The Spirit and The Letter
The Bible verses to do with the spirit and the letter of the law which the apostle Paul talks about have been greatly misunderstood and have been used by many professing Christians as a reason not to keep the seventh day sabbath. The problem is, we sometimes take verses on their own and don't look at the "big picture" of what is being taught. So what is the truth about the spirit and the letter? Let's look at the Bible verses.
Romans 7:6 .....'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.'
2 Corinthians 3:6 .....'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.'
First of all, what does Paul mean by being "delivered" from the law? What did breaking God's law demand? Genesis 2:17 .....'But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.' Exodus 31:14 .....'Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.' So we can see that under the old covenant, anyone who broke the law of God would be put to death. Ezekiel 18:20 .....'The soul that sinneth, it shall die.' But now through the perfect blood of Christ Jesus, we have been "delivered" from certain death. We are all sinners and all deserve death, but through the grace of God and the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ Jesus, we can be delivered from our sins and have life! Praise God!!
Think about this in a practical worldly way. Let's say a police officer stops you for speeding in your car. At this very moment, you are 'UNDER THE LAW'. Now, let's say the police officer is in a good mood and just gives you a caution and lets you go. You are no longer 'under the law', you are now under the 'grace' of that officer. Now, does this mean you no longer need to keep the law, because the officer let you off? Of course not, you should be EVEN MORE DILIGENT in keeping the law. This also applies to God's law. Just because we have been 'let off' so to speak, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Doesn't mean we are now free to break God's holy commandments.
Now going back to the spirit and the letter that Paul talked about above, we can see that in the new covenant, keeping the law in "spirit" supercedes the letter of the law. But what does that mean exactly? Does it mean we no longer need to keep the ten commandments? Does it mean we no longer need to keep the sabbath day? No, what Paul is saying is that we now need to keep the law in a spiritual way, and not just according to the letter. Remember what Jesus said about keeping the law?
Matthew 5:21-22 .....'Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.'
Matthew 5:27-28 .....'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.'
Do you see the new way we are to keep the law? We are to keep it in spirit, not letter. But we STILL KEEP the law right? And there is a structure to keeping the law of God. Take a look at the following:
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR
MERCY, FAITH, HUMAN NEED
OBEDIENCE TO SPECIFIC COMMANDS (LETTER OF LAW), IE. NO WORK ON SABBATH DAY
Now keeping the law in spirit and not in letter, means loving your neighbour comes ABOVE keeping the specific commands of the law. Let's look at how this works:
Exodus 20:9-10 .....'Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do ANY work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.'
Exodus 23:4-5 .....'If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.'
So the 4th commandment says that we are not to do ANY work on the seventh day sabbath. BUT, say that a person, even your enemy as above had fallen and needed help on the sabbath day. Should we help him, even though it would be a kind of "work"? Of course we should. Because we are to keep the law in spirit, not in letter only. And as you can see from the above, loving (helping) your neighbour comes above keeping the specific commands.
And this is where the Pharisees failed! They only saw the letter of the law and missed the more important part concerning mercy, justice, compassion. But today, the Christian world goes completely the opposite way in fear of being like the Pharisees and ignore the letter of the law all together! And in doing so, continue to break God's holy law.