BECOMING CHRIST-CONFIDENT IN A SELF-CONFIDENT AGE
SERIES: DEVELOPING A CHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE IN A POST-CHRISTIAN
by Ron Ritchie
Recently I received a support letter from Dudley Weiner (a missionary
in Paris, France). He shared with his readers the personal struggles he
has been going through as he and his new leadership are seeking to establish
a church, the light of Christ in that city of spiritual darkness. He said
he began to teach a series from Philippians entitled Liberty in the Prison
of the Circumstances of Life. He was filled with the hope that he would
come to an understanding of what Paul meant when he wrote that in the midst
of his Roman imprisonment and suffering he had found joy and liberty in
The first week he became sick with a bacterial infection accompanied by
a high fever for two days, and he arrived at the Sunday service in a state
of total weakness. But he was able to preach, and the people sensed that
he preached in the presence and power of the Lord. He then said to God,
"I think I get the picture, could I be strong now?" The following
Friday evening he and Janet got food poisoning and both were sick all night
and into Saturday. He again said to the Lord, "I think I really understand
now. How about a little break?" Then he discovered that what he had
really been wanting was to learn about the idea of liberty and joy in the
midst of suffering without getting personally involved, leaving him with
the discouraging feeling that he was still a joyless prisoner of the circumstances
As Paul was learning some two thousand years ago about becoming Christ-confident
in a self-confident age, so now Dudley is learning. And we also need to
continue to learn that basic spiritual truth for our lives if we want to
be light in this spiritually darkened post-Christian world; which has chosen
to live on a relativistic foundation in which there are no longer any absolutes
in truth or morals; thus driving it to gather around the pillars of secularism,
antihistoricalism, naturalism, utopianism, and pragmatism (see Discovery
Paper 4335). Paul will remind us in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 that the key to
becoming Christ-confident in a self-confident age is to realize that (1)
we are a letter of Christ, (2) we are a servant of a new covenant, and (3)
we are Spirit-filled.
You are a letter of Christ
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need,
as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter,
written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that
you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with
the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of
Paul had already written a painful letter to the Corinthians when they were
struggling with the teachings of false teachers who had come into the church
seeking to discredit Paul's authority as an apostle, his ministry, and his
personality. He was also writing to address the problems of sexual immorality
in the church. Titus carried that letter to the Corinthians and then brought
the good news back to Paul in the city of Philippi, Greece that they loved
him, accepted his spiritual rebuke, and repented of their own sin (see 2
Corinthians 7). Paul immediately sat down and wrote a thankful letter, which
we now call 2 Corinthians, and in 2 Corinthians 2:14 he broke out in the
joy of the Lord, "But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph
in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of
Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those
who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma
from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life."
Then Paul addresses this problem his spiritual children were struggling
with. QuestioningPaul's apostleship, some of the false teachers had apparently
suggested to the leaders of the Corinthian church that before they invited
Paul back into their fellowship he should, like all unknown spiritual teachers,
send them some letters of recommendation. Requesting letters of recommendation
was originally designed to block the arrival of false prophets who traveled
the Roman world seeking to take advantage the Christian community. So in
the midst of his joy he stopped himself and asked, "Are we beginning
to commend ourselves again? Does it sound like we're bragging, or like we're
trying to produce credentials because of our comments?" No! Paul was
not commending himself. "Or do we need, like some people, letters of
recommendation to you or from you?"
Paul then gives the Corinthians five reasons why he and his disciples Titus,
and Timothy would never need letters of introduction when they visited the
church in Corinth again.
(1) "You are our letter, written in our hearts...."
We can discover what Paul means by this statement if we look at 1 Corinthians
6:9, which he had written five years earlier about the time when he had
arrived in that wicked city as the only Christian: "Do you not know
that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:
Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes
nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers
nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of
you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in
the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." The
Spirit of God had invaded their lives and opened their hearts so that they
could invite Christ to come in, and they were immediately changed---washed,
cleansed, and justified. Why would Paul and his disciples need letters of
recommendation to the Corinthians when the Corinthians themselves were living
testimony of how the Holy Spirit was able to change their lives through
the preaching of the gospel by these men?
2) They were "known and read by all men." Their families and friends
personally knew them to be different than they were before they came to
(3) "...being manifested [you show] that you are a letter from Christ."
