There is a great confusion in the phrase "letter of the law." Many Christians believe this to mean that we are not under God's Law anymore, and that we are free to disregard God's Law (such as the Ten Commandments), as long as we keep the spirit of the law. However, it is a scriptural truth that if one is truly keeping the spirit of the law, then one will not break the letter of the law. (Clarification: this does not pertain to the temporary, sacrificial laws, such as sacrificing animals for our sins; because these laws passed away. But when it comes to God's law that gives us a knowledge of sin, it does matter, because if one is keeping the spirit of the law, one will not sin against the Lord).
The scriptural phrase “the letter of the law” appears in only three passages. In order to understand what this phase means, let us study these three passages carefully. As will be seen, this phrase refers to the ceremonial laws that waxed old and passed away, not to the written law of God that gives us a knowledge of sin.
Romans 7:6-7, "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. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."
According to many bible commentaries, this phrase refers to the temporary, sacrificial laws that were done away with. Here are a few of them:
Adam Clarke's Commentary: "The oldness of the letter." The merely literal rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices are now done away; and the newness of the spirit, the true intent and meaning of all are now fully disclosed; so that we are got from an imperfect state into a state of perfection and excellence.
Family Bible Notes: That we should serve in newness of spirit; serve God not in external form merely, or from slavish fear, but in spirit and in truth, from love to God and his laws.
Albert Barnes' New Testament Commentary: The worship required under the gospel is uniformly described as that of the spirit and the heart, rather than that of form and ceremony. (1.) that the form of worship here described pertained to an old dispensation that had now passed away; and (2.) that that was a worship that was in the letter. To understand this, it is necessary to remember that the law which prescribed the forms of worship among the Jews, was regarded by the apostle as destitute of that efficacy and power in renewing the heart which he attributed to the gospel. It was a service consisting in external forms and ceremonies; in the offering of sacrifices and of incense, according to the literal requirement of the law, rather than the sincere offering of the heart. 2Co 3:6, "The letter killeth; the spirit giveth life." John 6:63; Heb 10:1-4; 9:9,10. It is not to be denied that there were many holy persons under the law, and that there were many spiritual offerings presented; but it is at the same time true that the great mass of the people rested in the mere form; and that the service offered was the mere service of the letter, and not of the heart. The main idea is, that the services under the gospel are purely and entirely spiritual, the offering of the heart, and not the service rendered by external forms and rites.
It is important to notice that the laws that required external forms, ceremonies, and sacrifices did not give a knowledge of what sin was. Those laws did not tell us what was good or evil. These were temporary laws that were to last for a pre-determined length of time. On the other hand, God's Laws that give a knowledge of good and evil do not change with time. What was a sin in the Old Testament is still a sin in the New Testament. These Laws have not passed away.
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."
Adam Clarke's Commentary: The apostle does not mean here, as some have imagined, that he states himself to be a minister of the New Testament, in opposition to the Old; and that it is the Old Testament that kills, and the New that gives life; but that the New Testament gives the proper meaning of the Old; for the old covenant had its letter and its spirit, its literal and its spiritual meaning. The law was founded on the very supposition of the Gospel; and all its sacrifices, types, and ceremonies refer to the Gospel. The Jews rested in the letter, which not only afforded no means of life, but killed, by condemning every transgressor to death. They did not look at the spirit; did not endeavor to find out the spiritual meaning; and therefore they rejected Christ, who was the end of the law for justification; and so for redemption from death to every one that believes. The new covenant set all these spiritual things at once before their eyes, and showed them the end, object, and design of the law; and thus the apostles who preached it were ministers of that Spirit which gives life.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary: Still the moral law of the ten commandments, being written by the finger of God, is as obligatory now as ever. The letter is nothing without the spirit…The spirit is nothing without the letter.
