Day 4

The Spirit of the Law

from the Romans reading plan

Romans 2:17-29, Deuteronomy 7:25-26, Psalm 51:1-12

BY Guest Writer

Scripture Reading: Romans 2:17-29, Deuteronomy 7:25-26, Psalm 51:1-12

In one of my seminary classes, we were to read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, as well as— according to the syllabus—the book’s preface written by C.S. Lewis. Paying close attention to the syllabus (thought not that close), I read both the preface and the introduction.

A few weeks later, during his lecture, the professor pointed out that we technically didn’t have to read the book’s introduction, but he said if we’d been smart, we would have. He explained this had been his intention—even if the syllabus hadn’t spelled it out explicitly.

Was he assuming we were mind readers? Not really. He just had expectations.

At some point, we all give instructions—to colleagues, to children, to friends, to husbands—that may not be perfect or exact, but we hope the recipient will pick up on our intent, on the spirit of what we’re asking them to do. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Paul is giving a similar instruction here to the Jewish Christians in Rome. He is echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, asking Jesus’ followers to read deeper into the Law. Paul tells them it’s not about following the letter of the law. It’s about following the heart of the One who wrote it.

Paul’s laundry list of law-breaking activities in verses 21-23, reads similarly to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
– Matthew 5:21-22

Jesus preached these words to some who knew the Law backwards and forwards, but He was holding up a magnifying glass to their hearts. They weren’t out murdering people—they were law-following Jews, after all—but what was going on in their hearts? Were they angry with their brother? Jesus said then they, too, are deserving of punishment. The spirit of the Law was broken, even if the exact rule was not.

Paul does the same for his readers. He questions their obedience to the Law, but then he reminds them it’s the posture of their hearts that matters most. These proud Jewish Christians came from a long heritage of trying to earn righteousness by following the Law. They too easily forgot that Jesus came to fulfill the Law for them, to make them righteous by simply believing in Him.

It’s not hard to see myself in the Jewish Christians of Rome, slipping back into trying to follow the rules rather than the One who wrote them. It’s easy to think my righteousness comes from  acting the right way, rather than from “the Way” Himself (John 14:6). But as the psalmist tells us, “would God not discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21).

If I’m honest, what’s going on inside my heart is usually much uglier than how I act on the outside. Thankfully, Jesus came to wash me clean from the inside out. This is the beauty of the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit: to compel me to seek God’s heart first, and obey His law by the help of His Spirit.


Melanie Rainer is the director of content for JellyTelly, where she writes and edits family spiritual formation resources. She is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, a passionate home baker, and makes her always-messy home with her husband, Price, and their delightful daughter, Ellie, near historic downtown Franklin, Tennessee.

Post Comments (108)

108 thoughts on "The Spirit of the Law"

  1. Rachel says:

    I love this reading. I have always felt it important to consider intentions when looking at a person’s works or actions. I like the way the writer her has broken down intentions as the spirit and the heart of the matter at hand. Sometimes we act uglier on the outside than our hearts intend, and sometimes it’s the other way around, and God is foriginvg and understanding in both BUT He is also all knowing, so we’re not hiding either way. Can we really train our hearts and spirits? No, I don’t think we can do so on our own. We require a walk with our God to assist us in making our hearts and spirits more like Him. But I feel like if we can truly get our hearts in alignment with The One then our heads will allow us to make better decisions.

  2. Mrs. J says:

    When I think about this era of history of the Jews I think about my own numbness. They were following the exact letters of the law but their hearts were turned away from the Lord. Me too! I get caught up being good at this or that while simultaneously getting caught up in my disappointment and pain. This takes me away from my Father and I can’t be okay with settling in numbness and pain instead of my father.

  3. Pam says:

    Sometimes I shock myself with my own selfishness while looking “ok” on the outside. I am grateful for a Father who has made a way for me to surrender the ugly in exchange for His pure heart.

  4. Christina P. says:

    This has spoken to me so much with the many different things that I have been going through recently. Thank you God for showing me this today.

  5. Danielle M. says:

    Wow. I’m so thankful for what Christ has done!!!

  6. Brandy W says:

    Praying today for God to take my frustrations, resentment and all things ugly from my heart! I am always being asked to help take on responsibilities for my family, my work, my friends. I find myself helping but only because “it’s the right thing to do” i want to serve and help others with love not obligation! I am selfish and self righteous looking for a good job or something in return like it’s owed to me! Thank you Lord for this passage. Create in me a clean heart and renewed spirit so I don’t just follow the law but follow the maker of the law. In Jesus name! Amen

  7. Christina says:

    I needed to hear this today. The scripture and the study to go along with it. For maybe the first time, I felt broken and humiliated enough to read this into my own life. Before, I’ve always pushed passages like this off to others proudly–and sinfully–thinking “that’s not me.” But it is. I am the one who says she keeps the law outwardly, but inwardly I’ve become ugly and proud. Thank you, Lord for breaking me down to become more like you.

  8. Danya Ho says:

    Purge me hwith hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    zwash me, and I shall be iwhiter than snow.
    8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    jlet the bones kthat you have broken rejoice.
    9 lHide your face from my sins,
    and yblot out all my iniquities.
    10 mCreate in me a nclean heart, O God,
    and orenew a right2 spirit within me.
    11 pCast me not away from your presence,
    and take not qyour Holy Spirit from me.
    12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

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