There is no greater threat to the unity of the church than legalism.
These are strong words, but history, tradition, experience, and Scripture reveal that where legalism spreads, disunity prospers.
Thankfully, God has provided an antidote to legalism through the free gift of eternal life which is received by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone.
Just as legalism breeds disunity, love and unity flourish where grace and faith multiply. The more we emphasize grace and faith, the greater our unity will be. For this reason—and simply for the sake of the truth—a strong stance on the simplicity and freeness of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone is essential.
To see this, it is important first of all to know what legalism is.
Lots of people have heard about legalism, but few know what it is. Here is a basic definition of legalism:
Legalism is when people use the law of God in an attempt to gain favor with God.
At it’s core, legalism believes that God is angry with humanity, and that the way to make God like us again is to obey His laws. And if everybody could just obey God’s laws all at the same time, then God might love us and be happy with us again, and blessings from heaven will flow down upon us once more.
So at it’s core, legalism has some seriously faulty views about God, about sin, about the law, and about how people can get into a good relationship with God. All of these faulty views are what makes legalism so dangerous and divisive.
Legalism is Dangerous
Legalism is dangerous because it begins with the premise that God is mad at us and He gave us His law so that we could get back into His good favor.
But if Jesus tells us anything about God, it is that He is NOT angry with us. To the contrary, He loves us deeply and longs for nothing more than to reconcile us to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). It is not He who needs to be reconciled to us, but we to Him. In other words, He is not the one who has abandoned us; we have abandoned Him. It is not He who left us, but we who left Him.
By sending Jesus to this earth, God bridged the divide that we placed between Him and us. Out of His great love for us, He has come to where we are, because He knew that we would never (and could never) come to Him.
But the basic premise of legalism contradicts all this. Legalism teaches that we have offended God so deeply that He is angry with us… He even hates us… and so we must try to please and appease God by doing things He likes so that maybe, somehow, hopefully, God will love us once more.
Not only is such legalistic theology terribly wrong, it becomes terribly divisive.
Legalism is Divisive
Legalism is divisive because as soon as one person thinks that they are starting to obey God’s law and make God happy with us again, that person begins to think that the reason God is still angry with the world is not because of his or her sin, but because of everyone else’s. So if everyone else would just clean up their life and start obeying God, then God will start to love us again. As soon as legalists begin to make some headway in their own life in the “Obedience to the Law” department, they set themselves up as a manager in the department, and try to get everybody else to follow the rules as well.
But this isn’t the most dangerous or divisive element to legalism. What makes legalism so divisive is that nobody actually thinks they are legalistic.
Though there are countless Christians who are legalistic, you will never meet anyone who claims to be a legalist. This is what makes legalism so sinister. It sucks the life out of Christians who believe they stand for the truth of Scripture and the Gospel. Legalism run madly toward death, all the while thinking they are pursuing life.
Since nobody believes that they are legalistic, everybody believes they have a healthy balance between law and grace, between faith and good works. A legalist then, is anyone who places a greater emphasis on law and good works than you do. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we criticize those who take grace too far. Those people are licentious, we think. They place too much emphasis on grace and in so doing, give people license to sin.
In this way, since only “other” people are legalists, and each of us is only trying to get people to obey God and live within the principles of the Kingdom of God, the hidden legalist in each of us (myself included!) becomes judgmental, critical, and divisive in our treatment of others. Legalism tears Christians apart because it sets up laws and rules as the means by which we maintain relationships between one another and between ourselves and God. And part of the divisive nature of legalism is that nobody can agree on the rules that must be observed. Everybody has different rules and regulations that must be maintained in order to fellowship with someone else.
So what is the cure? What is the fix? What is the antidote to legalism?
Since legalism is so sinister, and since it is so hard to define, one might think that combating legalism is not worth the effort. Some might be tempted to think that it is not legalism that divides Christians, but the struggle against legalism that causes the problems. If some people are legalistic and others are licentious, wouldn’t it be better, for the sake of unity, to just throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and say “Live and let live”?
No, I don’t think so. Why not? Because Scripture seems intent on combating legalism wherever it is found. If legalism is one of the greatest threats to Christian unity, and legalism is found in every one of us, and Christian unity is something we should strive for, then legalism is worth fighting against.
In fact, it could be argued that much of the New Testament was written to combat legalism. Jesus fought against the legalism of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The apostles fought against legalism in Acts (e.g., Acts 15), and the Apostle Paul fought against legalism in most of his letters. So if they fought against legalism, we should to.
How? Most people try to combat legalism with a different form of legalism. I have seen arguments break out between a behavioral legalist and a doctrinal legalist. The first person thinks we make God happy by what we do, while the second person argues that we make God happy by what we believe.
I think it is time to back away from all of these rules and regulations, and look at how the Bible seems to combat legalism. And how is that? By emphasizing grace as much as possible.
One reason legalism is so divisive is that Christians seem so intent on putting limits and restrictions on grace. The moment we set limits to God’s boundless grace is the moment we wrap ourselves in the dark bonds of legalism, but the moment grace is unleashed and unchained, legalism shrivels up and dies.
So what is the antidote to legalism? Grace. Radical grace.
Do your best to never limit or restrict grace in any way. Let grace be extended to point of shamefulness. Let us live indiscriminate, shocking, outrageous, scandalous, senseless, irrational, unfair, irreligious, ridiculous, absurd, offensive, infinite, free grace.
Let us live life as a contest to see who can be the most gracious, loving, kind, and forgiving, and teach others to do the same. If we are going to follow the example of Jesus (and of God), we must extend grace to the point that people accuse us being friends to tax-collectors and sinners, to the point that they complain of how we allow people to get away with anything, of how we liberally shower blessings upon friends and enemies alike, and how we even show love and mercy upon those who wish to do us harm.
Such outrageous grace is what God shows us, and how we can live toward others. This kind of grace is the antidote to the legalism in all of us.
This post was part of the November 2018 Synchroblog.
Here is the list of other writers and authors who contributed to this month’s Synchroblog. Go read them all to see what others think about church unity.
- Heathens and Heretics – Glenn Hager
- What have we Become? – Rocky Glenn
- Unified Through Life – Jordan Hathcock
- How Can Churches Exemplify Unity in a Divided Country? – Mike Edwards
- Practicing Unity – Tim Nichols
- Christian Unity – Joseph A.
Stephen Butler says
Jeremy, I used to be a legalist. Not because I wanted to be, I just thought I was being mor godly. I am always amazed at those that fear that too much grace will create more sin. Wasn’t the purpose of the law to show us our sin? Stir it up? More people need to hear the message of grace. I have never met the straw man that loves to sin because of grace. People sure like to say he/she exists, but I’ve never met them. 🙂 keep up the good work.
Maxine Armstrong says
The purpose of the Law was not to show us our sin. The law came so that sin might be utterly sinful. But “the purpose of the Law” was to show us what Messiah was going to look like. To a Jew and first Century Christian “the Law” was the Pentateuch. Today we have mislabeled the Sinai Covenant as the Law and gotten into all sorts of wrong interpretations of scripture because of it. For example “The Law is a tutor to lead us to Christ” does NOT mean, the law show us how sinful we are and Jesus was the opposite of that. It means, “The Pentateuch teaches us (what to look for in) the Christ.”
Jeremy Myers says
You do a good job pointing out many of these things in your new book. It is so close to publication, I can taste it!
Maxine Armstrong says
Oh wow! I can’t wait! Thanks Jeremy. 🙂
Jeremy, you have no doubt addressed this question before. In reference to your statement “Thankfully, God has provided an antidote to legalism through the free gift of eternal life which is received by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone.”, what is your opinion on the fate of those who do not believe that Jesus is the Savior through no fault of their own?
Having grown up in a Christian family, I pretty much (respectfully) reject anything I hear about the Hindu faith. I assume people who grew up in Hindu families likewise reject most of what they hear about the Christian faith.
Stephen Butler says
Also, isn’t mercy by it’s very definition us not getting what we deserve? If God is just, couldn’t one say that He is not holding people accountable for their actions? I sure am thankful that I don’t get what I deserve!
The denomination I grew up in taught that people need to be saved and then live a holy life. That meant one must follow a certain set of “rules” and beliefs, presumably based on the Bible. If you messed up and broke a rule, you sinned and needed to repent again if you knowingly broke the rule (“known sin”) and maybe even if you unknowingly broke the rule (“unknown sin”). I never could figure out what the full, complete and correct list was. Everyone seemed to have different lists.
This idea is still pervasive in at least some segments of Christianity. I regularly see it pop up in comments on blog posts, including this one. To paraphrase, “If you believe that, are that or do that, you can’t possibly be a Christian”.
My wife and I have been reading Job again. This time through what has been especially coming to my attention are the things Job, and even more so his tormentors (oops, I mean comforters) said. They presume to know the mind of God and presume to speak for him. Yet, at the end of the story, God refers to their words as “words without knowledge.”
We think that because we have the Bible we now have knowledge. “The Bible clearly says”…. Or so we think. But what does it really say, and is that all God says?
Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Beyond that it is up to each of us to figure out for ourselves, not others, how to live that out in our lives.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, this is a common idea, but I think people around the world are coming back to see the freeness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ toward us… and this inspires us to live with such grace (or try to anyway) toward others.
I love what you are seeing about Job. I believe that even Job was wrong in his views about God…
Where is the fine line to live by grace and not be legalistic? We put forth a standard of ourselves to how we should live according to the bible. However our standard can be different for each of us. To some the translation of their bible has to be XYZ or your reading the bible inspired by man, not God. To others their standards come from the Old Testament. They reason that God gave it to us to be the standard of all things of how we are to live and the description of his perfect society they say. How can we follow the truth and still conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of God and not be legalistic? I think Jeremy you did a good job pointing out that that line shouldn’t be drawn for others we should live in a “manner that life is a contest to see who can be the most gracious, loving, kind, and forgiving, and teach others to do the same.”
When I first became a Christian I struggled what importance the Old Testament still has today. (Actually it’s something that I still struggle with that.) The first time God opened my eyes to reading the bible I started reading in the Old and New Testament simultaneously. I’d read a chapter here than one there. The more I read the more confused I became. I read the Gospels and found Jesus was a Jew then I’d read Leviticus and figured to be Christian I needed to become Jewish so I tried to observe dietary laws. After a while I found it so hard to become Jew like I thought it was going to be a long road in my conquest to becoming the “perfect” Christian. When I finally made it to Acts and the council of Jerusalem I found that living for Christ was easier than I had first thought. The verse that stuck with me was , “That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well” (KJV Act 15:29). I am saved by Grace alone through faith alone and should allow others to live the same.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, there is a fine line, I suppose. But I tend to encourage people to lean toward grace. If in doubt, choose grace.
I seem to have several conversations every week with people who get confused about the contrasts between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are such stark contrasts between the two!
That book I am working hopes to help resolve some of the conflict, but the more I get into it, the less likely I think my theory is…. Sigh.
John M. Harris says
I don’t really think Jesus or Paul were against “legalism” it just depends on which law. We should hold people to the law of Christ, the law of love… and that’s it.
Jeremy Myers says
yes, that is true. The law of Christ, the law of love…. love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Wouldn’t the Law of Love be a different commandment than the two you posted? Weren’t those directed by Jesus to those who were Law abiding? He did say, those two things, were summed in by one, and that is love. However, the word “love” there was not “Philia” love, which is human affection, but “agape” love. Agape love being the very love of God (for that verse).
Where as now, its different. More along the lines of this
1 John 4:19
King James Version (KJV)
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
King James Version (KJV)
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Thats a bold statement to love one another as Christ loves us! How is that even possible? Well, of course, we go back to “agape” love. When we accept Christ, God pours His very love(agape) into our hearts, and the Holy Spirit indwells us. It was like that OT commandment of loving the Lord your God and to love thy neighbor (which both used agape and not phillia) was a loaded commandment! Only even possible to do that with God’s love, which He provides. Talk about grace. (this does not imply we are under Law or are now empowered to follow Law, we are under the Law of Christ/Love. We serve “in the newness of the spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”)
Jeremy Myers says
Hmm. Interesting. Maybe so. I see your point about the summary of the law, and how that might be different from the law of love. I will need to look at this further. Love the insight.
Ward Kelly says
I think people who embrace legalism are scared of the freedom of grace much the same way Americans who embrace large statist government fear freedom and individualism. They are comforted by having decisions made for them. They are scared of freedom. The legalist is scared of the freedom of a Christian who steps out of denominational norms, so they resort to rules and laws to avoid the fear of that freedom. I was exposed as an early Christian to legalism from drinking a glass of wine (of course wine in Jesus time had no alcohol), to listening to rock music.
Jeremy Myers says
Absolutely true! We like fences and boundaries, and are terrified of the wide open spaces of God’s grace. As you say, lists are easier to live by.
