What the Bible says about
Spirit of the Law
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is a most important scripture for understanding Christ's ministry. A major part of the purpose of His ministry is to magnify the law. The Sermon on the Mount is the focal point of His doing this. In the Sermon on the Mount, we learn that anger and hate are the spirit of murder, magnifying the sixth commandment. We also learn there that lust is the spirit of adultery, magnifying, clarifying, and explaining in sharper detail so that we can understand and see its application.
Jesus deliberately and frequently focused His attention on the Sabbath, but not, however, in the Sermon on the Mount. It is too big a subject to be contained there. We find passage after passage where He magnifies the keeping of the Sabbath and thus teaches the intent of the Sabbath.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)
Jesus is saying, in plain language, that His teaching does not contradict the Old Covenant law, but it is the ultimate fulfillment of its spiritual intent. Even in the smallest matter, the smallest statement—the jot and the tittle—the law must be fulfilled.
Notice where His statement appears. Matthew places it immediately after Jesus' exhortation, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matthew 5:16). What if our works are good? Are we supposed to hide them? Then comes His statement regarding law. Is there a connection between good works and keeping the law? One would have to be quite obstinate to believe there is no connection between them. It is obvious that He is connecting good works with lawkeeping.
To strengthen the argument, He mentions righteousness in verse 20. What is the Bible's definition of righteousness? Psalm 119:172: "All Your commandments are righteousness." Thus, sandwiched between righteousness and letting one's light shine comes an explanation that He did not come to do away with the law but to fill it to the full, to help us understand its ultimate application—its spiritual intent.
Is it possible to keep the law in its spirit without also keeping it in the letter? It cannot be done. One must first keep it in the letter before learning how to keep its spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 14)
Some Bibles title this paragraph, “Jesus Fulfills the Law.”The sense in which many professing Christians use the term “fulfills” is not inspired Scripture. In this case, it does not mean “accomplishes by keeping” or “does away with,” as judged against what He taught in what immediately follows. Fulfills, in this case, means “fills to the full,” “fully exemplifies the conduct it covers,” or “expands to its fullest intent.” Consider His subsequent illustrations carefully:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)
His teaching shows Him raising the acceptable level of obedience far higher than what people ordinarily considered as satisfactory behavior. Jesus expands the scope of sin in the sixth commandment from outright murder to also include a high level of anger in certain situations! Matthew 5:27-30 shows the same pattern in this teaching on the seventh commandment:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
The same conclusion is true of this commandment and also for each of the others He expands during His Sermon on the Mount. Far from doing away with God's commandments, He raises the standards of acceptable behavior far higher.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)
The letter of the law that the Pharisees tried to keep was not enough—especially for us. We have to exceed the letter of the law. Here, Jesus was so specific about the continuance of the law from the Old Covenant to the New that He referred to the smallest punctuation and pronunciation marks contained in the written law, the "jot and tittle."
Most modern theology discards the letter in favor of the spirit, but one extreme is as bad as the other. The true Christian needs both the written letter of the law as well as its spirit to keep it properly.
To keep God's law properly, we have to learn to recognize the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law means God's original intent or purpose behind each law.
When God designed the Sabbath, for example, He intended it to be a blessing to human beings. He designed it to be a refreshing rest and an opportunity both to recuperate physically after six days of work and to draw close to Him in love and to worship Him, as well as to deepen love for the brethren through fellowship and outgoing concern.
Jesus knew the spirit of the Sabbath commandment. Therefore, He knew that the split second of divine effort involved in healing was a valid use of time on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12). Because of Jesus' insight into the divine purpose behind the Sabbath, He freed the crippled worshipper of his burden. He experienced a wonderful and exciting blessing because Jesus understood the spirit of the law. God's law is always a blessing to those who recognize the spirit of the law.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
Jesus Christ goes on to expound the changes of attitudes and approaches to God's law that we must acquire to do just that, to exceed the righteousness of those very law-abiding people.
When He finished His sermon, the people were astonished, as He had taught them, not as the "letter of the law" scribes and Pharisees did, but "as one having authority" (Matthew 7:28-29). Jesus could preach with conviction and boldness because He saw past the rigid letter of God's commandments to their very spiritual heart and purpose. He could confidently give the law its true meaning and relevance to life.
