For the Bride: From Letter to Spirit

The early Christians recognized they were stewards of a great Mystery–the Mystery that had within it power to give life or to deal death.  Whether the Mystery did one or the other depended on how they used the Law.

In applying the Law, they took seriously the fact that “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).  Growing up under the Law, they had seen how the religious leaders used the Law to deal death to those who broke it, sometimes literally but always by  declaring some “unclean” and therefore outside their camp.

But Christ ended the death-dealing application of the Law (Romans 10:4) fulfilling it (Matthew 5:17) by moving it from the letter to the spirit, and thus making the Law subservient to grace and life the final word, not death.

One illustrative passage of this principle is John 8:1-13, the woman caught in the act of adultery.  The religious leaders played the “letter” card and already had the rocks in their hands to kill her, willing to leave her dead and judged. But Jesus trumped their hand with the “spirit” card, and the woman walked away alive and forgiven.

From the example of Christ the early Christians learned they were misusing the Law whenever they were judgmental.  And that is a huge reason why they rejected judgmentalism so quickly and completely and practiced non-judgment so rapidly and radically.

Similarly today, we remain stuck in the letter of the Law when we use it judgmentally, retributively, and punitively.  We are strangers to grace and to the spirit of the Law, whose purpose is to always to give life.  We resemble the religious leaders rather than Christ. 

The early Christians exemplify for us what the movement from the letter of the Law to the spirit of the Law looks like–the movement from being death-dealing to life-giving.  It is the movement that occurs as we follow Jesus, who ends the Law (as judgmentalism), leaving it outdated and obsolete (Rom 10:4 and Hebrews 8:13). 

It is the movement which occurs in non-judgment–the movement in which the Law bows its knee to grace–the movement in which love triumphs over legalism—the movement when stones are dropped so that stones may be rolled away–the movement that does not end on Friday with death, but rather on Sunday with resurrection.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to For the Bride: From Letter to Spirit

  1. Judith Warren-Brown says:

    My beloved Brother, how is it that you, who are a better Christian than I, have become deceived? Calling sin sin is not the same thing as being judgmental. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Loving all of our brothers and sisters means that we want them to have salvation and eternal life. I love you, Steve, truly I do, and this is not meant to be mean spirited.

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