Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We Live by the Spirit, Not by Law

“We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Romans 7:6

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
Galatians 5:18

The New Testament directs Christians to live by the Spirit, not by law. This distinction is vast and profound. In fact, it shakes the foundation of what it means to be a Christian. The Spirit and law are like day and night, white and black. The difference is far more than academic or cosmetic. Living by the Spirit is at the heart of what it is to walk with God – each day and each moment.

Law is a set of written codes by which to live. Think of the codes that govern the state or city where you live: traffic laws, building codes, property rights and so forth. They help ensure safety, fairness and order in society. If a person obeys the law, then he is free to go about the daily activities of life. If a person breaks the law (and is caught), then he must pay a fine, go to jail, perform community service or other such penalty. No exceptions and no excuses – the law is the law. It is something we live under and that exists external to us. For instance, one can go to a law library and read the state and city codes in full. Law does not speak on its own, but only when a person actively reads or hears it.

When Christians see the word “law” in the Bible, they usually think of the Ten Commandments and the various other religious and societal laws that the Lord gave to the Israelites through Moses. Honor your father and mother; keep the Sabbath; do not murder; do not steal; etc. This is the prototypical law of the Bible. However, I would suggest this is the primary but not only meaning of law. It also references any set of absolute rules-to-live-by, even those derived from moral teachings in the New Testament. The error mainstream Christianity makes is interpreting these teachings as absolute law rather than moral principals to be applied in wisdom (more on this later).

In contrast, the Spirit is a person. Much more than words on a piece of paper, the Spirit is God’s very presence, power, and life. He is the third person of the trinity, as in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He moves like the wind through the affairs of humanity and in the lives of individuals. You see clear evidence of his activity – like trees swaying and ripples on the water – but there is mystery and wonder to his work. He does as he pleases and is by no means “predictable”. He is God Almighty.

The Spirit also lives in the heart of every child of God, every person who belongs to him. He is there – at the center of our being. This fact is not just a quaint sentiment or a bedtime story. God’s Spirit is the identifying mark of every true Christian (see Romans 8:9-10,16 and Ephesians 1:13). The Spirit speaks and we hear his voice. He reveals truth and wisdom, provides spiritual gifts, and empowers us to live out God’s love. He is at the center of the Christian experience.

The difference between the Spirit and law is immense, even mind-boggling (see The Spirit and Law in Contrast below for a summary). If one is a bowl of rice, the other is a five-course meal of the finest gourmet foods. If one is a firecracker, the other is a nuclear explosion. Equally immense is the difference between living by the Spirit versus the law. What does that mean, however? What does it look like in a person’s day-to-day experience? Frankly, the answer is as big as God himself. I can only hope to hint at it.
The Spirit and Law in Contrast
Person, God himself
Written moral rules
Lives in a person’s heart
Exists in a document
Mystical, moves like the wind
Concrete, rigid, set in stone
Infinite, expansive
Limited, narrow
Read or heard
Engages whole being –
heart, mind, strength, soul, spirit
Engages primarily the mind
Empowered by God
Enforced by men
Internally motivating
Externally restricting
Illuminates truth
Captures shadow of truth
Empowers love and righteousness
Dictates rules for living
Engenders freedom, creativity and power
Authoritarian and stifling
Inspires uniqueness and spontaneous action
Instills uniformity and centralized, man-made control
Motto: “Live by faith from the heart - God's commands are not burdensome.”
Motto: “Do what I say or else”

No comments: