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  • Chad Werkhoven

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 - Competence for the Incompetent

The Holy Spirit transforms your incompetence into confidence!


2 Corinthians 3:1–6 (NIV)

CONTEXT: Some people in the Corinthian church questioned Paul's authority as an apostle. Paul here responds that the best 'letter of recommendation' testifying that the Holy Spirit was working through him would the transformed lives of these Corinthian church members themselves.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 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.


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Man

Man subjected himself willingly to sin,

becoming wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways.

Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary

concerning man’s free will,

since man is nothing but the slave of sin

and cannot do a thing

unless it is “given him from heaven.”

For who can boast of being able

to do anything good by himself,

since Christ says,

“No one can come to me

unless my Father who sent me

draws him”?

Who can glory in his own will

when he understands that “the mind of the flesh

is enmity against God”?

Who can speak of his own knowledge

in view of the fact that “the natural man

does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”?

In short,

who can produce a single thought,

since he knows that we are “not able to think a thing”

about ourselves,

by ourselves,

but that “our ability is from God”?

And therefore,

what the apostle says

ought rightly to stand fixed and firm:

“God works within us both to will and to do

according to his good pleasure.”

For there is no understanding nor will

conforming to God’s understanding and will

apart from Christ’s involvement,

as he teaches us when he says,

“Without me you can do nothing.”



As we've read the Bible together this week, it hasn't exactly been good for our self esteem. We've been reminded that the only reason we accept God's gracious gift of salvation is because our Father has given us to Christ, and that if left on our own, our mindset is selfishly fixated upon what our sinful nature desires, and hostile to what God desires. As our Confession puts it, "Man subjected himself willingly to sin, becoming wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways."

But today's passage reorients how you ought to view yourself. You're not to live wallowing in guilt and depression, rather you must live confidently "through Christ before God (v4)!"

Paul quickly qualifies this confidence, writing "Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves..." How could we possibly be confident in ourselves when even the best things we've done in our lives are as but "filthy rags" before our perfectly holy God (Isaiah 64:6)? This is what's meant when v6 says "the letter kills;" meaning that God's commands written in scripture, which we have not kept, testify against us!

Yet you can live with confidence, because your very life is a "letter from Christ," revealing how people hopelessly mired in sin can have confidence before God because of Christ's salvation, which has been "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (v3)."

Dig Deeper

This understanding of mankind's total inability to come to salvation on our own is a hallmark of Reformed theology (ideas which are often referred to as the doctrines of grace, or sometimes called Calvinism; yet as we've been seeing this week and will continue to see, these doctrines are not really an -ism at all, they're just straight up Biblical teaching).

But there definitely is a tension in this teaching. On one hand, your will was so enslaved to sin that it could never be described as being free. But on the other, your salvation very much depends on you actively placing your faith in Christ, and furthermore you're to make every effort to grow this faith and cling to your salvation.

You can, and must do these things, but remember that "our competence [to participate in our salvation] comes from God."

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who "has made us competent as servants of a new covenant (v6);"

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that your life will be a beautiful letter from Christ that others can read;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Matthew 15


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