What Is The Spirit of The Law?
By Carlton Foster – November 8, 2019
The “Spirit of the Law” is the essence and purpose of the law – the reason why the law was established. This applies to the “design laws of God” and also to the laws created by governments. The ways-of-the-law is the methodologies by which the law is manifested – it is the physical requirement for the spiritual meaning of the law. These methodologies are sometimes left up to human interpretations; nevertheless, the “spirit” of the law never changes! Therefore, we must always follow the spirit of the law as the various methodologies emerge. We will look at some examples to further clarify this important concept.
I told my children that the Bible said not to tattoo their bodies (Leviticus 19:28). One of them responded and said, “The same Bible also said not to shave your beard (Leviticus 19:27); how come most Christians violate that law and cut the edges of their beard, but want the other parts of the law to be upheld?” Since the “spirit” of the law never changes, the question is what is the spirit of the law in Leviticus 19? The methodologies are the things we should do to realize the essence of the law, such as not eating meat with blood, not cutting your skin or putting tattoos on your body, or prostituting your daughters, etc. Let read what Leviticus 19:26-37 says:
Leviticus 19:26-37 “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood. “Do not practice fortune-telling or witchcraft. 27 “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards. 28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord. 29 “Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with prostitution and wickedness. 30 “Keep my Sabbath days of rest, and show reverence toward my sanctuary. I am the Lord. 31 “Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the Lord your God. 32 “Stand up in the presence of the elderly and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord. 33 “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. 34 Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. 35 “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. 36 Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37 “You must be careful to keep all of my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice. I am the Lord.”
There are other methodologies to certify the spirit of the law in Leviticus 19, but the ones mentioned above are just examples and not that they are different from the others. The question raised by my children is a good example of how to look for the spirit of the law – which is the essence of certain methodologies. These methods can change throughout the ages, but the spirit of the law does not change. For example, the activities and methods of prostitution from the days of old until today still show degradation in individuals that are involved. The cessation of this degradation of the person is the spirit of the law against prostitution. So even if the methods have changed throughout the ages (slavery, pornography on videos, etc.), the spirit of stopping the degradation of a human mind and body is still real. Therefore, any other activity that goes against the spirit of that law is sinful – such as willful starvation cause by others, racism, human trafficking, etc.
So what could be the spirit of the law in Leviticus 19? If we look at the methods, the activities of the “do-nots”, we see a consensus – and that is, to NOT do the things that the pagans or evil-minded people are doing, such as don’t eat meat that has not been drained of its blood; don’t practice fortune-telling or witchcraft; don’t trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards; don’t cut your bodies for the dead, and don’t mark your skin with tattoos; don’t defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead; don’t take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land; don’t use dishonest standards when measuring length.
Therefore, the spirit of the law is “to abstain from all appearance of evil.” If God’s children abstained themselves from pagan activities, then they will stand as a peculiar people where their whole spirit, soul, and body will be preserved and be blameless (1 Thes 5:22-23 NLT).
Today, if the activities of the pagan, evil-minded people have changed, the spirit of the law will still remain the same, which is to abstain from the evil activities. So today, if wearing certain color clothes, banner, or patches with the rainbow colors, which are the practices of Homosexual minded people, then God’s children must not wear those ornaments. If tattooing is still associated with people who practice evil, then God’s people must abstain from it; and if today, the cutting or shaving of your beard or your hair is still associated with people who practice evil, then abstain from it. However, the activity of shaving your beard or trimming your hair is no longer associated with evil activities. It is mainly associated with people in the police or military forces, business people, or for normal hygiene. So while this activity may change for the different generations, the spirit of the law did not change.
Hebrew 7:11-21 also gives an example of a change in the physical activities of the laws of the priesthood to achieve the spirit of the law for Priesthood: “So if the priesthood of Levi, on which the law was based, could have achieved the perfection God intended, why did God need to establish a different priesthood, with a priest in the order of Melchizedek instead of the order of Levi and Aaron? 12 And if the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to permit it. 13 For the priest we are talking about, belongs to a different tribe, whose members have never served at the altar as priests. 14 What I mean is, our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never mentioned priests coming from that tribe. Jesus Is like Melchizedek 15 This change has been made very clear since a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. 16 Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. 17 And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 Yes, the old requirement about the priesthood was set aside because it was weak and useless. 19 For the law never made anything perfect. But now we have confidence in a better hope, through which we draw near to God. 20 This new system was established with a solemn oath. Aaron’s descendants became priests without such an oath, 21 but there was an oath regarding Jesus (Hebrew 7:11-21 NLT).”
The spirit of the law relating to the priesthood is to inaugurate a spiritual leader for God’s people. The descendants of Aaron were put in place to fulfill that law; however, the method has changed now that Jesus came. So all believers are now assimilated into the role of the priesthood. Peter the disciple confirms this in 1 Peter 2:5 (NLT), “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” And in verse 9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, and God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”
In summary, the spirit of the law never changes. It is the essence for which the physical requirements were put in place. The physical requirements may change over the ages, but the original intent and purpose for the law never change. Therefore we must always refer to the spirit of the law to assess the physical requirements – which are the activities to maintain the spirit of the law.