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06/06/2009 / Test All Things

Christianity Vs Legalism

I read the following statement in an article — “The truth of the finished work of the cross will set you free from religious Christians who attempt to control and manipulate by attempting to put you under law for righteousness.”

The problem with such a statement is that it fails to recognize that legalism is not simply another form of Christianity, nor is it simply an error into which Christians may fall. It is true that Christians must fight legal thoughts and ideas all of their lives here on earth. This is one of the main areas of the warfare of the flesh and the spirit. But to say that legalists can be Christian is opposed to the plain testimony of God’s Word, yet I am amazed at how many can speak of legalists as if they were Christians. I heard a man say one time concerning a preacher, “He’s a legalist but he preaches the Gospel.”

This is impossible. Consider the following —

The Gospel is God’s promise to save sinners, give them complete salvation, including the work of the Holy Spirit in them, and entitle them to the whole inheritance of eternal life and final glory, all based solely upon the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ freely imputed and upon all them that believe (Romans 3:22). The Gospel excludes all the works of all sinners as forming any part of the ground or condition of this great salvation. The Gospel excludes the sinner’s efforts at obedience as forming any part of that which saves him, keeps him, makes him fit and qualified, or entitles him to any part of salvation. In fact, the Gospel demands that sinners embrace and rest in Christ as their whole salvation and repent of such thoughts.

Legalism is any notion of salvation or any part of it based on anything other than the imputed righteousness of Christ. When any preacher, no matter what else he says, introduces anything done by the sinner or anything done in the sinner as making that sinner more saved, holier, more fit and qualified, or entitled to any part of the inheritance and reward of grace, that preacher is preaching legalism. He may say that Christ’s righteousness is the only ground of salvation. He may even say that Christ’s blood and righteousness is the only way that God can be just and justify the ungodly. But if he does not make it clear that Christ’s righteousness alone entitles the sinner to the whole of salvation and the entire inheritance, he has not preached the Gospel. If he does not make it clear that all the works and efforts of sinners are totally excluded in this area, he has not preached the Gospel. This is usually revealed when such preachers deal with sanctification, holy living, and perseverance.

I have heard preachers say that man may mix grace and works, but according to God’s testimony this is impossible too —

Romans 11:6
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

If the preacher mixes works and grace, it becomes works. It is deadly legalism. No sinner will be saved under such legal thoughts —

Ephesians 2:8
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Ephesians 2:9
Not of works, lest any man should boast.

and…

Romans 9:31
But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

Wherefore?

Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Someone may object,

“But what about the Galatians? They became legalistic in their thinking.”

This is true, but what did the Apostle Paul tell them?

He told them that if they continued to think that way, as they were deceived by false preachers and unskillful in the Word, they could not be called Christians. He told them that if they remained in bondage under such legal thoughts, they would reveal that they had never truly and savingly believed the Gospel.

Galatians 5:1
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Galatians 5:2
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

Galatians 5:3
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

Galatians 5:4
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Consider this — A Christian is one who trusts in Christ alone for all of salvation, who pleads His righteousness alone as his full entitlement to the whole inheritance of grace. A Christian is one who follows the Gospel of Christ and His teachings. Christ’s Gospel nor any of His teachings promoted legalism. A person who is a legalist, no matter what else they claim, is a lost person. All they promote is dead works and fruit unto death. True Christianity is the exact opposite as it promotes salvation by God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ Jesus.

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