Legalism, or love?

I’ve had discussions with some of God’s children who seem to view service to God as burdensome. When we discuss scripture and I mention something that God expects of us, they turn the conversation to how they don’t want to live their life that way, under “bondage”. Often, the word “legalism” is used, the idea being that when someone advocates obedience to the instructions found in God’s word, it is supposedly legalistic. Such is a false notion that can be disproven by looking into the scriptures.

First, in John 14:15, our Lord himself said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” This is the core point I’d like us to consider—obedience to God’s word is the definition of love, not legalism.

What, then, is legalism? Based on what I read in scripture, it’s a concept where people believe that following the law will bring them into good favor with God or make them more righteous. Sometimes it was not about obeying the law but rather appearing to follow it.

And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Luke 11:39-42)

Here, we learn that the Pharisees cared so much about appearing to be righteous that they missed what is so critical—being righteous inside first. If we will work on being good within (i.e. having the right attitude from the heart), the outside will often take care of itself.

Watch someone clean a cup; they normally focus on the inside more than the outside. If one cleans the inside of a dish, the outside normally gets cleaned in the process with very little attention paid to it. Jesus teaches us the lesson in the scripture above that God’s children are the same way.

A wise minister once told me that legalists are full of rules for other people. Jesus spoke on that subject, as well.

And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46)

Are there people who follow God’s word simply from a self-righteous standpoint or who add to God’s word by making up rules for other people to follow? Certainly. But just because bad people do bad things doesn’t mean we can logically conclude that anyone who follows God’s word is always being legalistic.

Shouldn’t we all desire to grow and become mature in our walk with the Lord? The scriptures use the word “perfect” to describe such a state of being complete (lacking nothing from a spiritual standpoint).

But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:4)

Some say that such a thing just isn’t possible because we are fallen, but scripture has a more positive outlook. While God’s word does make clear that we are sinners by nature, it also tells us how our Heavenly Father has given us a new nature.

We read in the second chapter of Ephesians how that we “were by nature the children of wrath” and we “were dead in sins”. The key word is “were”. As II Corinthians 5:17 states, “…if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” How did we get “in Christ Jesus”? Scripture tells us that it’s 0% of us and 100% of God.

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus… (I Corinthians 1:30)

It makes sense that it had to be all of God since we were dead in our sins. But after he made us spiritually alive in Jesus Christ, we can now put off the old man and put on the new man.

Romans 6:4 says, “like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” We must enter in at the strait gate and turn from the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).

It isn’t an impossible prospect. We read of a husband and wife who did this very thing.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (Luke 1:5-6)

Yes, it is impossible to do such a thing on our own. But the God of heaven is with us.

…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper… (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Not only does our Lord watch over us and guide us by his Spirit, but he has given us his word by which we can be instructed and reach this completeness (perfection) under consideration.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (II Timothy 3:16-17)

I must say as a point of clarification that I am not advocating that we follow the law in our present day. The law under consideration is the law that God gave to the nation Israel in the Old Testament day. It was given to them, not to Gentiles, and Christ fulfilled that law to a jot and to a tittle.

…ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

My point is less about the law and more about the commandments of God—his instructions and doctrine. All of God’s children are under an obligation to follow his word out of love for their Lord and Savior. My dear brothers and sisters, such a thing is not legalism; such a thing is love.

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. (John 14:21-24)

Proof of election and particular redemption

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

To whom did Jesus give eternal life? John 10:27-28 says that he gives eternal life to his sheep. He also says that they—the same ones given eternal life—”shall never perish”.

Some say that God offered eternal life to all of humanity if they will just accept it. If the majority of the Christian world is right—if eternal life is truly offered to all, and all people are God’s sheep—then according to the scriptures all shall never perish. But the truth is that some shall perish, and a great multitude shall not. The conclusion we must make is that eternal life is not given to all. It is given to those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), given to him by the Father (John 6:39). Praise be to our merciful and gracious God!

Kept by God

I Corinthians 1:30 says of the Father, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus…” Are we in Christ because of a decision we made? No. It’s because of election.

If someone says this text applies to all men, then the logical conclusion one must make is that some will burn forever in the lake of fire while “in Christ Jesus”. That is a monstrosity. An opponent of the truth may further say that those who will suffer eternal torment somehow got out of Christ after being put in by the Father. If that be true, I would like to see the verse that tells how they got out after being put in.

