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Living By the Letter or the Heart of Law?

This is the season that we celebrate Jesus coming to this earth to be our Savior. With the coming of Jesus, a new life was made possible to each of us who put our faith in Him. He made a “new covenant”…old things have passed away…for those who believe in Him all things have become new.

2Co 3:6-18 ”Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Those who are under law rather than grace will always have that vail over their hearts, which can only be removed through faith in Jesus Christ.

How often Satan can take the Word of God itself and twist and manipulate it and use it to confuse, deceive, condemn, and even torment the child of God! How can we know we are truly understanding God’s way? There are so many interpretations out there of God’s Word, and so many differences of opinion? How do we know we are really following His Word?

One thing I have noticed about those who are under “law” is that they are unable to discern the “heart” of the Word of God for themselves and others.

Satan even used the Word itself against Jesus, to try to confuse Him and tempt Him to sin.

”Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,” and “In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone,”’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

Jesus knew the “heart” of the law. He knew the intention of God in every Word, every jot or tittle, and was not deceived. He lived by the Spirit…that same Spirit that He gives to each child of God to live by.

Joh 7:17 ”If anyone desires to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it is of God, or I speak from Myself.”

Who are those who desire God’s will? To desire His will is impossible for us unless God Himself has enabled us to desire it by causing us to be born of His Spirit. When we are living by His Spirit that Spirit works in us to will and to do of His pleasure.

Phi 2:13 "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."

Yet even as believers we sometimes live by our flesh being under “law” rather than living by His Spirit in us. When we are trying to keep a written code or letter of the law, our flesh will confuse us and we will not know His will. It is only by His Spirit that we can discern the “heart of the law”. By submitting ourselves to His Spirit as we read His Word, and allowing Him to use it in our lives as He wills, He is able to reveal by that same Spirit our flesh and conform us to His living Word. His Word then becomes life to us. If we acknowledge that we can not possibly find righteousness by our flesh reading and trying to keep this Word in ourselves, and that we cannot even understand it with our own understanding, it becomes so simple to understand as we submit to His Spirit and just read it for what it says. There is only one way…the way of the new covenant of grace, living by His Spirit and no longer by the flesh.

The law has brought us to a Romans 7 experience, trying to keep it and finding that our flesh will fail every time. But Jesus came to do what the law could not, so that now we serve not by keeping the letter, but by His Spirit…

Rom 7:4-6 ”Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

This is what will happen if we do not find deliverance from living under law in our Christian lives…we will always bring forth fruit unto death…by our flesh, rather than fruit unto God. Those who serve by the law…whether it be the written code of the Old Testament or their own “Christian legalism” brought on by a church or themselves, are never free to live by the Spirit, trusting completely in Him alone to fill their hearts with a true righteousness of heart. They can only bring a gospel of legalism to others as well, and condemn others who don’t live up to their code rather than giving grace as they have received grace. Those who live by the Spirit, love and mercy will flow from them toward others, as they have seen the love and mercy of Jesus Christ in their own life.

We have divisions among many churches all pushing their own brand of legalism onto others many times, all missing the heart of Jesus and the gospel of grace, and life in the Spirit. If one lives in the Spirit, he will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and He will discern the heart of God. He will understand when the Word is being misused as Jesus did when the devil came to tempt Him in the wilderness. He will recognize false condemnation, and stand in the righteousness of Christ alone.

God’s Word is like a love letter to us, meant to be taken literally and read as His heart revealed to ours. With His Spirit in our heart we are able to receive and understand what He is saying to us personally and obey.

The letter brings condemnation and death. But the Spirit brings life and peace in Christ Jesus. Those who are under the letter seem to bring condemnation to those around them also, and never find the peace in God’s Word, let alone give it to others. They misunderstand the Word and bring their misunderstandings on to others they teach.

Rom 8:2-5 ”For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.”

Let us trust the righteousness of Jesus Christ rather than our own. Let us trust His power to save from sin and its power rather than our efforts to do so. Let us trust Him with our salvation, and sanctification from beginning to end. He gave us His Spirit and made full provision for us…all we need to live godly in Christ Jesus. Let’s not frustrate the grace of God! Let’s trust that Christ in us is our only hope of glory! Let’s learn what Paul experienced when he said…

Gal 2:17-21 ”But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. “

(Vincent Word Studies: v. 17-18--Peter, by his Christian profession, had asserted that justification was by faith alone; and by his eating with Gentiles had declared that the Mosaic law was no longer binding upon him. He had thus, figuratively, destroyed or pulled down the Jewish law as a standard of Christian faith and conduct. By his subsequent refusal to eat with Gentiles he had retracted this declaration, had asserted that the Jewish law was still binding upon Christians, and had thus built again what he had pulled down. Building)

In reasserting the validity of the law for justification, which he had denied by seeking justification by faith in Christ, he proves himself a transgressor in that denial, that pulling down.)

May we not frustrate the grace of God in our Christian walk!


Jonah 2:1-7 ”Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.”

Many men of God in the Bible were brought down to the lowest place they could possibly find themselves in before God was able to use them or bring His life and power into their lives. Besides Jonah, I think of Moses, David, Joseph, Daniel…many others.

There have been times in my life when I felt as though I was “crying out of the belly of hell”. In desperation, I looked for God when I was brought to the end of myself, the end of all my trying, the end of my own understanding, and even the end of all my “Why God” and anger and frustration. There was nothing left but to cast all my trust on His mercy and look up to Him for what I could not do for myself. Have you been there?

It seems that until we get desperate with God, we sometimes don’t really get an answer or receive what we need from Him. I think God waits, at times, for us to reach that point of desperation. Look at Jonah. God knew where Jonah was all along. He thought he was running from God, but God never took his eyes off him. God waited for Jonah to get to the point of desperation. He even made the way for him by preparing a fish! It says, “thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas;” He could have let Jonah die in the sea and found someone else more faithful to do the job for him. But God’s grace was with Jonah. He prepared a fish for him. There in the belly of this great fish, Jonah’s soul fainted…. he had no place to look but up. He realized his corruption, he realized his complete dependency on God, and he realized God’s grace. He remembered the Lord.

So many times in our struggles, we continue to try to work out things on our own forgetting God. We forget to listen to God’s direction. We decide what we want and we go for it. Finally God, in His grace allows us to bury ourselves until we remember Him and call out to Him in despair, desperate for Him. God never ignores the prayer of desperation. It is He that has been there with you all along, waiting for you to get to the point of relinquishing all into His hands. He has been waiting all along for you to trust Him rather than yourself.

There is a sense of peace when all is out of our hands. We have surrendered all to Him, with no will of our own anymore in the matter. We have quit struggling over it. We have put our trust completely in God’s goodness to bring the outcome He chooses for us and relinquish control of our lives. There is no greater peace! No greater place to be! God now can do the work in you He always intended. You are now the clay in the potter’s hands. There is no better place for the clay to be, trusting completely in the potter to mold and shape you into a vessel of honor, with no struggle over what He is making you.

Paul was one brought to the end of his own resources many times, and he learned well…. ”2Co 1:8-10 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; “

Maybe you have not yet “despaired of life”, but you have come to the end of yourself, realizing that you cannot measure up. You cannot be all you are suppose to be. You cannot be enough for those who depend on you. You cannot be what God wants you to be (or what you think He wants you to be). You find yourself failing all too often in what you set out to do.

You are right where God has brought you. You are at the end of yourself. If you aren’t there yet, pray God brings you there! It is a blessed place to be! Until we come to the end of ourselves, we never really find how sufficient His power is in us to keep us, make us, use us, and raise us up to knew life in Him!

I don’t think one needs to wait for an emotional crisis to come to the end of themselves. By faith you can choose now to relinquish all of yourself to God, not hold onto your own will in any matter, and trust completely in His power to fulfill His purposes in your life. When you do come to that place then of hardship, you will be able to go through it with the strength of the Lord, and faith in His power and goodness, without wavering. As Paul, you will be able to say, this happened “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;”

When we find ourselves desperate for God or hungry for God it is a sure sign that God intends to fill that hunger. He is the One Who worked it in you and He intends to fill it. Hunger for God is such a blessing, because to hunger is to be filled. But until we do hunger, there is no receiving anything from Him. If you find you do not have that hunger, and are in a dry place, ask God to stir that hunger up in you. When He does you can be sure it will be answered.

Maybe you feel God has “cast you into the deep”. Maybe God, for the time being has “prepared a fish for you”. You need to see this place you are in is not for your death or destruction or to be cast away from God, but to bring you right to Him. He prepared it out of His grace and love for you, when He could very well have given up on you. But He loves you with an everlasting love.

” Jon 2:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”

When it is the right time…when God has brought you to the place where He wants you, He will “speak to the fish” and it will give you up. When your heart is fully His, and your hunger is at the point where you can be filled, then God will hear your cry.

Abba, we don’t always understand Your workings in our lives, but we can always trust in Your goodness and mercy towards us. I pray wherever this devotional finds those who read it, that they will reach out in faith and see Your wonderful hand of grace in the midst of their despairing circumstances.


“And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel. In whom I will be glorified.’ Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God.’ “ Isa. 49:3-4

Have you ever been to the point where you felt in your service to the Lord, that you had labored in vain, spent your strength for nothing and in vain?

Many of us can come to that point in our familes, or in our ministries. It seems we have totally spent ourselves and have nothing left to give. But there is a way that God meant for us to serve Him with no burnout.

There is a way to “labor” for the Lord and also be at “rest” in Him.

”Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

If we have first found that rest in Jesus, and ceased from our own works, then we can truly work from that rest, and though we see no earthly results we know our “just reward is with the Lord, and our work with our God.”

Burn out comes from seeing no results to our labor. We may have given our whole self, pouring ourselves out in reaching out to someone, or in some service for the Lord, but we do not see results, perhaps are rejected, perhaps all looks like a failure, and we see no fruit for what we have spent ourselves on. Parents pour their love and training, and their whole being many times into raising their children for the Lord, only to have their children rebel in their teens, show the worst ungratefulness, and selfishness, and turn away from God and their parents. The feeling is that it was all in vain.

But was it?

“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward his name…” Heb. 6:10

Burnout is actually a form of bitterness. We become bitter toward those we “spent” ourselves on when we didn’t see the results we strove for. Bitterness turns to anger and frustration towards ourselves and God. It leaves us with a sense of weariness…”what’s the use”…”I give up!” And we become “weary with well doing” and faint in our inward being.

What can we do?

”He gives power to the weak, and those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isa. 40:29-31

We need to wait on the Lord. He alone can renew our strength as we take our focus off people, our situation, and ourselves and go back to Jesus…go back to the basics…sit at His feet and let Him fill you with Himself. As we wait on Him we need to first of all, forgive those who did not meet our expectations…whether it is our children, or others we have ministered to or worked for. Forgive completely anyone you have bitterness towards. We need to commit them into God’s hands and trust that God will continue to do all that He intends to do in their lives. We need to forget the importance we placed on our own ministry and our own role in their lives and give it up to God. He alone can take it all, the good and the bad, the works that were truly done by Him and those that were our flesh…our failures, and use them all in others lives for their good and His purpose. We must surrender it all to Him. Completely release it into His hands.

We also must surrender all that we hoped to get out of this ministry, or relationship. We cannot work from His rest if we are hoping for satisfaction or fulfillment from anyone or thing other than Christ Himself. He alone is to be our security, significance, and happiness. When you can relinquish all that you are trying to get that from into His hands and trust Him to be that you will find freedom and God Himself will begin to reveal Himself to you as just that in your life.

Many times our work for the Lord is actually for ourselves, and the fulfillment we get out of it. When we are disappointed in that, then we become burned out. If a work is truly from the Lord, it is because His Spirit is moving in you to will and to do it, and there is a joy in just doing it by His Spirit, regardless of the outcome. We are free to leave the outcome with God and trust Him. We are free to give ourselves to merely be His vessel. He is our energy for the service. Our energy for the service use to be what we got out of it for ourselves, so we easily burned out when we no longer got anything out of it.

Wait on the Lord, in prayer, enabling Him to fill you with His strength, and His purpose, and His life. Wait on Him, emptying yourself before Him, relinquishing all into His hands and accepting all He gives. Let Him renew your strength in Him alone. Then and only then will you mount up with wings as eagles, and run and not be weary and walk and not faint.

