Spirit or Letter?

When I use the term ‘Law’, which I do many times in this posting, I mean God’s Law, not man’s law.  But, in the broadest sense, many things said in this context could be transferred to man’s law without losing intent or meaning.

I was tempted to make the title for this posting, “When you are right, but wrong”, as that is the central theme.  First we should ask, “Is it possible to be both right and wrong?.”  Well, the answer is probably not, but there are times and situations where these two can get confused and it can be difficult to determine which is the correct term to apply.  So, that we know what we are talking about let me use an example.

On the way to the store I see a man who is down on his luck, and seeking just a little money so he can go a little further down the road.  Forget the fact that many of these are fakers, but let’s assume for the moment this is a real need.  While in the store I have a moral conflict.  I want to help this man, but I don’t have the money.  In a snap decision I put a loaf of bread in the bottom of my cart.  I don’t have the money to pay for it, so it never gets put on the counter, and I wheel it outside.  Upon passing the man I hand him the loaf of bread, and say, “Sorry, this is all I can do.”  He thanks me, and I push on.

Of course, this is a ‘made up’ story, but is helpful in explaining how something can be both right and wrong.  It was wrong to steal.  And we could make the argument that under no conditions would it ever be right to steal, but be careful here.  For let’s say it was not a man on the corner, but your daughter or son that was starving to death.  Would that change your perspective?  But, on the other hand, it’s hard to justify stealing in order to do good.  Yes, that is certainly true.  But, in real life its hardly as cut and dried as I’ve described in my simple story.  The point is simply this – sometimes we can do what seems to be right, only to be wrong.  And, of course, the opposite could also be true.  Sometimes we are condemned for doing what is right.

This is the situation we find facing Jesus towards the end of his ministry.  While Jesus’ earthly ministry was only a little over 3 years in length, He managed to pack a lot of things into that small time period.  In fact, historians have given those three years names:

Year of inauguration – the first year was one of creating something new.  Something no one had ever heard of before – forgiveness and salvation.

Year of popularity – as Jesus went about healing and teaching, His popularity grew, and the crowds grew.  He was known everywhere, and many wanted to be where He was.

Year of opposition – by this time Jesus’ popularity was being overtaken by the opposition movement.  This came primarily from those who had the most to lose from this ‘new thing’ that Jesus preached – the one’s in religious authority – the chief priests, scribes, lawyers, and other religious leaders.

On careful examination the Pharisees and religious leaders were right, as concerning the ‘letter of the Law’.  That is, they were attempting to follow the Mosaic Law, and accordingly saw what Jesus was doing seemed to be in violation of that law.  They were right, but they were wrong.  For somehow in the generations since Moses, man became obsessed with the ‘letter of the Law’, and forgot the ‘Spirit of the Law’..

The letter of the law says you must following all the rules to be acceptable to God.  While the spirit of the law says man is flawed, and cannot successfully follow the letter of the law in all cases, and at all times.  However, the spirit of the law also provided a way to ‘fix’ the flawed nature of man, providing forgiveness and redemption, which the ‘letter of the law’ could never supply.

We might wonder why the Pharisees and scribes and religious leaders should be so upset at the notion of forgiveness and redemption?  Why would they be so upset at someone who was healing, forgiving, and setting people free?  The answer is not very complicated – fear.  Fear that Jesus would change their status.  Fear that the people would no longer be under their direction, rule, and authority.  Fear that this ‘new way’ would allow people the freedom to make up their own mind about their relationship with God.  Fear of losing control.

So, what does all this have to do with us today?  Plenty.  As some Christians are intent on making sure everyone follows the ‘letter of the law’, instead of letting them apply the ‘spirit of the law’.  The spirit allows freedom, while the letter restricts freedom.  The spirit follows forgiveness, while the letter follows condemnation.  The spirit speaks life, and the letter speaks death.  The spirit allows for hope, while the letter says there is no hope.

May every Christian pursue those things of the spirit and not of the letter.

One Response to “Spirit or Letter?”

  1. Barbara McGuire Says:

    Great blog and great story! Perfect example and gave one food for thought! I definitely want to follow the “Spirit”! Blessings…

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