Since the law of God is in our hearts, do we still need any written rules? Are we not to live by the Spirit, and not by the letter?
It is a common misconception, and a very deceitful one at that, that Christians are not in need of any written rules, as (so it is claimed) they will automatically do what is right, since the law of God is written in their hearts. With this dangerously deceptive concept, traditional Christianity attempts to justify their claim that Christ came to do away with the rules and regulations of the Ten Commandments of the “Old Testament.” They state that today, Christians will just need to follow some nebulous and ill- or non-defined spiritual principles, without the need of any written rules. They even claim that this is so, as we are not to follow the letter of the law, but the Spirit.
As we will see, the fact that God’s law is written in our hearts does not mean that there are suddenly no more written rules, which define the law of God. Rather, what is meant by this is that the written rules have become an integral part of the person; the true Christian has internalized these rules and identifies him- or herself with them. To put it differently, the written rules have become an inward part of the Christian; they have become part of his or her character; they identify the Christian and describe his or her personality and very being.
For instance, Deuteronomy 6:6-7 states, in connection with the pronouncement of the Ten Commandments: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Deuteronomy 11:18 states, in connection with the second giving of the Ten Commandments: “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul…”
Proverbs 3:3 says: “Let not mercy and truth forsake you… WRITE them on the TABLET of your heart…”
Proverbs 6:21 states that we are to BIND a particular law continually upon our heart. The context is the command and admonition against adultery, compare verses 20, 22-24, 27-29.
Today, God’s Holy Spirit in us reminds us of God’s law, and the law of God is being written on our hearts and minds. Romans 5:5 says that the love of God, which is defined as keeping the commandments (1 John 5:3), is poured out IN our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 8:10 describes the New Covenant, and true Christians—spiritual Israelites (Galatians 6:16)—are living already today under the conditions of the New Covenant:
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and WRITE them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
God’s law must be written in our hearts. But notice, it is still God’s spiritual law (Romans 7:14)—which is defined and described by the words and the RULES of the Ten Commandments—which is WRITTEN in our hearts.
We explain in our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,” that the New Covenant is not a covenant without written rules; just the opposite is true. We read in Hebrews 8:6 that the New Covenant is “established” on better promises. The New Revised Standard Version says here, “enacted through better promises.” The New Jerusalem Bible states, “founded on better promises.” The Greek word, translated as “established,” “enacted” or “founded,” is “nomotheteo.” The word “nomos” means, “law.”
In Hebrews 7:11, the same word “nomotheteo” is translated as “received the law.” In James 4:12, the noun “nomothetes” is used in the Greek and rendered there as “Lawgiver.” In Romans 9:4, the related Greek word “nomothesia” is translated as “giving of the law.”
Hebrews 8:6 tells us that Jesus Christ is Mediator of a better covenant, which, having better promises, including the promise of the Holy Spirit and eternal life in the God Family, is BASED or ENACTED or FOUNDED on God’s given law. The New Covenant is based on God’s spiritual law, but not on laws that God has decreed are no longer valid. The New Covenant is not based, for example, on the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, and other rituals and washings.
Paul does not say anything differently in 2 Corinthians 3:3-11. We discussed this passage in detail in Appendix A of our free booklet, “Old Testament Laws–Still Valid Today?”
For the purpose of this Q&A, we just need to focus on verses 3-6:
“(3)… clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (4) And we have such trust through Christ toward God. (5) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, (6) who has 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…”
In verse 3, reference is made to the Ten Commandments, which were written “on tablets of stone.” Christians today are to keep the Ten Commandments in their hearts. They are written on the TABLETS of our hearts. It is not sufficient to possess tablets of stone which include the Ten Commandments. It is not enough to just know about the Ten Commandments, or perhaps even to memorize them. Rather, we are to internalize the Commandments.
The Israelites had the law written on tablets of stone (2 Corinthians 3:2–3). These tablets of stone never became part of their being—they never entered their hearts. As the tablets were of stone, so were their hearts. That is the reason why God, in a New Covenant, replaces our stony hearts with hearts of flesh, so that we can walk in God’s statutes and do them (Ezekiel 11:19).
2 Corinthians 3:3-6 does not teach that the Ten Commandments are abolished. Quite to the contrary, the passage teaches that the Ten Commandments must be kept today. However, they must be kept in the Spirit; that is, they must be applied in our lives with their spiritual intent.
Paul reiterates the same in Romans 7:6, which reads:
“But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”
We must realize that Christ came to EXALT the law and make it honorable (Isaiah 42:21). He came to teach His followers the spiritual application of the law, going beyond the application of the letter.
For instance, we read in Matthew 5:21-22 that we sin already and are guilty of murder when we hate someone. Under the letter of the law of the Ten Commandments, we would only be guilty of murder if we actually killed someone. But serving God in the newness of the Spirit, we are already guilty of murder when we have the wish to kill another person, because we are filled with hate and rage towards him or her.
When we keep the law in the Spirit, we are to look beyond the letter and keep the law in accordance with the spiritual intent. This COULD also mean that sometimes, the letter might appear to prohibit something, when viewed with the carnal mind, but it does not really do so, when considering the spiritual intent.
A good example is the way in which the carnal Pharisees and Sadducees taught the people about the Sabbath. They applied the law quite literally, from a very carnal view point, but since they did not have the Holy Spirit and since they did not have God’s law written in their hearts, they did not understand and teach the spiritual intent.
We explain in detail in our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days,” how the carnal religious leaders at the time of Christ had made a burden out of the Sabbath, rather than a blessing. Jesus Christ restored the original intent of the Fourth Commandment, using much of His time to show us how to observe the Sabbath. The fact that the Sabbath had to be kept was not in doubt, but Christ had to show—by words and deeds—how to keep it.
Quoting from the above-stated booklet:
“We read in Matthew 12:1–8: ‘At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord… of the Sabbath.”
“This important episode teaches us a great deal about the right attitude toward observing the Sabbath. First of all, Christ points out that it is not the Pharisees—or any human being for that matter, but only God Himself, through His Son Jesus Christ—who is to tell us how to keep the Sabbath as far as what is permitted and what is prohibited. This is not just a matter of pointing at a particular statement in the Bible. One has to focus on the context and on the spiritual application.
“Christ was chiding the Pharisees for being merciless. They did not allow the disciples to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath, even though they were hungry. Christ compares this situation with David when he and his men ate from the showbread because they were hungry. The law against eating from the showbread was not given, however, for a situation where someone was hungry and had nothing else to eat. Likewise… the commandment against work did not apply to the priests who brought sacrifices at that time, nor to God’s ministers today who engage in ministerial functions on the Sabbath…”
When we keep the rules and regulations of the law of God in the Spirit, we keep them in accordance with their spiritual intent, which might mean that we have to be more “restrictive” or more “permissive” than the mere letter. The rules of God’s spiritual law are written in our hearts; they have become part of our inner being. Isaiah 51:7 tells us that God’s people “who know righteousness,” are those “in whose heart is My law.” David exclaimed that God’s law was in his heart (Psalm 37:31). But at the same time, we read that he meditated on God’s statutes (Psalm 119:23); and that he did not forget God’s law (verse 61).
He obviously read the written “rules” of God’s Law in the Bible; the idea is plainly ridiculous that he rejected any written rules and believed that he was just “automatically” doing what was right, because God’s law was in his heart.
Paul spoke about the fact that we need to obey God’s teaching “from the heart” (Romans 6:17). We can and will do so, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit within us, when God has written His law in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link