Not Legalism but Christ

by Mike Ratliff

6 τοῦτο γινώσκοντες ὅτι ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος συνεσταυρώθη, ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίας, τοῦ μηκέτι δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ· 7 ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας. 8 εἰ δὲ ἀπεθάνομεν σὺν Χριστῷ, πιστεύομεν ὅτι καὶ συζήσομεν αὐτῷ, 9 εἰδότες ὅτι Χριστὸς ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν οὐκέτι ἀποθνῄσκει, θάνατος αὐτοῦ οὐκέτι κυριεύει. Romans 6:6-9 (NA28)

6 Knowing this that our old humanity 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:6-9 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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 heavy drinkers. 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.

9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:9-14 (NASB) 

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.

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 2 Peter 1:2-4 (NASB) 

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, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the 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 (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 He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the crossAll 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.

15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. Colossians 2:15-19 (NASB) 

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 no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 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 mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which 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 entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which 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).

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23 (NASB) 

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 are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence 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 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!

2 thoughts on “Not Legalism but Christ

  1. I remember arguing/teaching these same points in a So.Baptist church in the early 80’s ,before I was told I could leave and go to a reformed church…I did, an OPC church had just opened up near Westminster Seminary ,Calif.

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  2. You are fortunate. Back in 2006 when I was going through the same thing I confronted our pastor and several of the other deacons at our SBC church and was told that the door was right over there, but we struggled to find the right church for the next 5 years until we moved out of the KC area back to OKC.

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