The Letter of the law and the Spirit of the law

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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. 

Love And Obedience In Light Of The Cross – With New Living Translation

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You may download a printable copy of In Light Of The Cross Bible Study Guides- NLT here.

Love and Obedience

 

Brief Overview: The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Savior. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is an evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men. (Ex. 20:1-17Ps. 40:78Matt. 22:36-40Deut. 28:1-14;Matt. 5:17-20Heb. 8:8-10John 15:7-10Eph. 2:8-101 John 5:3Rom. 8:34;Ps. 19:7-14.)

Why it is important to know the truth about love and obedience: The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness.

Why it is important to know the truth about love and obedience in light of the cross: “It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour’s matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary’s cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him.” –Desire of Ages, Page 480.

 

Further study on Love and Obedience

 

What are God’s people to walk in?

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.  I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning.  Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning. 2 John 1:4-6 NLT

 

What warning is given about some Christians?

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

 

What will some last day Christians do?

 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.  They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

How are we saved?

So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.Romans 3:28 NLT

 

Does faith abolish the law?

 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.Romans 3:31

Faith without works is what?                                                                                               

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? James 2:17-20 NLT

Note: If a child who can’t swim has faith in their father they will jump in the pool when the father says, “jump in and I will catch you.” If the child does not have faith in their father, they will not obey. Likewise we show our faith by our good deeds and obedience. I will not lie on my tax returns because I have faith God will provide for me. I obey Him because I have faith. If I disobey Him, that shows Him I don’t really have faith.

How does faith work?                                                                                                            

What is important is faith expressing itself in love. Galatians 5:6 NLT

faith which worketh by love. Galatians 5:6 KJV

Is more required than “lip service”?                                                                                       

So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

Who is fooled and who is blessed?    

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:22-25 NLT

Who receives salvation?                                                                                                       

In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. Hebrews 5:9 NLT

What did Jesus say we must do?                                                                                     

 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:16-17 NLT

What happens if we break even one commandment?                                                               

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.”So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.  So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. James 2:10-12 NLT

Who are the wise and who are the foolish?                                                                         

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws. ’Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7:21-27 NLT

What does Jesus say?                                                                                                              

“If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT