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The Cost of Legalism

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 22, 2022 12:01 am

The Cost of Legalism

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 22, 2022 12:01 am

The gospel and its blessings should produce joy in our lives. When Christians find themselves lacking joy, it may actually be a symptom of legalism. Today, Derek Thomas looks at the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of legalism.

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False teachers had infiltrated the churches in Galatia. The fullness of times had come, and God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law to redeem those who are under the law, to bring them out of that bondage.

But now they're going back into that bondage again. Legalism, that's the issue in the church in Galatia. That's why Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, and he didn't mince any words. Out of love for them, but in no uncertain terms, he reminded them of the gospel and the glorious benefits of being adopted into the family of God. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. This is a lesson we should heed today, because it's so easy to think that there's just a little more we can do to earn God's eternal favor.

Here's Dr. Derek Thomas to explain why there's a cost to that kind of thinking. Lesson eight begins with a question. Whatever happened to your joy? Where did your joy go to? Turn with me to Galatians 4 and to verse 15. Galatians 4, 15. What then has become of your blessedness? And we're looking at the section that begins at chapter 4 and verse 8 down through verse 20.

In our last lesson, you will remember, we ended on the top of the Himalayas or Everest or Picure Mountain, but we were at the very high point of Galatians. You are no longer a slave, but a son. And if a son, then an heir through God. Verse 7. And Paul has introduced the doctrine of adoption.

Part of Paul's strategy here to the Galatians who are enmeshed in a form of legalism is to remind them of who they are and what they are. They are in Christ. They are adopted. They're no longer slaves. They are children of God, an heir of God, a joint heir with Jesus Christ.

Now, as we transition to verse 8, he draws the contrast between adoption and sonship and what they once were when they were outside of Christ. And what they were were slaves. Formally, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. Idolatry is the heart of sin, making idols and worshiping them. And in this case, they are prone to make idols of certain laws, certain laws that are no longer in force. What the Judaizers, we're calling them Judaizers, but this segment in the church in Galatia calling upon these believers to obey certain ceremonial laws, food laws, circumcision, and in this case, calendar laws. You'll notice in verse 10, you observe days and months and seasons and years. Perhaps they were imposing upon the Galatian church dependence upon the calendar of the Old Testament. And they would have one foot in Judaism and one foot in Christianity.

And it was a form of slavery. These laws, these ceremonial laws had been fulfilled in Christ. They were there to bring the people of God to a knowledge of their sin and to a knowledge of their need. And they were pointers to Christ. And once the fullness of times had come and God sent forth His Son, born of a woman made under the law to redeem those who are under the law, to bring them out of that bondage.

But now they're going back into that bondage again. Legalism, that's the issue in the church in Galatia. Now, perhaps we need to remind ourselves that in another context, Paul might have said along with Jesus, if you love me, keep my commandments.

So run that you may obtain the price. If he was in a context where believers were antinomian, they had no respect for the law at all. Paul would have a different message. But here in Galatia, the issue before them is legalism. Obeying man-made laws or obeying laws that have now been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Paul isn't opposed to obeying the moral law. He's not opposed to the Ten Commandments. We'll see in chapters 5 and 6 that Paul makes many, many requirements of the Christians in Galatia. But he wants to deal with this legalism, and it's a snake, and he wants to put his foot on it.

He wants to crush it. And there's a symptom of this legalism. And one of the symptoms of legalism is the loss of joy, the loss of blessedness. So, let's look at this passage under three headings, as though Paul was a doctor, and he's examining a patient. And I want us to look at the symptoms, the diagnosis, and the treatment. The symptoms, the diagnosis, and the treatment.

The symptoms. Verse 15, blessedness. What then has become of your blessedness? It's suggesting, isn't it, that religion, Christianity in Galatia had become difficult. It had become duty. It had become a set of rules. It had become a set of obligations to meet.

It's subtle, isn't it? What are the marks of saving faith? It's a question we often ask ourselves. If you love me, keep my commandments. One of the marks of saving faith is a desire to keep God's commandments.

Well, how much do I need to keep them in order to maintain my blessedness? And it's a spiral of despair, isn't it? That before long, we're not good enough, and we're, as it were, sitting on the benches. We're not actually out playing the game.

We're just sitting on the benches, and we're filled with uncertainty. I am to have measure of joy. But how much joy? I'm to demonstrate a love for my neighbor.

But how much love for my neighbor? Or perhaps more subtly, I'm to demonstrate a certain quality of repentance. How much repentance? How much feeling do I need to have for that repentance to be genuine, for that repentance to be good enough to assure me of my status as a child of God?

And before you know it, salvation is all about you, and it's all about your effort, and it's all about your ability and continuity in keeping God's law. Christianity becomes a treadmill, and you don't get off this treadmill, and you're filled every moment of the day with anxiety and with uncertainty, and you lose the blessedness. You lose the joy. You lose the assurance.