In essence, Matthew 5 - 7 contain instructions from Jesus for them, and for us today, to go further than the strictly physical application of the law - to God's true intent in it, or as we say, from the letter to the spirit of the law. In His teaching, Jesus states a physical law, often quoting directly from the Old Testament. This base standard is to be met by all those who have made a covenant with God.
Then, He proceeds to amplify the particular law's meaning, usually beginning His amplification with words similar to, "I say to you. . . ." Such words should be a flag to us that Jesus is expanding the scope of the law to include, not just physical actions, but the condition, attitudes, and inclinations of a person's heart. In essence, He is teaching the standards required of His people to attain the Kingdom of God.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Go the Extra Mile
It is essential to understand that Jesus did not do away with laws, but brought to completion the laws that already existed. Likewise, He did not do away with the Old Testament death penalty principles, which act as guides to civil governments. Jesus was a pioneer, not a revolutionary. A revolutionary seeks to destroy the existing order and places himself above conventional standards. A pioneer accepts the restraints laid upon him and moves forward.
Men's governments deal with the end of the act, Christ deals with the beginning. Jesus changed the law's restraint from the act to the motive. For the Christian, merely abstaining from the act is not sufficient. Jesus imposes the positive obligation of the spirit of the law on him. He seeks to prevent crimes of violence by rooting out the attitudes and drives in a person's character that make him kill. The New Covenant law searches the heart without doing away with the Old Covenant letter.
People can sometimes get infantile, sentimental feelings about Christ and fail to understand the practical realities of what He taught. A cursory reading of Matthew 5:21-22 shows that He is speaking not so much about murder but of the steps that lead to it. He traces the roots of murder and war to three major sources: 1) anger, 2) hatred, and 3) the spirit of competition and aggression—in short, the self-centeredness of passionate carnality.
"Angry without a cause" indicates someone vainly or uselessly incensed. It describes a person so proud, sensitive, or insecure that he gets angry about trifling things. He wears his feelings on his sleeve and is easily offended. He then broods on the offense and nurses it into a grudge.
What may make Jesus' comments even more startling is that many commentators feel that the best Greek manuscripts do not include "without a cause." If this is so, Jesus is saying that even getting angry—with or without a "justifiable" cause—puts one in danger of breaking this commandment! The Bible permits anger against sin (righteous indignation) but not anger against another person.
Raca literally means "vain fellow," someone who is deemed shallow, empty-headed, brainless, stupid. People said raca in a tone of voice that conveyed scorn, contempt, or bitterness born of pride, snobbery, and prejudice.
"You fool" implies a moral fool. One using it was casting aspersions upon another's character to destroy his reputation. It is an expression of condemnation, of character assassination.
We should not take the increasing severity of punishment in the examples Jesus gave literally. He is teaching about the sin of murder, and the punishment is the same in each example—death. He gives the gradations to teach the degree of wickedness and viciousness of each sin.
William Barclay, in his commentary on these verses, writes:
What Jesus is saying here is this: "In the old days men condemned murder; and truly murder is forever wrong. But I tell you that not only are a man's outward actions under judgment; his inmost thoughts are also under the scrutiny and the judgment of God. Long-lasting anger is bad; contemptuous speaking is worse, and the careless or malicious talk which destroys a man's good name is worst of all." The man who is the slave of anger, the man who speaks in the accent of contempt, the man who destroys another's good name, may never have committed a murder in action, but he is a murderer at heart.
Brooding anger, contempt, and character assassination are all the spirit of murder. Christ here traces murder to several of its major sources. To continue in any of these states breaks the sixth commandment. Death is the penalty. Christians have to keep the spirit of the law.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
Matthew 12:1-8 adds yet another example of Sabbath encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees. According to the Pharisees, the disciples reaped, threshed, and winnowed the grain; they were guilty of preparing a meal. What was the disciples' motivation? They were traveling, hungry, and had no place to prepare a meal. They were young and strong and could have fasted without harm, but because it was a Sabbath, Jesus drew attention to one of the Sabbath's main purposes. It is a day of mercy.
Christ draws His justification from I Samuel 21:1-6. He reasons that, if David under unusual circumstances could allay his hunger by eating bread consecrated for holy use, then the disciples could also legitimately provide for their needs in unusual circumstances. The emphasis here is on "unusual." How many times did David flee for his life and find himself hungry near the Tabernacle? It happened at least once, but even for a man of war like David, such situations occurred only rarely.
