Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Liberated from Legalism 4

Freedom.jpgWe looked last week at legalism and freedom, and this week I want to give three days — with three points each day — of the way Paul’s letter to the Galatians shows how to live our way out of legalism’s clutches and embrace a life of liberation.

These are strategies for warding off the false charge that we are not accepted by God.
First, we need to focus on what Christ has done for us and not what our conscience says, our pastor says, our neighbor says, or what anyone else says. Christ, Paul says, liberated us — rescued us from this present evil age, which is code language in Galatians for at least the negative impact of legalism. Gal 1:4.
Second, if we are given to the temptation to be weighed down by legalism’s false charges, we can center everything on the gospel. The gospel is the work of God to liberate us. Notice these words of Paul for they show that we have to keep our gospel system clean and clear, and legalism is always an attack on the gospel:
1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel – 1:7 not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. 1:8 But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 1:9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! 

Third, I think Paul gives us another indication that can help us: we need to remember our story. Paul told his story, and his story was one of God liberating and empowering him through the gospel, and often our own stories can help us realize that legalism is a false charge:

1:13 For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. 1:14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 1:15 But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased 1:16 to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, 1:17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.
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John W Frye

posted March 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm

“…and legalism is always an attack upon the gospel.” Succinct, but powerful. And by implication legalism is always an attack upon the Holy Spirit because legalists always feel the need to prop up the gospel with additional rules, laws, guidelines, etc.

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posted March 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm

I love verse 16: “…I did not go to ask advice from any human being…” You can have assurance from God Himself.

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posted March 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I appreciate the power of personal story. It has meaning today in this postmodern era (or however you want to name our present context) and it did in Paul’s day – both for the individual and the audience.

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david yates

posted March 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

What has come to my mind re the second and third points is what if an Old Testament Jew (say 50 years before Jesus and Paul) had started teaching that circumcision etc were not necessary because righteousness was by faith, and got some followers: would some other Jews be correct to persecute the new ‘sect’, as Paul did later incorrectly?

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J. R. Smith

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm

The question of Galations seems to have been whether the Gentiles needed to circumcised in order to be saved. Somehow, our modern application of Galations is to blanket our entire Christian experience with a “no rules” approach: “Faith plus nothing.” However, I would point out that “faith without works is dead.” Also, we must address the question: if we are free in Christ, does that mean that we are free from a life of sin, or that we are free to sin? The apostle John says that “sin is the transgression of the law”. Law-abiding citizens walk free, in perfect liberty. It is the transgressors of the law who are in bondage. Read the rest of what Paul says. Late in his life he was able to testify that he had not transgressed any of the laws of his people. Paul’s point (“not by the works of the law”) is that not even keeping the law perfectly can atone for sin. There is now one atonement: the blood of Christ (although for a time God had instituted the sacrifice of animals until Christ should come.) Please do not assume that if someone values the Ten Commandments as applicable to our Christian lives today that they are trying to earn their salvation or add to their salvation by doing good works. Some who claim to “walk by the Spirit” or have God’s law “written on their hearts” tend to minimize the importance of the written word. However, let us remember the words of the Master: “IT IS WRITTEN…” How can we say “the law does not apply to us because we follow Christ”? Didn’t he obey the law? We are not free from the God’s law. We are free from the bondage of a life of sin(which is the transgression of God’s eternal law.)How wonderful to be freed from being a slave to sin!! And of course I agree that man’s attempts at adding to (or taking away from) God’s Word are always futile. And, we must note the diffence between the “traditions of the elders” (be they Jewish or Christian) and the words & laws of God and Christ.

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Jim Martin

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:48 pm

You are right re legalism being an attack on the Gospel. It is an attack when one is angry, strident, and trying to get compliance. It is also an attach on the gospel, thought subtly, from a kind, well meaning person who is fearful that behavior will get out of control without some imposed behavioral rules. Though the manner might be different, the result is that the essence of the Gospel is still undermined.

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