When we keep the letter of the law, we must also keep the spirit of the law. To keep the letter of the law, but ignore the spirit, is death. Likewise, to keep the spirit of the law, but ignore the letter, is death. It is not possible to do one without the other, and yet be justified in God's eyes. For those who believe it is possible to disregard the letter of the law, yet keep the spirit of the law, at the same time, please explain how it is possible to disregard the "letter of the law" forbidding physical adultery, yet keep the spirit of the law while committing physical adultery. Or to disregard the "letter of the law" forbidding stealing, yet keep the spirit of the law while committing theft.
Albert Barnes' New Testament Commentary: This is said, doubtless, in opposition to the Jews and Jewish teachers. They insisted much on the letter of the law, but entered little into its real meaning. They did not seek out the true spiritual sense of the Old Testament; and hence they rested on the mere literal observance of the rites and ceremonies of religion, without understanding their true nature and design. Their service, though in many respects conformed to the letter of the law, yet became cold, formal, and hypocritical; abounding in mere ceremonies, and where the heart had little to do. Hence there was little pure spiritual worship offered to God; and hence also they rejected the Messiah whom the old covenant prefigured, and was designed to set forth.
Romans 2:25-29, "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."
This passage shows how one can keep the letter of the law and still transgress, because one does not keep the spirit of that same law in other areas. Remember, women cannot be circumcised, does that mean they cannot be a Jew? No, but they were circumcised of heart in both old and new covenants. He who has not genuine faith is not a partaker of the Jewish circumcision; but he who has genuine faith is a Jew, although not circumcised.
Adam Clarke's Commentary: If thou do not observe the conditions of the covenant, the outward sign is both without meaning and without effect. If the Gentile be found to act according to the spirit and design of the law, his acting thus uprightly, according to the light which God has afforded him, will be reckoned to him as if he were circumcised and walked agreeably to the law.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary: For circumcision--that is, One's being within the covenant of which circumcision was the outward sign and seal. verily profiteth, if thou keep the law--if the inward reality correspond to the outward sign. but if, &c.--that is, "Otherwise, thou art no better than the uncircumcised heathen...he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, &c.--In other words, the name of "Jew" and the rite of "circumcision" were designed but as outward symbols of a separation from the irreligious and ungodly world unto holy devotedness in heart and life to the God of salvation. Where this is realized, the signs are full of significance; but where it is not, they are worse than useless. "
It is important to realize that the laws that give us a knowledge of sin (i.e., laws that define evil), are not an outward symbol, religious rite, ceremony, or sacrifice, which was to be abolished. One cannot say that he who breaks the letter of the law of adultery, will be reckoned to him as if he did not commit adultery, as long as he kept the spirit of adultery while committing physical adultery.
1599 Geneva Bible Notes: "2:28" For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; By the outward ceremony only.
Peoples New Testament Commentary: "For circumcision verily profiteth." The Jew was wont to fall back on his circumcision, as some still do on some outward ordinance. His answer to Paul is, Are we not the circumcised? Are not the circumcised the people of the covenant? He replied, "I admit that circumcision availeth, if one keeps law. The outward observance profits if one be a law-doer; that is, complies with its moral commandments. But if he fails to do this, his circumcision is as worthless as though he was uncircumcised." The effect of habitual transgression is to annul the covenant.
"keep the righteousness of the law", his uncircumcised state will not be counted against him. He supposes the possible case of a Gentile who might render such an obedience to the moral precepts of the law as a pious Jews could render, and argues that his uncircumcision would not make his obedience less acceptable. Circumcision is not, then, the thing that the Gentile needs, but righteousness. The disobedient Jew virtually becomes a Gentile, and the obedient Gentile virtually becomes a Jew.
Albert Barnes' New Testament Commentary: Who by the letter, etc. The evident meaning of the original is, "Shall not a heathen man who has none of your external privileges, if he keeps the law, condemn you who are Jews; who, although you have the letter and circumcision, are nevertheless transgressors of the law?"
