The Eternal Consequences of Legalism

The cross was an offense to some false teachers in Galatia, against whom Paul strongly preached. Jews had infiltrated the churches. They claimed to be Christians, but they brought a twisted, corrupted, distorted gospel with them (Gal. 1.6-9) as they attempted to bind the Gentile Christians under a host of Jewish laws which Christ had already eliminated through the cross.

Circumcision is not a sin in itself. Paul was circumcised (Phil. 3.5), and he even had Timothy circumcised for practical reasons (Acts 16.3), so he wasn’t condemning the actual act. He condemned it as a religious ritual as the Jews were teaching; they commanded all Christian men to be circumcised in order to be right with God. They made it a prerequisite to salvation.

In addition to circumcision, they also insisted Christians keep the special Jewish feast days (Gal. 4.10), adding them onto the list of things necessary for salvation. In other words, the Jewish Christians wouldn’t really accept the Gentile Christians as brothers until they measured up to their list of laws and demands.

Why did the cross offend these Jews? Paul preached against circumcision for salvation; the gospel eliminated the Law of Moses as necessary under Christ! He preached that Jesus abolished the Old Law and clearly stated that salvation is by faith in Christ apart from works of the law (Gal. 2.15-16). In fact, “if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2.21), and “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Gal. 3.21). But now that faith has come, we are not longer under the guardianship of the law (Gal. 3.25).

Christ has set us free in order that we may experience true freedom (Gal. 5.1). He has freed us from sin and law. The law actually binds us under sin, so Christ had to abolish the law in order that we might actually be free from sin! This is grace.

But grace offends the legalist (who believes he is saved by keeping a law) because grace says we are not saved by our work of keeping law; we are saved by Christ’s work of keeping the law and His awesome, powerful, sufficient sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. Just as the cross offended the Jews because it did away with their law, the cross offends legalists today because it does away with their law.

Who gets to make the list of laws which are necessary for entering into the kingdom of heaven? Only God holds that position. Is there a law Jesus expects us to submit to? Absolutely! If you don’t think so, you probably haven’t read the New Testament recently (you might refresh your memory starting with Matthew 5-7, Romans 6, James, and Galatians 5-6). But Jesus clarifies the place of law–law doesn’t save; He does. We keep His law because we are His children, not in order to make ourselves His children.

The legalist, however, so intent on keeping law, begins to make lists of actions and teachings which will keep a person out of heaven. Many such lists have been made which go far beyond gospel-level issues, and those lists divide good-hearted brethren. The legalist believes that eating (or not eating) certain meats will keep you out of heaven (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). The legalist believes that observing (or not observing) certain special religious days will annul your salvation. The legalist believes you must add this or subtract that from your life in order to be saved. Their additions divide and do violence to the body of Christ! And that’s why Paul so vigorously opposed the mindset of legalism.

Paul could have made a long list to show why he was “qualified” to be saved, but he counted all his so-called qualifications as loss, he said, “for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I my gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” (Phil. 3.2-10).

Let us refrain from binding fellow Christians to our lists of laws! If Christ said to do it, then we shall do it. If Christ said to avoid it, then we shall avoid it. But let’s not add to or subtract from what He has said, and let us not think that we are saved by keeping His laws. We’ve been saved in order that we might keep His laws. There’s a big difference, and that difference has eternal consequences (Gal. 5.4)!

One Thing Will I Seek

What’s the most important thing in your life, your absolute strongest desire?

Many Christians would reply, “Going to heaven” or “Being with God one day.”

If that truly is your main, goal, does your life reflect it? Do others know this about you? If I were to ask your best friend or spouse or parents, “What is his / her life’s passion?” what would they tell me?

David stated clearly in Psalm 27.4 the one thing he sought. It wasn’t going to heaven. It wasn’t one day being with God in eternity. It had to do with his immediate life.

One thing I have asked of the LORD,
that I will seek after:
that I may dwell in the house if the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire (or meditate) in his temple.

David wished to dwell in God’s house now, while he lived.

As you read David’s words, don’t they ring true with you? Don’t you feel how right they are? Doesn’t a fire well up inside your own heart, a reflection of the same longing David expressed–to know God?!

How can I dwell in God’s house, gaze upon His beauty, and meditate in His temple now? David and I seek God and know God the same way–through His word. Notice another passage from David: Psalm 119.11-16.

I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Am I ingesting God’s word on a regular basis? God has not given us some rule for how much we must read per day, week, or year, but He certainly shows us how important His word is! It’s really the only way to truly know God, because in His word God reveals Himself.

Our modern society scoffs at, disdains, and belittles the Bible, and it’s easy to feel as if the Book is actually an archaic relic best left on the shelf or coffee table. But for those who actually open the Book–watch out! It speaks just as powerfully today as it did to David and to Paul.

One thing I will seek–to know God, to experience God, to enjoy God. I will seek Him now, not wait for eternity. I will seek Him through His word, through Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God in the flesh!

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Psalm 27.8 ESV)

God Didn’t Save Daniel FROM the Lion’s Den

Don’t you love it when a brother or sister plants a new word in you? Last night I enjoyed a brother’s comment as he shared his thoughts from Daniel. He said,

“I noticed God didn’t save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace, but He saved them in the furnace. And God didn’t save Daniel from the lion’s den; He saved him in the den.”

