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 offenses 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:

Forgiveness without repentance,

Discipleship without discipline,  
Christianity without Christ likeness      
A sacrifice without an offering,
A crown without a cross, and
Hope without holiness.

I am opposed to legalism, but I feel that legalism is no worse than:

Worldliness,

Ungodliness,  
Carnality, or
Sin.

Therefore my advice to all who read these lessons is to:

Build your house upon the rock,
Walk in the Spirit,
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
Resist the devil,
Obey those that have the rule over you,
Flee youthful lust,
Be not conformed to this world,
Perfect holiness in the fear of God, and
Submit yourself to God.

 In so doing we will never need a set of rules, for we will have become:

An epistle known and read of all men,  

An example to the believers, and
The light of the world.

I welcome your comments.

Thank you  

Mel Berglund

......

Romans 7:6 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. (KJV)

John 7:15 ... How knoweth this man letters...? (KJV)

Romans 2:29 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. (KJV)

II Cor 3:6 Who 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. (KJV)

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.

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The letter:

Strongs Exhaustive Concordance

Letter: # 1121 (Greek) Gramma
a writing, a letter, a note, epistle, book
Plural: learning
Gramma is similar to our English word - Grammar
Root word: # 1125 Grapho: to grave, to write, to describe
Grapho is similar to our English word - Graphic

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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.

Epistle # 1992 - II Thes 3:14:   If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. (KJV)

Word # 3056 - Mark 4:15: ...Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. (KJV)

Truth # 225 - II Cor 6:4-7: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, ...By the word of truth.... (KJV)

Gospel # 2097 - Gal 1:7: ...but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (KJV)

* 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:

Romans 2:29 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. (KJV)

The Apostle Paul puts the 'letter of the law' up against the 'spirit of the law' to make a clear distinction between the two.       

in the letter

not in the letter
Not a Jew A Jew
outwardly inwardly
not of the heart of the heart
not in the spirit   in the spirit
praise is of men praise is not of men
praise is not of God praise is of God

======================================================================

Romans 7:6 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. (KJV)

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:

oldness newness
dead alive
no spirit spirit
not delivered delivered
held not held
not serving serve

======================================================================

II Cor 3:6 Who 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. (KJV)

Finally Paul contrasts the two covenants and proclaims that the New Testament is life in contrast to death. The list grows:

Not able ministers able ministers
not new testament new testament
of the letter not of the letter
not of the spirit of the spirit
killeth does not kill
does not give life giveth life

======================================================================

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:

in the letter   not in the letter
Not a Jew A Jew
outwardly inwardly
not of the heart of the heart
not in the spirit in the spirit
praise is of men praise is not of men
praise is not of God praise is of God
oldness newness
dead alive
no spirit spirit
not delivered delivered
held not held
not serving serve
Not able ministers able ministers
Not new testament new testament
of the letter not of the letter
not of the spirit of the spirit
killeth   does not kill
does not give life giveth life

 =====================================================================

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:

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like all other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (NIV)

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.



Posted May 6, 1998
E-mail link removed November 5, 2004 as no longer valid

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