When people "read" their lives they clearly saw the life of the
resurrected Lord housed in their bodies.
(4) "...cared for by us...." The Corinthians were the undeniable
fruit of the ministry of Paul, and his disciples.
(5) Finally, they were "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of
the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts."
It was because of the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who was given to
the church by Christ on the Day of Pentecost, that they became a letter
The tombstone of J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, was discovered
three years ago in the cluttered storage yard of a museum in Zhenjiang by
his great-grandson, James Hudson Taylor III. The graveyard where it stood
had been razed years earlier, and local believers had tried to have the
stone mounted at another site. Permission was granted, but the museum director
demanded that the believers pay for twenty-six years of storage charges,
which amounted to some thirteen thousand dollars. Pastors in China overseeing
the restoration project recently informed the curator that he could keep
the grave marker. In their letter they said that what was etched in the
hearts of people as a result of the ministry of the revered missionary was
more important than what was written on stone. (This was in National
and International Religious Report, January 11, 1992.)
Paul's sense of confidence to live and to minister came from trusting in
the work of the Holy Spirit to not only change his own life so that he became
a letter of Christ, but via the preaching of the gospel to change the lives
of the Corinthians so that they now were a letter of Christ read by everyone.
Now he will go on to show that his confidence came from trusting in the
work of the heavenly Father for his life, who called him to become...
A servant of a new covenant
2 Corinthians 3:4-6
And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that
we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves,
but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a
new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills,
but the Spirit gives life.
This brings us back to the question, Who is equal to the task of living
and functioning as God intends us to? In Philippians 3:4-5 we are reminded
of where the apostle got his confidence before he became a Christian: "If
anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have
more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe
of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for
zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless."
But then he came to know Jesus Christ, and he learned how to put aside the
flesh and allow the Lord to flow through him. The secret of Paul's life
and ministry was total dependence on God's functioning through him for his
eternal purposes. We normally think that if we choose to give up trusting
in our self-confidence, self-determination, self-reliance, talent, skills,
personality, and strength we will be left in a vacuum or a no man's land,
naked and weak. But Paul tells us that the moment we declare we are inadequate
for the task set before us and choose to call on God, he immediately fills
us with his total adequacy; his wisdom, strength, knowledge, and love. "I
can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Philippians
4:13), is the apostle's hope.
Now Paul continues, "...[God] also made us adequate as servants of
a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills,
but the Spirit gives life." In this verse Paul is countering the thinking
of the Judaizers (see 2 Corinthians 11:4, 15, 22) who had come among the
new believers in Corinth and were seeking to teach the Gentile believers,
"Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot
be saved" (Acts 15:1). That is, to become a Christian one must not
only have faith in Jesus Christ but one must come back under the law of
Moses and do works. Paul, on the other hand, had always taught, "For
by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God; not as a results of works, that no one should boast"
But God had made several covenants or arrangements with his people so that
they could live in right relationship with him. He had made covenants with
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. These covenants were unilateral
arrangements of authority and power by God. The people could accept or break
them, but they could not change them. In the context of this passage we
are going to look at two of these covenants.
Old covenant is a term contrasted by implication with the term new covenant
in this passage. The old covenant was the law God handed to Moses on Mount
Sinai. It was the revelation of God's character, will, and how he desired
his people to live. It was embodied in the law engraved on tablets of stone
by God's own finger. In Luke 10:25-28 a rich young lawyer asked Jesus, "Teacher,
what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said, "What is
written in the Law?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus replied,
"Do this, and you will live" (quoting Leviticus 18:5).
But Paul will refer to this old covenant as the "ministry of death"
(2 Corinthians 3:7) and the "ministry of condemnation" (3:9);
for once it was given to the people of Israel it "killed their spirit,"
because no man or woman in their own strength was ever able to live up to
the character and desires of God as revealed in his moral law. The reason
no one can live up to the holy, good, and just law of God is that humanity
has no power within itself to do so. The law in fact was designed to drive
us to the grace of God as revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, who shed his
blood on the cross so God could forgive our sins (see Romans 7:7).
The new covenant was an arrangement that God made with Israel following
the seventy-year Babylonian captivity (586-516 BC). It is mentioned in Ezekiel
16:60-63, Isaiah 59:21, and as we shall see below, Jeremiah 31:31-34 (see
also 32:37f). Jeremiah starts off with a statement of future hope:
And here is the new covenant:
"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...."