The truth is, those in Christ are preserved there, kept by the power of God (Romans 8:35-39, Jude 1:1). In John 14:20, Jesus said he is in the Father. So, we are in Christ, and he is in the Father. How secure is our eternal life? Colossians 3:3 says, “your life is hid with Christ in God.” Sounds like a secure package to me.

Yes, it is possible to go astray to love and serve the things of this world more than God, but for that we will experience torment and problems in this life. As far as the world which is to come, the eternal life of the elect is as sure as if they were all already in Heaven. The gospel and our realization that Jesus is our Savior brings us joy and happiness in this life, but it does not bring eternal life. Only by Christ’s pure blood are we cleansed and made fit to be in God’s presence forever.

Public education, governments, and love of self

Let us look at some historic governmental documents and consider a path down which our society has gone.

“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” – Article 7, Section 1, State of Texas Constitution

What is the purpose of public education? According to our state constitution, it’s about preserving the liberties and rights of the people. This is in line with our nation’s Declaration of Independence which states that the very purpose of government itself is to secure our God-given rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” – Declaration of Independence

In contrast to these great governmental documents, it seems to me that the pursuit of education in modern society has grown to be about gaining knowledge or a diploma so that I can get a better job, make more money, and buy myself more “stuff”. What do we hear often? “Little Johnny, you need to get a college degree so you can get a good job and afford the things you want.” The focus has been taken off of educating oneself or one’s children in order to help preserve the liberties and rights of others. This world encourages me to have my potential future children get a bachelor’s or master’s degree so that they can ensure a prosperous future for themselves and their families. Can anyone see that the focus here is on self? “What can I get?” “How can I buy more?” “How can I have a nicer home and better car?” And instead of trusting God to provide what we need (as he told us plainly to do in his word), we are focusing on self-reliance. The focus isn’t on giving but on getting. Getting for self. Self. Self. Self.

Could it be that the corruption in our public school system is the same reason for corruption in politics and other areas of society? Could it be this love of self which has polluted so many things?

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves…” – II Timothy 3:1-2

This scripture goes on to list a host of other symptoms of a sick society, but it starts with love of self.

May we get our priorities in the proper order: Jesus, Others, Yourself, which brings true JOY. Right now, our society as a whole has YOJ, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. May we each as individuals seek our Lord wholeheartedly and seek to serve others, dying to self daily as scripture instructs us. To God be the glory!

The Weakest Link

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Mature Christians in the congregation—those who are more experienced and more learned in Bible doctrines—shouldn’t be upset with a preacher for preaching to the lambs of God (babes in Christ). They should be thankful that he is doing so. They should be thankful that he is strengthening those other links in the chain, because if the lambs aren’t growing in grace and knowledge of the Savior then our congregation is weaker than it could be or should be. Remember to prefer others before yourself.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” – Philippians 2:3

It is necessary that the minister of the word sometimes instruct the children and new converts. We will all be better off as they get stronger in the faith. Not only that, but the mature Christians need reminded of these things continually. The Apostle Peter wrote of the need to have our pure minds stirred up by hearing the same truth again and again.

“Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance…” – II Peter 1:12-13

Let us be mindful of these things and support the gospel ministers.

Supposing him to have been in the company…

In the second chapter of Luke’s gospel account, we read of Joseph and Mary leaving Jesus behind in Jerusalem because they supposed that he was in their company (the group of folks traveling together). They travelled for a day, realized he wasn’t there, and then three days later they found him. What spiritual lessons can we learn from this account?

“And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” – Luke 2:43-46

The first thing we notice is that they went a day’s journey, but after they noticed he wasn’t with them it took them three days to find him. Brothers and sisters, whenever we depart from the Lord, it will usually take us more time and effort to get back to him than it took us to depart. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that sin easily besets us. Because of our depraved human nature, it is easy to pull away from God and difficult to find our way back.

Next, we consider the assumption that Joseph and Mary made about Jesus being with them. Many times we as God’s children make the same assumption (that Jesus is in our midst) just because we gather together in a building with the word “church”, “Jesus”, or “God” printed on the outside. You might be saying, “Wait; what about that scripture that says ‘where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them’?” Well, let’s read it carefully. (Before we try to figure out what the scriptures mean, we should check to see what they actually say.)

