Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Legalism

I have been accused by a few people who stumbled across this blog as making up rules that are not in the New Testament.  In other words, I have been accused of being legalistic.  I will admit that what I post is direct and uncompromising, but that is because the Word of God is direct and uncompromising.  I think the problem is that many people either misunderstand what legalism is or like to use it as an excuse.  The charge of legalism is a convenient excuse for those looking to be unaccountable to God's Word.  In order to take the legalism defense away, today I want to address legalism itself. 

Legalism can be defined in 2 ways, and I will address them both.  The first is adding to Scripture things never commanded by God and the second is basing your salvation on adherence to Biblical law otherwise known as salvation by works.  Both are wrong and should be condemned.  But what I also want to show is that the expectation of following God's moral laws is not legalism at all.  It is Spirit-filled Christian living, something we are all called to do. 

First let's see how God feels about the first kind of legalism, adding to Scripture things never commanded by God:
And He said, "Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers." Luke 11:46 NKJV
The lawyers He was speaking of are not the lawyers of today.  They were lawyers regarding Mosaic law and they were adding more and more to it than was ever intended by God.  When Jesus says "Woe to you" to anyone, its a pretty scary thought.  When God says "woe" there is woe. 

We are not to burden to man beyond what God declares in His Word.  We are not to add to God's Word.  That is legalism.  But is expecting Christians to live as God's Word tell us to be considered legalism?  Of course not.  Here is what God says in His Word:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
His Word is the guide for our lives.  Ignoring it is to our own peril. Not that we are saved by how well we follow His word, but it is a sign of our salvation and our love for God.
"If you love Me, keep My commandments." John 14:15 NKJV
and again
But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it."  Luke 8:21 NKJV
If you claim to love Jesus, the sign of it is keeping His commandments.  If you are the kin of Jesus by virtue of your salvation, the sign will be hearing and doing the Word of God. 

Think about this.  Would it be legalism to say that you should not commit adultery?  Am I legalistic in thinking homosexuality is sin?  Is it legalistic to say that we should not lie, cheat, and steal?  Of course not.  We are great at the big ones, but what about the ones that we consider to not be so big (though to God sin is sin).  Is a call against gossip legalistic?  How about getting drunk?  How about "appreciating" the attractiveness of someone of the opposite sex?  How about anger or coarse jesting or filthy language?  What about being jealous of someone having a better car than you? The Bible is just as clear on those things as they are on what we consider the larger things.  We like to ignore that because those are some of the things we commonly do.  We justify those things in our own mind as not being real serious like murder and we accuse those who would point them out as being legalistic.  The problem is that while it is bad to add things to the Word, taking things out of Word are just as bad:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. Revelation 22:18-19 NKJV
While that passage specifically applies to Revelation, it sets the principle that taking from God's Word is just as bad as adding to it. 

The other part of legalism is the premise of saying that we are saved by works and not through faith alone.  The Bible is clear that this is also wrong:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has  taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.Colossians 2:8-14 NKJV
This passage makes it clear that we are saved by Christ alone.  There is nothing more we need other than Christ for our salvation.  There is no law we can follow, no rule we can live by, or no work we can do that can add to our salvation.  We are complete in Christ.  There is no penance we can do for our sins.  First of all, it is pointless as the only penalty for our sins is condemnation to Hell, that is Spiritual death.  More importantly, though, Jesus already paid the penalty.  There is nothing more we can add to that, there is nothing more we should try to add to that.  We are complete in Christ. 

What of the argument that we need to somehow earn Christ?  That Jesus is there but for the worthy.  That argument is false on its face in that the whole point of the sacrifice of Christ is that we were not worthy of salvation.  What would be the point of Jesus dying for those unworthy of salvation if you then had to be worthy for Jesus?  Jesus desires all to come to Him just as we are and for us to then allow Him to change us.   But if you still are not convinced, here is some more of the Word:
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:8-10 NKJV
Our righteousness is bestowed upon us by our belief in Jesus and our salvation is granted by our confession of His resurrection.  We can not add to the righteousness that God has bestowed upon us as we have seen before in Colossians.  We can not do any work to add to our salvation provided by our confession of that faith.  Just in case you are still picky that confession God raised Him from the dead is a work, I will address that.  Confession is merely the expression of something you already are or believe in.  If I were to say "I am a man", did I just become a man by virtue of that confession or was it merely a confirmation of what I already believe? 

But what then do we do about verses like this:
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  James 2:20 NKJV
Legalists love verses like this.  They take it way out of context and use it to promote their heresy.  Yes, faith without works is dead, but works are not life to faith.  You can not create faith through works no matter how hard you try.  Here is how the Bible defines faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 NKJV
Faith involves something believing in something not observed.  Works is creating something to observe to confirm a belief.  The rest of Hebrews talks of great men and women of God who did tremendous things as a result of their faith.  If faith is the substance of things hoped for (our salvation) then where does not leave works?  Works can not be the substance if faith is.  Visible works do not impart within us invisible faith.  It is the other way around! Works are not the life of faith, faith is the life of works.  Hebrews 11 is all about works coming as a result of faith.  Whereas it is true that faith without works is dead, the same is true that works without faith are just as dead:
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6 NKJV
Works are a sign of our faith.  Our faith allows God to give us a new heart and new desires and one of those desires is to do works for God and to live righteously for Him.  Just as doctors check a body for a pulse to see if that person is alive, so should we check our works to see if our faith is alive.  The pulse does not impart life to the body, nor does works impart life to our faith.  But where there is life there will be a pulse just as where there is faith there will be works.  So while we see the error of the legalism of salvation by works, we also see the fallacy in believing that faith can be alive without works.  If you have no desire to do works, you need to check where your heart is with God. 

So there is legalism.  It is heresy and should be condemned just as it was by Jesus Himself.  But do not make the mistake of going to the other extreme.  No we are not saved by living righteously, but righteousness should be the result of our salvation.  We should not add requirements above what God expects of us through His Word, but we should also be careful to not take away from those commands.   Our salvation is not contingent on our obedience, but our obedience is a sure sign of our love for Him.   We are not saved by works as we can not please God with our works.  We are saved God through faith alone and just as a body is not alive without a pulse, so is our faith not alive without works.  Our salvation is not contingent on the works that we do, but our rewards in Heaven are and they are a sure sign to the rest of the world and even to ourselves of the faith we have in God. 
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV

2 comments:

  1. I love 2 Cor 5:17 NEW creations, that's us!

    Matt 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

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  2. I love that verse too. It sums up our new life in Christ so well. Legalism is alive and well, and your analysis of it was well done. Thanks for sharing and keep it up!

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