The Letter of the Law vs. The Spirit of the Law

Coastlands Uncategorized 3 Comments

letter vs spirit

Have you heard someone say that God does not want us to follow the “letter of the law” (speaking of the biblical instructions), but rather that He wants us to follow the “spirit of the law”?

If we think about this, something stands out that many overlook.  Truly the spirit of the law cannot contradict the letter of the law. Some develop the idea that understanding the “spiritual” aspect of a commandment somehow renders the physical aspect of it null and void. This is dangerous territory upon which to tread.

We would do well to understand that, despite what many preach and believe, the Torah of Yahweh is not “letter of the law” demands.  The Torah is His instructions and a framework that is to be used in situations that aren’t outlined strictly by the letter.

For example, take the commandment about helping another (even your enemy) if you see their donkey fallen under its burden (Exodus 23:5).  If we are to apply a letter of the law approach, we could say that if the animal under its burden was a cow, then we are free to go on our way.  And the person was someone other than an enemy we would likewise be freed of the command.  The spirit of the law, however, would have a different answer.

While many believers accuse those who seek to understand and do the instructions of our Father as “following the letter of the law” (as if doing so is a bad thing!), they fail to see that we desire to know the spirit of the law too.  You may be familiar with the common response, “If you are going to follow one, you better follow them all to the letter!”  Both the spirit and the letter are necessary; one without the other is only ½ of the puzzle.

It’s the following the letter of the law without the spirit that leads to all kinds of legal rulings and loopholes that those over the millennia have come up with as a way to get out of doing what Yahweh actually says we should do.  A good example would be the court system in the United States. We actually (this may come as a shock to many believers) employ a strictly letter of the law approach.  Someone can be guilty and everyone knows it,and the evidence can be overwhelming, but if that evidence is collected in a manner that isn’t exactly “by the book,” it gets tossed out and the guilty one is proclaimed innocent.

Thus, one cannot follow the spirit of the law without meeting the letter of the law, just as one cannot follow the letter of the law without the spirit of the law and be in right standing with The Creator. For it is He who said, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13) and also, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6).  This is why nobody will be justified by the flesh (letter of the law)—the letter by itself kills because it is not tempered with mercy. And mercy comes by the Spirit.

Comments 3

  1. Thanks for the insight. I had always wondered about the difference between the letter and the Spirit. I think the application is just summed up in Love. Love of YHWH and Love of those He created in His image. Caring for all His creations. That’s the way to walk out our love for Him in return.

  2. Thanks so much for this teaching. It was a perfect illustration of the law/spirit…in fact one that I could relate to very much because it happened to me in the natural. Blessings to you!

  3. Post

    Thank you for the positive comments! We are happy that this was a blessing to you. Shalom.

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