Posts Tagged ‘Legalism’

Recently I posted on the importance of Christ’s simultaneously complete human and divine natures, also called the “hypostatic union”, to the cross. I mentioned that I wanted to comment more on Christ’s dual natures, and apparently since this is my own blog, I can do this. I wonder how long they were going to let me go before I figured this out? Just goes to show…

The hypostatic union of Christ is just as important to the sanctification of Christians as it is to their justification. We can begin to see this in the book of Colossians. The errorists at Colosse were trying to convinve the church that they could grow in holiness through a form of legalism called asceticism. Asceticism is the practice of self-denial for personal purity. Particularly, the false teachers at Colosse were advocating that church members abstain from certain foods. This was a lie:

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:”Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

One of the critical errors of legalism is the thinking that what we do on this side of eternity manipulates eternity itself. It is as though the individual could reach through the invisible plane between the temporal world and eternity and put some holiness beans on the judicial scales that measure their life. This is of course absurd, but when we pretend that we are sanctified by avoiding certain kinds of food (read: beer and wine) or certain kinds of music, or by observing special days, fasting, or whatever we might do, we are guilty of the Colossian heresy (a portion of it, at least).

As my pastor explained to us a few weeks ago in church, pagans of the time of the early church had a warped view of the relationship between the material world and the spiritual world. They saw the two as being somewhat fused together. In part, this explains how a person could fashion an idol made of wood, call it a god, and worship it. This is part of what Paul was getting at when he told the Athenians at Mars Hill, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;” (Acts 17:24-25).

These false teachers were bringing their pagan baggage into the church. This thinking that material things can manipulate spiritual things is rampant in the church as is easily sold to earnest Christians seeking to grow spiritually. Abstention from alcohol was sold to me as true holiness some years ago. My studies in Colossians reminded that it is not what goes into my mouth, but what comes out of it that matters (Matt 15:17). Of course, moderation in all things applies as well (1 Cor 9:25). But my view back then was that I was just “better off not touching the stuff.”

I see now that the problem with anything that goes into the mouth is that the heart can appropriate it for evil. Is the answer to avoid alcohol? Any food can be eaten with gluttony. Sex, while declared good between a man and his wife, can be perverted even within the bounds of marriage. Orange juice can be consumed excessively. It is the heart which must be brought under subjection (Jer 17:9)! And no material thing can touch the heart.

So I am left with a dilemma. I cannot manipulate my eternal destiny from here. Problem is, because of my sin weighing down those judicial scales, I do need some of those aforementioned beans. But again, I can’t cross that plane, can I? It would seem that I need someone who lives over there to do it for me, and somehow He needs to get over to my side of realty.

In comes Jesus Christ: fully man and fully God. He takes on human flesh:

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” (Colossians 2:9)

His dual nature is the solution to my problem. He takes on human flesh, obeys God laws for me, dies in my place, and ascends to heaven. His beans go on my scale by faith:

“and in Him you have been made complete,” (Colossians 2:10a)

Those key words “in Him” mean that what He has done applies to me because I am united with Him by God’s gift of faith. Since He has crossed between planes, my problem is solved.

This gives me a revolutionary view of my relationship to material things. I know think of material things in terms of why I desire them. I think in terms of my affections, my desires, and whether they worship Christ or myself. I think of the effect that food, drink, music, etc have on me and why I might pursue them. Rather than having a checklist of things I do or don’t do, I work to evaluate my own motives in every case. This is the nature of pursuing holiness. Not beer, and certainly not beans.


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Stuff like this makes me swallow hard:

    “Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (Exodus 25:7)

    “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.'” (Deuteronomy 27:26, quoted in Galatians 3:10)

    I wonder if these people really know what they were saying. I wonder, had I been there personally, would I have realized what I was getting into?

    As my church’s care groups have been going through Galatians over the past few months, I’ve had lots of time to think about the law and its proper role. Even in New Testament times, the law was already being misunderstood. That still holds true today. Inevitably, Christians lean toward one of two extremes: they either deemphasize the law to the point where only their profession of faith is important, or they over-emphasize the law such that it becomes the means for earning favor with God.

    When I think of what the peole of Israel said as the institution of the law at Sinai (Exodus 25), I see that word ALL and shudder. I know that it is within my sinful capacity to think that I can actually live up to this impossible condition. The Rich You Ruler’s words “All these things I have kept from my youth Luke 18:21.” ring in my ears.

    Galatians 3:19 also chills my soul “Why the law then? It was added because of [for the sake of] transgressions…” and again, in 3:22: “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin…” I see that God’s Word teaches that this very law which seemed an opportunity to prove my wroth has in fact stuffed a sock in my mouth., pouring my sin out in broad daylight for everyone to see.

    Scripture teaches us the the law is something different entirely from grace. Though we usually focus on how grace is complemented by law,, law is still something separate from grace. Romans 5:20 tells us that the law “comes alongside” of grace. Romans 3 tells us that grace is the enduring currency of God’s covenant with Abraham. The law is instructional (Gal 3:24). It is only a means to and end, not the goal itself.

    All the same, we Christians ought not dismiss the la. The law is good (Romans 7:12). Legalism is BAD. Don’t lose track of that distinction.

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    A spoonful of sugar helps the theology go down.

    Lately I have been working my way through “Spirit Empowered Preaching” by Arturo Azurdia. That was where I came across the great quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones the other day (I think it was in “Evangelicalism Divided” by Ian Murray, too). The book is my source of another great quote, attributed to an “old country preacher”. Speaking of a group of professing Christians:

    “They’re straight as a gun barrel…but just as empty.”


    That’s a testimony to a very negative pattern I’ve noticed spread across church history; that when Christians lean toward Biblical scholarship, they also tend to grow cold. Scripture says that “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. (1 Cor 8:1)” Unfortunately, Christians often pursue knowledge at the expense of love.

    On the other hand, many movements have reacted to the trend toward cold, dead orthodoxy by throwing out the book and focusing on emotion and subjective experience. The modern charismatic movement is a good example of this.

    The religion of the Pharisees is no better than the friendliest, yet theologically reckless religion.

    Biblical scholarship is crucial, so lets take great care to remain compassionate. Don’t use knowledge as a weapon, use knowledge to comfort and encourage, as well as to admonish.

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