The Letter of the law and the Spirit of the law

Ciera 006

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The question has been asked, “What is the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law?” To me, it all comes down to motivation.

When I stop at a red light to avoid getting a ticket, I am only obeying the letter of the law. Would I go ahead and run the red light and risk hurting someone if there was no risk of paying a fine? If so, then that doesn’t really make me an obedient person. It only makes me  afraid of getting fined.

If I keep from running a red light because I don’t want to hit and hurt someone, then I am now obeying the spirit of the law, which is “others first” or “consideration for others.”

Here is one example of how the pharisees were looking at the letter of the law, while Jesus was looking at the spirit of the law.

At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them.  But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”  Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat.  And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath?  I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple!  But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’[ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” Matthew 12:1-8 NLT

First of all, I think the Pharisees were greatly exaggerating by calling taking a few heads of grain “harvesting”! Today some Sabbath keepers will not flip a light switch to avoid “starting a fire” on the Sabbath. But I do not think God was referring to light switches when He said, “don’t start a fire on the Sabbath.”  See Exodus 35:3. back then a lot more work was involved in starting a fire than today. There is also a lot more involved in harvesting, than taking a few heads of grain. Now if you disagree with me, obviously that is fine. We all have our own convictions when it comes to these matters. For example, I do not eat out on the Sabbath because I do not want anyone to work for me on Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), and I do not want to buy and sell on Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-18).  Some of my Sabbath-keeping friends do not see it that way, and do not consider the cooks or waitresses as their servants, and they consider Nehemiah was referring to a lot more work in loading and unloading food, than just serving it. Fine. Each to his or her own. We must all be convicted ourselves, but the motivation should always remain the same, which is love and consideration for God and others.

Second, Jesus refers to David eating the bread that was only for priests when he and his men were hungry. When you consider the fact that the law of God is love, then you can see how mercy here would be a higher priority than the letter of the law. Another example is in the story of the Good Samaritan. Many wonder if the priest and Levi thought the hurt man might be dead. If so they were not to touch him by law (See Leviticus 21:1-3 and Numbers 19:11-122). But even so, mercy always takes priority over the letter of the law. The law is love. If we put the letter of the law above love then we have just defeated the whole purpose of the law which is love.

Paul explains what it means to keep the Spirit of the law, which is love.

If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:8-10 NLT

Love does not do away with the commandments. It is because we love God and others that we keep the commandments. I can’t say I love my neighbor if I lie about her and steal from her. Love fulfills the Spirit of the law, which is love and consideration for God and others, while a sense of self preservation and selfishness fulfills only the letter of the law.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

How NOT to Study the Bible With Others

As we study this week’s Sabbath School lesson, about turning hearts in the end of time, I know many of us are praying for loved ones who have turned away. Sadly, many have been brought up in the Adventist church under legalistic and even abusive home and church situations. Because of this they have a hard time separating the message of the church from the people who abused them. I have talked with not just a few people who were raised in the church, who told me they left because of abuse and emotional reasons. Later though, while discussing doctrine they tell me the exact opposite of what they told me previously. They will say emotional reasons had nothing to do with it. They left solely because of doctrinal reasons. I tend to believe what they first told me.  Our emotions are tied closely to our theology, which is why all our doctrines need to present God’s love in the light of the cross.  This is why we must stay focused on the love of God while talking about every Bible doctrine.

At a funeral service a few years ago, I was talking to a lady who was raised in an Adventist home. She explained to me that she was no longer Adventist because the Adventist church talked about the law instead of love. She since has joined a church that she considers more loving. However, her new church believes in an eternally burning hell. I am not sure why she thought a church that teaches an eternally burning hell was a more loving church. I also wonder why she felt the law was against love, while it actually promotes love by helping us put people and relationships first. It makes me wonder if she was wanting to get away from the message of the church or just the people who did not show her real love?

We need to pray for and love people who have been hurt by legalistic and abusive Adventists, instead of just preaching to them. Jesus met many in His day who were hurt by legalistic leaders. He ministered to those who were hurt by legalistic and abusive Pharisees, instead of just preaching at them. Sometimes He did not need to preach at all. The woman taken to Jesus in John 8:1–11 had been abused by the very church leaders who dragged her to Jesus. She may have made some mistakes on her own, but Jesus did not preach to her. He did not tell her, “If you stop sinning, then I will stop condemning you.” No! He never condemned her in the first place! His message was “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The “go and sin no more” was not just  a command as much as it was a declaration of her freedom from the abusive lifestyle she had endured by abusive church leaders. Jesus healed her emotions and theology by ministering instead of preaching.