The overall lesson is that God does not intend His law to deprive but to ensure life. If the need arises, we should not feel conscience-stricken to use the Sabbath in a way that would not normally be lawful. Christ admits David's actions were not normally lawful, and neither were the disciples'—except for the circumstances. In this case, they were blameless BECAUSE A LARGER OBLIGATION OVERRULED THE LETTER OF THE LAW. In this circumstance, mercy is more important than sacrificing a meal. Holy bread or holy time can be used exceptionally to sustain life and serve God.
Christ takes advantage of the situation to teach another connected lesson. He draws attention to the extent of the priests' Sabbath labors in the Temple. Their work actually doubled on the Sabbath because of the number of sacrifices God required, yet they were guiltless. Why? They were involved in God's creative, redemptive work, as Christ explains in John 5, 7, and 9. They fulfilled a purpose of the Sabbath that someone had to do.
Because of the disciple's involvement in the work of God, circumstances dictated a profaning of the Sabbath. From this, we can understand that LOVING SERVICE IS GREATER THAN RITUAL FULFILLMENT. What is mercy? It is a helpful act where and when it is needed. It is an act of loving encouragement, comfort, pity, and sympathy for the distressed. It is the relieving of a burden.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath
The key to understanding the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, 11-12) does not hinge on their zeal in keeping the law, but on their zeal in finding loopholes to twist it to their own ends. Their motto could have been, "How close can we get to the edge without going over?" We could refer to this practice as brinkmanship (pushing a situation to the limit to force a desired result) or marginalism (taking an extreme position on an issue).
A former homiletics teacher, also an avid skier, conveyed to his class an analogy of the Ten Commandments as the boundary markers along the ski trail. Every year, when contemplating the boundary markers at Vail or Aspen, he reflected that only an idiot would ski as close to the edge as he could. Yet this describes many practices of the scribes and Pharisees!
The legalist and the lawbreaker both have a morbid curiosity about those boundaries rather than concentrate upon the vast latitude of choices between those markers. This is reminiscent of our parents Adam and Eve developing a morbid curiosity about the one tree that God forbade, ignoring the thousands upon thousands of varieties that He did not forbid (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6). This behavior dwells on the negative and ignores the positive.
These examples point out that the spirits of legalism and lawlessness are twin siblings. When we place the critical points of the law/grace and legalism/lawlessness issue in proper perspective, law and grace are powerful allies opposing legalism and lawlessness. They give Christians great freedom to do good for others while also doing what is right.
David F. Maas
Righteousness from Inside-Out
We see a very polite, respectful, and eager young man who leaves Christ and goes away sorrowful. Why? The story makes it clear that he is young, and Luke tells us he is a ruler (Luke 18:18), possibly a magistrate or a kind of Justice of the Peace.
In the parallel account in Mark, we are told that the young man came "running" up to Christ and "knelt" before him (Mark 10:17), indicating a sense of urgency and respect. He then shows submissiveness and a willingness to be taught when he addresses Jesus as "Good Teacher." This was not a typical form of address for the Jews at this time. A more respectful greeting may not be found in the entire Bible.
This young man came, not to tempt Christ, but to learn from him. We know that he was not a Sadducee because it is clear that he believed in eternal life and wanted to attain it—an unusual goal in someone of his position and age. A man of wealth will often trust his riches and not be interested in what God has to offer. The young do not often look beyond today, much less to the far reaches of eternity.
This rich young ruler was a very sensible fellow. He knew something must be done to attain this happiness; eternal life is not a game of chance or blind fate. Romans 2:6-7 tells us that we are rewarded for our works, good and bad, and that "eternal life [goes] to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality."
Christ's response to all this is interesting. He first establishes that none are truly good except God, and to Him goes all glory. Then Jesus tells him to "keep the commandments," specifically listing the last six of the Ten Commandments, the ones dealing with human-to-human relationships. The Jews of the time were well-versed in the mechanics of the first four commandments, in terms of the letter of the law, so Christ lists the ones in which they were weakest.
It seems so simple, right? In order to have eternal life, "keep the commandments." How do today's professing Christians, who claim the law has been done away, get around this simple instruction? Other verses, such as John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments," reinforce this straightforward directive.
