Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Legalism: Doing All the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Legalism: Doing All the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons

Legalism is a contradiction against the doctrine of grace. However, legalism is much more subtle than we might imagine in its deception regarding spirituality. We are all by nature legalists. When I say we are legalists by nature, I mean legalism is part of our fallen nature. We think that if we try hard and do our best, we can stand before God and be accepted by Him. We think that as long as we are trying our best to do what God’s Word commands, we are being spiritual. Simply defined, legalism is the religion of will power. God hates it!

1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith” (Galatians 3:1-5)?

Spirituality cannot be produced by fallen beings. Secondly, just because we are saved does not mean that salvation is a magic wand waved over our lives that changes our fallen heart (spirit). The sin nature has not been eradicated in our salvation. Yes, it was “crucified with Christ” (Rom. 6:6), but we must, as Scriptures tells us, “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11). This is what Christ referred to in John 15:5 when He said, “without me ye can do nothing.”

This is a Truth that we MUST grasped by faith. If we have grasped the Truth that our sin natures were “crucified with Christ,” then we will understand our new position in Christ and our new potential for spirituality through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we yield our hearts (wills) to Him. Salvation saves our souls from eternal damnation (Rom. 8:1), but it does not change our hearts in any way. Our hearts (spirits) are still carnal and corrupt. There is still no good thing in our hearts. Even though we might want (will) to do good, we cannot produce God-kind righteousness or spirituality through our corrupt flesh. Even though our souls are saved by grace, our hearts (spirits) are dead apart from the inner workings of the Parakletos (John 14:26). Growing in grace is the moment by moment process of being transfigured from within by a progressive act of creation by the indwelling Holy Spirit as we yield our wills to Him. You cannot change yourself apart from the supernatural workings of the indwelling Creator.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23; compare II Cor. 3:18; 4:1-2 and 6-7).

The questions are rhetorical. No, the black man cannot change the color of his skin. No, the leopard cannot change his spots. Either of these situations would require a new creation or a re-creation. Their DNA would need to be changed before these things could be affected. In salvation, the death sentence upon sin has been satisfied (God is propitiated). The baptism with the Holy Spirit has removed the saved sinner from the condemned realm of the first and cursed creation and translated the believer's soul into “the regeneration . . . in Christ.” However, the saved sinner still has the same old heart problem.

5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. 6 For he shall be like the heath {naked and destitute} in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. 7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. 8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. 9 The heart is deceitful {incurably sick or corrupted; i.e., it cannot be healed or repaired} above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways {chosen pathways of life}, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:5-10).

Even though the sinner’s soul has been delivered from condemnation, our hearts are still corrupt and cannot produce God-kind righteousness apart from a supernatural partnership (“fellowship”) with the indwelling Spirit of God (the “divine nature;” II Peter 1:4). Legalism is when we try to do God’s will apart from supernatural partnership (“fellowship”) with the indwelling Spirit of God. Paul tells us in many places in the Scriptures that this supernatural partnership (“fellowship”) with the indwelling Spirit of God is what defines allowing Christ to live through us.

19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 21 I do not frustrate {atheteo; ath-et-eh'-o, i.e., set aside or neutralize/nullify} the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Legalism is trying to live the Christian life through your own will power; through the self-life controlled by your own will power. What a sad state of affairs such nonsense produces and what enormous frustration it produces in the lives of those seeking to live this way. This frustration is shown in Romans chapter 7 as Paul gives us the scenario of his own life under the Law (Mosaic Covenant) as he tried to live for Jehovah through the self-life of will power.

1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:1-6).

The text continues in the context of “dominion” from Romans 6:14. The two unions (marriages) refer metaphorically to the Old Covenant in Adam under the governance (dispensation) of Law and the New Covenant “in Christ” under the governance (dispensation) of Grace. In Adam and under the Law, the believer did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Law was limited in what it could accomplish. The Law only provided external benefits through the external leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Law was a child leader, constantly pointing and directing the believer to faith in the Coming One (Messiah) through endless sacrifices. The Law sought to keep the believer from the destruction of sin through building fences that externally restrained the believer’s life producing an outward form of righteousness. Regardless of how great a relationship the Law provided to the Old Covenant believer in the external workings of the Spirit of God “upon” the believer’s life, the Law could never enable a believer to produce the fruit of God-kind righteousness through the believer’s life.

