OceanSide church of Christ
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THE “SPIRIT OF THE LAW” ARGUMENT (2)
Victor M. Eskew
Al Maxey teaches that men are free from the letter of the law and that they live by the spirit of the law. According to Al Maxey, the spirit of the law is “the intention of the Lawmaker.” Mr. Maxey says that there are times when the letter of the law can be set aside in order to practice the spirit of the law.
Those who believe that we are free from the letter of the law call those who teach obedience to the letter of the law of Christ legalists. We would refer to those who assert the “spirit of the law” argument as progressives. There are definitely differences between us.
Al Maxey Victor Eskew
1. Free from the letter of the law 1. Must obey the letter of the law
2. One can neglect the letter of the law 2. One fulfills the spirit of the law by
to fulfill the spirit of the law obeying the letter of the law
3. One does not disobey God by 3. Any time a person sets aside the
setting aside the letter of the law the letter of the law, he disobeys
to keep the spirit of the law. God.
4. The letter of the law enslaves and 4. The letter of the law fulfills the spirit
the spirit of the law gives freedom. of the law and brings freedom.
Al Maxey sees a separation between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. This writer believes that the spirit of the law and the letter of the law are entwined with one another and cannot be separated.
Let’s show how the spirit of the law and the letter of the law are intertwined. On one occasion, Jesus was asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt. 22:36). Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). From Jesus’ words, those who advocate the “spirit of the law” tell us that “love” is the spirit of the law. In other words, the practice of love by man is what God intended. It is true that love for God and love for man are two foundational elements of the law and the prophets. The question is: “How does man express his love for God? How does an individual show his love for his fellowman? The answer is found in the detailed commandments that God has revealed to man
Love for God Love for Man
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me 1. Honor thy father and mother
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any 2. Thou shalt not kill
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord 3. Thou shalt not commit adultery
thy God in vain
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy 4. Thou shalt not steal
5. Thou shall not bear false witness
6. Thou shalt not covet
When a man has no other gods before Jehovah, he manifests love for God. When a man honors his father and his mother, he displays love for man. The same is true for all of the commandments. Love is the foundation of them all. When a man obeys the law and the prophets, he shows love for either God or man. Obedience does NOT violate the spirit of the law. The very words of the law are given for a reason. When one obeys the letter of the law, he is adhering to the intent of the Lawmaker. If not, why not? If every law has an intent, then the way to fulfill the intent of the law is by keeping the law.
As you study the “spirit of the law” argument, it seems that what is really taught is this: “Bible principles take precedence over direct commands.” As long as a person can point to a Bible principle that he believes is foundational to an action, then the action, he believes, is acceptable to God. If someone objects, saying the action violates a specific law of God, he is called a legalist. The Bible authorizes worship, a Bible principle (John 4:24). Some choose to fulfill this principle by using instruments of music in worship. They believe that they are abiding by the “spirit of the law.” Someone, however, objects to this practice, saying: “The New Testament commands us to sing. Instruments are an addition to the Word of God.” This individual is labelled a legalist. He is said to be restricting the freedom that others have in Christ who seek to live by the spirit of the law.
This is an extremely dangerous teaching. It opens the doors to almost anything and everything imaginable. There are almost no limits. Love and freedom are their key words. The apostle John confronts this teaching in II John 9-11. He writes: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither biddeth him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” The word translated “transgresseth” means “to go contrary to, that is, violate a command” (Strong). Thayer defines the word as “to go past or pass over without touching a thing.” The American Standard Version (ASV) translates the verse as: “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ…” Phillips translation reads as follows: “The man who is so ‘advanced’ that he is not content with what Christ taught, has in fact no God.” John lets us know that we are not free to go beyond, that is, transgress, the teachings of God’s Word.
When we ask a man: “Why are you violating the Word of God?” He might respond? “Because I am keeping the spirit of the law.” How does that individual know that his action is in keeping with the spirit of the law? By what standard does he judge his action? Could his action be displeasing to God? There is no doubt that the spirit of the law argument promotes freedom. It is a freedom to do almost anything. It definitely gives freedom to violate the letter of the law which John tells us not to do.