The young ruler tells Christ that he has kept the commandments since he was a child. What else should he do? Jesus does not contradict him. In Mark's account, it says He looked at him and "loved him." Possibly, this man was adept at keeping the letter of the law, but he was coming up short in abiding by the spirit of the law. Perhaps Jesus saw that he was absolutely sincere in his efforts to abide by those commandments.
Whatever the case, Christ does not attempt to sermonize on this point. The way the young man phrased his question, "What do I still lack?" smacks a bit of pride or self-righteousness. In effect, he says, "I'm keeping the commandments and have done well in that regard all my life. Show me where I'm coming up short."
Unlike what many of us would do, Christ avoids becoming mired in a dispute about this claim, but gets right to the bottom line: The young man's love of the world. He tells him to sell his possessions, give the money away, and follow Him as a disciple. Yet, the young ruler was unwilling to do this. His treasure was here on earth. His money exerted a stronger tug on his heart than Christ did. Matthew Henry says in his commentary, "When we embrace Christ, we must let go of the world, for we cannot serve God and money."
To the young man's credit, he was not hypocritical. He did not pretend he could do this when he could not. He knew what this meant: Christ's high standards and his own ambitions and desires were incompatible. Being both thoughtful and well-intentioned, he went away "sorrowful."
What did he possess that had such a hold on him as to make him willing to walk away from eternal life? To put it into terms we can relate to: Did he have a fully equipped game room with pinball, billiards, jukebox, and wet bar? Maybe he had the latest and hottest SUV? Perhaps his living room sported a plasma television, where he could kick back and watch all the sports he could handle?
What was holding him back? What did he really trust in? There is nothing spiritually wrong with wealth itself. The Bible is full of examples of godly men who were very wealthy—for instance, great men of God like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, and David. The problem is in the love of money.
Because we live in a consumer-driven society, the love of money can hold us back too. Advertisements call to us constantly, informing us of "needs" we did not even know we had. It is difficult to maintain a proper balance while under such an assault. We may not think of it this way, but it could be considered a blessing not to have great wealth because of the additional stress it can put on our spiritual lives.
It is instructive to study what Christ had to say to His disciples after the rich young ruler sadly walked away. Twice Jesus tells us how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. The Christian walk is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly hard for the wealthy. In fact, Jesus goes on to say, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
The Rich Young Ruler and the Needle's Eye
An honest evaluation of what Jesus teaches will show that He gives very few rules, if any, for keeping the Sabbath (or for that matter, for anything). There is a reason for that. For one thing, the rules were already laid down in the Old Testament. Also what He came to do was to magnify the spiritual application of that law, that is, teach and expound the spirit of the law, the intention for the law.
There is hardly a law that He paid more attention to than the Sabbath, magnifying its use. There are at least seven different occasions in the four Gospels in which the Sabbath is the issue, when Jesus magnified its use for us. Every one of them has a theme of redemption in it.
What He teaches us are principles for applying the rules that have already been given in the Old Testament. For some of us, that is kind of disconcerting. We would like to have something like a bus or an airline timetable to take us through life in which every possible avenue is detailed as to exactly how we should go, where we should do something, when we should do it in every possible situation that might arise.
God allowed the Jews to try that. They eventually came up with 1,521 rules concerning the Sabbath, which they felt would cover every situation that one might possibly get into. What God is showing us through Jesus Christ is that this is unnecessary. In short, it does not work, or God would have done it. A person is not free when he is bound to those kinds of regulations.
Living in the twentieth century is not quite the same as living in the first or second centuries. Besides, that approach does negative things to a person's character; it produces an extremely narrow, intolerant, and critical casuist. What Christ did in giving us principles is that He gave us things that will last unalterable to the end of time and allow us to be free. They allow a person not always to do exactly the same thing each time. Every situation has to be judged on its own merit.
What does God want to do with our lives? What is He trying to form? He is creating in us an ability—an expertise—to judge. We are going to be kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). What does a king do? A king judges in civil matters, things that pertain to the community. What does a priest do? A priest also judges, but he judges in things spiritual. God is teaching us how to judge.
How we use the Sabbath is an integral part of His training program, and so He has purposely left out all kinds of details. But what He did through Jesus is magnify things so that we can see the intent. What we are seeing is that the intent for the Sabbath is to free. It is to liberate. It is not to bind people with rules.
There is a risk involved in what God is doing. In one sense, it puts a person at very grave risk. Blundering, foolish, and self-centered as we are, there is a grave danger of taking our liberty and turning it into license to do virtually anything we want. Or, on the other hand, to take our liberty and do as the Jews did, becoming so restrictive that we turn the Sabbath into bondage.
But God has to do that! If we are going to become judges, trained in the purpose that He wants, He has to allow us this liberty to make the judgments. So it is a risk that must be taken if a person is going to grow in judgment and character, so one will be prepared to be a king and a priest, knowing when to act and when not to act. God offers to us His Holy Spirit to give us counsel and to guide. But we must apply the principles in the circumstances of our lives.
In no case did Jesus give any indication of doing away with the Sabbath. Always the examples show Him magnifying the Sabbath's intent by doing an act of freeing someone.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)
What did Jesus Christ establish to be taught in the churches? What He brought - in what we consider to be the New Testament era - is not at all contradictory or fundamentally different from what the Old Testament teaches. His message is complementary, completing the teaching of the Old Testament, rounding out and finishing God's revelation to mankind.
The word "but" in verse 17 has been inserted by the translators. In those Bibles that use the convention, it is in italics, which shows that it is a word added by the translators to clarify what they believe is the sense. Why did they choose "but"? The translators' fundamental belief is that Jesus came to change what was taught by Moses. However, if they had put together what the rest of the New Testament says, Jesus came and added to and completed what Moses and the other prophets preached. There is a better word to insert there: "and." Thus, "For the law was given through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." They are complementary, not contradictory. Perhaps the word "supplementary" would better explain it, though what Jesus brought is both complementary and supplementary.
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Consider a candy jar, which is filled only an inch. That represents what Moses taught, the law. But Jesus filled the rest of the candy jar full! Jesus brought the spirit of the law. He filled to the full the revelation of God.
What Moses taught in the law is the law of the Kingdom of God. It cannot be separated from the gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought because the Kingdom of God needs law to function. God's Kingdom is a real entity. It is designed to function, and it will only function through law and, of course, grace, as they work together.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The healed man tells the critics that Jesus had made him whole, or healed him, dismissing their question about who had told him to carry the bed. The Jewish critics had emphasized his carrying the bed, but the healed man (after Christ's revelation of Himself to him) put the emphasis on the Healer, suggesting which was more important. The spiritual priority was the healing, the work of Christ.
When people criticize God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the church, it is often because they have trouble recognizing what is truly important. Ignoring God's grace and mercy, they instead focus on a supposed violation of law, usually one they have perverted or made up, as the Pharisees did. They attack the Word of God, ignoring its important messages, and focus on picky, alleged discrepancies or fine points of the letter of the law. We must have the right priorities clearly in our minds if we are to serve and revere the sovereign God acceptably and diligently.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Cripple by a Pool (Part Three)
Condemnation would have meant the death penalty because "the wages of sin is death." Jesus provides us an example of righteous judgment under the terms of the New Covenant. First, let us consider who He is, so that we can see His authority. He is Immanuel—"God with us." If anybody understood the application and administration of the law of God for the church under the New Covenant, it was Jesus of Nazareth. In addition, He is not only Immanuel, He is also the Head of the church.
Why does He make this judgment? Under the terms of the New Covenant, the church is not a civil entity, meaning that it has no civil authority to carry out the death penalty. But does this mean that the law of God is done away? No. Romans 6:23 still says, "The wages of sin is death." Death for sin is merely delayed under the New Covenant. The sin and the death penalty are still there, but the church is in a peculiar position in relation to law. The law of God is not administered by the church as it was by Israel when they made the Old Covenant with God. Both covenants have the same laws, but different administrations.
Are adultery and lust (two sins involved in this episode) still sins under the New Covenant? Absolutely! So is the breaking of the other eight commandments. But the church, out of necessity, has to administer it differently. Forgiveness of this woman is implied, as Jesus, Immanuel, said that He did not condemn her. Even though it is not stated directly, He forgave her.
But did He say, "Go, and don't be concerned about committing adultery again"? Certainly not! As the Head of the church, He said, "Go, and don't break that law again!" He justified her in relation to this one law, and warned her, "Don't break it." His forgiveness did not do away with the law! It is ridiculous, on its face, to conclude that, when grace clears us and brings us into alignment with God and His laws, that it eliminates the law! Only when there is a clear statement or example in God's Word that a law has been put aside should we make such a determination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)
The law he is writing about here is obviously the Ten Commandments. Within this context is the Bible's definition of what God means by circumcision. Circumcision is broadly defined as "when one keeps the law." Uncircumcision is "when one breaks the law." He does not mean an occasional breaking of the law but consistently breaking it as a practice or as a way of life.
