Today, we just want to briefly introduce the concept of legalism, look at some scriptures to help us frame our thinking rightly. I want to talk about legalism from two perspectives. Legalism before salvation, legalism after salvation.
In order to be saved, you must do what? If your answer is anything else but trust entirely in the Lord Jesus by faith, legalism may be part of your thinking. But on this edition of the Truth Pulpit, Pastor Don Green will help you identify and root out such error. Hi, I'm Bill Wright and we're continuing our series, Breaking the Bonds of Legalism. Today Don introduces us to the ways legalism can affect our faith and he'll focus especially on what happens before salvation.
You can see that if there were some sort of checklist to satisfy, discouragement could quickly set in. Let's learn more from our teacher right now in the Truth Pulpit. What is legalism and why does it matter? We need to start with a definition here. Perhaps some of you new to biblical teaching, perhaps some of you new to Christ, those of you that are not in Christ, maybe this is a brand new topic to you.
If so, praise the Lord for that that we're able to grow together in these different things. What is legalism and why does it matter? I'm going to give you a definition that I borrow from another writer that I thought was helpful and here it is. Legalism is behavior motivated by the false notion that sinners can earn favor with God. That's only half the definition but I'll stop there and repeat it for those of you taking notes. Legalism is behavior motivated by the false notion that sinners can earn favor with God either before or after salvation through legal means such as obedience, ritual, or self-denial.
Now let's break that down a little bit here just at the start. It's the idea, legalism is the idea that a man or a woman, a boy or a girl can do things that will prompt God to give them favor, that they can earn favor more specifically, that they merit, that they deserve. Here's the key word that we're going to keep coming back to again and again, that they are entitled to something from God because of what they have done in their life.
Legalism is the idea that you are entitled to something from God because of something that you've done in your life. Before salvation, you know, I was baptized and therefore I deserve salvation from God. I have earned salvation from God.
I went through the rituals prescribed by my church. Or, you know, and this is the prevailing mindset in the world, I am just generally a pretty good person. I haven't killed anybody, you know the line, you know the story. I'm a pretty good person. Oh, I'm not perfect? That false humility that people will trot out as soon as they say that. I'm not perfect but I am pretty good and therefore God, I deserve things from God.
I believe God will grant me heaven when I die because I'm a pretty good person. That is legalism. It is the false notion that a sinner can earn favor with God, that he can earn it by what he does through his obedience, through church rituals or self-denial, fastings and prayers and that kind of stuff.
In the broadest terms, beloved, we're laying things down in just such a very basic way. In the broadest way that we could describe this, legalism is a way of thinking and feeling about God. Legalism is a way of thinking about God, about the terms upon which God deals with us. What is the basis upon which God deals with sinners?
How does God respond to sinners? Legalism is a way of thinking about that that says that what I do determines the way that God responds to me. And if, I mean legalism holds out this promise of reward you could say, if you keep the rules, God will deal with you in a certain way. If you do A, B and C, God will give you D, E and F. And there's a one-to-one correspondence between your external behavior and what God does for you either in providing you heaven or simply in giving you the kind of life that you want here on earth.
I do this, things go well for me. I break the rules, God comes down hard on me. Legalism is expressed in that general mindset. Now, most of us are a little more sophisticated in our thinking and a little more sophisticated and nuanced in our thinking about things than just that. But when you strip it all away, when you strip away the different layers of paint that have been painted on your soul over time, you come down and you strip it down and you get down to the bare wall, a lot of us are thinking that way. I have been good, therefore I get a good life in response. And that is a legalistic mindset. It is a legalistic way of thinking. Now, before I go any further, I want to circle back and remind... we cannot circle back to what we said last week often enough. If you were not here last week, I beg you to pick up a CD on the way out, look up the message online.
It's easily available because this is foundational to everything else. Beloved, God, if you are a Christian, God has not dealt with you in a legalistic way, has He? Has He? You must answer that question in your heart and understand it and embrace it as the fundamental disposition upon which you think about God. God has not dealt with you in a legalistic way. God has not dealt with you in a tit-for-tat way. God dealt with you according to undeserved love, undeserved kindness, undeserved mercy. By definition, undeserved grace.
God dealt with you patiently to bring you to Christ. And it was all counter to your merit. It was all counter to your deserving. It was not what you deserved.
It was rather goodness poured out upon you despite your undeserving, despite your lack of merit. That is foundational to everything else in ways that we're going to see over the next two and three weeks. Today, we just want to briefly introduce the concept of legalism, look at some Scriptures to help us frame our thinking rightly.