Jeremy, your antidote at the end of this article ( Grace. Radical grace.) is not achievable by the sinful mortal human. Only God can do what you are proposing. You said it in the beginning of your article, God is the antidote through the free gift of eternal life. Yes, extend grace as much as humanly possible. Legalism can be a deception tool used by Satan, and will not go away till the second coming of Christ. Also when you write about saving faith, you might want to define that more clearly. To have a saving faith is more than having a belief in your mind. It requires action and obedience to the commands of Christ as well. Is it legalistic to obey the commands of Christ? If so, then I will be unashamedly legalistic to that end. Institutional churches will never have unity for many reasons besides legalism, but perhaps they do all boil down to man made legalism.
Jeremy Myers says
You are right that the suggested antidote is not achievable. But we can probably move toward a more gracious stance than we currently live, and seek to reveal some of God’s grace to this world. That is all I am asking, I suppose.
As to faith, yes, it should be defined more clearly. I thought about that in this post, but didn’t want to get bogged down in all the details. I define faith as “persuasion” or “conviction that something is true.” I do not think that faith requires action or obedience to the commands of Christ to be “true” or “real” faith.
I have been “amen-ing” much of what you have written until the last sentence of this reply. James 2 (all of it, in context) says something much different, as does common sense. If I have “faith” that my thermometer is correct (20 degrees), I will put on a coat and gloves when I go outside, not flip flops and a T-shirt. I have faith my boss will live up to our contract, so I go to work, and work when I get there, believing I will get paid at the end of the week. I believe, so I act. I believe that God’s overwhelming grace has saved me. It is finished. But the same Jesus who saved me is also the Lord who guides me to act. Again, I agree with much of what you have said. The rules of men, or even the rules of God mis-applied by men (such as using them to try to curry favor with God) have been a millstone around the neck of the church. But any faith that is “real” generates action. We may and should graciously help one another discern what action is appropriate in a given circumstance, and we may or may not agree. Another place grace is needed. But faith without works is dead = lifeless, useless, ineffective. Can such faith save anyone? (James 2:14)
I agree with you, faith without works ( act ) is dead… faith and act are like two legs … one step of faith, another step of act. If both does not together.. we will not walk..( grow ) in faith, and shape like Jesus. Isn’t our goal who has faith in Him?
Clive Clifton says
Um, I agree with all you have said Jeremy, im not to sure about the coments. I say this as I felt some were trying to justify a mixture of law (legalism) and grace.
Jeremiah 31 v 31 to 34 plus Hebrews 8 v 10. The laws are now inbeded in us.
Matthew 5 v 17 “I (Jesus) have come to fulfill (complete) the law”
John 12 v 47 “I have come to save the world not to judge it”.
God is a good God and we are no longer in bondage to the law as He freed us from it through His Son. We now trust in God not man
David put his trust in God in 2 Samuel 24 v 10.
James and John wanted to bring fire down on a village because of their unbelief. Mans justice, Jesus (God) forbade it.
Everyone has the opportunity to know and live Gods way, the way that leads to eternal life. When people decide not to follow the blueprint of the grand desighner, does God judge them.
People will always rebell under the hands of a harsh taskmaster, is God a harsh taskmaster, No but unfortionatly mans Church is.
Judge not lest thou also be judged. Whatever measure you use to judge so shall I (God) use the same measure for you. Love God and one another. Matthew 5 v 43 to 48 but you are to be perfect, even as your Father in zheaven if perfect. Love Clive X X X
Jeremy Myers says
Great lists of verses and examples from Scripture, Clive. Once we begin to see grace, we see it everywhere in Scripture, and everywhere in our own lives with God’s actions toward us.
I believe you got it correct there at the end. (Of course, what I believe isn’t important to no one but me.) There is an important word you left out: humble. Else we become obnoxious do-gooders. I’ve witnessed Christians (myself included) treat non-Christians badly in the name of Christ, get told to hit the pike, and then go away rejoicing that they were persecuted for his name’s sake.
All the same, let’s do exactly what you said. The Christlike life.
By the way, I don’t think that anyone can make God happy or angry. That would imply that we have power over Him who possesses all power. It would also imply changeableness, and that would be shifting sands beneath our feet.
Jeremy Myers says
What you believe is important to me. That’s why I read every comment and try to respond to most of them. Thank you!