"Neither is that circumcision." etc. Neither does it meet the full design of the rite of circumcision, that it is externally performed.
"Which is one inwardly." Who is in heart a Jew. Who has the true spirit, and fulfills the design of their being separated as a peculiar people. This passage proves that the design of separating them was not merely to perform certain external rites, or to conform to external observances, but to be a people holy in heart and in life. It cannot be denied that this design was not generally understood in the time of the apostles; but it was abundantly declared in the Old Testament, De 6:5; 10:12,13; 30:20; Isa 1:11-20; Mic 6:8; Ps 51:16; 50:7-23.
"And circumcision is that of the heart." That is, that circumcision which is acceptable to God, and which meets the design of the institution, is that which is attended with holiness of heart; with the cutting off of sins; and with a pure life. The design of circumcision was to be a sign of separation from the heathen world, and of consecration to the holy God. And this design implied the renunciation and forsaking of all sins; or the cutting off of everything that was offensive to God. This was a work peculiarly of the heart. This design was often stated and enforced in the writings of the Old Testament. De 10:16, "Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked." Jer 4:4; De 30:6.
"In the spirit." This is an expression explaining further what he had just said. It does not mean by the Holy Spirit, but that the work was to take place in the soul, and not in the body only. It was to be an internal, spiritual work, and not merely an external service.
William Burkitt's Notes on the New Testament: Our apostle, therefore, in the words before us, assures the Jews, that circumcision without holiness of conversation, would never free them from condemnation: That a circumcised Jew, who walks not in obedience to the law of God, is in as bad, or worse condition, than any uncircumcised Heathen; yea, the uncircumcision, that is, the uncircumcised person that keeps the law, shall be accepted of God, as well as if he had been circumcised; and be preferred by God before the circumcised Jew that transgresses the law. The sum is, that the obedient Gentile shall condemn the disobedient Jew, and be sooner accepted by God, with whom there is no respect of persons, but with respect to their qualifications: That no church-privileges, no external prerogatives, nor the highest profession of piety and holiness, without an humble, uniform, and sincere obedience, will be anything available to salvation.
It was the hardest saying that could sound in a Jewish ear, to affirm, that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, profiteth nothing; for they so gloried in it, that they accounted it equal to the keeping of all the commandments of God:
Learn hence, That although men are very prone to rest upon church-privileges and external performances, as evidences of divine favour, yet they are no testimonies nor signs of the truth of grace. What circumcision, sacrifices, and the temple were to the Jews of old, the same are baptism, the Lord's supper, and public assemblies to professing Christians at this day. And as the Jews rested in those externals, without eyeing Christ in them, without desiring to drive holiness and sanctification from them: In like manner, multitudes of professors set up their rest in outward duties, and repose a fleshly carnal confidence in ordinances, without either desiring of, or endeavoring after, any lively communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the exercise of faith and love, without any regard to spiritual warmth in religious duties, and being by ordinances rendered more like to the God of the ordinances, which are the most desirable things, next to heaven itself.
So that I shall conclude the chapter with the same application to Christians now, as the apostle did to the Jews then: Circumcision, saith the apostle, verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision: For he is not a Jew, &c.
In like manner, say I, "Baptism verily profiteth, if we perform the conditions of that covenant, which we entered into by baptism; but if we do not, our baptism is no baptism: For he is not a Christian, who is one outwardly; nor is that baptism, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian, which is one inwardly, and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in water only; and such shall have praise, if not of men, yet God."
A Scriptural Example
Here is an example to demonstrate how one keeps both the letter and spirit of the law, and shows how, if we break the letter of the law (sin), we automatically break the spirit of the law.
Deuteronomy 25:4, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn."
Deuteronomy 25:4 is the letter of the law. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul shows us the spirit of this same law. The spiritual meaning of "thou shalt not muzzle an ox" is "thou shalt not prevent a worker from eating, etc." In other words, when someone is working, they are to enjoy the fruits of their labor and buy food with what they are given.
Now, is it possible to break the letter of this law, yet keep the spirit of the law, at the same time? No, it is not. If we had an ox that treadeth out the corn, and we muzzled that ox, yet we give food to those in the ministry, while preventing the ox from eating food, we would be violating the spirit of the law by refusing to give food to the ox. The spirit of the law is derived from that letter. It applies to both animals and people. To deny giving food to anyone when they work is to break the spirit of the law. If we deny giving food to the ox, we are breaking the spirit, and the letter, of the law. It is not possible to break the letter, yet keep the spirit, at the same time.
Some may object by saying, "Well, one can muzzle an ox to avoid it throwing up on the corn. This is not breaking the spirit of the law." Actually, it is. What's the consequence if the ox does throw up? It means an inconvenience to the husbandsman, because he has to wash the corn off. So, if he decides to muzzle the ox rather than wash the corn, he is justifying breaking God's Law so that he won't be inconvenienced. Are we justified in breaking the Law to avoid inconvenience?
God does not approve of sinning in one area to keep from sinning in another area. God provides a way out so we need not make the choice of sinning to avoid sinning. Would God approve of us committing the sin of adultery to avoid the sin of blasphemy? Would God approve of us committing the sin of murder to avoid the sin of making graven images? Would God approve of us committing the sin of dishonoring our parents to avoid the sin of stealing? If we sin in one of those areas to avoid sinning in another, is this called keeping the spirit of the law?
Is there any reason we can give to justify sinning? No. It is not possible to break the letter of the law, and at the same time keep the spirit of the law, when it comes to God's knowledge of sin as revealed in His Law. Because when one breaks the letter of the law, that is breaking the spirit of the law. When one breaks the spirit of the law, one breaks the letter of the law. That is sin, breaking the law. The law includes both letter and spirit.
Romans 2:13-15, "(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another)"
When the heathens do, without this Divine revelation, the things contained in God's Law, these are a law unto themselves-they are not accountable to any other law, and are not to be judged by any dispensation different from that under which they live. Even though they do not know the law of God, yet they have no reason why they may excuse their wickedness.
Paul has shown how the general principle "that God will render to every man according to his works" (Proverbs 24:12; Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 4:14, Revelation 22:12) applies to the Jews; they will be judged by law, and only law-doers will be justified. He now shows that the same principle applies to the heathen. They have no revealed and written law like the Jews, but in case Gentiles, without it, should keep the things contained in the law (i.e., the ten commandments), they are a law unto themselves. Their consciences are a law. They do not understand the law, or its spiritual purpose, but they are justified. That though they have not the written law of God, yet that they have sufficient knowledge of his will to take away every excuse for sin.
The heathen, by keeping the written law of God, even though they do not know the spirit of the law, are justified by doing what God has written on their heart, and avoiding that which God says is evil to do. This is an example of people keeping the so-called "letter" of God's ten commandments, yet not keeping the spirit of the law (since the heathen are spiritually discerned). These heathens were not condemned for keeping the letter without the spirit, they were justified for keeping the letter without the spirit, when it comes to God's law of sin and righteousness.
Here are other passages:
James 1:22-25, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed."
Revelation 22:14, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."
Matthew 19:16-17, "...Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him...if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments [Action]."
Matthew 19:16-17, "...Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him...if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Psalms 19:7, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul:"
We cannot be justified in breaking God's 10 commandments. The following passage shows that if we use our faith in Jesus Christ to do that which God said is evil to do, then Christ is the minister of sin. ("the works of the law", in this verse, refers to the works of circumcision. Read the context for yourself):
Galatians 2:16-17, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid."
But aren't there exceptions to God's Law?
If someone is forced to commit adultery, then it is not a sin for the one being forced (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). Yes. Scripture tells us that when someone is forced to do something, then they are not guilty. Because in order for there to be sin, there must be a choice. If there is no choice to do evil, one cannot possibly commit an evil act, or a good act. But, in truth, nobody can be forced to commit adultery. Someone can have adultery committed against them by force, but the innocent party is not committing adultery, because there is no sin when there is no choice.
Some may ask, "Well, is this not keeping the spirit of the law, even though one is breaking the letter of the law?" The answer is no. This has nothing to do with keeping the spirit of the law. In other words, if a heathen was kidnapped, and sexual acts were performed on him, is that heathen guilty of adultery? No. Did that heathen keep the spirit of the law while adultery was being committed against him? No. The reason he is not guilty is because he had no choice in the matter, not because he kept the spirit of the law.
If one intentionally commits adultery, there is nothing one can say or do that would make that sin a non-sin.
If someone accidentally kills someone, the written word of God says he is not guilty of murder (Numbers 35:11-12, Joshua 20:3). This, likewise, has nothing to do with him keeping the spirit of the law, because it was an accident. One can only keep the spirit of the law or sin by choice. If there is no choice then there is no sin and no good act.
Would God approve of us worshipping other gods to avoid being murdered? If someone pointed a gun to our head, someone might justify committing that sin by saying, “Oh, but I was forced to do this act. I had to do this act to save my life. Therefore, I have kept the spirit of the law, even though I broke the letter of the law, therefore, I did not commit a sin.”
There are many examples in scripture of godly men being in this situation, and none of them came up with such excuses, because they knew that such excuses were an abomination to God. Daniel had that choice, and chose to be thrown into a lions Den (Daniel 6). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given that choice, and if they believed they could have kept the spirit of the law, while breaking its letter, they would have broke the letter of God's law. But they did not. They chose to be burned with fire instead (Daniel 3).
Daniel 3:17-18, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
Adam Clarke's Commentary on this passage says:
Thou mayest cast us into the furnace; the terror of it has no effect on our minds to induce us to alter the resolution we have taken, nor shall the fire change our purpose. We serve a God who is able to deliver us. Should he not, we are equally determined; but we are satisfied that in some way or other he will deliver us out of thy hand. Thy power cannot affect us in the kingdom of our God to which we shall ascend from thy furnace, should he permit the fire to kindle upon us. "Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's," is a maxim of Jesus Christ; but when Caesar arrogates to himself the things that are the Lord's, then, and in such cases, his authority is to be resisted. God does not desire Caesar's things; Caesar's must not have the things of God.
Most Christians today, if they had this same choice, would feel justified in saying, “Well, I will bow down to their gods to avoid punishment. After all, I am only giving the impression that I am worshipping their false gods, so I am not really breaking God's law, because I am not breaking the spirit of the law, because I really worship Jesus, and my act is only outward if I worship this false God, and God knows my heart and won't count it as sin against me.”
If this be so, I wonder why God's people throughout scripture never did or said this? I wonder why they never gave in and gave the impression they were worshipping their gods when it could have saved their lives? How many thousand's were put to death, and could have avoided it by saying or doing something which would save their lives? “If you say three words, you can go free and do whatever you want. Worship whoever you want for the rest of your life. But if you do not say these three little words, you will be skinned alive until you're dead. The three words are, “I renounce Christ.” Would you feel you can say this and be justified in it? After all, you don't really believe those three words. You don't really mean it. It's only three little words, and we could repent afterwards, and everything will be fine. What if those three little words would be published through the planet and everyone would know? Would you still say it to save your life? Or would you choose death rather than sin against the Lord?
If we are faced with a situation, God presents us with choices. And there will be a choice where we avoid sinning, and in its place will be inconvenience or death.
All the apostles could have avoided being martyred if they did what the heathen said to do. “Sin in this one little area, and then you can repent and go back to your life.” But they never did. They would not make excuses to sin against the Lord. Many of the apostles who were martyred had families. If we had a family, would we feel justified in breaking the letter of God's Law for our family?
For example, in the case of David, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, instead of being threatened with their own lives, what if the king threatened to kill their families instead? Would they have been justified?
Here is what Jesus said:
Luke 14:26, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
What does Jesus mean by hate? Well, “love” is the keeping of the commandments, and we keep the commandments of those we love. For example, if Caesar asks us to do one thing, but God another, who do we obey? We obey the one we love and fear. It's that simple. “
Acts 5:29, "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."
Another example: Jacob had two wives, he loved Rachel (Genesis 29:18) and hated Leah (Genesis 29:31). Does this mean he despised Leah? No. It means “he loved Rachel more than Leah” (Genesis 29:30). Because Jacob had less regard for Leah than he did for Rachel, that is called "hating her" (Genesis 29:30-31). But the hate was only by way of comparison to his love for Rachel.
The meaning of Luke 14:26 is, compared to our love for God, love and honor for our family cannot interfere. If your family says they want you to do one thing, but God another, who do we obey? We will obey the one we love. Do we love God more than our family? If so, we will obey God rather than our family. Do we love family more than God? If so, we will obey our family rather than God. And if we obey our family rather than God, this would mean that we hate God. Why? If we love God and hate our family, we will obey God rather than family. If we love our family and hate God , we will obey our family rather than God. Because compared to our love to our family, God is placed under our family, and our family becomes the head of our life, not God. That is why Jesus said if any man loves his family more than God, “he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Luke 14:26 says one must hate “his own life also.” Which means one must be willing to sacrifice his self for God, even to the point of death. This is why all men in scripture chose death rather than sin against God. When Jesus said one must hate his family, that also means that we must place God above our family. If they threaten our family, we should not budge from the Word of God. Once we budge, then all the heathen has to do is threaten us with our family and we'll cower to their every whim and forsake God. “If you don't do this, we'll arrest you and you won't be able to support your family. If you don't do this, we'll kill you and your family will not have you anymore. If you don't do this, we'll kill your family.” We must be willing to sacrifice ourselves and our family's wishes, and place God's Will above all else.
Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
Now, with this truth in mind, that it is not possible to break the letter of the law, and at the same time keep the spirit of the law, and looking at how godly men have sacrifices themselves and their families to avoid sinning, let us look briefly at the 4th commandment.
Is it possible to do what God says is an abomination, evil, and a sin against him, but at the same time keep the spirit of the law? Let's take buying food on the 7th day of the week (which God says is evil in Nehemiah 10:31; 13:15-22). If a stranger walked up to you, and asked for food, because he was hungry, and if one feels moved to give him food, God gives us ways to give him food without sinning. We can give him food that's stored in our house. No food in the house? Have him go in your garden and eat. No garden? Go to a neighbor and ask for food. No neighbors? Would we be justified in going to a store and buying food?
Some people, in defense of doing whatever they want on the Sabbath Day, no matter what God say, give this example, "You live alone, you have no food in your house, no garden, you have no neighbors around you, yet. In this case, it would be okay to go to the store and buy food for him." First of all, one should realize this is an impossible situation. There is only one store around you? A store actually exists where there are no neighbors for him to sell food to, except for you? And, as we remember, you have no food in your house! Which means, not even you buy from this store. Can you picture a store being opened with nobody to do business with? This is an impossible situation.
But, let us go deeper, and indulge in this situation, and let's assume this situation does exist. If given the only two impossible options to buy food from a store on the sabbath day to feed someone who's hungry, or to not buy food on the sabbath day and let him go without eating until the sabbath day is over, which choice is more in line with God's Will? Let's see what happens if one buys food for this stranger on the sabbath day:
God's people fasted for many purposes; David, to humble his soul (Psalms 109:24), to entreat God (2 Samuel 12:16; 12:21-23). In times of great crisis, the children of God usually turned to their Father, confessing their sins, praying and fasting (1 Samuel 7:6, Daniel 9:3, Joel 1:14; 2:12,15), entreating his favor (1 Kings 21:27, Ezra 8:21); and the Scriptures indicate that God usually blessed them. In one case, that of the Ninevites, he even repented and changed his plans for destroying them (Jonah 3:5-10).
In the New Testament, fasting was habitual for John's disciples (Matthew 9:14), for Anna (Luke 2:36-37) Cornelius (Acts 10:30), the church at Antioch (Acts 13:2-3), and for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23, 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27). Jesus fasted for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2) and told the disciples of John that his disciples would fast when the bridegroom was taken from them (Matthew 9:15).
It is easy to understand why fasting is not popular today. With so much emphasis on pleasure and self-indulgence as constituting the good life, any appeal to self-denial is unpopular. Eating has been regarded as one of the nations greatest problems, especially eating for enjoyment. This very condition actually enhances the value of fasting for a person with this attitude if he could be persuaded to try it.
Jesus stated we should both fast and pray (Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29), and so did His disciples (1 Corinthians 7:5). Fasting is a means of drawing closer to God and gaining spiritual strength. In times of great stress it is a way of communicating with the Lord, and if it is sincere and dedicated to God, it will be regarded by him (Matthew 6:18).
Fasting, like prayer, may bring blessings to the participant apart from the special blessings bestowed by the Heavenly Father. It may contribute to weight control and economy of time, food costs, and cleansing the blood and body of harmful toxins, but like prayer, Jesus taught that its greatest benefit would come from the special blessings of God. Doesn't it seem likely that he expected his followers to fast since he gave them instructions for the proper way to conduct it?
Also, scripture says nothing bad about not eating food, it only says good things. Let me repeat that, to not eat food is spoken of as a good thing in scripture, never a bad thing. Cornelius was fasting for four days by the time he met Peter (Acts 10:30), which is one of God's way of preparing to do His Will.
For example, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn't cast out demons. And Jesus said because of their unbelief, and the only way to have the faith of a grain of mustard seed was to pray and fast (Matthew 17:19-21, Mark 9:28-29).
Acts 14:23, "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed."
Paul taught to “give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency" (1 Corinthians 7:5). Fasting is a way we overcome temptation.
Also, there were crowds around Jesus for three days in a row, and during these three days they did not eat any food (Matthew 15:32, Mark 8:2-3. Was Jesus cruel for not feeding them during these three days? No, because it's a good thing to not eat. However, when they were being sent home, Jesus did feed them, but Jesus made sure he did not sin in order to feed them. If it was the sabbath day, he would not have bought food for them. He would have provided them food in a way so that he need not break the letter of God's Law.
Now, with all these in mind, let us see what a stranger, who walks up to you, is really asking for when he asks you for food, and you do not have any, nor do you have any garden, nor do you have any neighbors, and the only option left is to buy food on the 7th day, an act that God says is a sin to do.
Stranger,” Hello. I am hungry. I don't care what scripture says about fasting, I don't care if fasting is a sign of self-denial, nor that I would get special blessings from God, nor that I would draw closer to God, nor that I would gain spiritual strength, nor that it's a great way to communicate with the Lord and will be regarded by Him. I don't care what God says, I want to fill my own belly with food.
“I don't care if I would cause you to sin against the Lord, I don't care that you would be partaking of the sin of the merchant, I don't care that you would be partaking of my sin, and doing something that God says is an abomination to Him, and an evil act. I don't care that you would have to forsake his law and make void his law, I want my belly filled. I only care about me, not you or God.”
Now, in the situation above, this is what the stranger would be saying, after you reveal to him how God considers it a sin to buy on the sabbath day, yet insists that you buy him food regardless. We would not only be sinning in three ways against God, but we would be placing his own selfish will above the special blessing of fasting. To fast is spoken of as good, not bad. And to break the law of God so somebody else does not have to fast, according to scripture, would be going against God's Will . If we obey this man rather than God, is this really God's Will? If godly men were put to death, and their families were put to death, because they would not sin against God, how are we justified in sinning against God so some heathen can absorb themselves in their own wants and desires, and turn their backs on God?
