The "spirit of the law" vs. the "letter of the law"

We live in a time where people wish to make everything cut and dry and absolute. We live in a time where the fine lines which separate truth from error, good from bad and a whole host of other issues are blurred and difficult to locate.

There are some things in God's Word which are absolutely cut and dry. There are many other things, though, which cannot be looked upon in this way due to changes in Biblical application due to either administration or cultur changes. Things stated in the absolute during one period of Biblical history cannot be automatically and absolutely applied to every period of history.

For instance, God gave Moses a set of laws regarding everything from A to Z. The detail in The Law is intricate and in many instances directly related to the specifics at the time it was given. Yet, there are also vast sections of the law which are general and would apply at any time to anyone wanting to live righteously. The law was given to once and for all make known what sin is and correspondingly show how to live in a righteous manner.

If the law, as given to Moses, was to be literally applied today by everyone, then I know many families who would be in extreme sorrow as they watched their delinquent children hauled outside the city and killed. I know many people who would be missing arms and legs and husbands and wives all because of sins committed in violation of the dictates of the law. In so many words, if a person were to take the Old Testament law and apply it fully today, the results would be the very thing found in extremely conservative Islamic countries even today.

The purpose of the law was not to lock people down in a prison of prohibited actions and thoughts. The law was not intended to deny all freedom to live and enjoy life. The law was not given to weave a cloak so heavy and burdensome no one could wear it. Yet, this is what the law became due to scribes and lawyers picking it apart and turning it into a way to subdue the population and enhance their power.

The debate between the "letter of the law" vs. the "spirit of the law" has raged since the law was given. Even after God gave all the details of the law to Moses, when it came time to summarize everything in the book of Deuteronomy, God does not lay out the blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience in relation to doing or not doing every jot and title of the law. The terms "obedience" and "disobedience" are general in nature and relate to the attitude of respect for the Word of God and not the impossible demand to perfectly fulfill the law.

The Old Testament is full of instances where the "letter of the law" regarding punishment was not carried out, with David being the prime example. If ever a man deserved to be stripped of his authority and carried outside the city and stoned it was David. The gross violation of law which he committed would arouse within any "legalist" the burning desire for justice to be served. Yet, God looked upon the repentant heart of David and removed the full penalty of disobedience to His law. Although personally spared due recompense, David did suffer the consequences of his sin as he watched his sons destroy each other and Israel.

Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees constantly regarding what they had done to the law in turning it into a yoke of bondage hung around the people's necks. The whole discourse in Matthew 23 and the corresponding "woes" deals with the hypocrisy and arrogance of those who more or less made it impossible for the people to do anything but live and walk in fear of constant judgment due to disobedience.

This was not what God wanted when He gave the law. It was not intended to suffocate people and turn them into ants ready to be squashed the minute they sinned. The law was given to tell people what sin involves and how to avoid it, especially in the daily dealings with others. Parts of the law dealt with sanctification toward God and other parts with loving your neighbor as yourself. Put together, the law showed how to be perfect in one's walk with God and each other.

The only man to faithfully carry out the entire law perfectly was Jesus Christ. That is why He is the end of the law to everyone who believes. The law set forth the righteousness of God in relation to redemption. Once the legal requirements were satisfied through Jesus, that aspect of the law was fulfilled. No longer is there any need for someone to think they must fulfill the law to be declared righteous, for that was already done in and by Jesus Christ.

We now look to the law as general rules for living in a righteous manner. Yet, we do not look to literally carry out everything in the law as a requirement to be righteous. Jesus Christ has already done that, and when He gave his life the perfect sacrifice for sin per what the law stated; the legal requirements of the law were fulfilled and those who believe in Jesus are granted full immunity from the law's penalties.

Are we to sin due the grace extended to us because of our legal justification and righteousness granted us in Christ Jesus? God forbid. To the contrary, we are granted freedom to live and love within the parameters of what the "spirit of the law" lays out. This is what Paul teaches in Romans 13 when he says that love fulfills the law. That which is allowed under love will not extend outside the general guidelines of the law.

Freedom from the "letter of the law" does not allow a person to kill, steal or envy his neighbor. Freedom from the "letter of the law" does not grant a person liberty to worship other gods and partake in every lust of the flesh and of the mind to fulfill every selfish desire. Freedom from the "letter of the law" is simply what allows us to walk in the "spirit of the law" which is the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

Think about this; did not the "letter of the law" give the crowd full authority to stone the woman taken in adultery in John chapter 8? Of course it did, for that is what the law said to do. Jesus, operating in the "spirit of the law" and from all the love in His heart got the crowd to put down their stones and he forgave the woman, telling her to go and sin no more. The "spirit of the law" is equal to "go and sin no more" while the "letter of the law" is equal to "kill the sinner".

As we look into this subject further, I pray we seek to understand how the cut and dry aspects of the law as it was given to Moses were required to provide for our Savior Jesus Christ to fulfill them in order to redeem us. The multitudes of specific dictates had to be given and later fulfilled perfectly by Jesus to save us. The general parameters of the law remain as the framework for understanding how to walk in love.

More will follow on this important subject as time allows. God Bless You.

K Reynolds @kreynolds ·

It is interesting to note that God called David a man after his own heart. 1 Samuel 13:14. When confronted with his sin, King Saul justified it whereas David would repent. The idea of sin now and repent later just doesn't work. Contrary to what we may think, repentance can't be turned on and off like a light switch. There's an old adage which says; "Are you really sorry for what you did or are you just sorry you got caught?" There is a difference.

Thank God we have a Savior! Thank God he fulfilled the Law for we never could! Thank God that through Christ we can now walk in love!

K :princess:

Phillip Jones @asifbyfire ·

I liked this very much and find that I agree with the thrust of your argument. A thought full and well written blog. I would like to read more on the subject. Thank you. Phil


Excellent brother. I'm looking forward to the "more to follow." This teaching is sorely needed in the body of Christ.

Billy Beard @billyb ·

I shudder inside at times the way people approach the subject. I will follow along and perhaps comment towards the end. Grace, mercy, and peace.

John Knox @watchmanjohn ·

Like wise as I to will follow this subject with intense interest.


Cindy Arington @truthbtold ·

You write with great wisdom something NOT common among today's bloggers. Keep up the good work! Blessings


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