I have seen (and done) the same thing you describe. It sometimes seems we Christians know we are doing a poor job with evangelism, so we make sure we do a poor job so that we get ridiculed so that we can then claim “persecution.”
I call it “playing the persecution card.”
Thank you, Jeremy.
Soli Deo Gloria says
I might add that a legalist is fond of “proof-texting”, which is the habit of throwing out one-liner verses to make a point. I recently had a discussion (that turned into a nasty argument) with a Christian friend about tithing. He threw out 1 Corinthians 9:14, which states that those that preach have the right to get paid and God has commanded it. What he didn’t present was the rest of the chapter in which Paul states that he doesn’t exercise this right to make a living from preaching so that he may be free to preach the Gospel. I learned in a Bible teaching church the “20-20 Rule” — read 20 verses ahead and behind to get the true meaning of a verse, especially when someone proof-texts.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, yes, yes! So true. That is one good warning flag of a legalistic… lots of Scripture verses quoted one right after the other with very little explanation. They seem to think that nobody knows the Bible but them.
But we do know the Scriptures, and have often studied it in context (as you point out), and simply have different ways of understanding those texts and passages.
Thanks for pointing this out!
Gerrie Malan says
Chapters and verses are 13th and 16th century additions. The Scriptures were not written in that way. Consequently the readers of the time would study the whole – only that can facilitate true context. Not doing so has presented the “church” with a frightening variety of doctrines based on the same portions of Scripture. 38000 plus denominations is overwhelming testimony to that.
Jeremy Myers says
True point about the chapter and verse divisions. Though I find them helpful to be in communication with others about Scripture. Nevertheless, I have often found it beneficial to study a text without the divisions.
Bob Singleton says
My personal take on grace vs law is this.
God’s grace doesn’t so much stop you from sinning, what it does is stop you from desiring to sin. The working out of this whole thing takes a while and in this life is never fully accomplished but… what begins to happen anyway is that you just loose the desire to do what’s wrong. We still mess up. I know that, but it feels unnatural because we have been fundamentally changed.
Consider this. God does not struggle to do what is right and avoid sin. What God does is… what ever he wants to do, and then he lets his behavior and his desires define what is good. For God to do something wrong would be like us tasting dog poop. It just isn’t something we, or he, would do. There will come a day when God will fully redeem our present carnal minds and we will be just as repulsed by evil as God is.
It’s not about whether or not we can or will sin. It’s about God changing us at such a basic level that sin bothers us and when God is finished with us, we will be totally healed in this regard.
Keep in mind, the New Testament never calls a Christian a sinner. Sin is not in our nature and it is not naturally who we are or what we do…. though this flesh still carries some bad habits.
I could go on and on. It’s hard to cover the thought in a short writing.
Jeremy Myers says
I think I am pretty much in agreement. The more we grasp grace, the less we desire sin. And you are right… when we sin, it is not out of our “Christian nature” but out of the flesh. This is what John means when he writes in 1 John that those born of God “do not sin.” He doesn’t mean they sin less (though they probably will sin less) but that sin does not come from the part of us that is born of God.
Hello, I oftentimes seem to keep falling into a legalism ‘trap’ I do not want to or try to but no sooner than I realize I am living in Gods wonderful grace I find myself becoming legalistic again and lose the benefits of living in grace.
Josh, I was once in a ministry that majored in grace in a manner that transformed it into a license to sin. I mean it seemed like the only sin you could commit was to actually look at your sins. “Oh, no, that would be condemning yourself and we don’t want to do that!”
Yet Josh, I will agree with you that we are under grace and not under the law. But if grace is only the unmerited favor that permits us to bond with God and neighbor, then it’s really no different than an irresponsible parental love that permits children to play on a busy freeway.
Let me illustrate why by continuing my story about that ministry. What fruit did it produce as the result of grace being a license to sin? Ministry leadership, beginning at the top, became like Eli’s two sons and had sex with a multitude of women. Tithe money was used to pay for abortions and many of the violated women were wounded spiritually and emotionally to the point that some even took their own lives. The leader who took over after the founder retired was sued and had to pay out millions to one of his victims and resigned in disgrace.
So after pondering these tragedies, I realized that grace has to be much more than just the unmerited favor that permits us to bond with God and neighbor. It’s also the “empowering favor” that helps us to “conquer sin” – something that The Law could not do:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NKJV).
