The Spirit and the Law

by Dave Palcsak

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:5-6). We are incredibly blessed to be in this day and age. God makes the sufficiency to be ministers of the new covenant available to us. Think about what an amazing honor this is. Why do so many brothers and sisters reject this awesome gift by continuing to rely on different rituals? “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” (I Timothy 1:8-11). Before the incredible sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there was a need for the law. Read chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews and understand that God offered His people a direct personal relationship with Him. They refused out of fear and made Moses in effect, a go between.

Can you imagine any “good” father who would wish to correct his children through another because they were unwilling to face him directly? A good father wants what is best for his children. The fact that many children don’t realize that their dad, in his love, corrects and disciplines them for their own good, must be very hard for any earthly father to take. Imagine our Heavenly Father, who loves us to a degree that is humanly impossible to fathom, putting up with this very thing.

I don’t know why God put us in this post resurrection era instead of in ancient times. As Isaiah said, His ways are far above our ways. The average person (at least in the West) of today, lives better than kings of old. I believe, whether consciously or subconsciously, there are brothers and sisters who feel guilty because of unmerited favor, which is exactly what grace is. Institutional churches have historically played on guilt in very obvious ways (indulgences), and more subtle ways (required attendance at a Sunday or Saturday meeting). Non-biblical forced rituals are regularly used by denominations to keep pew-sitters captive and dependent on structural hierarchy instead of teaching the need for a personal relationship with Christ. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The word Nicolaitans comes from two words: Nico, meaning “ruling over”; and laitans, meaning “the people”. Jesus dictated the book of Revelation to John. Our Lord is directly stating that He hates those who rule over (spiritually speaking) the people (congregants). He is showing us that following directions of man (priests, reverends, pastors or others) is a form of following the law. We are under the new covenant and when we depend on old covenant rituals, this insults our Lord. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18). Those who are more mature in the faith, must point those less mature to the Bible and a stronger relationship with, and dependence on Christ, not on rote activity. “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using – according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23). Hebrews 13:9 plainly states: “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.” In addition to guilt, feelings of superiority by following dictates better than others also causes folks to put pleasing man over serving Christ: “I folded more chairs; I provided more baked goods;” etc. I’m not saying these are bad things. We all must have a servant’s heart, but a servant doesn’t keep a scorecard. We also see from Paul’s writing that “dying with Christ” (fully-immersed baptism) kills the flesh to the principles of the world. We are a new creation in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).

People also cling to rituals because it’s all they have ever known. There are many saints involved in the institutional church but it’s absolutely critical to follow the Bible instead of man when you become aware of contradictions. “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, He who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 23:9). Does this include your biological father? No. Jesus was referring here to calling any man spiritually your Father. In other words, looking to a human man as your spiritual leader and head. Why then do Catholics call their ordained overseers “father”? Traditions of man. Why do many denominations (which means division) continue to wear robes and other costumes? Traditions of man. Why do different denominations place various dietary restrictions on people? Traditions of man.

The only argument I have ever heard for ritualistic salvation that has any biblical foundation is based on Old Testament rules. The OT is the biggest part (by volume) of the greatest Book that ever has been or ever will be written. We need to study the OT because, for one thing, we see the confirmation of God’s redemptive plan through Jesus, taking us from the old covenant into the new covenant. “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6). These words, written centuries before Jesus was born in the flesh, show God’s desire for relationship over ritual. As we see with Moses, the ancient Israelites refused relationship and put themselves in physical bondage rather than accepting spiritual liberation. Why are so many doing the very same thing today?
The apostle Paul penned most of the New Testament. He was a “Hebrew among Hebrews” who was advanced in legalistic Judaism beyond his contemporaries (see Philippians 3:4-6). As such, he zealously persecuted followers of Christ to the point of imprisonment or even death. What changed? He didn’t enroll in a new seminary. He definitely didn’t benefit professionally; in fact, his material wealth, and austere position vanished. His former cohorts named him a criminal and pursued him as such. When Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus he heard directly from Christ (see Acts 9:1-6). We see in Galatians 1:11-17 that Paul continued to be taught, not by man, but by revelation from Jesus. This transformed his life from one who enjoyed “respect, position, and power (physically)” in this world to one who suffered constant persecution and degradation which culminated into his head being chopped off! Yet, Paul considered the joy of knowing and serving Christ, while enduring His sufferings, and experiencing His resurrection power to be absolutely worth it! This dramatic change came about through his relationship with Christ. His prior reality as an enforcer of the law actually prevented him from serving Christ.

As I write this, so many scriptures are coming into my mind that I’m compelled to repeat this critically important mantra: READ YOUR BIBLE EVERY DAY!! Biblical truths become obvious when the “light” goes off in your head. I read the Bible for years before I came to understand that God wants to reward our obedience by literally welcoming us as His children! Now, I see confirmation of this truth all over Scripture. Much of it, but far from exclusively, in Paul’s letters. Galatians is a relatively short book. Study that book, take a hard look at verses 2:21, 3:23-27 and 4:6-7. Within those four chapters, I missed more verses than I listed regarding the family of God. It’s amazing! The more you read His Word, the more God will open your eyes to things you have never seen before! It truly is a living book! That’s true of the entire Bible, particularly, but again, not exclusively, the NT.

Open your heart and pray to God for the Holy Spirit’s direction. Keep in mind that He desires a personal relationship with His children. “For the anointing that you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” (I John 2:27).

I personally can’t drink alcohol, not even have a sip of wine for communion. I use grape juice. This is due to a personal vow I made between me and the Lord. But this does not apply to others. They have their own relationship with the Lord, and their promises to keep. I know many brothers in the Lord that God has delivered from alcohol addiction and/or drugs who can take wine with communion or even have a beer or two on occasion. It’s of paramount importance to have an individual relationship with Christ. By the way, no one I know who has been truly delivered from substance abuse by God has ever relapsed. (That’s an aside but an important one.) My point is, just because I can never touch a drop, doesn’t make that true for everyone else. Perhaps you feel like you may not eat pork. Maybe you believe you can’t eat meat at all. That’s ok. What’s not ok is to dictate your restrictions to others. Go back to Colossians 2:20-23. We can and should witness to others about our relationship with our Lord. Perhaps in doing so, we might motivate them to alter some personal behavior to better serve God; and as Christians, we all must be obedient to Jesus’ teaching and commands. What we must not do is put restrictions on others which Jesus never did. Did He ever teach us to wear fancy robes and outfits? Did He ever command followers to not drink any alcohol or to eat only certain foods? He gave His life once for all as the ultimate and sufficient sacrifice (see Hebrews 7:27). Why do many churches still persist in offering daily (weekly) sacrifices? In Matthew 6:7 Jesus tells us not to use vain repetition in prayers. Why are so many assemblies constantly using the same sing song phrases pronounced by the leader (pastor, priest, whomever) with the same sing song congregant responses in each and every service? Why do institutions typically rely on rote liturgy formulas for their church services instead of following the biblical model that is provided in 1 Corinthians 14:26-29? Passover is mentioned more often than any other annual Holy Day in the Bible. We are commanded to observe and commemorate Passover in many scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament. Jesus was the ultimate Passover sacrifice. How is it then that in most institutional churches, they barely, if at all, mention Passover, but wholeheartedly celebrate Easter; a made-up holiday that clearly has pagan idolatrous roots (Ishtar goddess of fertility, easter eggs and bunnies, sunrise services)?

Hebrews 10:24-25 succinctly confirms what so many other Scriptures show: fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ as much as possible. Refraining from meeting with brothers and sisters is certainly not an option; but if you are currently attending any assembly that does not primarily stress reading your Bible and growing in your relationship with Christ, affect change or get out. No worldly connection trumps the relationship you have with your Heavenly Father, not one. Having said this, I don’t expect my words to immediately change anyone’s view. My hope is that it may open your heart (Spirit) to the Word of God. If you haven’t been reading your Bible, please start. If you’re not going to read your Bible, there is nothing any article can do. What I say is insignificant, His Word is everything. “Thus, also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). Being a son or daughter of the Most High comes with responsibility. God gives His children assignments. There is nothing better than serving the Lord; but don’t expect that when you begin to believe in the paramount importance of a personal relationship with Him that He will “assign” you to your couch eating bon bons all day. Our goal must be to establish and then grow in the relationship we have with God. READ YOUR BIBLE, READ YOUR BIBLE, READ YOUR BIBLE. I cannot stress this enough. There is no relationship, not with your husband, not with your wife, not with anyone that is more important than the one you have with your Creator. Growing any relationship requires effort. As a Bible-believing Christian, never stop working on becoming a son or daughter. In John 1:14 we learn that the Word (Jesus) became flesh. The Bible is the Word of God. The better you know it, the better you will know Him. If you decide to ignore His Word (which is the equivalent of ignoring Jesus), He will ignore you (see Matthew 10:33). Don’t let that happen.


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