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Legalism
By: Robert Berendt (published October 2, 2014)

Recently I had a conversation with a "born again" Christian who seemed like a very happy man. He said he was as free as a butterfly and had no restrictions and no guilty conscience, but he did have total freedom to fly where he wanted to fly and land where and when he wanted to land. He knew I was a minister because he happened to come into the business office of a hotel I was staying at when I was working on a sermon. I had my Bible open at the time. He boldly proclaimed that he was not a "legalist" and by that he meant there was no set of laws to live by - but that he was dead and Christ was living His life over in him. I listened without comment until he seemed finished. Then I asked him if there were any restrictions for a butterfly. Was there nothing affecting its flight? We discussed the laws of flight, gravity, energy, wing type and other factors that obviously show that the butterfly had freedom only when it remained within the laws that governed its life and flight. He could see that by perfectly functioning within the physical laws, a butterfly would have liberty and freedom - but only as long as no laws were broken.

Since this man seemed to know the Bible quite well, I asked him why Jesus Christ was born into Judaism. His comment was that Jesus was born "under the law". I then asked why he thought God allowed the early church after Christ to have only the "Torah" or Old Testament to teach and preach from. That Jesus used the OT to explain who He was. From the same Torah, Jesus taught the 12 disciples and multitudes. The NT was not written until 20 to 60 years after Jesus' resurrection. Most disciples did not read the NT before they died. He agreed that this was so. I asked why God would choose 12 disciples who were almost fanatical Jews to be the foundation or the new church. Sixty years later, John, the last living disciple wrote that New Jerusalem would descend from heaven and on its foundations was written their names (Rev. 21:14). He had not looked at it that way.

Just as I was about to deliver my punch line - he stated that he needed to go to the bathroom. We shook hands and I went to my room thankful that I could get a little sleep as it was late. He went his way but I knew God loved this man (John 3:16). If anything came from our words it would be God who did it. All glory goes to God for any good that we may do. We are only made of dust, but God said He made the mouth and tongue - who knows whether God had brought about this rare and chance meeting? It is so comforting to know God does not let us boast or take any credit. We do not deserve His praise. We dare not forget to give God the honour and glory as Moses once did (Num. 20:12). We are reminded that we are to give an answer when asked (I Pet. 3:15), But that is to be done humbly and meekly - always sanctifying God. Peter had much to say about how we are to live and one of his points was that since Christ suffered for us, we are to arm ourselves with His mind and cease from sin (I Pet. 4:1-4). Peter went on to remind everyone that "in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (I Pet. 4:11). Paul also wrote strongly about the certainty that once we are under grace or forgiveness, we are not to sin (Rom. 6:1-4). God defines sin in the Holy Scriptures as lawlessness or living without the law (I John 3:3-6). John flatly said that anyone who sins does not know God. There are many Scriptures speaking against sin.

It is clear that God expects people to come to understand what sin is - and then to repent of it. That repentance leads toward baptism and accepting the blood of Jesus Christ to wash away our sin - and then to His glory, we are to continue to live a life worthy of His sacrifice - a life free of sin - a life in which we struggle and fight to overcome everything within us that is contrary to God and His way. In other words, once our sins have been forgiven, we are to shun the actions that required the precious blood of Christ - we fight with all our might not to sin. Many people overlook the terribly serious message that Jesus left for John to write in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. Jesus said that Christians or followers who do not overcome will not receive eternal life. John wrote that each one would receive "according to your works" (Rev. 2:23). It is as simple and as serious as that. It never was "once saved always saved" but has always been saved by grace and now go and sin no more. James clearly stated that his faith would be reflected in his works (James 2:18). He was inspired to write that God expects us to lay aside all filthiness and wickedness and receive the word of God - and then be doers of that word (James 1:21-24). The mirror before us is God's law, which defines sin. This needs to be properly understood - the 10 Commandments directly from God and laws through Moses. Obeying God and striving to put our life in order by following the commandments that He so carefully wrote on stone with His finger - is not legalism. Jesus advocated obedience to the Commandments (Matt. 19:17). The only voice recorded in the Bible that advocates not obeying God is the voice of Satan that rings out from the Garden of Eden. The definition of love we show toward God is the keeping of His commandments (I John 2:4). The liar in all of this is the attitude of Satan (John 8:44). How tragic it is that Satan has filled so many minds with the thought that Jesus erased all our past, present and future sins - so we can do what we wish and not sin. That is a sin.

Legalism has been defined in many Christian writings as the excessive and improper use of the law, where the law includes the 10 Commandments, holiness laws etc. Some go on to break this concept down into three other points. (1) Keeping the law in order to obtain salvation. (2) Keeping the law in order to maintain one's salvation. (3) Judging others for not keeping the law according to the standards of the person judging. There is no argument about the first point. We humans cannot gain our salvation by keeping the commandments of God, but we have lost our salvation by breaking the commandments. That must be true or we would not need a Saviour. Christ came and shed His blood in order to take from us the penalty of breaking the laws of God (I Cor. 15:3). God sent Christ to be our Redeemer and Saviour because through ignorance, being deceived or human weaknesses, mankind would not keep God's laws. Paul noted that through one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:18,19). Christ lived a life of obedience to God's laws so by His death and sacrifice He became the perfect, innocent, sin-free Passover Lamb. The sins of all who accept that sacrifice are forgiven. We humans are utterly helpless to pay the penalty for our sins - except to die (which is the penalty Rom. 6:23). Only because Jesus died in our stead can we stand before God washed and clean (I Cor. 6:11). But it is incredible that people would think that the great price that was paid to remove our guilt also allows us to continue to do that which brought about the need for His precious blood. We know that if a person gets into great debt, he must pay or possible lose all his assets. We can declare bankruptcy which means we do not have to pay what we owe - but once that is done, it is expected and demanded that we learn to handle our finances. We cannot once again just slide into great debt. The system does not allow that. Neither does God! (Heb. 6:4-6). We are being judged - and God's word is our mirror. Wilfully sinning leads to death. Death is eternal non-existence for those not found written in God's book of life (Rev. 20:12-15). The book of life is reserved for those who are saved by Christ and who walk as He walked (I John 2:2-7). Don't let Satan deceive you - he hates you.



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