The Gospel-believing Christian In the Midst of Legalism
By the iMonk. Great, comprehensive post on an issue that I don't currently have a lot of direct exposure to, but then I'm probably in a category of about .5% of the population of Christians. Here is my thought on legalists:
Because no Christian with any conscience whatsoever would outright deny the Gospel, the legalist decides there must be amendments to it. It goes something like this: "You're saved and all, and God loves you, and Jesus died for your sins, but now you need to change."
As someone has put it: If you're saying "yeah, it's by grace alone, but..." then you don't believe it's by grace alone.
Because you're endorsing a system that assumes the Gospel has the power to forgive your sins, and usher you into heaven after you die, but something else is necessary for compelling obedience to the Lord's commands, sanctification, being a faithful disciple, or transforming the culture. So when Christians become saved by the Gospel but do not then exhibit perfect behavior, the Gospel is jettisoned, and a new method is taken up- that of laying out expectations for how they will act, issuing behavioral imperatives, the use of guilt and fear as motivators, 12-step programs. The needed paradigm shift for the legalist is that the Gospel is all-sufficient in its power. That is it not only erases guilt for past sin, but liberates from future sin as well.
A popular version of this in Charismatic circles is to come upon some Magickal Procedure(i.e. "there's this secret prayer hidden in the Old Testament, full of power to liberate you and meet all your needs!) needs to take place in order to gain success. Often there is a special timeframe attached to the magic spell also(Pray this prayer..........NOW!!).
One last popular lie: Legalism, or at least a swing in its direction, is an appropriate reaction to seeker-sensitive ideas, or those who are "soft on sin." But still, somehow, this assumes that the answer to licentiousness is a "balance" to be gained through greater use of law. But it seems Biblically that the Gospel is useful not only to transform those bound under the Law, but also those who observe no law but their own lusts. In fact, a million dollars goes to the one who can find a Bible passage implying that too much grace enables licentiousness. The Gospel is always the needed antidote. Please invent no other.
In other words, people who think the Gospel is a good tool for some purposes and times but other tools are needed as well, probably don't know what the Gospel is. Teach them.
P.S. Just looked at an ad for 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese: "God allowed Wiese to spend time in the devil's lair, and now he shares what he saw, heard, and felt." In the reviews, people are eating it up. Ahem. I may be accused of jumping to conclusions for never having read this book. But the above statement is almost certainly a lie, and the premise of the book- no doubt to frighten believers out of backsliding and unbelievers out of unbelief- is Exhibit A of Gospel +__________. Unbelievable. The Gospel really is enough.