The Letter of the Law
by Mel Berglund
Introduction to Mel's writings:
The United Pentecostal Church is not perfect. Each local United Pentecostal congregation has it's own strengths and weaknesses. It is unreasonable to fault the entire United Pentecostal Church and its thousands of assemblies for mistakes that occur in a local gathering. It is improper and imprudent to ignore a series of complaints across our fellowship. Located at this web site are a group brothers and sisters who have been wounded in our midst. While you and I may not be the source of their hurt, we can we try to be a source of their healing. As mature believers in Christ, we adequately recognize that the church is not a showroom for faultless saints, but more often a hospital for the wounded in spirit. It is unfortunate when someone comes to our church with a genuine need, and ultimately leaves with unresolved problems and even deeper injury. I realize that the UPC is not for everyone. If someone finds that they can not embrace the doctrines of a "Oneness-Pentecostal-Holiness-Church", they should find a church that fits their beliefs. No organization can make everyone happy. Aside from that, we must admit when we have done wrong and hurt someone. The church must feel remorse and true repentance over offences that we cause. In this spirit, I apologize for your hurt. I ask your forgiveness and pray that you will not loose faith in Jesus Christ because of His people. I do not apologize for the doctrines of the United Pentecostal Church, but rather for the way in which they may have been presented. The United Pentecostal Church strongly believes that it stands tall as a clarion of truth to the last generation. Doctrinal compromise is anathema within the ranks of the UPC, therefore patience, temperance and love must rule our spirit as the gospel is preached.
It will be noticed that many of the problems within our churches are the results of methodology used in local assemblies. (At this point I add that people are never a "problem" and should not be thought of as such. Problems are circumstances to be resolved, not people to be criticized.) Every organization has both good and bad qualities. The UPC is no exception. Problems that plague a church today may be gone next year. To deal with these local church issues, each local pastor has their own methods. In turn each district has due process for dealing with situations that spill out of the local assemblies. Some types of problems are reoccurring and appear on these web pages. The standards of the United Pentecostal seem to be a source of much of this conflict.
I have been involved with the UPC for over 30 years and I speak from the voice of experience. I personally know this church to be kind and loving in receiving me as a young man into its fellowship. I know this church as being forgiving of my failures. As a member of this church I believe in the message of the United Pentecostal Church.
I have prepared a series of Bible studies that I hope may help all of us to take a different look at some of our difficult issues, and in so doing, help us to find the grace to love one another. Up front I want to make it clear that I do not advocate:
I am opposed to legalism, but I feel that legalism is no worse than:
Therefore my advice to all who read these lessons is to:
In so doing we will never need a set of rules, for we will have become:
I welcome your comments.
Paul, being a Pharisee, would have known the meaning of the phrase: 'the letter of the law'. Jesus himself, to the amazement of his hearers, demonstrated that he also knew the 'letter of the law' when He taught in the temple during feast time.
In his New Testament writings, the Apostle Paul goes on the offence in his attacks against anyone who would teach and force Christians to keep the letter of the law. He shows that the letter of the law was old, brought death, and was of benefit only for the praise of men and not the praise of God.
Strongs Exhaustive Concordance
In spite of this clear teaching by Paul, a few warnings must be given to any Biblical surgeon who may become overly zealous in their attempt to cut and extract the letter of the law from scripture.
* Do not slice away the need for obedience in the New Testament epistles.
* Beware lest you become a coworker with Satan and take away any seed of the Word that has been sown in a believers heart.
* In all things make certain that what you teach about the word of truth is approved.
* Finally do not pervert the Gospel in your attempt to uproot the "letter of the law."
Let us now look closer at Paul's teaching about the letter of the law:
The Apostle Paul puts the 'letter of the law' up against the 'spirit of the law' to make a clear distinction between the two.
Paul then declares that a death has taken place to deliver us from the law. Close examination however reveals that what is removed is actually the oldness of the letter. We should now serve in newness of spirit. We add this to Paul's list:
Finally Paul contrasts the two covenants and proclaims that the New Testament is life in contrast to death. The list grows:
Armed with this list, any New Testament believer would quickly want to discard the old, dead 'letter of the law'; and start living by the new living 'spirit of the law'.
However, before you begin to toss out the law, we need to understand that there is nothing wrong with the law. Paul seems to defend the law in Romans 7:12, " Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." (KJV) You will notice the law is holy (separated unto God), just (brings justice) and good (without flaw). Nowhere however, does Paul say that the law is kind, forgiving and merciful.
