Monday, August 1, 2016

What is the letter and the spirit of the law?

The Letter and The Spirit of the Law

"(29) But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." [Romans 2:29 NASB]

In this passage Paul is talking about the difference between Judaism with a focus on self-righteousness and hypocrisy as outlined in the rest of the chapter of Romans 2 and being a “true Jew” by being born again by the Holy Spirit which leads to a faith in the Messiah Jesus and a life God’s praises because of the gift of salvation in Messiah Jesus. 

"(6) But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." [Romans 7:6 NASB]

Here Paul is contrasting justification by the law and justification by the Gospel.  In Christ Jesus we have died under the condemnation of the law but now have been raised to a newness of life in the Messiah’s resurrection and have been filled with the Holy Spirit.  The contrast again is between Judaism with a reliance on justification through their own efforts and Christian faith.   This needs to be read in context with Romans 6.

"(6) who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." [2 Corinthians 3:6 NASB]

To understand 2 Corinthians we need to also read it in the context of the passage.  It again is a contrast between Judaism and Christian faith.  This defense of Christian faith being better and needed is a significant theme in the writings of the apostolic faith found in the New Testament.  The book of Hebrews is the longest explanation of this contrast. 

Many of the first Christians were Jews and had to be shown why following the Messiah Jesus was different and better than following traditional Jewish religion.   Especially with the debate with the Judaizers (see the book of Galatians), a clear understanding of the superiority and benefits of faith in Messiah Jesus had to be demonstrated.   In this chart you can see the meaning of the passage in 2 Corinthians in context.

Old Covenant
New Covenant

Ministers of the new covenant (vs. 6)
Of the letter (vs. 6)
Of the Spirit (vs. 6)
The letter kills (vs. 6)
The Spirit gives life (vs. 6)
Ministry of death (vs. 7)
Ministry of the Spirit (vs. 8)
Written/engraved on stones (vs. 7)  

Ministry of condemnation (vs. 9)
Ministry of righteousness (vs. 9)
Glorious (vss. 7,9)
Much more glorious (vss. 8,9)
Passing away (vs. 7)
Remains (vs. 11)
Veil on Moses’ face (vs. 13)  
Great boldness of speech (vs. 12)
Veil remains in reading O.T. (vs. 14)
Veil taken away in Christ (vs. 14)
Veil lies on their heart (vs. 15)
Veil taken away when heart turned
to the Lord (vs. 16)

So we should not understand the “spirit of the law” as meaning that we are free to disobey the objective meaning of the law.  Instead, we need to see that the spiritual use of the law is to make us aware that we can never be justified by our own efforts but only be condemned (see Romans 1-3).   Because of this our justification is found in Messiah Jesus’ work alone on the cross dying for our sins and being raised to give us new life. 

The teaching of the Hebrew Bible, Moses, and the prophets can only be fulfilled by the revelation brought in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  Without the Messiah there is no hope. 

This would lead us into also needing to understand the three  uses of the law of God.  See

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