The "spirit of the law" spoken of in the New Testament (in passages such as Rom. 2:29 and 2 Cor. 3:6) is revealed to and in a believer through the Holy Spirit, not through self-indulgence, not through self-righteousness, not, in fact, through "self"-anything but through God Himself.
Knowledge of the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law is at the very core of the new life granted to the children of God through Christ. It is part and parcel of the freedom bought for us at the cross and absolutely essential to fully experiencing that freedom. The opposite errors of legalism and license that have plagued so many Christians through the centuries are both derived from a functional ignorance of what Jesus came to deliver His people from and both lead back to spiritual bondage.
In the case of legalism this ignorance manifests itself in a futile attempt to earn our way to God through self-righteous moral scrupulosity. Legalism may be based on codes of conduct obvious or implicit in either the Old or New Testaments, but in each case it is manifested by works that originate in the self rather than in the enabling power of God.
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