Saturday, December 6, 2008

Invent No Other

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.


Bob said...

Great post. Take a look at How sanctification works for a great metaphor for how the gospel works to sanctify us (not just save us).

rose mawhorter said...

I took something slightly different from the Internet Monk's article. You say:

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."

I think that Spensor's legalist doesn't even acknowledge the Jesus died for your sins part. His legalist's "gospel" is about how God wants to change you rather then how he wants to reconcile you with God.

I think that in discussing legalism we need to be careful. The bible says that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. There is a component of discipleship that necessarily urges people to flee from sin and explains what sin is.

I suspect that you would agree with me here. I suspect if you led someone to Christ you would then encourage them to leave their mistress. Our Christian walk is full of repentance and it is appropriate to show people areas in which they need to repent. The heart of our ministry is in proclaiming the gospel, the forgiveness of God through the cross and then teaching them to obey all that he has commanded (Matt 28:19,20). I'm guessing you that you agree but that you simply overstated your case. Am I right?

I hope that I didn't come off sounding too edgy. I'm not angry or annoyed. I do agree that legalism is a scourge of the N. American church. The heart of all repentance is the work of Jesus on the cross and his work of transformation within our hearts. I've simply run into a lot of Christians that are so opposed to legalism that they preach that all talk of sin is legalism. That's why I jumped in with my comment. I do appreciate your blog.

Nate said...


Not at all. I'm glad you're willing to give me your thoughts. I don't normally discuss legalism, because I think it's an over-hyped issue, and rants against legalism don't usually offer any solutions except "don't be legalistic."

In my humble opinion, to never talk of sin is almost proof that legalism(or some sort of idolatry) is present. It's also to compromise the Gospel.

The question this post raises is "how then does one become sanctified?" When the Bible says "all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," I believe the primary way it does this is in the application of the Gospel. I am to be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in and by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Prohibitions and moral imperatives are to be seen in the light of the Gospel. Paul does this marvelously when he follows up declarations of the Gospel with exhortation.

You're right, I'm not against showing someone their sin and telling them to stop. It just has to be understood(and this is the heart of my post), that as justification happens apart from works of the law, so does sanctification. We are sanctified "by grace through faith" as much as we are justified that way. Thus I would amend your statement slightly to say "The heart of our ministry is in proclaiming the gospel, the forgiveness of God through the cross...and then the ongoing transformation of your inner being through the cross as well." And yes, I would include teaching as part of that transformation. Because the Gospel not only provides forgiveness for past sin, but a repentance leading to a new kind of fruit. Nothing else is capable of doing this. So, what the legalist needs to know is that the most productive discipline towards true holiness is dwelling on the Gospel(or "abiding in Christ" as John puts it and, I believe, primary among Jesus' commands to be taught to disciples).

rose mawhorter said...

I think that we're on the same page here. I find it difficult to figure out how to word my convictions on this subject carefully enough to avoid sounding like I'm preaching the law or against repentance.

I appreciated your explanation of how the we are both saved and sanctified by grace through faith. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. I completely agree with you.

NaNcY said...

i appreciate both posts and the comments as well.

nAncY said...