Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Defining Legalism - Part 1
1. Theological Error tends to resist definition.
So you have to wrestle it to the ground like a strong dragon and force it to define itself, then stab it through with the sword of truth.
2. Legalism, as theological error, resists definition.
But we must wrestle some definitions out of it anyway, so we can spot it when it raises it's multiple destroying heads.
3. New Covenant Scriptures allude to legalism in three genres or forms:
a. legalism for INITIAL salvation, e.g., baptismal regeneration, or "you must be circumcised", or the most popular among pagans, "do more good than bad in your life".
b. legalism to RETAIN salvation, for example, the Seventh-Day Adventists, who officially teach salvation by grace, but then teach that we must follow certain laws and practices or we lose it.
c. legalism to earn God's love and favor after we're born again, too common even among Reformed believers, and may be the slipperyest dragon of all to wrestle a definition from.
4. All legalism can best be defined by what it is not, i.e., Grace.
If it's not Grace, it's legalism.
Grace is the element that most defines the New Covenant, a unilateral work of God which not only imputes His righteousness to us, but actually "reborns" our spirits, making us new creatures who love Jesus and hate sin in our new natures.
1 Cor. 4:7 says, "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" If it's not All of Grace, it's partly of legalism.
5. Legalism is more insidious, more destructive, and more evil than is commonly thought by believers.
It's not just a "difference of opinion" or a "different slant" on things.
Rom. 6:14 makes a profound statement that the Church in general has missed: "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."
Legalism literally robs us of the very ability to keep sin from being master over us. When law is used in any way in regard to the above three genres of legalism (for intial salvation, to retain salvation, or to earn God's love and favor), then one has "fallen from Grace" (Gal. 5:4), gotten on the ground of law, and two things happen:
1. One quenches the Holy Spirit by spurning His Grace, and
2. One inflames sin, since the law is the "power of sin" (1 Cor. 15:56).
When one gets on the ground of law, off of the ground of Grace, there are two typical results:
1. One thinks they are performing pretty well as compared with others, and becomes prideful, or,
2. One thinks they are perfoming poorly as compared with others, and despairs or loses the joy of their salvation.