The letter kills but the spirit gives life. This is a universal truth because life comes from ‘being.’ The whole is more than the sum of the parts. Unless our being is rooted in the ‘being’ of God what we claim as the whole will really be ‘parts’ and we will promote weakness and fragmentation in the name of wholeness and holiness.
Before we begin to live in the Spirit – which is a progression and a growth - we may well imagine that we live in the spirit and those others live in the letter. What is for certain is that we cannot live in the law and be in the spirit at the same time. The law is innately reductionist and life-denying.
The ‘being’ that is the source of our life is personal and relational. The trinity is three in one and the trinity is love and joy, and much more because it is the ultimate expression of all that is alive. So when Paul quotes, ‘In Him we live and move and have our being,’ he is directing us to the core truth of the universe. All that we call life and joy is realised in union with God. We have this union through Jesus Christ. We possess it by believing that we do and walking in the reality of Jesus our life.
We can ‘know’ something in ‘the letter’ and deny it in everyday life. We can assent to a truth and proclaim is as a fact of our belief yet deny it in practise because it’s not part of us. It is not who we are and really the opposite of who we are because we are a ‘what’ instead of a who. This is how we can get to be a worker and a slave despite our best intentions and sincere beliefs because we are the children of the slave woman – the children who are the progeny of some who attempted to make the will of God happen by human manipulation. We need to be before we can do with the insight and fruitfulness that multipoles spirit and life.
We might say that unless we know something in God we do not really know it in fullness. ‘For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires’ Hebrews 4.12 NIV. This is the penetrating life of the living word. Never the dead word of the law.
When our ‘knowing’ is the result of our ‘being’ in God, we can expect to have the sharp discernment of the living words instead of the muddied vision of the letter that kills. Our ‘knowing’ has agency in this context because in Jesus we are part of God’s being as sons. Worshipers in spirit and truth are part of the family of God. Worshipers who are focussed on places and times belong. But not in spirit and truth as Jesus implied when speaking to the woman at the well. It is spirit and truth that enlarges our life. Richard Rohr observes,
“It does little good merely to assert doctrines or passages of Scripture and, because people assent to them, to assume that they have any existential knowledge of what they are talking about. You can perfectly assent to .. belief in the Real Presence, for example, and be totally incapable of presence yourself - so there will be no inner experience and no transformation of the self. One will manipulate or use the very doctrine for ego enhancement purposes and control. This is likely what Jesus is referring to when he quotes Isaiah 2 9: 13 in his Sermon on the Mount: "This people has all the right words, but no change of heart. It is all just a lesson memorized, a human commandment." (1)
We can have a notional relationship with God or we can have one of divine substance in spirit and in truth. It comes neither by striving or by merit but by believing the truth.
Because Jesus is a human being and the Son of God, you belong to the heavenly family and the community of the saints. We can belong in spirit and in truth and live as sons of God or we can belong in theory as in a marriage that is long dead or has never been alive. Jesus spoke of this the difference between wheat and tares. We are the Bride of Christ. For this to have meaning in spirit and in truth we will have followed Jesus’ instruction to realise and live in this truth: On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14.20 NIV.