And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 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. (II Corinthians 3:4-6)
In other words, as Reverend Keith Ward says more compactly: The Written Law Kills. The written law is all of the Old Testament laws in the Bible, including the 10 Commandments, the ritual law, and the so-called moral law. How did the written law kill from the perspective of an ancient Mediterranean Jew who had just converted to Christianity. It killed in two ways:
(1) When the person died, God would judge his life by how well he had adhered to the Old Testament law during his life. If even the tiniest little sin were found in him and He was not covered by grace through Jesus Christ, he would be condemned to Hell, which the Bible also describes as the “second death.” The law kills because it is impossible for any man or woman in their humanness to keep the entire Old Testament law throughout a lifetime. Without intervening grace, the law always leads to death. The Written Law Kills.
(2) If human minds and hearts know the letter of the Old Testament law, are always aware of it (consciously or unconsciously), and actually have a conscience, the written law slowly kills many people while they are still alive each day—while they are walking around town, while they are just sitting at home, or while they are asleep. The primary purpose of the Old Testament law, as the Apostle Paul points out in the Bible, was to demonstrate to all men and women that they cannot obey the whole Old Testament law in this Earthly life, no matter how hard they might try. Thus, an ancient person was put in a real bind. If one could be obedient to the whole law, they could avoid Hell, but doing that was impossible; therefore, everyone was headed straight to Hell. Moreover, in this present life, the primary power of the Old Testament law is to inflict guilt, inflict shame, inflict deep emotional pain, inflict a feeling of emptiness, inflict a feeling of hopelessness, and inflict a feeling of worthlessness on a person night and day for the entire length of their life on this Earth. Each day of the year, in 600+ ways, the Old Testament law points its old, gnarled, skeletal finger at each human soul and screams out:
You are not good enough, and your sorry ass is going to die forever because of it! Do you remember that company ink pen you absent mindedly carried home in your shirt pocket last night? That was stealing. God is going to roast you alive forever just for that one little mess up. Do you remember that night you told your wife that she looked pretty in that ugly dress? You lied. You are condemned to Hell forever. Remember that night when you ate too much at the buffet restaurant and needed Tums? That was gluttony. You die!!! You did 116 acts of evil today and noticed only two of them. God is going to burn you to a cinder for all 116 of those acts, and He is going to broil you at an even higher temperature for failing to notice the 114. You are evil. You are incompetent. You should feel guilty. Your spirit is ugly. You are unworthy. You are a terrible person. No one should have you as a friend. You should be ashamed of yourself. And you have no right to live. My job is to make you feel guilty, miserable, worthless, hopeless, and helpless. And you know what? I am going to sit here with you and hurl hundreds of these true accusations at you relentlessly all day and all night for the rest of your sorry life.
Many Christians who know the Old Testament moral laws, particularly the most hard-boiled Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, find clever mental tricks to tune out this accusing voice to one degree or another. As a result, they get significant relief here and there across their lives—but never entirely.
Other people, particularly emotionally sensitive human beings and human beings with diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health conditions, such as clinical depression, are often unable to find ways to tune out this accusing voice of the Old Testament law, even after they have been truly saved by grace and released from the Old Testament law through Jesus Christ. These highly sensitive souls are tremendously self-aware and self-conscious of every failure—tiny and great—in their own lives from one moment to the next every day. While they are alive, these poor folks are dying a million deaths inside themselves from one minute to the next under the heavy weight of the relentless, never-ending accusations hurled at them by the Old Testament law. Some of them die physically each year because they can no longer bare it—and they die for a reason.
What is that reason? The hard-boiled Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who are so talented at tuning out the accusing voice of the Old Testament law and nonChristians who do not know the Old Testament law find it very difficult to understand how this accusing voice can be in the process of killing another person in this present life. As a result, they behave as unkind and insensitive clods who add their own negative accusations and badgering to the enormous weight of pain already borne by these highly sensitive Christians. Fundie preachers are especially good at doing this in their sermons. As a result, for all practical purposes, these poor, dumped-on people become The Walking Dead. The Written Law Kills.
I am now going to give you a really good example of how a perceived problem with Biblical law kills people in this life while they are still walking around and breathing—and how that leads to physical death. This example is from the blog of a fellow Christian by the name of Tom Wymore:
Many years ago, my sister was part of a women’s Bible study composed of both long-time and new believers. One day one of the new believers, a fairly young woman, I think, shared with the group that she was in a very (physically) abusive marriage and asked for the counsel of the group about what God had to say about her situation. From what I recall of the story, at least some in the group told her that she needed to “submit” to her husband and trust God to give her grace, etc. My heart breaks even 30+ years later as I finish this story: the young woman went home so depressed that she took her own life. “The written law kills…” I have yet to hear another story that better illustrates how true Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:6 are!
I still cannot think of this story without grief and anger. No wonder the Apostle Paul was so vehement in his attack on legalism and so vigorous in his defense of the Gospel of grace! And we all know that this story, although extreme, represents all of the kinds of death that living by the law always brings, even when advocated by sincere people. “The written law kills…”
Supposedly, Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are people who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, in the moments immediately after their wonderful salvation and permanent release from the condemnation of the Old Testament law, their two-bit preachers turn right around and re-enslave them to a vicious and demeaning program of personal bondage to every jot and tittle of the Old Testament law (except for the ritual law) in their daily lives. If that alone were not outrageous enough, these preachers then convert the verses of the New Testament into yet another set of laws to be followed. Consequently, a person who has just been set free from Biblical law to live under grace and to have a rich and abundant life of joy, love, and service to God and their fellow man, as Jesus always intended, is instead compelled to mount a hopeless gerbil treadmill of learning Biblical law, comparing one’s self to it daily, measuring progress or failure, and listening without ceasing to the incessant, joy-ripping, love-destroying accusations hurled at them day and night by the laws in the Bible. The preaching in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night then becomes just three more vehicles for bombarding people with a never-ending wave of accusations, negativism, and messages about their personal worthlessness and how they fail to measure up. Church becomes a place where the soul dies inside while the body still lives. The Written Law Kills.
Please read the following magazine article about two Christian fundamentalist children who became members of The Walking Dead in their own church and household—and what they did to escape from Christian fundamentalism and the dark side of Biblical law. This is a great story—long—but great and very revealing:
I have always wondered how so many fundies can endure the heavy loads of Biblical law placed on their backs by the modern day Pharisees they call “preacher” and how they can withstand the relentless negative assault inflicted by the you are not good enough message in nearly every sermon from the pulpit. I have a hypothesis about these people, one that might be testable someday in a good psychology thesis or dissertation at a major American university.
My hypothesis is that Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism attract (like candle flies to an outdoor light bulb) an inordinately large number of church members who have a psychological personality type characterized by an amazing ability to tune out negative messaging or an extraordinary natural ability to blind themselves daily to the heavy weight of their own sins and failures in life—like Ebenezer Scrooge did in A Christmas Carol. Indeed, this might help to explain why so many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are mean-spirited, lacking in true love, and filled with hatred for their fellow man. In other words, they are by genetics and/or family nurture very thick-skinned people who are amazingly cold-hearted and highly unaware of their own inner workings—maybe even lacking a true conscience in many cases. Take a quick look at this video and observe some of the fruits of fundies who claim to live under grace but are actually enslaved to the Old Testament law: