Recently, I finally came to a definite conclusion on how we’re supposed to obey God’s Law. The idea itself is quite simple:
The letter of the law versus the spirit of the law is an idiomatic antithesis. When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words (the “letter”) of the law, but not the intent of those who wrote the law. Conversely, when one obeys the spirit of the law but not the letter, one is doing what the authors of the law intended, though not necessarily adhering to the literal wording.
There is a lot of thought behind this, and I could quote a lot more passages. But here’s a summary/conclusion of everything:
Jesus’ life on Earth, the climax of which was the crucifixion, was itself a fulfilment of God’s Law. Romans 10:4 explains that Christ is the purpose/goal (in Greek, telos) of the Law. Here’s how it works: because of what Christ has accomplished, we who are in Christ (who believe in Jesus’ good news message) have God’s Law written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:7-13). This Law-on-our-hearts becomes (part of) what we know as the (Holy) Spirit.
As Christians, we want to be doers of God’s spiritual Law (Romans 2). We’re not meant to mindlessly follow the written (codified) Law. Its role in a Christian’s life is now purely instructive in the way described in Psalm 119:97-104. (Before Christ came, Jews were expected to strictly follow the written Law, but the Law was also instructive, as Psalm 119 shows.) In Romans 2:12-16, Paul says that Gentiles don’t have the written Law, and yet they show that they have the Law written on their hearts (i.e. spirit-Law). Obviously, without the written Law, the Gentiles won’t be able to mindlessly follow it, even if they wanted to. Romans 7:6 actually explicitly contrasts the written Law with the spirit-Law. Galatians 3:23-29 also further explains the idea.
Common English Bible (CEB)
10 Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Psalm 51:10 (above) is one of the best ways for Christians to understand their personal salvation (read the entire psalm). This is how God has saved us through Jesus Christ, and through the Spirit. We shouldn’t worry about trying to strictly observe/follow the Old Testament written Law (it’s not necessary per se). But the Old Testament remains greatly relevant to us, because of the principle explained in Psalm 119. Also, it’s through reading the Old Testament that we can truly understand what the New Testament is trying to teach us.
In other words (using the quote from the wikipedia article), when good Christians obey the spirit-Law but not the written-Law, they are doing what the author of the Law (God) intended, though not necessarily adhering to the literal wording (written-Law).
Romans 10:4 (http://bible.cc/romans/10-4.htm)