The Spirit of the Law
To those few legalists who have even a rudimentary comprehension of the spirit of the law, they view it as an impossibility to abide by the spirit of the law without conforming to the letter of the law. If you try to point out to these few people the examples in Scripture where Jesus fulfilled the law in the spirit while breaking the law in the letter, they refuse to see it. Because they believe Jesus could not have “sinned” thereby disqualifying Himself as Savior, the idea is rejected out of hand. To them, sin is the transgression of the law ( I John 3:4) and that is that. The example of David eating the show-bread and being blameless is lost on them. The law comes first, and all must conform to that overarching belief.
To those who have bought into the legalism of the old covenant and have concluded that this law is “the” law of God, the true law of God; the spirit of the law, becomes incomprehensible as a result. A blindness results, as even Paul points out in II Corinthians chapter 3. This is the veil before the eyes that people have who insist on remaining in the teachings and writings of Moses; the old covenant. Point this out to a legalist, and this too is rejected without any critical evaluation. Ask them what this veil is if it is not before those who remain in the teachings and writings of Moses and they cannot answer. Regardless, they will not admit to the obvious. If you believe you have to keep the old covenant law, regardless of the rationales used to justify the practice, that veil will be firmly there, obscuring the mind from the comprehension of spiritual things and a spiritual, new covenant Jesus Christ.
Paul calls this law the law of faith (Romans 3:27), the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2); the law of God (Romans 7:22); the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Legalists redefine the law of God for Christians as being the old covenant law of God for Israel, which Paul contrasts with the law of God for Christians in the context of Romans chapter 7. Elsewhere this law of the spirit is called by James the law of Liberty. The legalist’s definition of liberty in this context ends up being Orwellian in scope.
The old covenant dictated when and where one had to worship; in Jerusalem on those holy days the people were commanded to assemble together. In Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman, He brings out that to worship God in Spirit and in truth is to do so without the restraints of location. The legalist reinstates the restraints of worshiping God, not based on location, but rather by restraints of time. A sabbatarian legalist redefines the sabbath as a day of corporate worship, and then uses this argument in order to construct a straw-man argument against Sunday. Yet the weekly sabbath was never a commanded day of corporate worship. The Sabbath was a “holy convocation” where one came before God on that day in their dwellings individually or as a family. They were envisioned as being in the presence of God on that day. That time was owed to God, and they were not to be about doing their own business or pleasure.
Some of them go so far as to claim Sunday worship as being the sign of the beast. To them, worship on Sunday instead of Saturday is to follow and worship the beast and to bear the mark of the beast. There is no evidence to support the teaching. The real purpose of the claim though is to induce phobia and fear into a person so as to better control them with a forced worship on sabbaths.
The old covenant law demanded that no work be done on a sabbath:
Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. — Exodus 31:14-15
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. — Exodus 35:2
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. — Leviticus 23:3
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. — Deuteronomy 5:14Jesus healed people on sabbaths. This was work on the part of Jesus, and he did not deny it was work. Notice again in the citations above and the prohibition against “any” work.
The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. — John 5:15-18The sabbatarian legalists have their own particular spin to this passage, claiming that healing a person really wasn’t a “work.” This redefining of work also serves to obscure the spirit of the law, which is also anathema to the legalist who redefines the letter of the law as being spiritual also. To them, Jesus didn’t really work, and therefore Jesus really didn’t break the law. You can’t have Jesus going about breaking the law that defines sin for them, thereby resulting in a saviour who sinned, disqualifying Himself as the Saviour.
Herein lies the distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is a case of fulfilling the law through love. Jesus was fulfilling the law through works of love and compassion done on sabbaths. The Scriptures show Jesus intentionally doing these works on sabbaths in order to confuse the Jewish religious leaders and expose their real sin, hatred:
If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. — John 15:22-25The Jewish religious leaders could not comprehend the spirit of the law any more than the modern religious old covenant legalist. Love fulfills the law. You cannot break the spirit of the law when doing acts of love and compassion. You might however break the letter of the law by not “keeping” it in the strict sense the law required in the letter. The spirit of the law trumps the letter of the law, even under the ministration of that law.
If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. — John 7:23-24But they could not judge righteous judgment. Their righteousness was enhanced through the observance of the minutia of the law, and the last thing they were ever going to do was jeopardize their perceived righteousness by going outside the perceived limits of the letter of the law.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. — Matthew 23:23Judgment, mercy, and faith are claimed by Jesus here to be of the law, yet under the ministration of the letter of the law, things like mercy were not comprehended. If, for example, two people were caught in the act of adultery, they were to be put to death as a warning to Israel, so that the people would not fall further into the depravity of sin.
And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. — Leviticus 20:10
If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you. — Deuteronomy 22:23-24Proper mercy and judgment are related to love. The zealous religious leaders of Jesus’ time were full of hatred. To them, the law was a tool that they could wield in order to rule and control others, all the while appearing righteous in the process. Then Jesus comes along, and exposes them and their hypocrisy time and again.
