Christian Legalism (Part 3): The foolish ignorance of opposing God’s Grace

Grant Swart

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient “ (1 Tim. 1:8-9).

At the heart of Christian legalism is a denial of the truth of the Gospel, and therefore a denial of God’s Sovereignty, of His Son and of the work of His Holy Spirit. It places God’s people into cruel, oppressive bondage and replaces the perfection and completion of the salvific work of Jesus Christ, with sick, depraved human traditions. Speaking out against the error of legalism, as I have done previously in Parts 1 and 2 of this article, by accepting the example set by Jesus, in no way constitutes creating a licence to sin. There are no two things in the world more directly opposed to one another than law and grace.

Righteousness and our acceptance by God can never come by way of legalism. Neither can justification, nor sanctification. By no means do I intend to indicate hereby that true, saved believers are antinomian (against the law), which seems to have become a fashionable term being bandied about with much self-righteous zeal. The boundaries which govern that which constitutes true antinomianism are subject to a million varied interpretations, remain practically undefined and are all subject to human interpretation. However, many legalists seem to be under the impression that every true believer who opposes legalism and works based salvation, or for that matter is found to have committed sin, is by definition antinomian. 

It is no coincidence that those who stand in strong opposition to the biblical doctrines of grace are also those who seem obsessed with and in bondage of various forms of historic and humanistic legalism.  These slaves of human nature are bound to obedience by the heavy chains of law which are not applicable to the Christian. The true born child of God is bound willingly by the gentle cords of love.

Never does the true born child of God say that he has a license to sin, or that he is free to break the law, as some have accused my previous articles of inferring. However, he does refuse to become entangled again with the yoke of bondage. The true believer will never again be burdened by and made subject to the old covenant of works, or try to obey or impress God by way of a legalist’s principles. Believers are dead to the law and alive to God, by Jesus Christ. The true believer recognizes the reason for the existence of the law; and he has the highest regard for the law. It is his desire to comply with the law, and recognizing the law’s perfection, he refuses to seek acceptance with God on the basis of legal obedience. The only way sinners can honor, fulfill, and establish the law is by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:31).

(A). “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). Christ is the end of the law as the fulfillment of it, as the satisfier of it, and as the conclusion of it. He is the end of the law for righteousness, justifying righteousness and sanctifying righteousness.

(B). The Lord Christ, having lived in obedience to the law as our Representative, has redeemed us from the curse of the law by dying under the penalty of the law and satisfying its justice as our Substitute (Gal.3:13). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus!”

(C). All who are in Christ are dead to the law (Rom. 7:1-4). There is absolutely no sense in which believers are alive to the law. We are alive to and married to Christ alone. Those who claim to be married to Christ, who wear his name, and still sleep with Moses are adulterers.

(D). Being dead to the law, every child of God is free from the law. “Ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15).

(E). The law was given to be a schoolmaster unto Christ (Gal. 3:19-26). Since Christ has come, the schoolmaster’s work is over. It has done its job.

(F). The only way any one can fulfil the law is to fulfil it perfectly; and the only way to do that is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:31).

(G). All true believers are ruled, motivated, governed, and constrained in all the affairs of their lives, not by the threat of the law, but by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14).

I am highly indebted to the wonderful work of Don Fortner for the use of the following excerpts which further address the stifling darkness brought about by the prohibitive and anti-Christian practice of Christian Legalism.

1. WE ARE NOT UNDER THE LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE

Romans 6:15

Before I am castigated as a vile, base man who is opposed to God’s holy law because I dare to assert what Paul by inspiration declared, let me plainly declare that I love God’s holy law and would never attempt to lower its demands. I fully realize that only the law of God can define sin (Rom. 3:20; 7:7), check the evil that is in the hearts of unregenerate men (I Tim. 1:8-10), and establish guilt (Rom. 3:19). I have never taught, implied, or imagined that anyone, (especially a believer), is free to break any commandment of God.

I simply assert that the only way any sinner can fulfil the law is by faith in Christ and that all who truly trust the Lord Jesus Christ do fulfil and “establish the law” (Rom. 3:31). I do not look to the law for justification, but to Christ. I do not look to the law for sanctification, but to Christ. I do not look to the law for motivation, but to Christ. This is precisely what the Word of God teaches me to do,and I have stated my doctrine in the very language of the inspired writers (I Cor. 1:30; Heb. 10:10, 14; I Cor. 1:19, 20; Rom. 12:1-2; Tit.2:11-14; 3:5-8). Christ is my Sabbath. Trusting him, I have ceased from legal works forever and now have entered into rest in him (Heb. 4:3-10; Matt. 11:28-30). Being married to Christ, I am dead to the law (Rom. 7:4). I anticipate all the glory and fulness of heaven as the reward, not of my obedience to the law, but of Christ’s obedience and my union with him in whom I have all things (Rom. 8:17; I Cor. 3:21).

This doctrine does not inspire licentiousness, or any disregard for the commandments of God. Rather, it inspires me to love and seek that which honors my God. It motivates me to strive in all things to do that which I know to be his will. Grace has taught me to trust and love my God and Savior, not law. I fully acknowledge my sin. It is ever present. It mars all that I am, all that I think, and all that I do. Yet, I am at peace! Trusting Christ, I am free from the law that would otherwise terrify and condemn me (Rom. 8:1). Having tasted “the glorious liberty of the sons of God,” I will not go back to legal bondage!

