Have you ever heard someone say, “We Christians are required to keep only the spirit of the law—not the letter.” By a long shot, this objection is most often hurled at those who teach that God wants His end-time people to keep the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment.
But does that make sense? And where does this objection even come from?
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul writes that, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:29, emphasis added). A few chapters later, he adds: “Now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (7:6, emphasis added).
Does this mean that Paul is saying God no longer intends for us to honor the seventh-day Sabbath? After all, isn’t keeping the seventh-day, Saturday, merely fulfilling the letter of the law?
How do we reconcile these verses with those who say we must keep the seventh-day Sabbath? Isn’t that having an emphasis on the letter of the law and not on the spirit of the law?
Well, consider this: If we are not obliged to do what the letter of the Ten Commandments requires, then may we also literally kill, steal, and commit adultery—because those are merely the letters of those laws?
Surely, then, Paul’s allusion to the letter and the spirit does not mean the two are in conflict with one another or that one somehow cancels the other one out. Indeed, the form and spirit of the law uphold each other. We cannot break the law literally without breaking it spiritually.
The religion of the Jews in the days of Christ had become self-interested and, therefore, merely a form of religion. They did their “good works” to be seen by other people, not because they actually loved their neighbor. They condemned the one who openly broke the law, while they did worse when no one was watching. They strictly kept certain forms of obedience to meet the letter of the law, such as circumcision, but they were actually transgressing the law in their deceitful, selfish intentions (Romans 2:27–29).
For instance, they commanded people not to steal, yet they didn’t think twice about robbing people in business deals with Gentiles, and thereby dragging God’s name through the mud in the process …
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