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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Law and Grace # 16

Dangers of Putting Christians Under the Law

1. There are at least three possible ways in which a theological system can be constructed for the purpose of putting the Christian under law.

a. A system which would place the Christian under the total law, including all its elements and penalties. This is pure Judaism.

b. A system which would place the Christian under the moral law and its penalties. This is moral legalism.

c. A system which would place the Christian under the moral law stripped of its proper penalties. This might be called a "weak and beggarly" legalism (Gal. 4:9).

2. It is this third system that deserves the severest criticism.

a. It employs an un-Scriptural terminology, taking only one element of the law and divesting even that of its sanctions, and then calls it "the law of God." In the Bible "the law" is a unity which includes all its elements with its penalties.

b. Claiming to honor the law of God, the system actually dishonors the law, especially because it reduces the holy law of a holy God to the level of mere good advice, comparable to some of the legalistic functions of the United Nations organization.

c. This ultimately moves in the direction of theological disaster, bringing and compounding confusion into our views of sin, of salvation, of the work of Christ and even of the doctrine of God.

d. Worst of all, this abstraction of the moral element from the ceremonial element in Old Testament law, and its imposition upon the Christian as a rule of life, has a grave spiritual and moral danger. For it is precisely this ceremonial element which provides the context of grace for the moral element, and this context of grace provides the great motivating principle which secures the fulfillment of the moral element of the law. Thus this kind of legalistic morality defeats itself.

3. The Word of God condemns unsparingly all attempts to put the Christian believer "under the law." The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gave to the church the book of Galatians for the very purpose of dealing with this heresy. Read this epistle over and over, noting carefully the precise error with which the writer deals. It is not a total rejection of the gospel of God's grace and a turning back to a total legalism. It is rather the error of saying that the Christian life, having begun by simple faith in Christ, must therefore continue under the law or some part of it. This is clear from the apostle's indignant charge: "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?" (3.2-3). Little wonder that he begins the chapter with a cry of astonishment. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth ...?" (3:1).

And having pursued his devastating argument against this type of legalism through chapter 3 and into chapter 4, showing that the redemption of God in Christ has set us free from all the bondage of law, he again asks with irony, "But now,after that ye have known God, or rather are know of God, how turn ye again to  the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" (4:9). And then he adds, "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain" (4:11). "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" (5:7). As for the preacher who had introduced this heresy among the flock, Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "He that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be" (5:10

That this matter was no mere case of theological hairsplitting (as some today are accustomed to charge) is made clear in the very beginning of the book of Galatians. In seeking to add some modicum of law to the gospel of God's grace, these legalistic teachers are preaching "another gospel" (1:6). Paul hastens, however, to add that what they are preaching is really "not another" gospel at all, for the very meaning of the term "gospel" excludes all works of law. And so, strange as it may seem to some, for anyone to add any law (no matter how worthy) to the simple good news of God's grace in Christ, is actually to destroy the gospel as gospel! It is no longer gospel at all! If even the smallest item of the law should be added to the gospel and made binding upon believers, so that the requirement now becomes "believe" plus something else in order to be saved, the soul which accepts this "plus something else" automatically becomes "a debtor to the whole law" (5:3). For such a one, the apostle warns, "Christ shall profit you nothing" (5:2).

And so the problem becomes very simple: Either Christ will save you by grace through faith plus nothing, or He will not save you at all! As a matter of fact, even an omnipotent God can save sinners in only one way - that is, by grace. Because of what God is and  because of what we are, there is no other way. Paradoxical as it may seem this is one place where the addition of something finite actually results in a subtraction which is infinite. Such is the mathematics of grace. If the sinner adds anything, he loses everything. If he adds nothing, he wins everything.

Understanding this, we can then accept sympathetically the ultimatum of Galatians: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 17 - "The Standard of Life for Christians")

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