Is the Bible the “letter” that kills us? Not at all!

2 Cor 3:6 – “the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” A verse that is frequently misused and misapplied to mean that we should focus on our feelings as a source of light superior to the Bible (here’s one example). To my surprise, Calvin wrote about this almost 500 years ago – wish he had had the ability to make the error go away!

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some unique way of getting in contact with God, are to be regarded not so much under the influence of error as of madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter [alluding to 2 Cor 3:6, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”]. But I wish they would tell me what spirit it is whose inspiration raises them to such a sublime height that they dare despise the doctrine of Scripture as poor and childish. If they answer that it is the Spirit of Christ, their confidence is exceedingly ridiculous; since they will, I presume, have to admit that the apostles and other believers in the primitive Church were not illuminated by any other Spirit.

John Calvin, Institutes I.9.1 Beveridge edition (slightly paraphrased)

In context, Paul speaks in 2 Cor 3 of the letter that kills (the Old Covenant apart from Christ) and the Spirit who gives life (the New Covenant); he is speaking of salvation, not methods for determining God’s will.

“Is the Bible the ‘letter’ that kills us? Not at all!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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The Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"

“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

FREE BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS!

As a Christmas gift this year, I have bundled together some of my blog posts that have to deal with “How to Life the Christian Life: throw out the old rules and play by the New Covenant.” Over a hundred of you have downloaded it already – enjoy!

Simply click here: How to live the Christian Life_Shogren

I ask only that you consider signing up for my blog on the right-hand column. Either way, the gift is without obligation, and I will not use your email or name in any way.

Gary Shogren, Christmas 2014

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Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!

So basically, we can offer you two plans.

Plan A.

The spiritual produce wagon arrives every day, full to overflowing for those who wish to ask the Father. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that’s not the complete list; it’s only a summary. They are miracle gifts, planted, watered, grown, harvested, replanted by the Almighty. Just nod your head Yes, the Gardener is standing by.

Or do you imagine we’re speaking about doing some housecleaning, where we clench our teeth to sort through and toss out old behaviors? No – Spirit-gifts arrive come with the power to displace antagonism, condescension, digital addictions, self-abandonment, playing half-on-half-off with Heaven, materialism, both consumerist soft- or Wall Street hardcore. You name the weed, the Spirit knows best how to pull it.

Plan B.

Of course, it’s easy enough to fake that you’re on good terms with the Spirit, if that’s what you want. Just repeat after us as we recite the formulas! Pat a back or two; work one sacrificial act into your weekly lifestyle; count all the way to eleven before you open up to irritation. Repression can be made up to look like peacefulness, hubbub can masquerade as joy. Is that generosity I see, or are you paying off a hungry man so he will let you go? Only an expert can tell the difference! Is it patience, or protocol you follow? Are you self-controlled or only too fatigued to do anything really nasty? Is it unity you promote, or have you withdrawn because you have just stopped caring enough to fight?

Now, when things start to fall apart, don’t come to this desk to complain. We’ll just tell you to relax those facial muscles and for goodness sake, when you clench your fists do it behind your back! Subtler insults, laser-guided gossip, humble brags, use minimal force to split one group into three, erase your browser history after every use. Things can be spiffed up, there are ways and there are ways.

Yum!

Yum! I guess…

But a warning: this plan B is basically a secular way of life, grafted onto a spiritual one. It’s what Paul warned about, that there are people with the mere form of piety, but who deny its power. Eventually this will backfire on you, and the conversion of fake fruit to an evil harvest is not a long or complicated process. (It turns out that the Spirit won’t long invest his time on the self-made Christian, and when he pulls out on your life, things tend to get real messy, real fast.)

Plan B, plastic fruit in a plastic bowl. Plan A, the reality. The choice is yours.

Related Posts:

The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: Icy Relations among God´s People

“Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica