During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus prefaces his elaboration on some of the commandments with “‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled'” (Mt 5:17-18).
Then He continues to expound how to fulfill the essence of specific commandments, including murder and adultery. The spirit of these commandments are well-explained to us–not only should we not murder or commit adultery, but we need to control our heart too. Hatred is the source of murder, and lusting after women is the source of adultery.
What we see then is that when we fulfill the spirit of the law, we also wind up keeping the literal sense of the law too. They go hand-in-hand. This is part of what Jesus means when He says not one jot will pass away. For if we keep our hearts free of hatred, naturally the commandment of “Do not murder” will be kept. If we keep our eyes and hearts free of lust, naturally the commandment of “Do not commit adultery” will be kept. And again, I emphasize naturally. Keeping the spirit of God’s commandments therefore fulfills the entire commandment–both its spirit and letter. And we are duly reminded by Jesus’ sermon that we are required to keep both. For we are called to be perfect as God is perfect (Mt 5:48).
By experience, the converse is not true though. Keeping the letter of the law does not necessitate that we will keep the spirit of the law. For example, we may go to church on Sabbath (Saturday) and physically be present. But our hearts may not truly be there. The spirit of the law, as explained in Isa 58:13-14 reads,
If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.
All too often, I see the believer who excuses himself to take business calls during the Sabbath. All too often I see lagging believers who are at church, but don’t attend the services, lounging around in the eating area instead. I suppose the word of God is just not that much of a delight.
But according to the promises here in Isaiah, if we keep the spirit of that commandment, and delight in the Lord, God not only gives us literal physical and spiritual rest, but we will ride on the high hills of the earth; feed on the heritage of Jacob. These represent physical and spiritual blessings and abundance. This is our aim. It is only to our benefit when we fulfill God’s commandments.
Finally, we come to an apologetics note. Many Christians will discount the importance of when Sabbath is kept, saying we ought to keep “the spirit of the law.” They misuse this statement and explain “as long as you rest one day of the week–any day–you are keeping the spirit of the law”–thereby justifying Sunday worship. As I made clear before, if we truly keep the spirit of the law, naturally the letter of the law will be included. In Exodus 20, it is very clear. God sanctified and set apart the seventh day of the week (Saturday) for our Sabbath. He tells us to remember it to keep it holy and do no work. And why? Because God set the example for us during the creation week. Fittingly, Jesus Christ Himself–the One who came to fulfill all of the law ignoring no iota–also kept the Sabbath on Saturday (cf. Lk 4:16).