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)!

Does God Really Expect Perfection?

Are you good enough for God? Have you ever wondered if you were?

Just how good do you need to be in order for God to accept you? Surely He has given some indication of His standard of measurement so we can know for sure. In fact, God HAS declared a standard of measurement for those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes people think God was really strict in the Old Testament but in the New Testament He relaxes His standards so we can actually achieve salvation. Isn’t that what grace is all about? Doesn’t God give us an easier time today than He gave the Jews?

I don’t deny that we live in a better time and under a better covenant, but Jesus did not come to relax God’s standards! In fact, He clarified God’s moral standards, raising them in the eyes of a people who had been lowering them and stripping them of their power and righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.19).

At the end of Matthew 5, Jesus states, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How exactly is our heavenly Father perfect? Is He just kind of  perfect? Maybe “perfect” doesn’t actually mean perfect in the way we normally think of it. As people sometimes ask, “What does the Greek say?” The word (τέλειός) is translated through the New Testament as perfect, complete, mature. Oh good. I can see how I can be “mature” and not be totally “perfect,” so maybe I can relax the standard just a bit. Maybe God isn’t seeking full and total perfection (because, ha ha, who can achieve that standard?); maybe He just wants someone who’s “pretty good” (an admittedly fuzzy definition). But…whatever word we want to plug in there, it says to be perfect/mature/complete AS GOD Himself is perfect/mature/complete. That seems fairly unattainable!

Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1.15, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Again, Peter compares us to God Himself–we are to be the same kind of holy as He is! How do we adjust this so we can actually meet the standard?

We are not supposed to adjust anything! What God said, God meant, and we have no business trying to wiggle around until we feel comfortable. We ought to understand that God demands nothing short of complete perfection.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting you’re not, either.

What are we do do?!

Some theorize that we can become so mature in Christ that we can go for hours, days, perhaps even weeks without sinning. Really? And what do those theoretical pockets of perfection buy for you? Are you hoping Christ returns during one of your perfect hours? That sounds tenuous at best, and most of us haven’t yet come close to that theoretical perfection. I say “theoretical” because what these folks actually do is decided on a level of comfort they call “perfection,” and they lie to themselves thinking they have gone without sinning, when, in fact, God has said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8).

God tells us not to sin; then He says if we say we have no sin we are liars. It’s a no-win situation. We might as well give up, throw in the towel, go home and cry. Not! This is the GOSPEL message! God wants us to understand this–come to the end of ourselves–feel totally powerless and vulnerable, because only then will we give up on ourselves and cling fully and completely to Jesus Christ.

Jesus walked perfectly without sin (Heb. 4.15). He endured the cross for our sake (2 Cor. 5.14-15), and through Him God reconciles us back to Himself (2 Cor. 5.18)! How did He bring us back into relationship with Himself? He made Christ to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21)! He no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5.19), because He laid all our sins on the back of His Son, Jesus. Jesus swapped places with us–the righteous for the sinner–so God now looks at men and women who are in Christ as being righteous, holy, perfect.

But I’m not perfect. That’s right! Christ is. And God counts the perfect righteousness of Christ to my account and imputes all my sin to Christ’s account. Glory be to God! He didn’t have to do it, but He did, freely. And so I am completely saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Praise God today if you are in Christ because He has taken all your sins and counts you now as holy!

If you’re not in Christ, it’s of utmost importance that you come to Him! I pray He draws you and shows you the path to true reconciliation and freedom. Please let me know if I can help you on your journey.

Galatians: Hindered from Obeying the Truth

FreedomWhen you hear the phrase “obey the gospel” or “obey the truth,” what comes to mind?

Paul writes in Galatians 5.7, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Context is everything, so let’s back up a bit to examine our immediate surroundings:

1 Stand  fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Paul here deals with circumcision as a MEANS to obtain justification. He is not outlawing the physical act of circumcision, saying that anyone who has been circumcised has no hope of salvation. Far from it! Paul himself was circumcised–a procedure which was at that time impossible to reverse–and he most certainly was saved. Just don’t attempt to be saved by circumcision–that’s his point.