Then he refers to the old covenant:
"...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. And they shall not teach again, each man
his neighbor and each man his brother, saying 'Know the LORD,' for they
shall 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."
The word new in Hebrew and Greek does not mean brand-new; but renewed, restated,
fresh, better in quality yet not necessarily later in time. God has always
had a "new" covenant with his people. He has always wanted man
to live by faith in him, to live in his strength and wisdom. Hebrews 8:16-13,
12:24, and 13:20 call it his eternal covenant, the arrangement he has always
wanted to have with his people in every generation since the creation of
Adam and Eve.
Now, when was God to put into effect the new covenant with the house of
Israel and the house of Judah? Jesus offered the new covenant to the nation
of Israel during his earthly ministry, but they rejected it. So on the last
evening of his earthly ministry our Lord gathered around him in the upper
room his disciples, the spiritual remnant representing the houses of Israel
and Judah; and he lifted up a cup of wine before them and said, "This
cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luke
22:20). And this is the central truth of our lives. Ray Stedman wrote in
Authentic Christianity, "Jesus died for us so that he may live
in us. It is his life in us that is the power by which we live a true Christian
life." Because of this sacrifice of love Christ became the mediator
of the new covenant (see Hebrews 8).
At Pentecost (33 AD) many Jews in the nation placed their faith in him as
their Messiah, received the person and gift of the Holy Spirit, and began
to spiritually enjoy the terms of the new covenant. Then the floodgates
of salvation were opened to the Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus as
their Lord and Savior, and they were also placed into the "body of
Christ" and given the spiritual blessings of the new covenant. The
blessings of the new covenant are still available to anyone at this moment
who will put their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
(What about the promise to Israel? According to Romans 9-11, our Lord will
one day gather Israel together out of every corner of the world. Paul wrote
in Romans 11:25-27, "For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed
of this mystery, lest you be wise in you own estimation, that a partial
hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come
and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written [in Isaiah 59:20,
'The Deliverer will come from Zion,
The blessings of the new covenant are clearly seen in both the Old and New
Testaments. When Moses was eighty years old and without any power, authority,
or position, the Lord, revealing himself as "I AM," appeared before
this humble shepherd in a burning bush and told him that he wanted to deliver
his people through him. Moses was fearful and responded by saying, "Who
am I?" His final excuse was, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent,
either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of
speech and tongue." But the Lord said to him, "Who gave man his
mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; show up
! I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
And this is My [new] covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.'")
King David, another shepherd of the Lord, understood this spiritual principle.
David as a man of God living under the law of Moses but experiencing a new-covenant
relationship with the one and only living God, said in Psalm 40:
"How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust...
He understood the principle that he couldn't keep the law. He asked God
by faith to change his heart, and so God put the law inside his heart.
I delight to do Thy will, O my God;
Thy Law is within my heart."
Jesus, the "good Shepherd," described the new covenant to his
disciples on the night he was betrayed: "I am the vine, you are the
branches; apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). As we have
already seen, the apostle Paul later wrote, "I can do all things through
[Christ] who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). The new covenant is
everything coming from God, nothing coming from us, in order for us to live
in righteousness before him. It is total dependence on our risen Lord for
the power to cope with our present realities.
Here is how this new covenant is described by David Roper in his book, The
New Covenant In The Old Testament: "[The new covenant] was...a
restatement of the basic eternal arrangement for maintaining a living, loving
relationship between God and man...As we cast our lot with him and lay hold
of his life, he will increasingly bestow on us his power for obedience and
his forgiveness for weakness and failure."
Paul understood that his confidence to be a letter of Jesus Christ and to
be a minister of the new covenant came not from a deep inner self-confidence,
but from depending totally on God in Christ, making him Christ-confident
in all areas of his life and ministry. Based on that spiritual reality,
he appeals to the Corinthian believers to choose to live by the power of
the Holy Spirit rather than to come under the Law again.
