Friday, April 16, 2010

I Am a Legalist

This was a very relevant article from the folks over at Sovereign Grace. You can download a free copy of the e-book here

Two enemies of the cross, why they’re dangerous, and how to beat them
The doctrine of justification needs to be constantly reinforced and reviewed, as Martin Luther was well aware. His typically blunt advice? “Beat it into their heads continually.” We need to be applying and appreciating the truth of justification in our lives on a daily basis. If we don’t, we will find ourselves susceptible to one of the Church’s most subtle and serious enemies: legalism.
Legalism involves seeking to earn God’s acceptance through our own obedience. We only have two options: either receive righteousness as a God-given gift or try to generate our own. Legalism is the attempt to be justified through some source other than Jesus Christ and his finished work.
To adhere to legalism is to believe that the Cross was either unnecessary or insufficient (Gal 2:21, 5:2). That is an accurate interpretation of your motive and actions, even if you still ascribe mentally to the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice. In our legitimate pursuit of obedience and maturity legalism slowly and subtly overtakes us, and we begin to substitute our works for his finished work. The result is either arrogance or condemnation. Instead of growing in grace we abandon grace. That was Paul’s assessment of the Galatian church when he wrote, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4).
If you’ve ever attempted to live this way you may have learned by now that legalism is as futile as it is frustrating. Every legalistic attempt at righteousness inevitably ends in failure. Over the years I’ve learned to recognize some unmistakable signs of the presence of legalism. Here are a few of them:
_You are more aware of your past sin than of the person and finished work of Christ.
_You live thinking, believing, and feeling that God is disappointed with you rather than delighting in you.
_You assume God’s acceptance depends on your obedience.
_You lack joy. (This is often the first indication of the presence of legalism. Condemnation is the result of pondering our deficiency; joy is the result of considering his sufficiency.)
Have you been ensnared by the subtle presence of legalism? If so, beware. It tends to spread rather than remain restricted (Gal 5:9). Legalism must be removed.
The only effective way to uproot legalism is with the doctrine of justification. If you’ve neglected or ignored this doctrine, then take whatever dramatic action is necessary to change. Set aside time each day to review, rehearse, and rejoice in this great, objective, positional truth. Restrict your spiritual diet to the study of justification until you are certain of God’s acceptance, secure in his love, and free from legalism and condemnation.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the single most decisive event in history. Accurately has Sinclair Ferguson stated the following:
The Cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the Cross we could never do for ourselves…The reason we lack assurance of his grace is because we fail to focus on that spot where he has revealed it.
Where will you focus your attention? Will it be on past sin, your present emotional state, or areas of character in which you still need to grow? Or will you focus on the finished work of Christ? Legalism need not motivate you. Condemnation need not torment you. God has justified you

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