Understandably, many like the woman in John 8, who have been hurt by the church are angry. Anger often gets misdirected. Ty Gibson talks about himself being an atheist, because he does not believe in the God most of the world does not believe in either. His point is that the God so many people hate and don’t believe in does not even exist. God has been so misrepresented that the God they reject is not the real God. So many are angry at God when the God they are angry with does not exist. That is misdirected anger. Likewise in Adventism, many former Adventists are angry at an Ellen White who does not even exist. Her writings have been taken out of context literally and blatantly in many compilation books. Her writings have been used to beat people over the head. Thank God my family never beat me over the head with or crammed Ellen White down my throat. I grew up reading her writings for myself, and  I read how she always talked about love and grace. I would dare say that Ellen White herself would not appreciate the “Ellen White” that many have to come to know through abusive parents and teachers who used her writings in ways that were never intended, which was more like weapons instead of the testimony of Jesus.

A while back I was talking to a woman who told me Ellen White was legalistic and only taught we are saved by works. Of course this is  totally untrue. Later in the same conversation, she told me she knew Ellen White was a false prophet because she says Martin Luther will be in heaven, while we all know he drank and ate pork. I suggested that maybe Ellen White believes Martin Luther and everyone else will be saved by grace alone. This woman was so angry at an “Ellen White” that did not even exist, that she rejected the real Ellen White who believed salvation was by grace and not by works.

In ministering to many hurt former Adventists, we must realize their issues are not only doctrinal if at all. They are emotional. Instead of defending Ellen White, we need to realize the  “Ellen White” they reject may not even exist. Do not attempt to win them to Ellen White. Win them to Jesus, He is the One who saves. Show them the God of love in the Bible, and show them the love in all of the Bible teachings.

Seeing how our emotions and personal experiences are so closely tied to our theology, it is important to refrain from emotional mind games, while studying (debating?)  with and ministering to former Adventists who are hurting. I have talked with and tried to reason with  many former Adventists who tell me they are totally healed emotionally, while they continue attacking the church and Ellen White. Hurting people hurt people. As long as they are on the attack I know they still need love and healing. Emotionally healthy people don’t make a religion out of attacking others.

These mind games work both ways. It’s human nature to try some of these tactics, so we need to watch ourselves that we don’t use these tactics and don’t allow others to use them on us. Of course this applies to general Bible studies even within the church as well as outside. Here are four suggestions of what not to say while studying the Bible with others.

  1. When you get closer to Jesus you will understand. 

It’s been a while since I heard this one, but I have heard it. Just a few years ago  a lady in the church was disagreeing with me about Jesus dying the second death. She was getting frustrated that I was not seeing things her way, so she finally rested her case by smiling and assuring me, ‘When you get closer to Jesus you will understand.” In my frustrated humanity, I wanted to assure her, that while there are 9 billion people on the face of the planet now, probably a good 8 billion of them could teach me what its like to get closer to Jesus, but she was not one of them!  Now that would not have been nice of me either.
Maybe when we see we are not “winning our case” it would be better to just agree to disagree and leave it at that, rather than to say something silly we will later regret. We all know the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say, but there were times when even Jesus was silent in the judgment hall. If Jesus did not feel the need to answer every question, neither should we. Being silent is better than saying something foolish. By the way, I was talking with this lady again recently, and she was agreeing with everything I said years earlier about the cross, as if she did not even remember ever disagreeing with me.

2. You only believe that way because you were raised that way

I  have had several former Adventists tell me I am only an Adventist because I was raised Adventist. Of course they themselves are evidence this is not true! If they can leave, so can I. This also is not true when you consider the millions who have joined the Adventist Church with no previous family ties to the church. Ironically the people who use this argument on me are complaining about how judgmental the church is. Then they turn around and judge me. That’s human nature. Even as Adventists it is tempting to tell Sunday keepers they are keeping Sunday only because they were raised that way. When we do that we are judging their motives, which we really know nothing about. It’s best to just stick to Scripture. What happened generations before really doesn’t have anything to do with what Scripture is telling us.