You are filled with the Spirit
2 Corinthians 3:6-11
...who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant,
not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit
gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones,
came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the
face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall
the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry
of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness
abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on
account of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was
with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
Remember, the Judaizers were trying to get the Gentile Christians to live
out their new relationship with Jesus Christ under the law of Moses. But
the law reveals who God is, and that revelation is designed to drive us
to a place of spiritual bankruptcy where we realize that we are not capable
in ourselves to keep the requirements of the law. At the same time our hearts
should be filled with the hope that if we choose to call out for the grace
of God, he will provide us with power of his indwelling Holy Spirit to live
within the requirements of the law, which he has placed in our hearts. The
old covenant with all of its outward institutions, rituals, and sacrificial
services was but a shadow of better things to come (see Hebrews 10:1). "By
calling this covenant 'new,' [God] has made the first one obsolete; and
what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear" (Hebrews 8:13). "The
letter kills," Paul says, because it reveals truth but brings with
it no power to help us keep the law. The new covenant, on the other hand,
not only shows us the very heart of God and his desires for us, but it also
provides the Holy Spirit who gives life and power.
Notice that Paul draws three contrasts here. First, he contrasts the ministry
of death versus the ministry of the Spirit. "But if the ministry of
death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons
of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory
of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail
to be even more with glory?" Paul has in mind Jews who had become Christians
but were being tempted to put themselves back under the law. "That
ministry of the law condemned man and brought death," Paul is telling
them. It produced death by killing the spirit because man found he could
not keep its requirements. The law was given to demonstrate to us just how
far we had strayed from the character and standards and will of God. And
the ministry that brought death, Paul says, "came with glory...fading
as it was...." It came with consuming fire, wonderful to behold. It
had a glory even Moses could not look at---but it was a fading glory. The
coming of the person and power of the Holy Spirit has even more glory.
Secondly, Paul contrasts the ministry of condemnation to the ministry of
righteousness. "For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much
more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what
had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses
it." The law condemns, but the new covenant brings imputed righteousness.
The other evening there was a beautiful full moon, so bright that I could
even see "the man in the moon." When I got up the following morning
the moon was still visible, but by then the sun was also up, so that the
moon had lost all its glory. In the same way, Paul is saying that the glory
of the ministry of condemnation was lost in the light of the glory of the
ministry of righteousness.
Thirdly, he contrasts the temporal quality of the old covenant with the
permanence of the new covenant. "For if that which fades away was with
glory, much more that which remains is in glory." The old covenant
was fading away. It was only a shadow of what was to come. The new covenant
is lasting, better, and eternal, because the Spirit, not the law, is at
the center of it.
What is the key to becoming Christ-confident in a self-confident age? (1)
We are a letter of Christ written by the Spirit of the living God. As we
move out into our families and communities by his power, we need to know
that those around us not only can smell the perfume of Christ, but they
can read about him in our "letter," which may bring them in turn
into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. (2) We
are servants of a new covenant. We need to learn to trust in the person
and power of our heavenly Father rather than in the temporary power of self-effort,
self-reliance, or self-confidence. Our confidence should come from God.
For through the shed blood of his Son Jesus Christ he has provided a new,
fresh restatement of the basic eternal arrangement for maintaining his relationship
with us, as we trust him to provide power for obedience and forgiveness
for our weakness and failure. It is within this spiritual framework that
we can enjoy being confident servants of the new covenant. (3) We are Spirit-filled
believers who need to daily trust him to keep us from falling back under
the Law that can produce only death.
Let's return to Dudley Weiner's letter. He continued, telling how on that
Saturday evening after their bout with food poisoning, a bit weak and emotionally
drained, he went out to walk in the park and get his head clear with the
Lord. As he went down the steps he said to the Lord, "What is going
on? What do you want me to learn from all of this?" Outside he met
a young girl from the neighborhood who played with his daughter Hannah.
She asked Dudley about Hannah, and he wrote, "Then the words simply
left my lips as if detached from me, and I asked her if she ever went to
church or believed in God. And she said 'no.' I then started sharing with
her about Jesus and how she could know Him." He gave her a tract that
he happened to have in his pocket and they parted. Then Dudley closed by
saying, "As I walked around the park it became more clear. Often God
is not able to use me because I am in the way. Even with the best and purest
of motives, at times it is simply me and not him. Only when I am weak and
tired and all my desires and passions and ambitions are unable to rise to
the surface, is my LORD able to naturally and clearly flow through me."
Catalog No. 4336
2 Corinthians 3:1-11
March 7, 1993
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