Such confidence as this is ours 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.The bold claim, in other words, is because the power of God has made him competent (or "adequate" as another translation puts it) for his role, his position in the kingdom.2 Corinthians 3.4-6
Paul also talks about "the letter" i.e., the letter of the law. Paul was an expert in the minutiae of the Jewish Law. He had spent his life studying it and becoming an authority on all those details. And yet in Acts 9 we saw how he made a complete turnaround, which I think is a wonderful thing. Although there can be great resistance to changing one's path in life -- after such a huge investment! -- there is yet the possibility that God will overcome that resistance and work a miracle. Some people find Christ, or rather are found by him, in their 70s or later. And that's very good news.
And what's this about the letter killing? Here is what I think it means. If I focus my attention on minutiae, on following this or that practice exactly, there'll be a great temptation to feel good about myself -- and to think that God loves and approves of me -- just because of the accuracy, the completeness of my adherence "to the letter." And if I think God approves of me based on that sort of action, well, there's a kind of death in that. My ability to respond with mercy could be impaired; I'll be somewhat deadened (if not dead altogether) to compassion and kindness, because of obsessing on the letter.
This is something that we have to watch out for even today. If I feel good about myself, if I believe God thinks I'm OK because I read the Bible regularly, or pray or whatever, then I'm indulging in deathly thoughts, killing thoughts.
When he says that the Spirit gives life, what does that mean but that the Spirit gives us the antidote to this deadly way of thinking? The Spirit is himself the antidote because he lives inside us, and the Spirit also tells us when we need to think differently.
So, do we forget about studying the Bible and just listen to the Spirit? How do we know we're not just listening to our own thoughts, or to some other spirit?
The answers are No; and It's hard to tell.
The problem isn't in studying the Bible -- even the Law. The problem rather is in focusing on procedures and minutiae. So if as we study the Bible, we keep in view the thought that God wants to transform us, and that any actions are only tools in service of that goal, then I think we'll do well. And we can ask the Spirit to help us stay on track, to show us how God wants to transform us, and to remind us that it's all about how God transforms and uses me, not about how I earn something.
As far as how we know we're not just listening to our own thoughts -- well, a good first step would be to check out what we think we hear vs what the Bible says - hence we need at least some knowledge of the Bible. I hesitate to mention this, because it seems so obvious -- yet I have heard of people who say the Spirit told them to get a divorce and move to another city to pursue a better career, and who went ahead and did it!
So we need some knowledge of the Bible, but we mustn't think we're better than someone else if we know more about it (or vice versa). We need to be transformed by God, and some of that is through the Bible and through the Spirit. And when we turn to the Lord (3.16) things become clearer and we can get closer to God.
Sounds pretty good to me! Amen?