3. Sounds like an idea from someone who was hit in the head with a rock when she was little!

It’s ironic that people who feel they were abused and mistreated in the church would turn around and make fun of a little girl getting hit in the head with a rock, but that is what many do. I have read it online and heard it in person. An idea from the Spirit of Prophecy is introduced and the person who doesn’t like it exclaims, “Sounds like something someone would say who was hit in the head with a rock!” A former Adventist with his doctorate explained to me that when Ellen White was hit in the head with a rock that it gave her a mental disorder which caused her to become a prolific writer. Of course when I asked non-Adventist medical doctors what he was talking about, they all said no such condition exists. Such comments are not only disrespectful; they are also irrelevant. When people make such comments, it shows they are still hurting. Remember, hurting people hurt people. There are those who do not accept Ellen White as a prophet, but would also never make fun of her getting hit in the head with a rock, because they are emotionally healthy and have no reason to hurt others. To these emotionally healthy people, the fact that she was hit in the head with a rock is irrelevant to her doctrine. Other comments that are irrelevant are, “So and So was a Jesuit.,” or “So and So was influenced by the Masons.” Such accusations are all hearsay. Furthermore it does not matter if the person making a statement was hit in the head with a rock, or had ties to the Jesuits or masons.  I have heard people say that the Secret Rapture teaching is wrong because it is a relatively new idea. No. It is wrong because it is not Biblical. I am sure when Rachael Oakes introduced the Sabbath to a group of Advent believers in the mid 1800’s several of them could have said, “That is a new teaching we have never heard before.” Or even, “Rachael Oakes in just a woman.” Or “Rachael Oakes is a Seventh-day Baptist. Baptists teach some things that are not right.” Fact is it did not matter if the Sabbath was a new idea or if it was introduced by a woman with a Baptist background. The only valid question is whether or not the seventh-day Sabbath is Biblical. Once again we need to stick to Scripture instead of discussing and judging  people and their possible motives.

4. The Bible translation you are using is a bad translation

I covered this idea more thoroughly in a previous post.  I have heard people call the NIV the Non-Inspired Version. They tell me you can’t preach the sanctuary message from the NIV. Well, sorry, but I have taught the sanctuary message from the NIV! No translation is perfect, including the KJV, but God has protected His Word through the ages so that everything that pertains to our salvation will be understood. If you can only prove your beliefs from the KJV, then you may want to question your own beliefs. Valid beliefs can be proven from all the translations. I find that various translations actually complement each other and help us get the big picture. For example in the KJV Job 27:3mentions “spirit.” In the NLT Job 27:3 mentions “breath.” The big picture is that the spirit that returns to God when we die (see Ecclesiastes 12:7) is simply our breath. Having said this, do not discourage someone from reading a version you may not like. The important thing is they are reading the Bible! When I became a Bible Worker over 26 years ago, I was surprised how many adults had trouble reading anything, let alone 17th century English. What good does it do for someone to stumble over all the words in the KJV  if by the time they finish a sentence they have no idea what they just read? When people ask me what the best Bible translation is, I tell them, “the one you are reading.” When people open their Bibles in any version it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to work on their hearts. Please do not discourage a Bible student by telling them they have a poor translation. Instead encourage them to read whatever version they are reading.

In turning people’s hearts to their heavenly Father in the end times, it is futile to argue about motives for believing, or if a belief is new or where it came from. The only thing that matters is, is it biblical and does it represent biblical teaching correctly?

Baptism Pictures and Stories from Homosassa

Homosassa Bible Study

In 2018 I was invited to speak at the Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was told several young people wanted to be baptized and we began a baptism class. After just one week, I was informed several adults were interested in learning more about the Bible and the Adventist church as well. One Bible study group quickly grew into two Bible study groups. One for the young people and one for the not exactly so young people. For several months we enjoyed studying and hanging out together. Yesterday 6 precious souls gave their lives to Jesus through baptism, and we believe there are more on the way.

Bill

Bill is a real miracle! During our studies he went into the hospital twice, once with a heart attack! By God’s grace he quickly recovered and kept right up with the study group, hardly breaking any stride. Bill is an animal lover and has a horse. Some of the kids enjoyed stopping on their way to church each Sabbath to feed a horse some carrots along the way. Just the other day they found out it was Bill’s horse. Small world. Bill has quickly made friends with the church family. I am thankful for Bill’s friendship.

Connie

Connie has stepped out in faith and quit working on the Sabbath, so she can put all of her trust and faith in Jesus instead of her own works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

Connie’s daughter Mariah also made her decision for Jesus in our class as well.

Mariah

Mariah is already bringing friends to church and inviting them for Bible studies. She also is a faithful Bible student herself, and often asks very thoughtful questions. Mariah, like her mother and father, has a big heart and is often praying and asking others to pray for those in need.

Ricky

Ricky is a faithful Bible student, often having his lessons completed even before class. Ricky also has a talent for art, and is often drawing pictures to encourage those in his church family. Every church should have a Ricky!

Amberlynn

When Amberlynn heard there was a baptism class she let it be known she was joining! Even when her older sister Macayala was sick and unable to come Amberlynn still made sure she was there. Amberlynn loves Jesus and her church and is there whenever the doors are open.

Macayala

In one of my first sermons at Homosassa I asked the congregation a question and Macayala quickly rose her hand and answered. Macayala told her Sabbath School teacher that she loves it whenever I preach because, “I understand everything he says and then he sits down!” Everyone needs a Macayala on their side. Macayala encourages her friends at school as well as at church.

I want to thank the Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist Church for letting me be a part of their family. I am enjoying every moment. If you would like me to share Jesus with your church or family at home please contact me at Plantcitysdachurch@Gmail.Com . Let’s continue praying for our new members and each other!