Today, we're kind of plowing the ground for the seeds that we'll sow and the fruit that we will harvest over the next two or three weeks. I want to talk about legalism from two perspectives. Legalism before salvation, legalism after salvation. So first of all, let's consider legalism before salvation. By the way, we're not promoting legalism in what we're saying here. We're explaining it and refuting it, all right? So we're not trying to encourage people to become legalists here.
We're explaining, exposing the danger so that we could understand it, we could biblically assess it, and that we could begin to grow even more in the grace and knowledge of Christ. What would legalism before salvation look like? Well, there is an approach to legalism. One type of legalism is related to how a person even receives salvation at all. This kind of legalism would require a sinner to perform some work or some ceremony or some series of works or some kind of lifestyle, key word here, before he can receive forgiveness of his sins, before he can be justified by God. You must do these things in order to be saved. If you do not do them, you cannot be saved, and until you do them, you cannot be saved. And so the promise of forgiveness in this mindset is very elusive. It is a mirage in the desert that you go to, but you never quite reach. The promise that you would do certain works or follow certain rules of your church, baptism and confirmation and all kinds of different things like that, and then we'll talk about whether God will forgive you or not.
That's the idea. The legalist believes that he can earn merit with God by doing the right things, keeping the right rules. And Scripture knows nothing about that. Scripture is clear. Turn to Galatians chapter 5, if you will. In the letter to Galatians, Galatians chapter 5, the Apostle Paul was dealing with an influence of certain Jewish teachers who were confusing the matter of salvation. They were teaching Gentiles that they could not be saved unless they received the right of circumcision according to Jewish law.
And Paul is writing to refute this notion. He says in chapter 5 verse 2, Galatians chapter 5 verse 2, he says, Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. The idea that you would receive circumcision motivated by the belief that this was necessary to salvation and without it you cannot be saved. A means of earning your own righteousness before God by keeping the rule.
Paul says in verse 3, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is under obligation to keep the whole law. He says in verse 4, You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace. He says with this legalistic mindset that there are things that you can do in order to be saved or things that you must do in order to be saved, he says you have cut yourself off from Christ himself because, here's the thing, beloved, we're going to do this, we're going to go slowly here. Christ is not offered to you on terms of obedience. Christ is offered to you on terms of faith. Christ is not offered to you as an inducement to get certain behavior out of you and then you receive salvation.
Christ is offered to you on the premise of faith, on the condition of faith alone, that you can believe in Christ now and be saved. If you try to go another route to find a right standing with God, you have severed yourself from Christ, you have cut yourself off from Christ. They were severed from Christ because, beloved, they added a human work as a precondition to receiving forgiveness from God. There must be this human work before there can be forgiveness. Paul, earlier in Galatians, had emphatically repudiated that idea.
He had emphatically repudiated that idea. Look at verse 16 where he says, chapter 2, I'm sorry, chapter 2, verse 16, where he says in three positive and in three negative ways, he's saying this up one side and down the other, you could say. Verse 16, nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, positive statement, but, positive statement, through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law since by the works of the law no flesh will be justified. Take a moment to look at that again and see the three positives and the three negatives. Negative number one, at the beginning of the verse, a man is not justified by the works of the law.
Okay? Nothing can be plainer than that. Justification, a legal declaration from God that the man has satisfied all the requirements of God's law, of God's holiness, and that he is declared fit for the kingdom of God, that there is a perfect standing. He is not condemned by the law of God, rather God judges him as having completely satisfied it. I realize for some of us, for me too, you know, it takes time, we speak slowly, we don't hurry so that these things can sit in. A man is not justified by the works of the law, negative number one, and then he follows with three positive assertions about how justification is received, but through faith in Christ Jesus, number one, even, number two, we have believed in Christ Jesus so that, positive number three, we may be justified by faith in Christ.
Do you see it? Faith in Christ Jesus, believed in Christ Jesus, faith in Christ, that is the way that forgiveness is received. That is the way that a man is justified. Not by what he does, but through faith in Christ, and then to make this as clear and emphatic as possible, he adds the two negatives at the end of the verse. Not by the works of the law, since by the works of the law no flesh will be justified. This is in perfect keeping with Paul's teaching elsewhere. Romans 3, there is no one righteous, not even one.
There is none who does good, there is none who seeks for God, there is not even one. Look over at Ephesians, the next book over from Galatians, and this is such a critical point, and it is so easy to go astray that the Bible goes to great lengths to emphasize the point repeatedly. The repetition is necessary and shows us, beloved, how vulnerable we are to think wrongly about this most crucial issue.
