Thursday, July 14, 2011

Defining Legalism - Part 1 of 2

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 performing poorly as compared with others, and despairs or loses the joy of their salvation.

Part 2 of 2


Cheryl Kaster said...

Hi Terry, Thanks for this. A group member on Organic Church Movements posted this and this is something that I have a tendency to fall into so I want to know if it is possible to print this out so I can keep it close by?


Tony said...

Hi Terry, we talk about grace all th time, but actually I think there is a very thin line that barely separates grace & legalism. if it was al grace in the new covenant how did Ananias & Saphira die. If it is all grace before and after salvation, why would God impose judgement on sinners?

Sharing my thoughts

A confused Man

Terry Rayburn said...


So sorry I just read your post, which must have slipped past me in July.

Of course you may print out anything from this blog.


Terry Rayburn said...


There are different kinds of legalism.

When we say "all of grace", we mean that no works are involved in 1) earning our salvation, 2) keeping our salvation, 3) earning God's love and favor.

In other words, He saves us, keeps us saved, loves and favors us totally by grace, apart from any works of ours (that doesn't mean we don't do good works, but they don't aid in our salvation or His love and favor).

Regarding Ananias and Saphira,

1. It is usually assumed that A & S were born-again believers because they were "members" of the local church. Nothing in the Scriptures says they were. They might have been, but I personally believe they were not believers at all.

2. Formal doctrine should virtually never be based on the Book of Acts, because it was a rather wild transition period between Old Covenant and New Covenant, and between national Israel and the grafted-in Gentile believers. Better to establish doctrine on settled truth as taught in the comparison of the Gospels and Epistles.

3. Having said the above, God's killing of A & S was not eternal judgment nor against their best interest, but only loving chastisement of a strong nature (if they were born again). If they were NOT born again (my theory), then the cleansing of the early Church by their punishment served as a wake-up call to other pretenders, who would better live as open pagans then as pretend Christians.

4. In any case, it still remains true that neither salvation, nor God's love and favor is dependent on works.

Hope that helps. Blessings,