Not Legalism but Christ

 

by Mike Ratliff

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:6-8 ESV)

As one who has been accused of being a Pharisee bound to legalism more times than I could ever recount, I was very pleased today when I heard a definition for “legalism” that I had never heard before. This definition of “legalism” states that the “legalist” is one who attempts to make legal and binding what is never addressed to be so by God. For instance, I was taught growing up by my well meaning parents that even to take a sip of an alcoholic drink was a sin. I have read the Bible cover to cover many times and I know for certain that there is no such command in scripture that is even close to that admonition. However, I did find several references to not becoming drunk with wine or strong drink. Our Lord turned water into wine at Cana. He drank wine at the Last Supper. Paul counseled Timothy to take a little wine with his food to help his stomach. 

Now, I am not advocating that all believers need to become winos and alcoholics. No, what I am saying is that we should not try to place a legalistic limit on things that are not addressed in scripture as such. Legalism is harmful. It creates an artificial wall or impediment that causes many “weaker brethren” to stumble and doubt as our enemy torments them because of their failure to “live up to” a standard that our Lord and the Apostles never saw fit to place on anyone. 

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:9-14 ESV)

From this passage we see that Jesus Christ is fully God and all believers are complete in Him.  Think of it my brethren. All in Christ are in the one who is the head of all rule and authority. We are complete in Christ positionally by the Father imputing Jesus’ perfect righteousness to our account along with complete sufficiency of all heavenly resources for spiritual maturity. 

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the head of all rule and authority. He is the creator and ruler of the universe my brethren as well as the ruler of all spiritual beings. Paul was addressing a theological error in his epistle to the Colossians. This error stated that our Lord Jesus Christ was a created spiritual being made by God. No, He is Lord, fully God and fully man! All in Him have been circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. At salvation, we undergo a spiritual “circumcision.” This causes us to put off the body of the sins of the flesh. We are reborn thereby becoming new creations. This is why I adhere to “believer’s baptism” because the outward affirmation of what God has done for us spiritually or internally is “believer’s baptism” by water. 

Let us never forget where we came from my brethren. Before the grace of God touched our hearts enabling us to believe we were dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh.  The Greek word translated as “dead” here is “νεκρός” or “nekros.” This word is used to speak of natural death, but in the spiritual sense, as Paul used it here, it is referring to us being separated from the life giving grace of God. This spiritual state  is one of having the soul separated from the enlivening influences of the divine light and spirit just as a corpse is separated from the material light and air, and consequently having no hope of life eternal. My brethren this is the spiritual state of all people who are not in Christ. However,  all of us who are in Christ God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  All genuine Christians have been made alive together with Christ. This comes through union with Him and no other way. Do you see now that all of us were born into this life hopelessly dead in our sins and what a miracle our salvation really is? It is God who takes the initiative and extends the life-giving power to awaken and unite sinners with Christ. The spiritually dead have no ability to make themselves spiritually alive. All who are united with Christ are forgiven. Their sins are nailed to the Cross of Christ. 

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:15-19 ESV)

Paul tells us that the Cross of Christ spelled the ultimate doom of Satan and his host. As our Lord died on that cruel cross and was laid in the tomb His living, divine spirit actually went to the abode of demons and announced His triumph over sin, Satan, death, and hell and them. He put them to open shame. This is a picture of a victorious Roman general parading his defeated enemies through the streets of Rome. Our Lord won the victory over Satan and his host on the cross. They had intended that the cross be the method that would defeat God’s redemptive plan, but through it God defeated them as our Lord’s blood was shed to atone for our sins. 

Now, think of the imagery of this incredible victory by God on our behalf then think of what legalism does to what our Lord purchased for us with His blood.  Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. All in Christ have received freedom from all useless, man-made religiosity. Legalism is powerless to save anyone nor is it able to restrain sin. The things of legalism  are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. Remember what legalism is. It is an effort to make binding and “legal” what was never commanded by God for Christians to submit to. Asceticism is a form of religiosity that is based on a false humility. Look at the things we are to not be in bondage to my brethren. Haven’t we seen many today going on and on about angels? Then we have those who say their visions suppliant the Bible in authority. Then there are those who say, “God made me this way so He wants me to be a homosexual or immoral or whatever.” Some are even saying that the ones in sin are those who preach against those who refuse to repent of these sins. They are puffed up in their deception. 

On the other hand, what are we to do instead of submitting to legalism? We are to hold fast to the Head,  from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. Who is the Head? This is Christ. Remember, He is the Head and we are the Body of Christ. In order to be properly nourished spiritually so we can grow and mature, we must be in union with Him (John 15:4,5; 2 Peter 1:3). 

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23 ESV)

My brethren, Paul is telling us here to not be legalistic by saying, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” pertaining to things that are not denied us in scripture. This is not antinomianism, which proclaims that any call to obey God’s commands is legalism. No, we must obey our God. What we are talking about here is making artificial commandments of things according to human precepts and teachings. Paul agrees that these things have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  Isn’t that the point my brethren? This life on the narrow way is one struggle after another in battle with the flesh while living in obedience to our Lord. Self-made religion is powerless to help us do this my brethren. No, it is only as we are Spirit-filled (Ephesians 5 & 6)  that we can walk before the face of God, our Coram Deo, in victory. Forget legalism my brethren. It only causes us to rely on our own will power to try to walk in victory and that will eventually fail causing discouragement and strengthening the flesh in us. Don’t we want the opposite? 