And so it says it repeatedly, positively and negatively, so that we won't miss the point. Paul does the same thing in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8. By grace you have been saved through faith. Positive statement there.
By grace you have been saved through faith. Here comes the negative. Not of yourselves. Positive statement. It is the gift of God.
Positive statement. Not as a result of works. By grace through faith in Christ. Not by works. Not by what you do.
It is a gift instead. Beloved, you must understand, you must embrace, you must let it go very, very deeply into your fundamental assumptions about God and existence. That if you are a Christian, it is not because you deserve that, it is because God has given favor to you contrary to what you did deserve. He has given grace to you as a gift, and Christ was received by faith, not something that was earned by anything in your life.
That is fundamental. Beloved, there is no spiritual merit before God in anything that you and I do. There is nothing, if you are a Christian, there is nothing that you did that made God show favor to you in contradistinction to someone else who did not do what you did. That is not the basis on which God saved us. He saved us in Christ. He saved us according to His love, grace, mercy, kindness, and patience. Not according to something meritorious, something worthy that was found in you or was found in me or in anything that you did.
There is nothing like that. Turn over to the book of Titus, chapter 3. Titus, chapter 3. Paul sets the stage for repeating this emphasis when he says in verse 3, he points out our total lack of merit and deserving in verse 3 of Titus, chapter 3, he says, we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. Beloved, that is the condition of all men before salvation. And look at that verse and realize that there is no merit in that verse anywhere. We were deceived, we were hateful, we were lustful, we were disobedient. There's no merit there anywhere in that verse.
Beloved, you think about it this way. That verse describes our prior spiritual lives as an old sponge that has been sitting out in the sun for years and years and years. Think of the desert sun in Death Valley, California, 120 degrees and in 0% humidity, any sense of moisture in that sponge has been completely sucked out.
There is no moisture there at all. So in like manner, beloved, prior to coming to salvation, there was no merit to be squeezed out of your life. You could have squeezed and squeezed and squeezed everything about your soul and not one drop of merit, of deserving would have been found there.
Nothing would have come out. You were born into sin, you lived in sin, you were dead in trespasses and sin, no life, no merit whatsoever. Scripture lays this out completely and that humbles us, that silences us before God. Well how then were we saved?
If not by something that we deserved, well Paul goes on and repeats what we've been emphasizing. Verse 4, but by contrast, instead of by merit, despite your sin and undeserving, by contrast, something different, a totally different realm when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us. And again, the negative and the positive, you must see this, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but instead according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace, we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Pretty plain, isn't it? Over and over and over again there is no room for misunderstanding to the one who reads Scripture. God's way of salvation is to receive Christ through faith alone. We are justified, we are declared righteous by faith alone in Christ alone.
Nothing else. And so, to rely on, in the Galatians case, circumcision, keeping the law of Moses, to rely on your baptism as an infant, to rely on good behavior, to rely on, here's the real key, I mean this is where most people live and think, to rely on an idea that there is a sliding scale, that God looks at you and compares you to someone else, and since you're better than someone else, because you're comparatively better externally to another man, God saves you on that basis, that is an utter lie from the deepest pit of hell. That is not true. Because the law of God, the righteousness of God disqualifies us all. Matthew 5.48, you are to be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect. It's not whether you're better than someone else, it's whether you're perfect like God, and you're not. And therefore you can never be saved by that way.
To rely on something in yourself, to claim some goodness, some good act in yourself before God is to have a false hope. That's Don Green, founding pastor of Truth Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, with part one of a message titled, A Brief Introduction to Legalism. Don will have part two for you on our next broadcast, so join us then here on the Truth Pulpit.
Right now though, Don's back here in studio with news of a great resource. Well, my friend, as we bring today's broadcast to a close, I want to offer you a very special gift, a special resource as a gift from our ministry. It's my series called, Trusting God in Trying Times.
And this series over the years has proven to be the most popular set of messages that I've ever done. It helps you know how to trust God as you're going through the deep sorrows that sometimes come to us in life. It comes from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament, and it comes from some very deep sorrows of my own that were present early in my Christian life. It's very personal, it's very helpful, it's very biblical. And I would love to see you have it in your hands.
It's available in CD album or by download. Transcripts are available if you prefer that. My friend Bill is going to give you information on how to find it. Just visit our website at thetruthpulpit.com to get the resource Don just mentioned. I'm Bill Wright and we'll see you next time for more from the Truth Pulpit.
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