What is “the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6)?


By BibleAsk Team

The Oldness of the Letter

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 7:6). In this passage, Paul described the legalistic obedience of people who try to gain salvation by works of law. But the Bible clearly teaches, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). It is grace on God’s part and faith on man’s part. Faith accepts the gift of God.

The Pharisees gave an external service to God. For they were diligent to “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin” but at the same time omitted the “weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). These religious leaders magnified and honored their own laws of Judaism, listing them as being of greater importance (Matthew 22:36) than God’s moral law (Exodus 20:3-17). They gave great weight to man-made ordinances and to the external forms of law observance (Mark 7:3–13). But they forgot almost completely the accurate spirit of the law itself which is love to God and to men (Matthew 22:37, 39).

Heart Religion

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that man’s actions or outward works should be motivated by an inward divine love (Matthew 5:17–22). People thought they can be saved by external obedience to the law but the Savior taught that obedience must stem from the heart. He focused on the “weightier matters” which were mercy, justice, faith and truth.

Walking “in oldness of letter” can lead only to sin and death (Romans 7:5). For the unconverted life, has its main goal the gratification of the appetites of the flesh. But life “in the Spirit” is the opposite of that (Romans 8:9). The gospel of Christ teaches of God’s grace that enables people to offer spiritual service from pure and undefiled hearts (Acts 15:11). To be converted of the Holy Spirit means the creation of a pure heart and the renewal of a right spirit (Psalms 51:10). Thus, the believer no longer serves God from a sense of legal bondage, not from the oldness of the letter but in a new spirit of freedom and love (John 4:23).

The Letter Kills – The Spirit Gives Life

Paul gave the same message to the Corinthians when he said, “who 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” (2 Corinthians 3:6). The apostle explained to the believers that before his conversion, he was educated to be a minister “of the letter” of the law system to perform the external rules and regulation (Acts 22:3; Philippians 3:4–6).

But after the apostle’s conversion, God taught him to be a minister “of the spirit” of all God’s revealed will. Thus, the spirit of life in Christ Jesus had liberated him from that rigid system (Romans 8:2). And in obedience to his new calling, he had abandoned the ministry “of the letter” for that “of the spirit” (Romans 8:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Now he keeps the law moved by love to God and man and not by the “oldness of the letter” (Romans 3:31).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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