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God’s Sufficiency for Godly Living

Lesson 3

Man’s Sufficiency versus God’s Sufficiency


Bob Hoekstra

Brought to you by

Blue Letter Bible


J203 God’s Sufficiency for Godly Living - Bob Hoekstra 1

Man’s Sufficiency Versus God’s Sufficiency - 2 Cor 3:3

In our third course studying God’s sufficiency for godly living, we shall be focusing on Man’s

sufficiency in contrast to God’s sufficiency. From that which we have seen thus far in the Scriptures, a large gap between the two should be expected. And such is exactly what we find.

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5) Here we find explicit contrast between man’s sufficiency and God’s sufficiency. Man’s sufficiency, the Bible makes clear, is not sufficient. Man does not have resources that are adequate to meet the task set before him. The task is godliness. The task is growing in Christ- likeness. The task is walking with God and serving God. The task is transformation into the image of Christ. And this is a task man is destined to fail in so long as he relies upon himself.

Man does not have adequate resources to fulfill the task of godliness—despite the fact that such is the path in which he is required to walk. So clearly, man must look elsewhere for the sufficient resources for Christian living.

Paul declares with confidence the source of this sufficient power. The believer’s sufficiency is from God. The only place the believer can find adequate supply of life in order to grow, live, and serve in the manner to which God calls His children is by the sufficiency that comes from God Himself.

Looking at the contrast between man’s sufficiency and God’s sufficiency, we can easily see it in terms of tension. This is a matter of man’s sufficiency versus God’s sufficiency. There is a very real conflict or struggle between the two. In one corner, man’s sufficiency—only useful for the J203 God’s Sufficiency for Godly Living - Bob Hoekstra 2

Man’s Sufficiency Versus God’s Sufficiency - 2 Cor 3:3

kingdom and purposes of man. In the other corner, God’s sufficiency—all-powerful and all- sufficient, it draws men up to the glory of the kingdom of heaven. Man’s sufficiency is great for storing up power and treasure on the earthly plane (which will pass away), but is completely inadequate for that which the believer is called to in the family of God.

When looking at the contrast between man’s sufficiency versus God’s sufficiency—and especially in light of the key passages for this course (2 Corinthians 2-5)—it does well to recognize that this speaks of the difference between living by the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace. The new covenant of grace is really the crux of these early chapters of 2 Corinthians and in chapter 3, there is a contrast building between discussion the new old covenants.

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Believers are new covenant servants. As we have seen, the Christian serves God under the terms of the new covenant. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for you.” The shed blood of Jesus Christ, purchasing for His children an astounding new and living arrangement for walking with God: that is the fuel for the new covenant.

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Here again, Paul is explicit: the contrast in this very chapter is between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace. Paul distills this further in verse 5 to a contrast between living by man’s sufficiency and living by God’s sufficiency. Living under the law as one’s code of life, as one’s way by which he relates to God, demands living up to that law on one’s own best effort and resources. As we know, no one has the purity and strength of character to begin or develop a relationship with God by law. The book of Galatians is exceedingly clear upon this matter. As is the book of Hebrews. As is the message of the prophets of old, the message of Jesus Himself, and the message of the apostles in the New Testament. The law was never intended as a means to begin or develop a relationship with God. The law was given to show man’s desperate need to have a relationship with God based upon something beyond man’s own merits. The law demonstrates man’s need for forgiveness of sin and need for a new life to draw upon. And of course, this is all provided in the new covenant under the abundant grace of God. Under the new covenant, the believer finds forgiveness of sins and finds a new life to draw upon for daily living.

So then, this study of man’s sufficiency versus God’s sufficiency is a look at the contrast between trying to live under the terms of the old covenant of law as opposed to living under the new covenant of grace. The old covenant of law leaves man to draw upon his own resources for life and godliness, whereas the new covenant of grace opens up God’s sufficiency as the believer’s daily supply. As we proceed in this session, we shall discuss a number of contrasts between old covenant living and new covenant living—that is, man’s sufficiency versus God’s sufficiency.

Ink vs. the Spirit We looked previously at the issue of God marking believers as letters of Christ. Building a characteristic of Christ’s life into the lives of His children, God, by His gracious work, makes the

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This passage reminds us the manner by which the believer is crafted into a living epistle—not with ink, but by the Spirit of the Living God. Ink versus Spirit. Ink speaks of human resource, of something man can produce and man can use. It matters not whether the man is merely a natural pagan or a born-again child of God. Anyone can write and work in ink. We might say that just as the rain, the ability to use ink falls on the just and the unjust alike. This is something for which, by God’s common grace, even man is sufficient.

That, however, is not the life the believer lives in Christ. This grace falls on God’s children alone.

Life in Christ must be by the Spirit of the Living God. The believer’s epistle is not written by the mere human hand in something as fleeting and fading as ink, but he is written upon by the very Spirit of God. Human resource pales when compared to divine resource.

Christian lives are lives are to be built by the Spirit of the Living God. Hearts are to be touched and changed by the Spirit of the Living God. The life of the believer should be characterized always by a dependence upon Spirit rather than upon ink and the work of human hands. The believer should find his life characterized by the presence and activity of the Spirit of God.