Soli Deo Gloria!

15 thoughts on “Not Legalism but Christ

  1. Pingback: Not Legalism but Christ - Reformata

  2. A good post on what can be a very difficult issue. Growing up I saw many religions in which you were to do as you were told, period. I got in trouble with mom for some years before she saw the motivation in me behind the one word question I’ve learned to apply to what I do or don’t believe:

    “Why?”

    Mom thought for a while that I was just being annoying until she realized I really wanted to know why. So as I watched my Word of Faith friends and my Roman Catholic friends do and trust things they couldn’t explain, I asked “why” about everything under the Sun.

    Imagine my joy upon salvation in finding that God was ok with my asking why about Him. So, as I live and grow, I ask why. Why do I do this thing? Why do I believe this thing? Why shouldn’t I do this thing? I ask of God through the Scriptures and am often surprised at the answers.

    I also find that “Why?” can be a non-threatening question when witnessing as well. Except in the case of Catholic priests who seem to HATE being asked “Why” about doctrine even more than the Mormons! 🙂

    Blessings Mike, and thanks.

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  3. enjoyed reading that mikie…i really liked this…

    “We are complete in Christ positionally by the Father imputing Jesus’ perfect righteousness to our account along with complete sufficiency of all heavenly resources for spiritual maturity.”

    i said something very similiar to that myself lately…

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  4. Good post Mike!

    It’s amazing that many who are actually loving God and their fellow man are considered unloving and legalistic for holding themselves and others to God’s standards as found in His word. And the very ones who would call the obedient Christian a legalist are the very ones who teach as doctrines the precepts of men.

    Grace and peace,
    Olan

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  5. Thanks for touching on what is often a difficult topic.

    I am reading The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton which is an excellent book on the topic of “Freedom.” In the book he has a great quote to frame a right understanding of the law for the believer. He says:

    “’The law sends us to the gospel for our justification; the gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life.”

    What a great quote to give us, in few words, a right understanding of the law.

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  6. Wow Mike,

    Antinomians and legalists are the yin and yang of the flesh, two opposing forces that at best, bring the other to nought, but yielding nothing of value, no metanoia or repentance (Greek– μετάνοια).

    Flesh cannot overpower flesh, nor can soul overpower soul.

    Unless we live under the life-giving law of the Spirit, we languish in the necrotic world of corrupted flesh, yoked unequally and dreadfully to the antinomian and legalist — hard to imagine a worse prospect.

    In Christ.

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  7. I’ve grown up in a strict church and as I’ve gotten older and studied more for myself, I know now what I believe despite what people say. Whenever I have questions (I even question myself because I try to be open-minded) about scripture, I go to my mentors and ask. I was told that in regards to alcohol, they ask the workers (volunteers and employees) at the church not to drink. I didn’t notice that before so I began to ask why, because I didn’t see it as a problem. They apparently had a problem with me going to a birthday party and having one martini…. maybe twice a year. My motivation of having the drink was to feel that little tipsy-ness that loosens me up a little. Is that bad? I don’t think so… but I do not agree with being drunk. I think it should be done in moderation and when someone is drunk… it shows the lack of self-control in their life.

    Although, in regards to being a volunteer/leader at the church I’m under their authority, so whether or not I agree with it does not matter. I still should respect them as my authority and honor that which is asked of me.

    Also, I heard a wonderful sermon one time (which if you want I can give you the link to) about Christianity becoming List-ianity. I think that when people began to let Christianity become a list of do’s and don’ts it becomes “list-ianity.” When we view it that way it steals our joy as believers. We will either do two things – we began to feel as if we will never amount to everything on the list, so we feel inadequate, never good enough, never going to be holy as we’re called to be. OR we live our lives devoted to the list but judging everyone around us who has a drink at a bar, says a curse word, watches a rated R movie, etc. He never meant for Christianity to be that way. I don’t believe Jesus meant for it to be a religion. He meant for it to be a lifestyle.

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  8. Autumn wrote: “Although, in regards to being a volunteer/leader at the church I’m under their authority, so whether or not I agree with it does not matter. I still should respect them as my authority and honor that which is asked of me.”

    This is almost certainly an area in which I require additional guidance, but I have a real issue with church leadership laying burdens on their volunteers or congregants that is not explicitly required in the scriptures. Perhaps it is just my naturally rebellious nature, but I have no problem following their direction when it aligns with the direction from my King and theirs. But when they decide to place additional restrictions or requirements beyond biblical direction (not necessarily “against” biblical direction…just additions to it), then I find myself feeling quite confident in a mentality of simply ignoring these extra-biblical precepts.

    To me, that is a slippery slope that can lead to some pretty ugly places. If one were to only “dishonor” their authority if it actually violated scripture, then one could quite easily find oneself in a rather oppressive situation. For example, what if the leadership decided that all volunteers should give 25% of their gross salary to the church? That is not in violation of any scripture…yet it is extra-biblical to be certain (especially as it applies to New Covenant Christians).

    Oh well, perhaps God will shave a bit more off my “rough edges” before the sanctification process is complete. 🙂

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  9. Pingback: Have you ever been accused of being a Pharisee? « TRUTH or the consequences

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