The Letter or the Spirit?
by Lary R. Hale
The question today is, Are you of the letter, or of the spirit? You cannot be of both. It is quite an important question to be able to answer accurately and honestly, seeing that the scripture plainly states, “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” (Rom. 7:6). And one more for good measure: “Who also 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” (II Cor. 3:6). So let’s look at what the scriptures show us about what these very serious verses are saying. First of all I would like to point out that being able to read these verses does not qualify us to be the “we” or the “us” in the verses. We can only be the “we” in Rom. 7:6 if we are “dead wherein we were held,” as the first verse says. And as far as the “us” in II Cor. 3:6, that would only apply to the apostle Paul who wrote the epistle, and anyone else who is truly ministering the gospel that he preached. So let’s look at the part about being “dead wherein we were held,” because that is the key to understanding the “oldness of the letter,” and the “newness of spirit” aspect. Actually the apostle is talking about the condition of a person under the law in this chapter, and he goes on to use the example of himself when he was under the law, and not born again by faith in Jesus. And I might note that it’s a real shame than SO many believers think that Paul was actually saying that he was still under the power of sin even though he was born again. I assure you he was not saying that, and an honest and thorough examination of the chapter, along with the chapter before that shows that quite clearly. The “oldness of the letter” is simply referring to the old covenant, which was written in tables of stones and papers of scribes, and was full of symbolic carnal ordinances (II Cor. 3:3; Heb. 9:10). And as Paul explains in Romans 7, the law showed him that he was in sin, but it did not offer a means by which he could get out of sin (Rom. 7:7,24). In regard to this malady, the same apostle wrote the following in another place: “The strength of sin [was] the law” (I Cor. 15:56). The law was “the strength of sin,” because it showed those who were under it that they were indeed sinners, but did not provide a remedy for that condition. As the apostle Paul said in yet another place: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).
As for the “newness of spirit,” it is obviously the new covenant, which unlike the old covenant, is not written in stones or papers, and is not contained in symbolic, carnal ordinances (Heb. 10:16; II Cor. 3:3; Jn. 4:24; Philip. 3:3). The laws of God are not just written on paper anymore, but in the hearts and minds of those who receive his Spirit, as the above references plainly declare. And the worship of God is not in symbolic carnal ceremonies now, but rather it is a worship and service that is purely in spirit, by means of true believers becoming “one spirit with the Lord” by receiving his Spirit (I Cor. 6:17; Gal. 3:27; II Cor. 3:17). And as for the sin issue, one very powerful passage clears that up: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13,14). So this is the issue here: If we have been baptized by one Spirit into one body, and are depending solely and absolutely on that same Spirit of God to be our entire righteousness and deliverance from sin, as well as our only means of worship, service, understanding and obedience to God, then we are serving him in “newness of spirit” (I Cor. 12:13; I Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:3; Philip. 3:3; Rom. 8:14; Jn. 14:26; Acts 5:32). On the other hand, if we are calling the Bible the word of God, or if we are observing any carnal ordinances or days as being holy, then we are entrapped in the “oldness of the letter.” It’s that simple. Jesus said that the word of God is “what the SPIRIT says to [God’s people],” and the apostle Paul referred to God’s word the same way, calling it “the sword of the SPIRIT” (Rev. 2:7; Eph. 6:17). And the natural ordinances that are universally observed and held to by the body of Christ, are simply of the law. Jesus himself declared water baptism to be of the law, and said at the same time that he was fulfilling it (Mat. 3:15). He also was clearly taking of the passover at the last supper, and said at the same time that he would not take it again with his disciples until it was “fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 22:15,16). Water baptism was fulfilled by the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus died and rose again to provide (I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:5; I Pet. 3:21). The passover was plainly of the law, and was fulfilled with “the unleavened bread [of life] of sincerity and truth [the word of God]” (Jn. 6:35; I Cor. 5:7,8). And the apostle Paul clearly stated to the Colossians that there are no actual days under the new covenant that can be observed in some supposed obedience to God; and that included the sabbath day that was of the law (Col. 2:16,17). The covenant that is in “newness of spirit” indeed provides a true deliverance from sin and all of its symptoms, as well as the infilling of the love of God, with “rejoicing evermore,” as well as “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (Heb. 9:13,14; I Thess. 5:16; I Pet. 1:8). And anything that we could rely on for our right standing with God that is apart from the holy power of his Spirit, is death; because it can only constitute the “oldness of the letter.” And as the apostle Paul said to the Galatians, who had already been coerced into observing the things that are of “the letter:” “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). Amen.
Original Post at By One Spirit Ministries Facebook page July 23, 2012