“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
The Word and the Spirit Form an Unbreakable Bond
When these false teachers criticize us for clinging to the “dead letter” of Scripture, they are actually bringing judgment upon themselves for despising God’s word. In the passage about the “dead letter,” Paul is talking about the false apostles who speak of the Law without Christ (2 Corinthians 3:6). When they recommend the Law apart from Christ, they are cutting people off from access to the New Covenant by which the Lord promises that He will write His Law on our hearts. Therefore, we speak of the letter being “dead” because the Law of the Lord kills its readers, severing them from the grace of Christ. The Law only gives hearing to the ear without touching the heart.
But if God’s word is effectively impressed upon a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit–if it is shows off Christ–then it is the word of life which converts people. In the very same passage, Paul calls his own preaching a “ministry” of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:8). What he means is that the Holy Spirit holds fast to the truth about Himself as expressed in Scripture that He will only put forth His strength and save people when the word is rightly honoured and accepted.
What was said earlier in chapter 7 is reaffirmed here: we can have no certainty of God’s word unless the Spirit confirms to us in our hearts. The Lord has tied together the certainty of His word and the Holy Spirit so closely together that we will revere the word when the light of the Spirit shines upon us and enables us to see Christ’s glory in the Scriptures. On the other hand, we embrace the Spirit when we recognize Him in the word.
God did not intend to get rid of His word as soon as the Spirit steps onto the scene. Rather, He employs the Holy Spirit, through whom He wrote the Scriptures, to confirm His word. When Christ was talking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He did not encourage them to do away with the Scriptures. Rather, they should seek to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Furthermore, Paul tells the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit” and also to not to “despise prophecy” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, 20). What Paul means is that the Spirit will be quenched when prophesying is despised. How can those who despise Scripture answer this? They say goodbye to the Scriptures but hold fast to any “illumination” which happens to spring into their minds.
God’s children are much more sober minded than that. Just as they know that without the Spirit, they are utterly devoid of truth; so also, they know that it is the word of God which by which the illumination of the Spirit is given to them. They know no other Spirit except the One who dwelled in and spoke through the apostles. This is the Spirit who they seek to hear when they listen to the word.