Keeping the letter of the law makes no one righteous or moral. The law states that a person is not to murder another. If one refrains from murder while harboring hatred, this behavior does not make that person any better of a person. The real problem is with the human heart (psyche) and not whether or not they transgressed a point of law found in the old covenant. Hatred, after all, is the spirit of murder.
It needs to be understood that all the old covenant law could do was condemn the one who lived by it, being under that law. The law was limited in scope, for the most part, dealing with the actions that followed the intent of an evil heart. The last of the ten commandments touches on the heart by commanding that one not covet that which belonged to another, the implication being, if one did, they would follow up by taking away by force or subterfuge the possessions of another. It also serves to demonstrate that, no matter how much a person tried, they were eventually going to covet regardless, exposing that imperfect heart we were all born with.
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, . . . — 1 Timothy 1:9The law proves no one is righteous based on their own efforts, through the law.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. — Galatians 2:21
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. — Galatians 3:21
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: — Philippians 3:9The law was not given to Israel to make them over into a more righteous and godly people, but to be a witness against them, showing them to be exactly what was written of them; a stiff-necked, rebellious and faithless people. They were placed under the law because they were faithless, etc. and the law was played up big time, playing into their desire to be God’s special people and be blessed by Him.
Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death? Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. — Deuteronomy 31:26-29In order to better understand the spirit of the law, it is helpful to understand the letter of the law.
Those points of law that required an action on the part of the one under the law are referred to as the “works” or “deeds” of the law. Many are unique to the old covenant as contrasted to points of law that are commonly found in most all cultures, such as prohibitions against murder and theft which are not “works” or “deeds” oriented. One does not have to actively “do” something in order to comply with such laws; one merely refrains from performing an illegal act.
The works of the law were of such a nature that one did have to do something in order to comply. Circumcision and the sacrifices are good examples of points of law that are works oriented. What a sabbatarian legalist refuses to admit is that the sabbath commandment comes under the letter of the law, being works oriented. The sabbatarian legalist insists that since a person is resting on that day; not working, it cannot be a “work” of the law, seeing as one does not “work!” This is nothing more than arguing semantics. A person, in order to “keep” the sabbath, must alter their normal routine and activity on the sabbath day. Seeing as they like to play with the word, “work” in this context, let’s use the word, “deed” of the law, seeing as the apostle Paul uses the two words in relation to the same concept.
A sabbatarian would agree that the sacrifices were of the letter of the law, and that one who performed a sacrifice was doing a work of the law. But technically, the average Israelite did not actually make the sacrifice, a priest did the “dirty work.” The Israelite brought the animal of his to the priest who dispatched the animal, and did what was necessary with the animal in accordance with the law. So did the Israelite “work?” Was this a “deed” that he performed? Yes, because the Israelite had to give up an animal that had value, and surrender the life of that animal. Likewise, the Israelite surrendered that period of time in order to comply with the sabbath command. It was a sacrifice of time that otherwise the Israelite could have profited from through normal work.
This line of reasoning though just won’t work with the sabbatarian legalist who is determined to keep the sabbath in order to demonstrate his or her dedication and obedience to God, even though Scripture nowhere commands the sabbatarian legalist to do so. This then is a case of trying to produce one’s own righteousness through law, and the legalist has no problem putting forth a ton of rationalizations to justify his behavior, even insisting that the sabbath is a morally based law and not sacrificial in nature, even though Jesus Christ Himself equated the sabbath to being ceremonial and sacrificial in nature.
The endpoint of this debate is found in the spirit of the law. Even the sabbatarian legalist will admit that the sacrifices were a shadow of Christ and His sacrifice. The animal sacrifices of the old covenant pointed to Christ in this regard. But what of the sabbath then?
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. — Colossians 2:16-17Sabbatarians have done more to this passage of Scripture than perhaps any other in order to obfuscate the obvious. These things that are works of the old covenant law are shadows of Christ; they point to Christ who has the “body” that has substance – something shadows are devoid of. Now, the sabbatarian insists Christ points us back to the shadows! Why then doesn’t Christ point us back to the sacrifices?
The clever twist you will get here from a legalist is in their interpretation of the phrase, “which are a shadow of things to come.” To the legalist, there are things yet to come, therefore these shadows need to continue to be observed. However, the thought is not taken out to its logical conclusion by the legalist if this were true. Once all these unspoken things do come, then what? Then they are no longer observed? Not quite, for the legalist also holds to the belief the law is eternal, therefore the sabbath is eternal and is going to be kept even in the new heavens and earth. So this is nothing more than an argument to get around the “here and now” in the hopes the topic won’t come up and conflict with the other beliefs the legalist holds dear to his heart of stone.