You lose that confidence of who you are in Jesus Christ. It's like the person who's constantly working. He works all day, gets into the office early, comes home late. He's constantly checking his email at the dinner table. When he's talking to his wife, he's constantly texting, checking his email before he goes to sleep.

He just has to write one more email. He wakes up in the middle of the night and reaches out for his phone just to see if there's more that can be done. And Christianity can become like that. It can become all about duty, and it can be all about performance and all about rituals and laws, and the joy has gone. And there's no sleep. There's no sense of peace in the heart, in the soul. You're constantly tired. You're eating badly.

You're not exercising, and somebody is barking in your ear all the time to do more and to not stop and don't get off this treadmill. Helmut Tillichke describes this condition, the glum, sour faces of many Christians. They'd rather give the impression that instead of coming from the Father's joyful banquet, they have just come from the sheriff who has auctioned off their sins and now are sorry they can't get them back again. And that's the condition of many Christians. Joyless Christianity will…well, it will eventually kill you.

You need to be aware of that, the danger of it. Well, that's the symptom, the loss of joy, the loss of blessedness. Well, let's look at the diagnosis, and the diagnosis, as I've been saying, is legalism. Now, we need a correct definition of legalism. For some people, legalism is any obedience to God's law, any sentence that is to God's law, any sense of demand or obligation. And some Christians will use the word legalism when what they mean is, I don't want to obey that law right now because it's not convenient for me right now in this period of my life.

And I know it's part of God's law, and I know I should keep it, but it's inconvenient for me right now, and I'll deal with that by calling it legalism. And that's not legalism. It's not legalism to obey the moral law. If you obey the moral law in order to be justified, that's legalism. If you obey the moral law of God in order to get yourself into a right standing with God, that's legalism. If you obey laws that are not God's laws, they're man's laws. They're laws made up by churches or a group of churches or by individual pastors, ministers with a great deal of persona and so on, and they have a following and so on, and they can become taskmasters. They can put you in bondage.

They can put you into a state of slavery. To obey laws that God no longer requires to be obeyed, laws of ceremonial nature in the Old Testament. And here we have a hint that they were obeying the Old Testament calendar and perhaps imposing this, and unless they celebrate Passover, unless they celebrate Tabernacles, unless they recognize the Day of Atonement and so on. And they can add sort of a Christianization of it, but still they are bound to obey this calendrical law.

And Paul is saying, no, this is legalism. They were probably imposing this on Gentiles who were being introduced to their history, and they're being introduced to Abraham as their spiritual father. And the Old Testament and all of its contents is relatively new to them, and they're young Christians, and they're very impressionable, and these Judaizers are saying, you've got to obey these laws. And it was very difficult for these young Christians in Galatia to say no to these Judaizers.

And in addition, they were downplaying the role of the Apostle Paul and saying mean things about him and destroying his character and his reputation. One of the interesting questions, for example, that was asked in the history of the denomination that I belong to currently in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the so-called issue of William Craig and a question that was posed at presbytery in the eighteenth century. It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ. Now, it's a difficult question because it's in the negative, and it's in a double negative.

So, let me ask the question in a different way. Do you need to forsake sin in order to come to Christ? And you've got to think about that question very carefully. How much sin do you need to forsake in order to come to Christ? How much remorse do you need to have? How much sense of guilt do you need to have before you can come to Christ? And all of a sudden repentance, and repentance is a requirement of course, but the quality of my repentance can become the standard, the marker of my justification. And all of a sudden, I'm justified not by faith alone, but I'm justified by the quality of my repentance. And all of a sudden, it's a performance. It's our obedience.

It's our works. And you can dress that up in very fanciful, spiritual language that sounds very biblical. Do you need to repent in order to be a Christian?

And yes, and no. Yes, we need to repent, but it's not our repentance that justifies us. It's not the quality of our repentance that justifies us. In the history of the church, this has sometimes been labeled preparationism, that you need to prepare yourself in order to come to Christ.

You need to be in a certain frame of mind. You need to have gone through various stages in your recognition of your sinfulness before you can come to Christ. And this affected certain aspects of Puritanism, particularly in New England in the late 1600s, early 1700s.

And Thomas Boston was adamant that this was incorrect. It violated, it undermined the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Paul hadn't come to Galatia to offer religion, a moral code of behavior that would produce a certain kind of citizenship in Europe. He had come to offer a message of grace. He had come to offer freedom in Christ.

He had come to emancipate those who by nature are slaves and in bondage and to set them free, to be what God intends them to be, to become children of God and heirs of God. So, the diagnosis here is legalism. Legalism. I think we're hardwired to legalism.

I think it's almost an instinct within us that we need to do just a little bit more. We need to try just a little bit harder in order to justify this enormous privilege of being a child of God. We can't really take it in that this is a free gift that God gives to us, and we need somehow or other to earn it and to earn it by the quality, perhaps, of our emotional response to what God is offering. And Galatians provides for us then an important insight into the deconstruction of legalism and the deconstruction of the legalistic trait that lies just under the surface, and particularly for conservative Christians, particularly for Christians who believe in the moral law and believe in sanctification and are opposed to a form of Christianity that is lawless and so on. And it can so easily become a form of legalism. Sometimes we think that the cure for antinomianism is a little bit more legalism, and sometimes we think that the cure of legalism is to, well, is to just chill and just don't care and sin boldly, as Luther once said.