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:20

We notice that he promises to be in the midst of his children when they are gathered together in his name. But we don’t always gather in his name. Sometimes we gather together because we’re looking forward to seeing folks in our church and visiting with them—kind of like a family reunion—but we don’t have the Lord as the foremost One on our minds and hearts. Colossians 1:18 tells us that Christ is to have the preeminence in all things. We shouldn’t gather together just because it’s Sunday morning at 10:30 (or whenever you meet) and it’s the regular routine, but we should gather because we want to see our Lord. Do we gather on Sunday morning because we love this organization called the church or because we love the Lord who built the church?

When we take our eyes off the Lord, we may eventually be surprised to look around and realize we left his side. Then, we struggle trying to get back to where we were when he was first and foremost in our life when we enjoyed sweet fellowship with him. Let us never assume that he’s in our company but to instead be diligent in seeking him daily. When we keep our eyes on him in everything we do, we will know he’s in our company as we behold his glory daily.

Thoughts on Matthew 5:19

For a few moments, I’d like us to examine the second half of this verse:

“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:19

Specifically, we notice that Christ said that in order for one to be great in the kingdom it is important to both *do* the commandments and to *teach* them.

There are two parts to the last half of Matthew 5:19, but few of us do both. Some of God’s children focus a lot on doing the commandments and trying to please God, but leave out the part about teaching the commandments to others. On the other hand, some of us try to teach others the commandments while we leave off doing them ourselves. Our Lord didn’t just say to do one but rather to do both.

When we discuss teaching the commandments, I don’t believe that the Lord had in mind the notion of arrogant teaching as if we “have it all figured out”. When we teach in a godly way, we are encouraging people to join us in following the Lord; we are pointing people to a life of serving Christ out of love.

These days, it seems like few want to teach others because we hear over and over, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” – Matthew 7:1. In my opinion, this is one of the most misapplied scriptures of our day. It is used as a weapon whenever sin is pointed out. Brothers and sisters, it is *okay to point out sin, even the sin of someone else.* Scriptures like Matthew 7:1 teach us not to judge people in our *own heart* and not to think we are better than them, but such scriptures are not to be used as a reason to never point out sin. It seems that in the eyes of some today, the greatest sin is to speak out against sin. However, such an idea is foreign to the word of God. Jesus didn’t say, “You’re saved by grace, so now you can go live like the rest of the world and do whatever you want.” He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” – John 14:15. In Acts 14:15, Paul told the people of Lystra that he and Barnabas were preaching unto them that they should turn from their vanities unto the living God. Biblical Christianity preaches repentance, and church members are to “encourage one another to provoke unto love and to good works,” – Hebrews 10:24.

The other part of Matthew 5:19 is that we mustn’t neglect to do the commandments ourselves. We have to *do* the commandments *and* teach others. When we try to teach others and fail to do the commandments ourselves, it is as if we are walking on the wide, broad road but telling others to take the strait and narrow path. We look very silly and hypocritical walking on the wide road and pointing other people to the strait path.

Now, some reading this might be saying, “To preach that people should live up to a certain standard sounds like the Pharisees’ attitude that the Lord warned us against!” No, the Pharisees’ problem was that they were teaching but not *doing*; plus, they had added or taken away from God’s true commandments. Their problem was that they strained at a gnat and would swallow a camel. Jesus taught that we should live to a certain standard. He taught repentance. He didn’t just come to save sinners, but as he said, he came to call sinners to *repentance*.

I fully recognize that no one in the Bible was described in the same language as our Lord Jesus. No man will ever be as good as he was. But, there are plenty of examples of upright characters in the Bible. We read how Enoch walked with God. The word says of Job, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly,” – Job 1:22. David was a man after God’s own heart. We read that the parents of John the Baptist “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,” – Luke 1:6. My dear brothers and sisters, this teaches me that it’s possible for us to live this way.

This doesn’t mean these people were good enough of their own works to earn a place in Heaven. The scriptures tell us that before God “there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” – Romans 3:12. I simply believe that the individuals in the Bible examples given above were on the strait path. I have known people in my life who I felt walked on that path most of the time. They had a desire to serve God with their words and actions. When we start doing that, then we can begin to teach others how we got there by pointing them to scripture as their guide, telling them to pray, and encouraging them to serve God and worship him with a church body where the truth is preached. I believe that first doing these things ourselves and then teaching others to do them is what captures the Lord’s lesson to us in the last half of Matthew 5:19. And doing so brings glory to God Almighty. May he always be praised from the way we live!