While the law was given by God to Israel to expose them to perfection, the law was unable to make them perfect. Paul asks the logical question in Romans 7:13, "Was then that which is good (the law) made death unto me?..." (KJV)
Let me draw an illustration from the legal system in America to make this point clear. There is a law on the books that forbids the taking of human life. The letter of the law says that "thou shalt not kill". The intent of this law is to "protect and preserve human life". If someone breaks this law by taking another's life, the law prescribes the death penalty for the offender. By killing the killer, this very law that had been written with the intent to preserve life ultimately ends another life. This law is just (gives justice), when the letter of the law is carried out. In this illustration we see clearly the difference between the letter of the law (brings death) and the intent or spirit of the law (to preserve life).
It was this letter of the law that Paul was so opposed to. He finds no fault with the content of the law, nor the spirit of the law. He teaches that "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified (receive justice) by faith." Galatians 3:24 (KJV)
In Paul's teaching, we can see both the intent of God's law (to expose sin) and the failure by those who would desire to be justified by this law; It is the letter of the law that brings justice (a death sentence to all who have sinned). In the court of Christ we must appeal to the spirit of the law and never beg for the letter of the law. The spirit of the law (intent) was to bring us unto Christ and give us life eternal. The letter of the law demands a death. This execution for sin was carried out at Calvary.
How then should the follower of Christ feel toward the letter of the law?
* Do not hope that by your keeping of the letter of the law that you will be saved.
* Allow yourself to be killed (condemned) by the letter of the law in your death by repentance.
* Realize that the old (letter) has given way to the new (spirit).
* Be not bound or held by the letter of the law.
* Receive the new testament (covenant).
* Become Children of Abraham (Jew) by faith and not genealogy (letter).
* Do not to be obsessed with the outward, but rather nurture the inner man.
* Follow (in) the spirit of the law.
* Seek not the approval of men, but rather the approval of God.
* Serve in the spirit.
* Minister with an ability that the letter of the law can not give (forgiveness).
* Do not hope to live because (of) the letter of the law, but rather live in spite of the letter of the law.
* Enjoy your life (again) for that is the spirit of the law.
* Realize that you have been give a new life (pardon).
Here is Paul's complete list:
The letter of the law brings death, in that it condemns the sinner. In the New Testament we understand that the spirit (intent) of the law was to bring life to the hearers. The law, that was designed for the wellbeing of Israel, became the very instrument used to condemn them. The law brought a sentence of death. While the letter of the law can be used to find fault, the spirit of the law goes deeper and in so doing offers hope and pardon to the offender.
Jesus shows this spirit of the law to the woman taken in adultery. He was able to disperse the group of those who condemned the woman (keepers of the letter) and then told her, "neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more".
It is the intent of the law to give life, rather than take it. When Jesus discovered that the crowd was about to stone the adulterous woman, He knelt down in the sand and began to discern the intent of their hearts. They had the intent to follow the letter of the law and kill her.
Paul also displayed the 'spirit of the law' in II Corinthians when he instructed the church to restore fellowship with a man who previously had been excommunicated because of moral sin. Paul exposed his deeper intent in excommunicating (and later restoring) the fallen brother in II Corinthians 2:9 "For to this end (this was my intent) did I write , that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things." (KJV)
A practical life example of this can be found in the story that Jesus told of two men that went up to the temple to pray. One appealed to the letter of the law and was found guilty, the other fell upon the spirit of the law and went away cleared of his guilt. This story is found in Luke 18:9-14:
It is not within the scope of this study to look at the full content of the law, Christian conduct or the requirements of God toward his people. Caution is given that we never loose sight of the intent of God's Word. Forgiveness is available (the spirit of the law) because justice (the letter of the law) has already been met in the death of Jesus Christ. (see: Dead to the Law)
Paul declares that we do not make void the law, through faith but we establish the law through faith. A word must be said to those who feel that the new covenant allows for sin and loose living:
The old covenant was one of fear.
The new covenant is based upon love.
Does fear lead to greater obedience than love?
Does fear lead to greater holiness than love?
The answer is no!
Love will obviously lead us into true holiness and heartfelt obedience.
Grace must draw us closer to the LORD and lead us away from the world or it not grace, but rather lasciviousness. Paul warns against any doctrine that leads the church into sin. Forgiveness is correct, but beware of those who seek to turn the grace of our Lord Jesus into lasciviousness.
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August 23, 1997
Copyright © 1997-2007 by Lois E. Gibson
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