Free to PlayIndeed, if you attempt to obtain God’s grace by keeping the law of circumcision, you bind yourself to keep the entire law–and no one can do that! Remember Galatians 3.21: “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by law”? Those who were preaching circumcision as a means of obtaining a right standing with God “do not themselves keep the law” (Gal. 6.13). “The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

What’s worse, if you attempt to justify yourself through keeping the law, you are severed from Christ, fallen from grace! The cross of Christ has no meaning any more. Paul claims that if he still preached circumcision he would, in reality, remove the offense of the cross (Gal. 5.11). What is the “offense of the cross”? The gospel message is written in Galatians 1.4: Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” We don’t deliver ourselves; Jesus delivers us through His death–through the cross. Jesus “gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2.20) and “we are justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16).

Christ on the CrossBrothers and sisters, if you lean upon law-keeping as the means for your justification, you fail to obey the truth and are in a state of grave spiritual danger! Paul does not contrast the Law of Moses with the law of Christ; he contrasts

  • the Law with faith,
  • circumcision with the cross,
  • the works of man with the work of Christ.

In which do you trust?

Obeying the gospel, in the New Testament, is equal to (truly) believing in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10.14-17 and 2 Thessalonians 1.3-10). The mark of true obedience is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5.6). It’s a freedom from the law, but only because our flesh has been crucified and we now walk by the Spirit and in the Spirit (Gal. 5.13-26). Law still exists, and most of the world still stands condemned by the law, but those in Jesus Christ who believe in Him and have been sanctified by His blood will not be judged by the law. We have obtained mercy! Let us not return to the law but let us exercise our faith, through love serving one another.

What a blessed life, and what an amazing opportunity God has given through Jesus Christ!

Galatians: Praise Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer!

John17_LawVsGraceTruth_smPaul began defending his proposition that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16) by asking the Galatian brethren when had they received the Holy Spirit–by works of law or by hearing with faith? Of course, they received Him by hearing and believing the gospel, not by hearing and obeying a body of laws. The Jews, as a matter of fact, had lived their entire lives attempting to follow that body of laws yet, despite all their efforts, had not received justification.

Next, Paul demonstrates in Galatians 3.10-12 that those who seek to be under law remain under a curse.

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

What curse? All Jews familiar with their scriptures know the blessings and curses God built into their covenant. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they quickly came to two mountains–Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. From Gerizim they pronounced the great BLESSINGS God would give them if they remained faithful (Deut. 28.1-14), and from Ebal they intoned the litany of CURSES God would bring upon them when they wandered away into unfaithfulness (Deut. 27.15-26; 28.15-68).

Ten CommandmentsPaul gets pretty legalistic here. You might recall a few moments in Israelite history when Israel seemed to be doing okay and God was blessing them because of their faithfulness. But, in reality, the law actually demands a full, total, and perfect faithfulness to all aspects of the law in order to be considered righteous! And who has done that? Only one.

Even in the Old Testament God justified individuals the same way He does now–by faith. Paul pulls from Habakkuk 2.4, “the just shall live by faith,” to show that God justified even the Israelites by faith and not because of their keeping of the Law (praise God)!

We are not justified by law but by faith. We do not live by keeping law but by faith. These ideas of being justified and living go hand-in-hand, for the one on whom God shows His favor has passed out of death and into life (John 5.24); the one God justifies now lives, as once he had been dead in his sins (Eph. 2.1) and under the curse (wrath of God). Law brings curse and judgment; faith brings life and justification.

How can this be? Continue in Galatians 3.13-14…

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The CrossGive us the gospel again, Paul! Hammer it into us and make us full and rich, glowing in the light of God’s truth in Jesus Christ! That’s right–Jesus became cursed in our place. God provided a substitute for us who really deserve the curse, the beating, the mocking, the nails. He hung on that tree until dead, until He had erased our eternal pain and the condemnation of the law. He bore our sin and carried our sorrow so all the people of the earth could have access to the blessing of Abraham and receive that Holy Spirit unto salvation.

And God confirmed these promises by raising Jesus from the dead.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of what God has done. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer!

When and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

We noted Paul’s thesis for Galatians is Galatians 2.15-16:

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Then we asserted that God has never saved man through law.

In Galatians 3 and 4, Paul offers proofs as to why the law is powerless to save and, in fact, condemns those under it. Paul’s first point has to do with the process by which the Galatian Christians received the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3.1-9).

Sharing the GospelWhen and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

Understanding when and how we receive the Holy Spirit is vital! Is getting theology right really so important? To Paul, getting this gospel right was of utmost importance! Those who got it wrong were (and are) damned, severed from Christ, fallen from grace (Gal. 5.4), and Paul wished those who taught this perverted gospel would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5.12).