Tablets of Stone vs. Human Hearts

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3:3) Soft and living, the vessel of the heart stands in stark contrast to the hard coldness of tablets of stone. Tablets of stone are external to the lives of believers. Hearts of flesh sit inside our very being. A tablet of stone is inanimate and simply dead rock. A tablet of the human heart, the tablet for the writing of the message of the Spirit, is alive. The contrast here, between death and life, is enormous. The attempt to live up to a perfect standard that exists external to one’s being is here contrasted with God’s work of bringing that message of holiness and godliness and His perfect glory into the center of the believer’s being. No longer does God write upon the cold, dead stone of Sinai, but now He writes upon the believer’s heart and mind.

The heart is critical in living by God’s sufficiency. Christ Jesus said, “Guard your heart, for out of it flow all the issues of life.” All of life begins in the heart and flows outward. That which occurs within the heart soon becomes apparent on the outside, shining out, shown forth, manifested, and evident to all. Therefore, the believer must guard the heart, must live by what God is doing in the heart, rather than by what he can attain by living up to an external and insufficient standard.

The tablets of stone to which Paul refers exemplify man’s attempt to attain a standard external to him (in this case, the tablets of the law Moses brought down from Sinai). When the believer’s eyes look to the law of stone, he will always fail for what man is sufficient for such things. Yet when the believer looks to the word God writes upon his human heart, his thinking, motivations, evaluations, and priorities will all be transformed. God works at the very fountainhead of life in the core of His child’s being. The Spirit of God dwells in the heart of the believer developing and

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relinquish the hope of shaping his own life of his own resources to live up to the message on the stone, the Ten Commandments. How much better for the believer to have God working from the inside, effecting life changes from His all-sufficient grace. The comparison is laughable. Tablets of stone versus human hearts—the enormous difference between life by man’s sufficiency and life by God’s.

The Letter vs. the Spirit

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Living by the letter speaks of man’s sufficiency and reliance upon the old covenant. It speaks of law. Living by the Spirit, though, speaks of God’s sufficiency and the blessing of grace for life through the new covenant. The letter demands that rules be kept—and that is death. Whether the Ten Commandments from God Himself or from any manmade moral code, the human being is frail and inept and will necessarily fail to meet its standards.

Too often, believers attempt to levy a letter upon their own heads. “Oh, you cannot do that and be a good Christian.” “Oh, you have got to do this to be a growing Christian.” “Oh, you cannot do that if you are a Christian.” “Well, if you want to really show that you are a Christian, you have got to get into this.” And true, these can be proper extrapolations of the moral life of the righteous as stated in Scripture. But such statements are not helpful for they ignore the heart of the matter.

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The Ten Commandments are holy, just, and good and the Scriptures declare them so. They describe the perfect holiness of God. They call to believers, beckoning them to righteousness. But as Hebrews 7:18-19 says, the law makes nothing perfect. The law demands perfection, but cannot forge perfection. It cannot offer anything to cause the perfecting or maturing process to take place in a believer. The law is a measuring rod, a set standard of righteousness, but it cannot function as a source of growth and life for men.

The letter is only a measuring rod of life; it does not nurture, cause, or provide life. Only the Spirit of God can accomplish this. Since life comes not by the law but by the Spirit, the believer should never set upon himself or other believers a new law. The believer’s life may certainly (and should certainly) reflect the righteous standard of this letter, but none of this occurs in and of the believer. There is nothing within man to cause such righteousness of life to spring forth. A life’s adherence to facets of the law operate more like signs of potential life than as an indication of what is causing such a life to grow and develop. This is the contrast between the letter and the Spirit. It is the difference between living by rules one can never hope to keep and living by the Spirit of God at work to change us.

Ministry of Death vs. Ministry of Life Next we shall compare and contrast a ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of life, and the ministry of the law, the ministry of death. Ministry can be described as serving up something, providing something, dispensing something, or producing something. In the following passage, there are contrasted two distinct ministries with two distinct goals. Death and life.

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We see clearly that the ministry of death is the ministry of the law, “written and engraved on stones.” The ministry of life, on the other hand, is here called the ministry of the Spirit, for even as the letter of the law brings death and condemnation, the Spirit of the Lord brings life and liberty to believers.

Each member of the body of Christ, in every thought, action, and circumstance, is either ministering death or ministering life. Congregations, too, as they minister, are either ministering death or ministering life. If a believer or congregation is ministering by human sufficiency, death is the result—for life comes only by the Spirit. If a believer or a congregation is ministering by God’s sufficiency, abundant life is being served up—for Christ has banished death and reigns as the king of life. So long as one ministers in God’s sufficiency, he is ministering the life of Christ through the unceasing power of the Spirit.

The ministry of life has a distinct appearance in a believer’s life. The moral reflection of God and the fruit that God can produce will all be naturally characterized in the life, ministry, family, and service of the believer. His life will overflow with love, peace, humility, gentleness, warmth, genuineness, confidence in God, and spiritual fulfillment (fulfillment both in the believer’s own

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sufficiency of God. These are attributes and fruit of the character of God and only by Him can any hope to exhibit such things.

The ministry of death as well has a distinct appearance in a believer’s life. Instead of the godly characteristics of love, charity, and joy, and the liberating hope of life in the Spirit, the ministry of death exudes an oppressive man-centeredness. Instead of love, there is ministered judgment.

Instead of peace, the believer is overcome in a striving anxiety. Instead of humility, pride and self-righteousness become evident. Instead of confidence in God, there remains self-confidence.

Instead of a down-to-earth reality, a genuineness, in the believer’s life, there exists hypocrisy and pretense. Instead of fulfillment, all is emptiness and frustration. Instead of gentleness, harshness and roughness become the normal expression. Instead of warmth, the believer is rendered cold and austere.

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