Romans 7:1 actually begins with the Greek word e (ay). It can be translated and, but or or. I believe the context (the sentence is a question) demands the translation or. William R. Newell (Romans Verse by Verse; Moody Press) translates it; “Or are ye ignorant, brethren. . . ” The beginning word “or” of Romans 7:1 is critical because it connects the context of Romans seven with Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14; “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Without this context connection, we would lose much of what Romans chapter seven is teaching.

In the Fall, the whole first creation was infected with a spiritual virus called Sin. That spiritual virus was genetically passed on through procreation to every descendant of Adam corrupting each individual from within corrupting our hearts (wills or spirits). To be a descendant of Adam means to be born “in sin.” David said it like this: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). The word “iniquity” in this verse is from the Hebrew word `avon (aw-vone'), meaning perversity or the punishment of sin (i.e., condemnation); referring to the medium in which his body grew and was formed in the womb of his mother. The words “in sin” are from the Hebrew word chet' (khate), meaning the penalty of a crime. David acknowledges that all descendants of Adam (including himself) are both formed in the womb in condemnation and conceived in condemnation. This will be critical to understand in contextual continuity leading to Romans 8:1; “There is, therefore, NOW no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus . . .”

The spiritual virus that Satan infected the whole first creation brought immediate spiritual death (separation from God, meaning the opportunity for fellowship with God) to everything it infected. The affect of that was not immediately apparent (Adam and Eve knew they were naked, revealing moral consciousness in their spiritual death, but the empirical evidence of their separation from God was not yet apparent in that they continued to be alive physically). The fact that they did not immediately die physically reveals the continuing realm of God’s grace allowing them time and opportunity to repent and receive the gift of God’s redemption, forgiveness and salvation through faith in the Promised One of Genesis 3:15 (see Revelation 13:8). Although all human beings are born spiritually dead, they too are given the grace of time and opportunity to repent and be saved.

Every contact of God with the fallen human race is an act of His wondrous, abounding grace. The question of Romans 6:1 is referring to the infected realm of Sin. “Shall we continue living our lives in the realm of sin, that grace may abound?” Or, should we move our new lives into the realm of the New Creation “in Christ” where “we have access by faith into this new realm of grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2)? Just as we are saved by grace through faith, we must practically move our new lives “in Christ” into the realm of Grace “by faith” (“the justified shall live by faith,” Romans 1:17) in order to produce God-kind righteousness through our new lives “in Christ.”

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

Today very few people can grasp Paul’s attitude toward the Law and the ramifications of what he is saying because few people today have grown up under the Law as he did. Paul does not speak of the Law as a bad thing. In fact just the opposite is true.

“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12).

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11).

When Paul speaks of the Law with a negative connotation, he is referring to the Law as a religion in itself (the self-life or righteousness by will power) as taught and practiced by Judaism (particularly Phariseeism; i.e., Legalism). This is the Law Paul knew and grew up under. He addresses Romans 7:1 to people who had a similar experience with, and knowledge of, the Law as he did. Today, this would also apply to the vast majority of professing Christians living under liturgical/sacramental/sacerdotal Christianity. Although different than Judaism in its practices, this type of Christianity is the same in its Legalism.

We hear a verse of Scripture like, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me(Psalm 66:18), and we simply decide we won’t “regard iniquity in” our hearts so that God will hear our prayers. Of course, the reality of our fallen natures is that we “regard iniquity in” our hearts as part of our fallen natures. Therefore, repentance before God and humbling ourselves before God goes far beyond what we do in acts of disobedience. Repentance before God and humbling ourselves before God is the constant acknowledgement, first to ourselves and then to God, that we CANNOT be what God wants us to be apart from His supernatural workings in our lives through the operations of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Until we grasp that spiritual reality, we are doomed to live a life of legalism and producing nothing through our lives but “wood, hay, and stubble” (I Cor. 3:12).

If this is true (that we are at best, due to our fallen nature, Legalists and can never obey God’s commands “from the heart”), why then did God give the Law? The answer is found in Romans chapter 6.

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