And we swing from antinomianism to legalism back and forth, and it's important for us to see that the cure for antinomianism and the cure for legalism is the same. It is Jesus. It's see no one in the picture but Jesus.

Remember who you are and your identity in Christ. And that's the treatment that Paul offers. He talks about the symptom and the loss of joy, and he talks about the diagnosis. And the diagnosis is they are suffering from legalism.

They have listened to the voice of legalism that says, try a little harder, and then you can be assured of your status. And the treatment, you see it there in verse 12, brothers, I entreat you, become as I am. Now, you might read that and say, well, what's the difference between that and their response to the Judaizers? The Judaizers were lording it over them. And you'll see that when he says in verse 17, they, the Judaizers, make much of you, but for no good purpose.

They want to shut you out that you may make much of them. And there's a little hint there that these Judaizers wanted obedience in order that they would make much of them. And there are ministers like that.

They want to lording it over the people. It's a very powerful position to be in, in a church. And you're the voice of God. You're the interpreter of Scripture. You're Jesus's mouthpiece.

And you can so easily abuse that. And ministers can trample on the consciences of Christians, and especially sensitive Christians who really do want to please the Lord Jesus, and they can become so easily lords and masters. So, what's the difference between that and Paul now saying, become as I am? And Paul says, do you remember when I came to you?

You would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. And there's a suggestion here that the thorn in the flesh, perhaps, in the Corinthian epistles was an illness that Paul had, and it affected his eyes. There's a contemporary description of Paul in the first century, and it's not flattering, and that he was short, and that he was ugly, and he had a hooked nose, and so on.

And it's not a flattering picture. There was nothing about the apostle Paul that made him a Hollywood TV preacher personality. He was nothing to look at.

In fact, he was perhaps difficult to look at. And as he came, he came to Galatia in weakness. And Paul is saying, become as I am, not just in the sense, I want you to follow me instead of following the Judaizers, but become as I am. He says, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. And what is that for Paul? He's been crucified with Christ.

I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And Paul's goal here in verse 19, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. And Paul uses this metaphor as though he's a woman giving birth to a child, and he's going through the agonies of childbirth because he loves these people, and he cares for these people, and he's at a loss as to why it is that they have deviated from the truth.

He wants Jesus to be formed in them, and legalism will not do it. Well, Paul is going to go back into the Old Testament once again, but that's in the next lesson. And we look forward to hearing that message tomorrow as we continue Dr. Derek Thomas' series, No Other Gospel, Paul's letter to the Galatians. I'm glad you've joined us on this Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. We heard Dr. Thomas say today that some Christians see a need for a little bit more work in their Christian life, while other Christians say we just need to relax and worry about it less.

That's why it's easy to swerve into antinomianism or legalism or back and forth. Paul's letter to the Galatians prevents us from veering off the road and getting stuck in that ditch on either side. You can request this 14-part series by Dr. Thomas. It's on two DVDs, and we will send it to you for a donation of any amount to Liget Ear Ministries. You can make your request securely online at, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343.

Dr. Thomas is the senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and we are pleased that he is one of our Liget Ear teaching fellows as well. It's always an honor when it comes to our campus to teach a series like the one we're hearing this week. Again, we do hope you'll request this series with your gift of any amount. Let me give you our contact information again.

Our phone number is 800-435-4343, and our web address is It's always encouraging when we hear from you. I sat down with one of our ministry partners recently.

His name is Bill, and he told me about the very practical benefit he and his wife have realized through our resources. Liget Ear, Dr. Sproul, Table Talk, Renewing Your Mind, these have brought us closer together as a couple. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind what you all do here has brought us closer together as a couple. Doing jointly table talk every morning, we both have quiet time and do table talk and then prayer time. And being able to do that, to discuss the articles that we read, the daily articles and the other articles from contributors, to be able to talk about those, to be able to share them, has been a really wonderful part of our day and our relationship.

And I had a pastor some years ago. We were talking about starting the day with quiet time and prayer and a Bible study and how important that was. And I have found over the years, when I do that, when we do that, the day goes pretty well.

If we're busy, we've got something going on, an appointment or something, it doesn't seem like the day works out quite so well. So we guard that quiet time, that time of prayer and Bible study with table talk, we guard that jealously. Well, that is an encouragement to hear, and we thank Bill for sharing that with us. Table Talk really is a great way to start your day with Bible study and prayer. And when you subscribe to Table Talk, not only will you receive the monthly print edition, you'll also gain access to the full library of archived editions online. Learn more at Tomorrow we'll continue Dr. Thomas' series with a message titled, Set Free in Christ. I hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-30 15:35:01 / 2023-03-30 15:44:05 / 9

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