Monday, October 18, 2010

Letter Vs. Spirit

Many people often talk about the letter vs. the spirit of the law, usually in regards to making an accusation of legalism.  Many think that bringing up the issues of righteous living violate the premise of letter vs. spirit and compare those speaking out for righteousness as the Pharisees of today.  Let's look at a few verses.
For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."  Romans 7:5-7 NKJV
First we see that the law is not obsolete to us as the law shows us our deficiencies unto God.  Without the law, we would know no sin.  Without the law, we would not know God's standards.  So what we see in this verse is that we were not delivered from the law in that the law is meaningless, but that we were delivered from the punishment of the law.  The law still shows us our sin, but Jesus paid the price for that sin.  The law no longer has hold over our lives because we serve God out of the love of Jesus and not in a legal arrangement under the law. 
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NKJV
Again we see a comparison between the spirit and the law.  The first part of the comparison is the law.  The law brings death, and brings death because the penalty of our sins against God are death.  The second part of the comparison is the Spirit that brings life.  That Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God that dwells within us giving us life.  The death of the law is no longer an issue for the Christian, because Jesus paid that price.  The law still meant death for our sins, but that death was paid by our Lord Jesus Christ.  We also see the misuse of the law in that people use it to show how righteous they are, but as Christians we use the law properly in that it showed us how unrighteous we were and that all our righteousness comes from the Lord. 
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.  Romans 2:25-29 NKJV
And here we see the fallacy of relying on the law for your righteousness.  If you are circumcised, meaning you desire to be righteous by following the law, you will ultimately fail and be counted as through uncircumcised.  If you bind yourself to the law, you are bound to the whole law.  On the other hand, if you keep the righteous requirements of the law while uncircumcised, you will be counted as circumcised.  This is speaking of the man in Christ who meets the righteous requirements of the law through the blood of Jesus and is therefor counted as one chosen by God. Trying to meet the righteous requirements of the law is an act unto the flesh and pride and doomed to fail.  The man in Christ relies on Jesus for his righteousness and lives to please God rather than man. 

Jesus summed up the law as this:
Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."  Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV
These two laws sum up the entirety of God's law.  Jesus exemplified this laws with his life and ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  The entire life and ministry of Jesus is a living example as to what it means to live out those laws.  Jesus always sought the Father and deferred to His authority despite being coequal with God.  Jesus loved the Father and so obeyed the Father just as Jesus shares with us that if we love Him we would follow His commands.  Jesus also loved us in that He died for us.  He set the bar very high as He died for us while we were yet enemies of God. 

And so for us, the letter of the law has shown us that we are sinners and can not meet the righteous requirements of God.  Praise be to God, Jesus came and died for our sins meeting that requirement for us.  And now when we submit ourselves under the Lord, our hearts and lives are changed where instead of striving to please God from a standpoint of legal obligation, we now love to serve God out of our abundant love for Him.  Jesus did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it.  Jesus did not come to make sin no longer sin, but to pay the penalty for our sins.  We still are called to be holy and righteous, only now we do so under the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us when we come to Jesus.  For us, our standing before God is not by how well we follow a list of rules, but in the precious blood of Jesus.  For us, instead of following a law, we follow a person.  We follow our Lord.  We must be imitators of Christ.
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  Ephesians 4:28-5:1 NKJV

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