which is the old covenant way of doing things that only ends in failure and frustration.
The old covenant (“the letter” in the verses above) is based on a standard to be followed as best as we know how, which is never good enough. The law always breaks us because we break it. It was even given for this purpose — to show us how sinful we are — how unable we are, in our own strength, to do (and not do) the things God asks of us.
This is clearly stated in the Old Testament prophesy of the prophet Jeremiah:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The old covenant was made to be broken. The New Covenant was made to give life. One was written on stones (the Ten Commandments) the other is written on human hearts. God puts His law within our hearts and gives us the power, through His Spirit, to do the things He asks.
What better than that? God tells us what to do and then empowers us to do it! Well then, why is this so hard to do, and why does it seem so few people are doing it? Because the old covenant is our natural way of doing things. Performance. We’ve been performing all our lives, so as soon as we become Christians, we just start trying to perform the Christian life. Do all the right things, don’t do the wrong things. And we all know what happens when we try that! We do the opposite. It’s human nature.
I believe what Paul is saying here is that we have to go through one to get to the other. You can’t find your adequacy without first experiencing your inadequacy. It’s like we all have to try and fail to some degree before we get this. Our adequacy comes through, and out of, our inadequacy. And I don’t believe we need to learn this only once, and then we’re operating fully in the New Covenant. I believe we experience this process over and over and over again.
And finally, there’s that word we find throughout this New Covenant passage: it’s the word, “confidence.” That’s where we end up. The New Covenant gives us confidence because we are not trusting in ourselves, we are trusting in God who makes us adequate. In ourselves we have our fears and insecurities, and the false impressions we use to try to cover them up. The old covenant always ends up this way. We can’t pull off the Christian life, but we have to look like we are. (Everyone else looks like they’re pulling this off, when in fact no one is — it’s just that no one’s telling.) The New Covenant strips me of all of this and works in me in spite of myself. Sure, you’re going to get my inadequacies, struggles, fears, insecurities and sins; but I don’t care, because God’s Spirit is here in the midst of all that I’m going through, making sense of it, and giving me the power to move on. I can be confident because I don’t care what you see in me; I know Christ is in me, too, and you will ultimately see Him in my life. Therefore I can have confidence because I’m trusting in God, not in myself.
It’s pretty incredible when you get this. This is the life-changing part. If you don’t get it at first, stick with it. The Holy Spirit will teach you. You’ll know you are getting it when you are feeling set free in your spirit. That’s because this truth is liberating. All that trying and failing … over. Done. Doesn’t matter anymore. You have Christ in you and He’s going to come through you, and that will be the power that will continually reactivate your life and ministry whether you are aware of it or not.