It was the shocking disparity between what the Pharisees urged others to do and what they did themselves that ignited Jesus' strong rebukes against them. Here, Paul accuses the typical Jew—not necessarily the Pharisee, the scribe, or the Sadducee—of bringing blasphemy against God by doing the same thing the Pharisees did. They taught and demanded one thing of others and did something else.
The Jews, then, had acquired a bad reputation throughout the Roman Empire by teaching one thing and doing another in the business of life. Thus, Paul says that, spiritually, they were uncircumcised. The average Jew was externally in conformity with the Covenant, but inwardly, as shown by the way that he lived his life—how he conducted his business, his family life—he may just as well have been as uncircumcised as a Gentile! There is a powerful lesson in this for us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)
This concludes Paul's entire discussion begun in Romans 3:10. The only way we can be justified—that is, have our sins forgiven and be brought into a right relationship with God—is through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. This justification is something that is imputed to us once we meet God's conditions of repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). We cannot earn it through lawkeeping or doing good works.
However, what many do not understand is that being justified is not the same as being saved. Justification is only one step on the road to salvation. Someone who has been justified cannot break God's laws with impunity and expect to receive salvation anyway. To have our sins forgiven, we must repent from having broken the laws of God (Acts 3:19). To repent means "to turn around"—to stop sinning and orient our lives to obeying God's law. Paul explains it plainly in Romans 3:31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law."
The true Christian, having repented from sin, has been given the gift of God's Holy Spirit, which is the love of God that enables him to keep His laws in their full spiritual intent and purpose. He has been justified and has received God's undeserved pardon. He realizes his sins caused Jesus Christ to have to suffer and die. Because of all of these things, the true Christian strives with all his might to resist the pulls of the flesh and to put sin out of his life.
Paul makes it very clear that the true Christian must not continue to live a life of sin. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). The true Christian understands that the way he lives and conducts his life has a great bearing upon whether he will inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
To receive salvation, we must not only be justified, but we must live a life of obedience to the laws of God, developing the fruits of His Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Then—and only then—will God give us the gift of eternal life.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Saved By Faith Alone?
Love is the essence of the spirit of God's law. The commandments are proscribed as rules of life. When we love, we have found the true principle of obedience, the true spirit of the holy law. Paul sums it all up in love. And we, having received the love of Christ, living in His love, see the law not as a stern, condemning taskmaster but as an appealing, bright vision of understanding and blessing.
We see the law embodied in Christ, and our imitation of Christ involves obedience to the law, but we fulfill the law, not simply as a standard outside, but as a living principle within. Acting according to the dictates of the way of love, our lives conform to the image of Christ, as we conform to the law. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
In verse 8, Paul has presented us with an interesting paradox. On the one hand, he states that we should owe no man anything that he can rightfully claim from us, yet on the other hand, we must owe everyone more than we can hope to pay—perfect love. By this, he extends and intensifies the concept of obligation. We must be more scrupulous within the limits of the customary concept of indebtedness, and we must infinitely widen the range within which they operate.
Was it not our failure to meet our obligations to God and man that accrued the unpayable debt in the first place? Now that the debt has been paid, we are under obligation, not only to strive to avoid falling into the same trap, but to expand and perfect the giving of love. The paradox is more apparent than real because love is not merely one's duty added to others, but is the inclusive framework within which all duties should be performed. Love is the motivating power that frees and enables us to serve and sacrifice with largeness of heart and generosity of spirit.
However, as long as we view love merely as the keeping of God's laws, we are stuck on a low-level, letter-of-the-law approach to righteousness. That is most assuredly a vital and necessary aspect of love, but there is far more to love. That level of love can be merely one of compulsion, and be done in a "just because" attitude: "I must love this person, but I don't have to like them." This may suffice for a while, but Paul, by drawing upon Christ's teaching, unveils an entirely new significance to the concept of obligation.
Of what level was the love of the fallen woman who washed Christ's feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them with her lips, and anointed them with costly oil? Was her conduct merely to keep a commandment, or was it an exquisite expression of a heart freed to give its all?
