One day when my oldest child was about 2 years old, we were sitting together on the floor and there was an electrical cord nearby. She reached out her hand, put it on top of the cord and made moves to play with it.
I said, "Lauren, don't put your hand on that." She promptly removed her hand and sat back to look at me.
Then a few seconds later, she lifted up her foot, plopped it with a thud on top of the electrical cord, and looked to see my reaction.
All I could do was burst into laughter. At 2 years old, she was able to figure out a way to obey what I said yet still do what she wanted to do.
Had she obeyed the letter of my command? Yes, she had removed her "hand" from the cord. But she had not obeyed the spirit of my command. If she had followed the spirit behind my command, then she wouldn't have touched it again at all.
This distinction is what God means when He talks about the law of the Spirit. There is a difference between obeying the letter of a command versus obeying the spirit or intent behind the letter.
People often ask, "Are Christians still under the law?" But that question itself misses an important understanding.
God’s commandments are righteous and good...eternally. Yet, His desire has always been for a people who could understand His heart; who could be one with the Spirit behind the commands. God is after those who will serve Him with their whole hearts in Spirit and in Truth, not just in the letter.
“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Romans 7:6
God describes how He will do this in Jeremiah 31:31-34:
"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
"...they shall all know me." He says.
This word "know" is not just speaking of knowledge or familiarity here. It is the same word used to express the intimacy between a husband and wife, for example, “And Adam knew Eve his wife…” (Genesis 4:1)
This signifies one of the most intimate unions man can experience. The same intent is expressed in the following text:
“And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3
Again, it is speaking of knowing someone up close and personally, inside and out. I sometimes wonder if we truly appreciate what God is after with man?
God is love and He wants to share this love with mankind, but sin got in the way. This love is embodied in Jesus Christ, God's sacrifice for sin. Therefore Jesus "knows" His Bride and makes her one with Him.
The pattern of marriage reflects the personal way in which God wants us to be united with Him. He desires true relationship, fellowship, and intimacy with man as we know Him and are known by Him.
I don't know about you, but I think that is awesome. The new covenant allows man to intimately know God and His character. When you know someone's character, you don't have to always be told what to do. Since you know them, you can monitor yourself and your actions by nature.
That is why God says that He will write His laws on your heart via the new covenant. There was nothing wrong with the law, but there was something wrong with man. His heart was far from God because of sin.
Well then, some will say, "sin IS the transgression of the law". And that is true, but we need to understand what that really means.
Sin & The Purpose of the Law
Consider what the Scriptures say about Zacharias and Elizabeth.
"And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Luke 1:6
They walked in all the commandments and were blameless in this area. Yet, we know that all men have sinned. So while transgression of the Old Covenant law is sin, that is not ALL sin is. If sin was confined only to transgressing that law, then those who kept it could not be guilty of sin.
God’s laws are not just limited to the letter of the commandments, but it includes the spirit behind the commands, the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2).
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:2
You could obey each of the commandments and STILL come up short with God because sin is ALL unrighteousness (I John 5:17). Examine what happens in Matthew Chapter 19 as Jesus speaks with the rich man.
"And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." Matthew 19:16-22
Notice that the man is asking what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus answers him by saying, "Keep the commandments."
When the man claims to have kept all of these from his youth, Jesus doesn't say this man is wrong. But Jesus indicates that it was not enough to make him "perfect". Understand what Jesus is saying here.
In the earlier example with my daughter, she obeyed what I said to the letter, but she was still being disobedient. The intents of her heart were wrong, even while doing exactly as I said. Obeying the letter of the law does not change the heart, intent, or desires of man.
Look at Jesus' response after the rich man walks away.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?" Matthew 19:23-25
Imagine the disciple's shock! If you can obey all of the commandments and still come up short, then "Who can be saved?"
"With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26b
What is impossible? The salvation of man is impossible...when left up to men.
The answer for salvation does not lie in men at all. The answer lies with God, and specifically Jesus says in "following Him." That is how we are made perfect.
