The Spirit of the Law
There are some strange laws. In Alabama it is illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a car. In Florida, if an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle. And in Oklahoma, it is illegal to make ugly faces at a dog. We laugh at these antiquated attempts to ensure the civility of society; they seem random and unlikely to require enforcement.
Look again at these examples, though. In the context of early Alabama, what did lawmakers intend this law of the road to accomplish? The letter of the law surely is obsolete, but what is the spirit of this particular law? Public safety, is it not? The prudent and careful use of a vehicle is the goal, and the blindfold restriction was a means of safeguarding drivers, passengers and pedestrians at that time. And Florida’s elephant law, bizarre as it sounds, is similar, is it not? Isn’t it designed to ensure the fair and equitable use of public facilities, without slipping under-the-table concessions to a favoured few? Those letters of the law are preposterous now, but the spirit of the laws remains contemporary.
God’s kingdom, His Ministry of Internal Affairs, as we’ve been calling it, has some similar elements regarding His intentions for human society. The Apostle Paul gives some direction to followers of Jesus regarding our role as ministers to our race.
He says, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:6). He’s talking here about the intent of God for humanity. As Creator of each of us, God’s design was to make us image-bearers of Him, able to commune with Him and enjoy the full range of abilities and tasks He designed us to accomplish. His early Promise-based covenant with Abraham was based on faith and foresaw a time when both Jews and non-Jews would be blessed with a relationship with Him. The later Law of Moses was not a covenant in the truest sense. It was law. It was, ‘You follow these commands letter by letter, because you have shown you are unable to live by the spirit of the covenant.’ It was a sign of our failure as humans to relate to God the way we were designed to.
Then comes Jesus. He does something for us that no one else could accomplish. He makes the letter of the law obsolete by reimbursing all past violations of the Law through His death; then, through His resurrection He rewrites the Abrahamic covenant in new language. It’s back to the spirit of the law, but now He offers the presence of His Spirit into our own dead, lawless souls to enable us to keep the heart of the covenant. The letter of the law was death, but the Spirit of the law is life – real and eternal life.
Why does this matter, all this talk of the letter of the law and the Spirit of the law?
The Apostle Paul expands, “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7).
We are so used to living as slaves, like elephants tied to parking meters, it is easy for us to be blind to the offer: God wants to makes us His children, sons and daughters, heirs of His amazing and eternal kingdom. The heart of His Ministry of Internal Affairs is working from the inside out. Shallow legalism is replaced with authentic spiritual growth as we embrace the work of Jesus for us, in us and through us.
Come, Abba Father, Brother Jesus, Holy Spirit, fill us with faith that we may live out Your covenant of love as Your children.