If you were in that stranger's position, and you were asking somebody to sin against God, would you want them to sin and please your desires, or would you want them to obey God? Well, we are to do unto others as we would want done unto ourselves. We should do to that stranger as we would do to him if we were him. And that is, to not sin against the Lord.
And for us to avoid telling that stranger it is a sin according to God to buy food on the sabbath, and for us to go and buy food for him simply because we believe we are keeping the spirit of the law, I must ask, what spirit are we keeping? If God says it is a sin, how can we be keeping the spirit of that law? If Jesus says it is good to fast, yet we take steps to sin so others do not have to fast, how is that keeping the spirit of the law? If we tell this stranger that putting food in his belly is more important than breaking the Law of God, what spirit are we keeping?
If we have a choice between letting someone fast, or us breaking the Law of God, then the road for us to take is to not sin against God, and let him or her fast, which is spoken of as a positive thing in scripture. If there is a third choice, and one can give him food without sinning, then, by all means, do so.
Conclusion: The “letter of the law” does not refer to God's revealed written law of good and evil. If one obeys the 10 commandments, even a heathen who knows not the law, then they are justified before God, because they are keeping the spirit of the law when one refrains what evil and does good, according to God.
Nobody can keep the spirit of the law by breaking the letter of God's Ten Commandments, because the Ten Commandments are spiritual. The law is spiritual. In Romans 7:7, Paul quotes from the ten commandments and calls it the law. Speaking of this same law, Paul says the law is spiritual in verse 14. The Law reflects God's character. God is spirit. Therefore, the law is spiritual, because God is spirit.
If a man sleeps with a married woman intentionally, and by choice, then based upon that outward behaviour, he has sinned. It matters not what he says his heart is, or that he kept the spirit of the law while committing that sin, because the act of breaking God's Law intentionally and by choice reveals the intent, and he is guilty. Period. Some may claim, “But, she said she was going to commit suicide if she did not sleep with me, so I saved her life, so I kept the spirit of the law, even though I broke the letter.. She said she wanted a baby, and God's Law says to replenish the earth, so I kept the spirit of the law, even though I broke the letter.” But this is simply excuses to sin against God.
Some may ask, "But we must go the intent. It is possible that ones intent was not evil, and therefore, their act was not sinful." When someone appears to be sinning, yes, we must go to their intent. The only two things necessary to ask is: Did you mean to do this act intentionally, and did you do it by your own choice? If the answer is yes, then that reveals the intent, and he is guilty of sin.
Now, if somebody makes the intentional choice to do what God says is a sin to do, then that is a sin, period. It is not possible to break the letter of God's Law of sin, and keep the spirit at the same time, so that the breaking of the letter will not counted as sin against us. For those who believe it is possible, I'd like to ask you a final question, using this scenario:
Let's consider the ten commandments, and let's use Jesus Christ as our example, since he is our highest example of how to keep the law. If he would have been able to break the letter of God's Ten Commandments, without breaking the spirit of the law, then so can we. However, if Christ would not have been able to break the letter of the ten commandments, without it being counted as sin against Him, then what right have we to say that we can break the letter of the ten commandments and have it not counted as sin against us? The definition of sin has not changed, and what would have been a sin for Jesus is still a sin for us today.
So, please tell me how Jesus could have broke the letter of the ten commandments, yet it would not have been counted as sin for him. How could Jesus have committed physical adultery with a woman, yet, at the same time, been keeping the spirit of that same law?
If we can justify breaking the letter of the ten commandments, and determine that what God defined as evil is not really evil, then we would be determining for ourselves what is good and what is evil. We can justify breaking any law of God if we convince ourselves we are keeping the spirit of the law, which is impossible to do.
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