One of the most important things to take into consideration in this regard is the nature of the old covenant and how such covenants work in the first place. That old covenant was between God and Israel only. If anyone not of Israel wanted to join themselves to Israel, they had to undergo circumcision in order to enter into the nation of Israel, and they then came under that law. Were Gentile converts to Christianity required to undergo circumcision? No. Were they required to keep the law? No. Anyone with a fourth grade reading comprehension ability can understand this. What happens if you are a party to a covenant; a legally binding agreement between two parties, and you fail to meet even one condition or requirement of that covenant? You have violated said covenant, and whatever was promised in return for your completion of that covenant will not happen, and even James attests to this concept:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. — James 2:10Legalists will cite this out of context as a proof the law is required of Christians, overlooking the fact it refers to the “whole” law; the entirety of the old covenant. Again, does the legalist keep all of the law? Hardly. They pick and choose, claiming the sabbath and the ten commandments were a separate covenant and eternal. No proof or evidence is offered in support of this claim. It was the book of the law that was sprinkled with blood along with the people when that covenant was ratified. The tablets with the ten commandments inscribed on them did not undergo a separate ratification, and neither did the sabbath. That, and the only thing that is truly eternal is God. To claim the law is eternal is to set the law up as a god, which is exactly what happens. The legalist serves the law, and attributes it to being like God, thereby violating the very law he claims he is “keeping.” Without any realization at all, the legalist has set the law up alongside God, making the law an idol. The legalist has embraced the wrong tree; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the law teaches just that; good and evil. Like that tree, the law has a fruit that leads to death, which is why Paul refers to the law; the old covenant, as the ministration of death and condemnation in II Corinthians chapter 3.
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. — Romans 13:9
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. — Romans 13:8
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. — Romans 13:10
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. — Galatians 5:14
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: — James 2:8The Two Great Commandments revolve around complete love for God and fellow man. A deceiver who believes in keeping the old covenant in the letter insists that in order to love God, one must do what God commanded in the old covenant, and this is the rationalization used to convince others to keep that law. This in turn bolsters the legalist’s belief that he is right and all others are wrong, despite all the Scriptural evidence to the contrary. Force of numbers overcomes truth of Scripture.
If you have love for others; that Godly love that is shed upon the heart of the believer, which is God’s Spirit, you will not do anything to harm another. You will have love for even an enemy, thus fulfilling the law. Without God’s spirit, the best you could do was “keep” that law in the letter, despite the heart that is inclined to sin, which that law was designed to expose. After 3500 years, it should be obvious by now that the heart we are born with is exposed for what it is by that law that imparts a knowledge of good and evil, and concludes that no one, no matter how hard they try, will ever make their own heart over into a heart of “flesh.” It is God who does this, and not the individual. God gets the credit and not man through his own efforts and any boast in the law, deceiving the self.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. — Ezekiel 36:26Jesus, when He walked the earth, performed works and deeds of love and compassion, often healing people on sabbaths in order to demonstrate the spirit of the law. Did the religious people and religious leaders who were under the law understand? No. They were focused on the letter of the law, and they were blinded to all else. Today, religious people and leaders who look to the letter of the law are also blinded to all else, even to the point of denying Jesus broke the letter of the law while fulfilling the law through love.
Did Jesus come to fulfill the law, or keep the law?
These people judge according to the deeds and actions of that law; some putting a great deal of emphasis on the sabbath, while at the same time denying that the sabbath is related to deeds and actions! This is called “cognitive dissonance” and is covered elsewhere. It is where a person holds to two beliefs that in actuality cannot be held as true at the same time, yet it is common in all false religious systems.
Jesus came and fulfilled the law. Did He fulfill the law by keeping all 613 points of that law, down to the most minute detail? No, he broke the sabbath by working on the sabbath. He worked on the sabbath. He admitted He worked on the sabbath. The legalists of that time condemned Him and sought to destroy Him, and the law was their weapon they wielded to accomplish this. In the process, they revealed their true nature; the true nature of their hearts, despite all their law keeping. Through the law, they cloaked their evil hearts of hatred. Today’s legalists work in much the same manner. Instead of validating the truth of Scripture regarding Jesus working on sabbaths, they deny the spirit of the law by claiming He really didn’t break the sabbath; that he transgressed the added restrictions placed upon the sabbath by the post-exilic Rabbis. They have redefined and reformed Christ in order to comply with their image instead of complying with Scripture and Christ.
Keeping points of law in the letter has no value in Christianity. There is nothing to be gained, and nothing to be proved by doing so. It is counter-productive, as brought out by Paul in places like Galatians chapter 3. That law was for the “immature”. A Christian is seen as being spiritually mature, living by faith. The believer is not perfected through law:
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? – Galatians 3:2-5Teaching the law to the Gentile Christians was seen as a perversion of their Christian soul's (Acts 15:24). One's focus comes off of faith in Christ, and once again is placed upon compliance with points of law, jumping through legalistic hoops.
The law, being for the immature, is like telling a child not to cross the street. Why? Because the child is not mature enough to evaluate traffic so as to cross safely. When a person gets older and mature, they no longer need to be told not to cross the street.
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11