John W. Ritenbaugh
An Unpayable Debt and Obligation
1 Corinthians 7:19
Here the apostle Paul tells us that we are to keep the Ten Commandments under the New Covenant. It cannot be refuted. The Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant too. That part is not obsolete; we are still using it in the brand new model. The moral law is still in force and effect. To break the commandments is sin, while to do them is righteousness.
That includes all ten - not just nine. Remember Jesus' declaration that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law. If Jesus speaks the truth, how can people say that the fourth commandment is done away? They directly refute their Savior. It is really quite silly.
Most of the rest of the law, that is, part of the terms of the Old Covenant, still directly apply. How about tithing, part of the Old Covenant? We find that tithing supersedes the Old Covenant. What about the food laws, also is part of the Old Covenant? The New Testament records that they were still being kept by people who should have known better if they were done away. Many of those laws still directly apply.
Even those that may only indirectly apply are still applicable in their spirit, in their intent. Intent suggests "the stretching out." Those laws help to define sin and righteousness in specific situations. Their positive intent is always to bring us to holiness - to the image of God.
We need to discipline ourselves never to look at a law of God - whether it is civil or ceremonial - and assume it has no application for us, as if God just intended it for the Israelites back then. Far from it! God's law (and its intent) is always love and eternal, which is why Jesus says that none of it would pass until all is fulfilled.
Obedience to those laws can neither justify nor save us, but they are the wisdom and the love of God, given to guide us. We should be studying them to understand how to make our lives holier than ever before.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 29)
2 Corinthians 3:5-9
The subject here is not the doing away with laws but the change in administration of existing laws. Remember that Jesus said not one jot or tittle will pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). In Hebrews 8:10, where the context is the Covenant, the New Covenant is shown to have laws, which will be written in our hearts.
Paul is making a comparison, showing the superiority of the ministry's responsibility under the New Covenant to the priesthood's responsibility under the Old. He compares ink with spirit, stone with flesh, letter with spirit (or intent), and death with life.
The "ministration of death" was Israel's civil administration for punishing violations of civil law. The laws were not done away, but the Old Covenant administration and enforcement of the law was set aside because the church does not have civil authority. It is that simple.
The church does not have civil authority over the state. However, the ministry has the opportunity to play a large part in the ministering of life to those God calls—through teaching and administering God's Word. Thus, the letter killed because the Old Covenant could not provide for life. Words—even of divine origin—cannot produce life. A vitalizing Spirit must be present to charge the words with transforming power.
Under the Old Covenant, God did not promise His Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sin, access into His presence, or eternal life. Jesus raised the civil law from its merely carnal application to the nation of Israel to its spiritual application to the church, which would be drawn from all of mankind, including, of course, the Gentiles.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)
2 Corinthians 3:6
Paul returns to discussing the two covenants, declaring that he and his colleagues were ministers of the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, God never gave the people the Holy Spirit. He required them to keep the law only in the "letter" and not in its spiritual intent and purpose as Jesus Christ later magnified it.
For example, the sixth commandment forbids murder. As long as one does not actually take someone's life, he has kept the commandment in the letter. However, Jesus taught that anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause or even insults someone else is in danger of breaking this law (Matthew 5:21-22). Because we have God's Spirit under the New Covenant, we can keep His laws not only in the letter but also in their spiritual intent.
The apostle then writes, ". . . for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." This statement is a key to understanding the rest of the chapter. "The letter kills" means that, in agreeing to the terms of the Old Covenant and accepting God's law, the carnal nation of Israel fell under the condemnation of the law because the people could not keep it. When law is broken, a penalty results, and the penalty for breaking God's law is death. Thus, without the ability to keep it properly, the Israelites incurred the death penalty.
Paul explains this as it occurred to him personally in Romans 7:9-11:
I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.
The Old Covenant had a fault: The people under it were unable or unwilling to obey God's law. The author of Hebrews mentions this in his discussion of the New Covenant's superiority over the Old:
For if that first [Old] covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second [New Covenant]. Because finding fault with them [the Israelites], He says: "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." (Hebrews 8:7-8)
Since the Spirit of God was not generally available under the Old Covenant, the carnal Israelites could not obey the law even in the letter. They broke the covenant that they had made with God, so a New Covenant was necessary.