“For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.” Hebrews 7:19
Remember, this whole discourse started with the man seeking eternal life and Jesus responding for him to keep the commandments. The thing to consider is, "Why did Jesus respond in this way?"
When the man said that he had the kept the commandments, that should have been the end of the conversation. He had fulfilled the requirement Jesus had set out.
What do I need to do to gain eternal life? Keep the commandments. Great! I'm in.
But that didn't happen.
And further, why would Jesus direct the man to KEEP the commandments in the first place if He knew that such was not enough to make the man perfect?
It all has to do with the purpose of the law.
The purpose of the law was not to make man righteous. It was given to restrain man’s sin nature.
The Old Testament law is akin to that type of control. It is not meant to change the character of man, but to institute barriers on his actions so that he would not stray too far away from God.
“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, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” I Timothy 1:9-10
The law is a restraint on those who are lawless.
So, what about children who stay with their parents without a harness? Instead of doing what they want within a confined area, the child has to be ever mindful of what the parent is doing, where they are going, what they are saying, etc. It requires the child to “watch and follow” the parent. Such a child would not need a harness. Not because he/she is without laws, but because the character of the parent as reflected in heart of the child serves as an inward constraint that governs the child by nature.
"But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." Galatians 5:18
This is an important distinction when discussing the law. There is the Old Covenant which represents the “letter” of the law and the New Covenant which represents the “Spirit” of the law. One is an outward constraint that limits your actions. The other is an inward constraint that governs your nature.
The Scripture says it this way:
"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." Galatians 3:23-25
As a representation of God’s nature and holiness, the law brings us to Christ by showing us that we are sinners and in need of a Savior. In repentance, we turn in faith to Christ and are no longer under a schoolmaster because we have been born again by the Spirit to “follow” Jesus. The law is moved from an outward constraint on our actions to an inward governance of our nature.
"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:19-20
Consider the rich man again from Matthew 19. He may have kept the commandments, but his heart was trusting in his riches. So much so, that parting with them became an obstacle for him following Christ. There was still sin in his heart, even while he obeyed the letter of the law. Jesus was using the law to show the rich man that He still needed Jesus; he couldn’t trust in his own efforts to obey the law because that wouldn’t make him perfect before God.
It is the same principle in the story of the prodigal son’s brother. What was the brother’s complaint against the father? "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment" (Luke 15:29)
Yet, in spite of not transgressing the commands, there was still sin in the brother’s heart as seen in his anger and jealousy over the celebration for his brother’s homecoming.
If we don’t have a proper understanding of what sin is, then we will never understand what God is addressing in the death of His Son. Sin is not an act. The act is just the manifestation of sin that is first born in the heart.
The Law of the Spirit
“Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Hebrews 3:10-12
Where did Israel err? In their hearts. Where do we depart from the living God? In our hearts. God is always looking at the heart of man, because that is where sin begins.
The law can tell you not to have any idols, but the law cannot make you righteous. The law can tell you not to steal, but the law cannot make you holy. The law can tell you to keep holy the Sabbath, but the law cannot make you perfect. Not because of any defects in the law, but because of defects IN MAN.
"I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Galatians 2:21
If it were possible to become righteous by obeying the law, then it would not have been necessary for Jesus Christ to die.
Again, the law is not deficient in anyway, but man is. The law could not make man righteous because sin is more than just transgressing the letter of the law.
"All unrighteousness is sin," I John 5:17a
Sin is anything that offends the righteousness of God, including things in our hearts which the law cannot change. Yet, that is what God is after.
The Bible is a story about God’s love for mankind in removing the barrier between us and Him: sin. From the foundations of the world, God had a plan to redeem mankind through His Son.
God would not have His son born through idolaters and false god worshipers. So He gave the law to restrict man’s sinful ways and ceremonial ordinances to cleanse their sin. This way, He would have a people through which to bring His Son into the world.
God then crucified man’s sin nature in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Now, believers in Him are also crucified, allowing them to become a new man, being born again by the Spirit and made partakers of His divine nature.
"Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." II Corinthians 3:3
Here, we see the dichotomy again. An outward physical law on tablets or an inward law administered by the Spirit. The one is always contrasted against the other.
Yet, didn’t Jesus Himself say that He had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it?
How Jesus Fulfilled the Law
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19
Please consider what Jesus says here. This text is actually saying the exact opposite of what many people claim it says.
As long as Heaven and earth are around, not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law until ALL be fulfilled.
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Luke 24:44-47
In order to fulfill all, Jesus had to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead to offer mankind repentance and remission of sins.
Jesus said that none of the law would pass until all was fulfilled. Further, Jesus stated that He came to fulfill the law. So, then the only question left is did He? Did Jesus do what He said He had come to do in fulfilling the law?
Jesus doesn’t say here that the law won’t pass until Heaven and earth passes. He uses Heaven and earth as a testament to the truth of what He is saying. He makes a similar statement in Luke 16:17:
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Luke 16:17
Jesus says that Heaven and earth bear witness to the fact that none of the law will pass until all of it is fulfilled. And that is exactly what Jesus did. He fulfilled all of the law. And by His own words, the law passes at that time. This is why the Scriptures say,
"Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." Galatians 3:19
Jesus fulfilled the law by being the only one who could obey not just in letter, but in Spirit. Yet the religious leaders were constantly accusing Him of breaking God's laws and trying to trick Him with strivings about the law.
A woman caught in the act of adultery. Doesn’t the law say to stone her? He who is without sin cast the first stone. (John 8:4-7)
Jesus, why are you healing this daughter of Abraham? It is not lawful to work on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:11-16)
A woman marries seven brothers in her lifetime. Whose wife is she in the resurrection? (Matthew 22:24-33)
All the religious leaders could see was the letter of the law, so they were blinded to what God was really after; a change of man's heart through the new birth.
Truth be told, they didn't want to see more than that. They preferred to have a set of laws to obey so that they could still pursue what they wanted, while looking as if they were being obedient. Jesus said it this way:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:27-28
God is after a change in the inward man. He is not seeking man to perform for Him. Rather, He seeks to transform man into the image of His Son.
“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” II Corinthians 3:17-18
When addressing the law, Jesus always answered from the perspective of the Spirit of the law.
Thou shalt not kill or you will be in danger of judgment. Yes, but if you are angry with your brother without cause you are in danger of judgment (Matthew 5:21-22).
Though shalt not commit adultery. Yes, but if you lust after a woman in your heart you have already committed adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Matthew 22:36-40
ALL the law is contained in those two commandments. Once God is enthroned in man’s heart, He doesn’t have to worry about man’s actions because He influences man’s very nature from the inside.
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:10
"Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned" I Timothy 1:5
There is a spiritual component to the letter of the law, a higher standard that Jesus personified. That is how He fulfilled the law. At the time He fulfilled it, the oldness of the letter passed.
Yet, not everyone can receive this, for with it comes true freedom. Not freedom to sin, but freedom to live – in Christ. It comes at the expense of your own opinions and your own ways.
It requires you to be like that little child with no harness, watching his parent. It requires your eye to be single, ever mindful of what God is doing, where He is going, what He is saying, etc. It requires you to “follow Him”.
You are not without a law, but you are following the Spirit behind the law as God’s character is reflected in your heart and governs you by nature. Yes, Christians are under the law, but it is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” II Corinthians 3:6-8
Spirit of the Law Series
The Spirit of the Law – Part 1, Are Christians Under the Law?
The Spirit of the Law – Part 2, What the New Testament Says About the Law
The Spirit of the Law – Part 3, Jesus Fulfilled the Law
The Spirit of the Law – Part 4, Christians Must Still Follow the Ten Commandments
The Spirit of the Law – Part 5, God Says “Keep My Commandments”
The Spirit of the Law – Part 6, All of God's Commandments
The Spirit of the Law – Part 7, Love, the Fulfillment of the Commandment
The Spirit of the Law – Part 8, The Law Has Been Magnified
The Spirit of the Law - A Summary