So then, how did the early Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3.1-9?

Twice Paul contrasts working the “works of the law” against “hearing with faith.”

  1. Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (3.2)
  2. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith–just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (3.5-6)

Notably, Paul never distinguishes between working works of the Old Law and working works of a New Law. No, he only contrasts works with faith, for the two are at odds, contrary to one another. One has to do with our own power and ability; the other has to do with trusting in God’s power and ability.

In Christ AlonePaul says the GOSPEL was preached to Abraham centuries before Christ ever came, and it’s encapsulated in the promise: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3.8). We who are of faith (in Christ) are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith! Just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3.6), it’s exactly the same with us–we believe God and He counts it to us as righteousness today. Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to this counting as righteousness, the Holy Spirit being an evidence of our justification.

No obedience to law is necessary to receive the Holy Spirit–only hearing with faith. But doesn’t faith obey, work, and submit?! Yes, but biblical, saving faith is born in the heart of man, while works of obedience and submission flow from faith. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel and believing in the gospel. They were baptized, it says in Galatians 3.27, into Christ, surrendering only to Him. Baptism is not a commitment to a law system; it’s a commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior!

Am I saying you don’t have to follow laws any more? Not hardly! Am I saying God doesn’t want us to do any works? No! God created us to walk in good works (Eph. 2.10). Jesus and His apostles taught that we should be obedient to the laws of the land, to our parents, ultimately to God. We must understand the place of law in a Christian’s life, which is Paul’s point of contention here.

Law cannot not justify or save, so what was it / is it for? We shall continue…

Galatians: Never Justified by Law

Moses and 10 CommandmentsSince the beginning of time, what is the most perfect law ever given whereby men might live? Is it not the law God gave at Mount Sinai through His prophet Moses? The Ten Commandments form the bedrock basis for all of the Law of Moses, which only Israel received. God personally intoned the Decalogue from the top of the mountain, and the people trembled when they heard His voice (Exodus 20)! God has not given another law which so perfectly establishes His concerns for mankind and His own glory.

But did God not give us a new law in Christ Jesus? Indeed, the New Testament mentions, even in Galatians, the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2), but I contend that Christ’s law does not nullify or replace God’s Mount Sinai laws (Matt. 5.17-19).

But doesn’t Hebrews speak of nullifying the old law of Moses and bringing in a new law in Jesus? With our digital access to the biblical texts, it’s easy to search for “old law” and “new law.” I challenge you to run a search on those two phrases and read every instance you find.

What’s that? You couldn’t find a single instance of “old law” or “new law”? Interesting.

Illegal ImmoralWhat you will find are references to “old covenant” and “new covenant” (Heb. 8.13; 9.2, 15; 12.24) and to a “first covenant” and “second covenant” (Heb. 9.1), but that’s not exactly the same as “old law” and “new law.” A covenant is an agreement between parties; law may be included within the covenant, but it’s not equal to the covenant itself. We would do well to distinguish between Old Testament moral laws (instructions towards holy living), ceremonial laws (such as sacrifice, temple worship, special days, and circumcision), and civil laws (such as specific penalties for breaking laws).

Jesus and His apostles continued to refer back to the Law of Moses for moral guidance. Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 for the Greatest Commandment and it’s human corollary (Matt. 22.37-40). He told a young man in Matthew 19.16-19 to keep the commandments in order to have eternal life. Paul often taught Christians using the commandments and the Law (Rom. 7.7-12; 13.8-10; 1 Cor. 14.34; Gal. 5.14-15; etc.).

JusticeMoral law has been the same since God created man. When has it ever been right to murder, to lie, to cheat, or to steal? When God spoke the Ten Commandments, He was not giving the world something new; He was instructing Israel in His character and in how they ought to live before Him! God’s moral law, then, displays His holiness and provides a means for us to understand our right place before Him. But it also condemns, giving judgments for violations.

If the Law of Moses contains the most perfect revelation of moral law since time began, then the way to have a relationship with God must have been through the correct keeping of that law, right? Wrong! This is Paul’s contention in the letter to the Galatians. Notice:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2.21)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3.11; and notice Paul quotes from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2.4, for this proof!)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Gal. 3.21)

Law has never given life, has never justified a man before God!

There is a huge reason that Paul never contrasts the “old law” with a “new law” in Christ. He always contrast the law with faith and grace. Just as the Jews were not and are not justified by law, neither are we justified by law. Any law.

Think on these things.