What an excellent and biblical thought! How often is that true?

  • God saved Noah through the flood.
  • God saved Job through his terrible losses.
  • God saved Samson in his blindness.
  • God saved Israel through the Red Sea and wilderness wandering.
  • God saved Rahab in the slaughter of her city.
  • God saved Joseph through the pit, the slavery, and the imprisonment.
  • God saved Jonah in the belly of the great fish.
  • God saved Elijah in the wilderness, through famine and drought.
  • Jesus saved His apostles in the storm.

And we could continue indefinitely.

God does not always stop the bad from happening to us. He often allows evil to overtake even His most faithful. But He saves His children through and in the difficulties, tragedies, and atrocities we all face.

What an excellent word, my brother! And what a wise God we serve, for we don’t always know why He allows suffering and pain, but we always know He’s there in it to help us through it!

One Word to Answer: Why the Hate?

Why the hate? We can answer in a single word. In fact, it’s the same word I answered a frustrated brother last night when he asked, “Why are family relationships so complicated?”

This one word explains why the political left hates the right and the right hates the left. It explains why your child is bullied at school.

It explains why your spouse sometimes frustrates the living daylights out of you and why your children fight like two cats in a gunny sack.

Why did that 64-year-old accountant attempt to murder hundreds of people in Las Vegas?

Why do people question each others motives, attributing the absolute worst thoughts and intentions to those who do not agree with them?

Why do the Black Panthers, ANTIFA, and KKK exist? Why are white supremacy groups a real thing? Why do so many die each day in our world’s largest cities at the hands of gun- or knife- or club-wielding perpetrators?

You probably already know the one word answer:

S I N

Yes, blood-red, bold, abhorrent sin.

Wickedness exists. Evil exists. And it exists within the heart of man (Mark 7.20-23). No amount of legislation can fix this problem, because it’s not a political issue–it’s entirely moral.

The only way to stop the hate and violence is to change the hearts of the ones committing the violence. That really is the only way. Do not expect the government to fix this, because the government has not the power nor the understanding to deal with this. Only GOD can deal with this!

Folks, this is why we must constantly and consistently preach the gospel! Jesus Christ came to save sinners and to transform hateful people into those who LOVE. Jesus shows us what love looks like in His communication, His compassion, and His cross.

Jesus preached the remedy for sin, which also can be summed up in a single word:

R E P E N T A N C E

As we study through Scripture, we find that God works the wonderful gift of repentance in the hearts of His people, as we come to Him in faith. We give ourselves to God, submit to Him, and He works in us to rebirth us, repair us, remake us into the image of His beloved Son, so that we renounce our own hate and become agents of love who stand in stark contrast against the hate in this world. Jesus told His followers to be lights in a dark world, like a city on a hill which cannot be hidden (Matt. 5.14-16).

What is my responsibility in the face of the hateful, wicked actions all around me? First, I must repent of my own wickedness and hate. Second, I must love my neighbor as myself. Third, I must share the good news of Jesus Christ with others in order to spread His Kingdom, and as His Kingdom grows, so will love in this world.

Sin must die. Love must reign.

Let’s Preach the Pure Gospel

Last night, I listened to a brother recount a recent event. He had visited a nearby church (nearby to him–he lives in a different state than I), and they excitedly showed him their new tracts they were beginning to use in teaching the gospel. Interested, he began reading through it. The first section, he noticed, concerned hermeneutics, or rules and principles on how to interpret the Bible–important, no doubt, but not the gospel. The next section concerned ecclesiology, or the study of how God designed the church to be and to function. Again, he did not find the gospel there. The last, brief section informed the reader how to respond to the gospel.

I fear many Christians today are in the same state as the Galatian brethren to whom Paul wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you to a different gospel!” (Gal. 1.6). Some had perverted the gospel to where it looked kind of like the real thing, but it lost all its power because it ended up depending on man’s work and not God’s.

The gospel is God’s power unto salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1.16). If it truly is God’s power to save us, we should know it, shouldn’t we?! If we are to preach the gospel to unbelievers, we have to know what to preach! That’s a fairly simple concept.

But many don’t seem to know what to tell their neighbors because other teachings have obscured and even usurped the pure gospel. Must a man know how the local church is supposed to function before he obeys the gospel? Is it necessary he understand all the rules of how to interpret the various genres of Scripture? Folks, we don’t convert people to the church and we don’t convert people to a system of hermeneutics. We convert them to Christ!

“If you would be perfect,” Jesus said the rich young ruler, “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matt. 19.21). Following Jesus is that action which trumps all others, the one necessary thing, as Jesus chided Martha and praised Mary, “Only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10.42). Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him, and that was the one necessary thing. HE is the one necessary thing! Paul outlines his only goal in Philippians 3.8: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

We can’t teach the gospel without teaching about our sin, guilt, shame, and hopelessness. We can’t teach the gospel without showing the power of God, the glory of Christ, and His work on the cross! The good news is that Christ has already born the penalty for our sins and God saves us by grace through faith–salvation is HIS work and not ours–it is freely offered to everyone who will believe in Jesus Christ.

If we don’t preach that, we haven’t preached the gospel. All the other stuff is good to know, and, Lord willing, we will come to know it as we continue to walk in relation to our Lord and His word. But let’s not get the cart in front of the horse. Let’s preach the pure gospel!