Under the New Covenant, God gives us His Holy Spirit upon repentance and baptism. This enables us to keep God's law even in its spiritual intent. Furthermore, under the New Covenant, God provides a means for repentant sinners to receive pardon for their sins and have Christ's righteousness imputed to them. These people are no longer under the condemnation of the law (Romans 6:14), and the way is open for them to inherit eternal life. This is what Paul means when He says, "the Spirit gives life."
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Have the Ten Commandments Passed Away?
If we were able to "do" the entire law—in the letter and the spirit—we could then "live" by that means. Paul shows that it does not require faith to keep the law in the letter—anybody can compare an action against a list of dos and don'ts and see if the action is allowed. It requires much more to keep the law in the spirit perfectly. It requires a full measure of God's Spirit working within the person. But simply to abide by a law does not require any faith in a Savior, so if this life were just about strictly adhering to a list of requirements in their letter, Christ would have died in vain.
Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God—that is, it will not submit itself to God's law. But there is ample evidence that unconverted man can live according to regulations in a Pharisaic manner. Romans 7:14 adds more to the equation by showing that God's law is a spiritual law—there is an intent behind it, as well as the most direct application. This was what Christ was endeavoring to show in Matthew 5:20-48. So for us to be justified before God, we would have to completely fulfill the law—live according to the letter and the spirit. But that is a logical impossibility without means of the Holy Spirit.
This is why justification by faith is a necessity: We need God's Spirit to fulfill this spiritual law, but God will not give His Spirit to someone who does not willingly submit to Him and obey Him. This is why God would not allow Adam and Eve access to the Tree of Life after they had sinned, because He knew that their natures had become corrupt, and He was not willing that a corrupt being be given His Spirit—His power. A paradox results, and the only way out of the deadlock is for God to bring a person into alignment with Him by substituting the perfect life of His Son for ours in a legal action. Once that justification has taken place, then a measure of His Spirit can be given, and the person can begin to keep His law in both the letter and the intent.
David C. Grabbe
James highlights the importance of mercy in keeping the spirit of the law. He exhorts us to speak and act as those who are to be judged by "a law of liberty," so that he sets no limit to the range of the law—meaning it covers all aspects of life.
In James 4:11, he warns us against speaking against the law or judging the law, that is, to assume the place of judge instead of "doer of the law." Our efforts should not be in judging someone else and whether or not they are keeping the law. However, we should be looking inwardly to determine whether or not we are doing what is required—not only in the letter of the law but especially in its spirit.
James would not have used such language unless he had a profound conviction of the perfection of the law as a rule of life for the saints redeemed from its condemnation. Thus, we can call it the perfect law of liberty—the royal law. Many Christians do not look at the law of God as being perfect. They pick and choose which parts of the law they will obey, ones they feel most comfortable with, and they ignore the rest. Yet the apostle says in James 2:10 that if we break one, we break them all.
All sin is lawlessness, as I John 3:4 states, and the sum of all lawkeeping is love of God and love of the brethren (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10), so the summary of the old law is echoed and endorsed. And it is continued—because Christ did not come to destroy the law but to magnify it (Matthew 5:17-18; Isaiah 42:21).
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
1 John 5:16-17
The concept in these two verses provides a foundation for showing that the Bible clearly categorizes sin in a number of different ways.
First, we must define a few terms. Psalm 119:172 says, "All Your commandments are righteousness." What does the word righteousness mean? It is an Old English word that we still use today, especially in religion. It is slowly being replaced by the word rectitude. Righteousness is a combination of two words, right, meaning "correct," and wise, although it is not spelled anything like our modern word wise. Wisdom is "right application," that is, "right doing." Righteousness, then is "right doing." "All Your commandments are right doing." All unrighteousness—all wrongdoing—is sin.
I John 3:4 reads, "Sin is the transgression of the law." We need to define transgression. Transgress means "to go beyond the limit," "to violate," giving us a broad foundation for understanding this. Sin, then, can be defined as "going beyond the limit of what the law allows." Righteousness is applying the law's letter and/or its intent!
Quite a number of words—Hebrew and Greek—are translated into this single English word sin. A general element that is present in all sin, regardless of which word is used, is failure. Sin equals failure. It is failure to apply or to live up to the standard of what is right. This is why John says that all wrongdoing is failure, but some failure is much more serious than others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 16)
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