Galatians tells us: Gal 6:9 ”And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

We must walk in faith, allowing Him to be our life, and nothing else, in order to not become weary, knowing that our reward is with the Lord, and not always here and now in what we see or receive from others. He promises us that in due season we will reap….if we faint not.

His Throne of Grace

”Inasmuch then as we have a great High Priest Who has [already] ascended and passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession [of faith in Him]. For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it].”

The word grace is used in two senses. It is first the gracious disposition in God which moves Him to love us freely without our merit, and to bestow all His blessings upon us. Then it also means that power through which this grace does its work in us. The redeeming work of Christ, and the righteousness He won for us, equally with the work of the Spirit in us, as the power of the new life, are spoken of as Grace. It includes all that Christ has done and still does, all He has and gives, all He is for us and in us. John says, "We beheld His glory, the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." "The law was given by Moses grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." "And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." What the law demands, grace supplies. (Andrew Murray in The Two Covenants)

We have a High Priest Who sees to it that His covenant is fulfilled in us. He Himself has become all we need to fulfill His righteousness and be Himself that grace within us that we need to abound in every good work.

Have you come to a place where you believe God is calling you to do something you are not able to do? Sometimes we find ourselves in turmoil…afraid God’s way is impossible for us to walk in. We know we don’t have the strength to obey it, or are full of fear for what we have to face. We’ve discovered the strength is not in us! God knew all along that you could never fulfill His purposes for you. He knew all along that you could never obey Him. He knew all along that life would be harder at times than you had the strength for.

That’s why He gave you Himself to be your High Priest…to be your surety…to be Your grace. His throne of grace is always open, never closed to us. Wherever we are, whenever we need Him, He has abundant grace to help us. He has supplied all we need. He Himself has made sure that living in You He is all you need! Abandon yourself, and your weakness there to Him at His throne of grace and trust in all He has and is to fulfill obedience in you.

Eph 1:3 ”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:”

He Himself “shares your feeling” as you are experiencing the weakness and insufficiency of your flesh. He Himself became man…in the weakness of flesh, yet had all the fullness of God in Him and showed us we can live in the weakness of flesh with full confidence in God to be all in us that we need in our hour of trial.

Joh 1:16 ” And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”

Col 2:9-10 ”For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:”

This week I definitely felt the weakness of my flesh, as I was to start a new job, after not working outside my home, (other than volunteer work) for 26 years. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia which makes every day life hard, let alone starting a new job. Stress only makes my symptoms worse. I went to God’s throne of grace, and met my High Priest there. I found His grace to be sufficient and enabling. So often in the past I’ve forgotten to go to His throne of grace, and instead took on things in my own strength, or just said, “I can’t do it” because I didn’t understand how sufficient His grace would be if I only went there and placed myself completely in His hands, confessing that I am weak and helpless, but I am putting my whole confidence in His grace now to be sufficient for me. He comes through when we decide to give up the struggle into His hands and lean on Him!

There are times when we ask Him to help us, but then we continue to work in our own strength until we just can’t anymore. Finally all we can do is say, “Lord, I am utterly weak and helpless, and though I want to obey You, it will have to be Your doing.” You know what? That’s what He’s waiting to hear! And He will do it!

I think of that old hymn that has been a favorite to many…

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh what peace we often forfeit
Oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

What a privilege we have! Going to His throne anytime we want! Anytime we need…we need no announcement. We don’t need to wait for a good time. We don’t need to wait until we are feeling a bit more spiritual. The lowest and weakest times we find ourselves in, we can walk right in there before Him and find His help…His well timed help…just when we need it…not later…not after we’ve spent hours or days trying to prepare ourselves better…but right when we need it! Take Him at His Word and decide to cast your entire self on His promise. Don’t say, “I need your help” and then work it out yourself hoping He will give you a little help, but cast your entire self and weakness on His promise to be all you need in your time of need. Then rest in His care, and trust that He will do it.

This is learning to walk in His grace. No more trusting in ourselves, our abilities, or fretting over our inabilities…we know that we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus, and what He began in us He will bring to completion. What He promised He is able to perform!