Let men rant and rave all they will, let them ascribe to us the most hideous names and insults they may invent, we will not be moved. We will not, we dare not entangle ourselves again with the yoke of bondage, in the plainest language possible, Paul asserts that “we are not under the law, but under grace”. Having been redeemed by Christ and called to life in him, we are no longer, in any sense whatsoever, under the law. The Mosaic law has nothing to do with the believer. In Christ, we are dead to the law. In his Representative Life, we have perfectly obeyed the law’s requirements. In his Substitutionary Redemption, we have fully satisfied the law’s penalty. We who believe were crucified with Christ. And the law can have no claim upon that man whom the law has already slain. In Christ we are free! We have no more curse from the law, no more covenant with the law, and no more commitment to the law. THERE IS NO ROOM IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF GRACE FOR LAW! The bondwoman and her son must be cast out!

Does this make believers careless and negligent? Certainly not. The slave must be bound to obedience by the heavy chains of law. But the true born child is bound willingly by the gentle cords of love. If you need the law as a motive or rule of life, to keep you in line, it is very unlikely that you are an heir of the family. The children of God do not need laws, rules, and regulations. WE NEED NO LAW BUT THE LAW OF FAITH AND LOVE. We are motivated by gratitude, not by fear. We live by faith, not by legislation. We are governed by love, not by dread. We do what we can in the service of Christ, not because we fear punishment or desire reward, but because we seek the honor and glory of our Father in heaven.

We may be called “Antinomians”, and evil men may find in our doctrine an excuse for their willful ungodliness; but we will not be moved – “WE ARE NOT UNDER THE LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE!”

2. DEAD TO THE LAW

“Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” Romans 7:4,

When Jesus Christ died as our Substitute under the penalty of the law, he silenced its thunderous threats and broke its power of condemnation. The sentence of the Lawgiver against the transgressor was satisfied in our representative – “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”

As Christ has fulfilled the types of the ceremonial law, he has abolished the obligation of believers to the moral law. The handwriting of ordinances that was against us, he has taken out of the way, nailing it to the cross. It was an ancient custom to cancel bonds with a nail. And our Lord has cancelled the law against us, being nailed to the cross.

All are agreed that Christ did away with obligation to the ceremonial law. But, many are still as Ishmael, under the bondage of the moral law. Brethren, it was the moral, not the ceremonial law that had the power to condemn us. And it is this law’s curse which Christ nullified by his death. The ceremonial law of sacrifices was the gospel in shadows, appointed for the relief of men. The ceremonial law was a foreshadowment of our justification in Christ. This was not contrary to us. Our Savior died under the power and force of the moral law in his life, our Substitute rendered the exact requirements of the law in perfect obedience. In his death, he received its full penalty and execution. And in him we died.

By the cross of Christ we are dead to the law. The law can have no power over us until the virtue of our surety’s death has ceased! And that cannot be. Now, when the blood of Christ is applied to our hearts by faith, we are not brought under the law. We are freed from it and married to Christ. Fixing our eyes upon the righteousness and shed blood of Christ, we sing with the full assurance of faith –

Free from the law, O happy condition!

Jesus hath bled, and there is remission!

Does this mean that believers are antinomian (against law)? Perish the thought! Never does the true born child of God say that he is free to sin, free to break the law. But we do refuse to become entangled again with the yoke of bondage. We will not be brought again under the covenant of works, obeying God by a legal principle. Our principle of life is, “the love of Christ constraineth us.” We live by faith in Christ’s satisfaction of the law, and walk by the heart principle of love to God and our fellowmen. We are dead to the law and alive to God, by Jesus Christ.

This gives us comfort and freedom. The law can only bring fear and bondage. Righteousness can never come by the law, neither for justification, nor sanctification. Brethren, let us live by faith in Christ, not frustrating the grace of God, “for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

3. THE BELIEVER AND THE LAW                       

Romans 7:9

That person who knows the proper place of the law and the glory of God’s free grace, the person who can rest in Christ alone for all that the law requires and all that justice demands, knows the gospel. But that person who mixes law and grace, in any measure whatsoever, as a matter of acceptance before God, has not yet learned the gospel.

There are no two things in the world more completely opposed to one another than law and grace. They are as opposite as light and darkness. They can no more agree than fire and water. Like oil and water, law and grace simply will not mix. The Scriptures are explicitly clear (Rom. 11:5-6).

Yet, there is an amazingly well-established opinion in the distorted minds of men that law and grace will mix! Though law and grace are diametrically opposed to one another, the depraved human mind is so void of spiritual understanding and so thoroughly turned away from God that the most difficult thing for man to do is to discriminate between law and grace. Man insists on mixing that which God has positively put asunder. Because of his foolish ignorance, man wants to find some legal standing before God. This is the thing which Paul opposes throughout all of his epistles. He expends every effort to destroy every remnant of legalism among God’s people. Look one more time at the plain, obvious statements of Holy Scripture.

“Ye are not under the law, but under grace…We are not under the law, but under grace?…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…For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 6:14-15; 7:4; 8:3-4; 10:4). “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25). “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient “ (1 Tim. 1:8-9).

Does this mean that Paul was opposed to the law; or that he thought the law was an evil thing? Certainly not. In his seventh chapter of Romans, the apostle shows us the believer’s attitude toward God’s holy law. The true believer recognizes the purpose of the law; and he highly reverences the law. It is his desire to live in perfect compliance with the law. And recognizing the law’s perfection, he refuses to seek acceptance with God on the basis of legal obedience. The only way sinners can honor, fulfil, and establish the law is by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:31).

With gratitude to Don Fortner

I started this posting with 1 Timothy 1: 8-9: “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient.

I end it with this question: In this verse, are true believers those who have been made righteous by the Blood of Christ, or are true believers the lawless and disobedient? Are righteous men also lawless and disobedient? According to this verse, they cannot be both at the same time, and the law is only for one of them.

Christian legalism is practiced by the foolishly ignorant who actively oppose God’s Grace.

Also read the previous articles :

Christian Legalism: Mission Impossible (Part 1)

Christian Legalism: The Dark Side of Christianity (Part 2)

 

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