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Missing the spirit
- Jacob Ninan
It is the Holy Spirit who gives us true understanding of the truth. That is why, when we have been born again by the Spirit (Jn.3:3), our eyes get opened to see the truth of the Bible in a way that we were not able to see earlier. But being born again is not enough when we want to understand the things of God, because we can still look at words in the Bible with their literal interpretation without seeing the real truth. If we do that we can misunderstand the truth because the 'letter' kills and only the Spirit can show us the truth (2Co.3:6).
The Pharisees are typical examples of those who knew the Bible in the letter but missed the spirit. (Here I am using the word 'spirit' to refer to the actual intended meaning of the words, and not the Holy Spirit.) For example, they heard Jesus mention in one context that if He alone was testifying of Himself, it wouldn't be true (Jn.5:31). Later on when Jesus said that He was the light of the world they pounced on that and said that it couldn't be true because He was saying so Himself (Jn.8:12,13). It is this kind of legalistic approach to understanding the Bible that has misled many people even now.
Look at the passages in 1Pet.3:3,4 and 1Ti.2:9,10. Some people take this extra-literally and assume that God is commanding women not to use gold jewelry, special hairstyles or special clothes. But what is the spirit of these passages? It's that godly women are those whose focus is on the inner life rather than on what they wear, etc. When people misinterpret these passages they insist on meticulously avoiding ornaments (especially gold!), etc., but may end up with no difference in their inner life compared to the other women around them. What a tragedy!
Some people quote Jesus saying it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, in order to justify smoking or drinking (Mt.15:11)! That is again a legalistic approach. But what Jesus was referring to was the defilement of our heart or spirit (vv.17-20) which is ultimately what God is looking at (1Sa.16:7), and He was not saying that we can eat or drink anything we like.
We can see many people of different religions including Christianity paying great attention to the dress they wear, the way they pray, the details of keeping festivals or rituals, etc. They get very agitated when one of their external practices gets broken. But they miss the whole point that true faith is about the heart and our relationship with God on that level. What is the use if our external life fits with the norms but inside we are sinners like everyone else? Jesus compared this to beautiful tombs, inside of which were rotting flesh and bones (Mt.23:27).
When we 'shine' externally, people are impressed. But God looks at our heart and may see something very different there. What we need to do is to connect with God in our heart through the blood of Christ, and then walk before Him all the time, accountable to Him and open to His corrections (Ge.17:1).