So I’m seeing that not only does grace help us to bond with God and neighbor but it also helps us to build health boundaries in these relationships we are building with God and neighbor. Did that help some?
I also must add that this ministry did not tell us that grace is a license to sin. (That’s just what it became.) They told us that the righteousness that comes by grace gives us “no consciousness of sin, guilt or condemnation.” So we did our utmost not to be conscious of sin. And that led to the many boundary violations, spiritual and emotional wounds, and tragic despair I just described to you. And yes, even the suicides. That’s why I believe that grace is not only God’s unmerited favor displayed in his kindness, but that it also EMPOWERS US TO DEFEAT SIN, something that the law could not do.
As I now see it, you are correct in saying that God is no longer angry with us. But do you know why? Isn’t because scripture tells us that Christ actually experienced the wrath that we were due, when he died as our “passover lamb”? Remember how the original passover lamb shielded the children of Israel from God’s wrath? Wasn’t that a foreshadowing of what Christ would do on a much grander scale?
There is something else to put into play, here. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on the masses until the Day of Pentecost. So it wasn’t available for the children of Israel to “by the Spirit … put to death the [sinful] deeds of the body [in order to find the new life available today]” (Romans 8:13). They had not yet received this grace-filled spirit by which to do this. But we have. And because God is no longer mad at us, being that Jesus experienced that wrath on the cross, our motivation for putting to death our sinful ways of coping is no longer to avoid condemnation, but rather because he loves us . Let’s face it. Much of Christianity today is one big orgy — literally and figuratively. We’ve pretty must lost all self-control. And no, God is not itching to pour out his wrath on us. BUT HE DOES LOVE US ENOUGH TO CORRECT US. How then shall we respond?
Like you, I used to believe that fences and boundaries were bad. That’s because when I was small someone applied overkill when correcting me and therefore I confused all discipline with abuse and all fences as well as boundaries with Berlin Walls. But I was mistaken.
Now I believe that grace actually teaches us to set the healthy boundaries around our hearts and our lives that The Law could not. Please listen to the Apostle Paul:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12 NIV).
When my neighbors first moved in, they seemed to have a crises about twice a week and would come begging for a bail out. So, thinking I was doing the Christian thing, I would give them the 20 or 40 bucks they asked for. But they just kept at it till I realized that I had given them more than $2,000 – in less than one year! So finally I had to put my foot down and say “No.” Yes I had to set boundaries.
Josh, have you ever been around someone who just can’t say “No”? They feel that they have to stop everything to oblige others every time they ask them to do something. Of course you have. That person’s life is utter chaos, isn’t it? Why? They have no boundaries.
What about you? What if your neighbor came over every day and helped himself to you refrigerator? And after a month he decided to use your shower while he was at it? And then one day announced that he would help himself to your wife? Would you not feel violated?
That’s why Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Why do you think we have locks on our doors? And skin on our flesh? Aren’t these healthy boundaries that protect us from that which can harm us. You’ll notice that the skin our loving creator covers us with is not a Berlin Wall that keeps us in prison. No, it has openings. A nose and mouth to allow you to breath and eat your favorite foods and ears to let you hear your favorite music. It has other openings that, along with your nose, permits you to eliminate waste. This boundary called skin is a God thing.
So were the walls of Jerusalem. They had several gates in them including the “dung gate” to let the good in and usher out the bad. And when it comes to those wide open spaces that you said we are terrified of, maybe that’s okay sometimes. Several years ago I read about a study done on a group of small children who were taken to the top of a mountain where there was this wide open space that went on for miles and were told to go play. But they couldn’t. They huddled very close to each other and were too scared do anything. But when they were taken to a fenced in back yard, they were all over the place swinging on the swings, climbing on the jungle gym and running all over the place. Why? They felt loved and safe. They felt God’s grace.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, boundaries are good, but sometimes the freedom of grace, while initially scary, is the way we were meant to live. Locks on doors and security systems were not part of God’s original idea for creation. We use them to try to protect ourselves from the brokenness of creation.
So grace is dangerous in a fallen world, but as we learn to live more in grace with one another, I think that living by grace will become more common.
As to the children in the mountains, they were certainly city children they took up there. I grew up in the mountains and never felt more at home than when I was surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing. I love hiking and camping in the mountains and not seeing anybody or anything for days on end. So also with grace, it is an acquired taste, but once you get used to the freedom of grace, there is no going back. But grace looks different in different people’s lives.
I must admit that I too enjoy the kindness of God, that very gentle aspect of his grace. In fact, I was raised in a church where God’s kindness was stressed more than anything else. But when my biological mother got hit severely with bouts of depression, this kindness aspect was not quite enough to prevent her multiple suicidal attempts where she finally succeeded in ending it all when I was seven. That woman was the kindest mother on earth. Couldn’t hurt a fly. But our church taught her nothing at all about how to fight these demonic forces. Of course my dad gave her the best medical treatment money could buy at John Hopkins in Baltimore. But without knowing anything about how to combat the spiritual forces that were clobbering her to death, they didn’t stand a chance. That’s why I’m so into taking our pain to Christ and allowing him to teach us the kind of spiritual warfare and boundary building that defeats such attacks. Oh yeah, two more cousins also succumbed to suicide. I was supposed to have died in my twenties too. But with the fighting aspect of his grace, I hung on. Now I’m in training to engage in the necessary combat to defeat the forces that led me down that road in the first place. Many times people commit “soul suicide” years before actually making attempts on their physical lives as the final solution to the torment. I agree with you when you say that locks on doors and security systems were not part of God’s original idea for creation. But my family lived on the other side of the world from Eden, Jeremy. My parents had no idea what was hitting them. That’s why I’m trying to learn. I do thank God for his kindness. It’ is so wonderful! Now I’m trying to learn how to fight the good fight as well. My family has seen too many casualties for me to do otherwise. We were born into a world at war. Now it’s time to win that war.
Jeremy Myers says
I am so sorry to hear what has happened to you. I sometimes think churches ignore all the help that medicine and doctors can provide, but you are right, almost all hospitals and doctors completely ignore the spiritual/soulish side of the human situation. I have heard of some hospitals allowing nurses and doctors to tell patients that they will be praying for them as well, but I think this has more to do with the “power of positive thinking” than any real belief that prayer changes things.
By the way, it’s okay to respond. I stopped biting people a while back.
We are all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
If the laws are no longer relevant, then you are saying it’s ok to kill people and covet neighbor’s wife and do XYZ because it’s cheap grace and we all are saved and be thankful and live “scandalously” on our own terms… that’s what you are saying?
Christ wants us to obey the laws because the laws reflect His characters. If on this earth we choose to break those laws to follow our sinful nature, over time, we are not developing His characters, and in the end, we may not fit for heaven NOT because we didn’t earn it but because if you do somehow end up in heaven, you’d probably have no interest in hanging out with Christ because He’s so different and you are so different. You can’t stand hanging out and spending time with people who are content with simple things, because you prefer living large, materialistic, hedonistic lifestyle, etc.
When you drive down the highway over the speed limit and get pulled over because you break the law, the cop come over and somehow pardons you, (grace), does that give you the right to drive and break the law again by speeding? No. You still have to obey the law BECAUSE of that grace. If you choose to continue to break the law because you LIE TO YOURSELF that you will continually be pardoned (cheap grace), does that character belong in heaven? Will you enjoy being in heaven where everything is orderly? Just like the universe, there are laws to everything, law of gravity (try to break it by jumping off a cliff and ask for grace), etc. The laws were written in stone, not on wood, to indicate permanence. Sabbath, the fourth commandment still applies today as well. You don’t get to pick and choose which commandment you’d like and ignore.
Jeremy Myers says
The law of Christ is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
This is the freedom and liberty of grace. If we follow the law of Christ, we can do absolutely anything, and simply by following love, we will fulfill the intent and purpose of the entire law.
As to grace, there is no such thing as cheap grace. I believe in free outrageous grace.
Thanks for your thoughts, Art. It looks like we are on the same page here. It does look like there will be consequences for continuing to violate God’s healthy boundaries for our lives after graciously being pardoned with the price His Son paid for us on the Cross. I am not yet convinced that a Christian can lose his eternal life, but I am being increasingly persuaded that if I were to continue to resist a life of godliness after receiving Jesus as Lord, then I will one day be required to face the music:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, WHETHER GOOD OR BAD” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV).
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, there are consequences for disobeying God. I have never denied that, and Scripture teaches it everywhere. One of the consequences, however, is not losing eternal life (which it sounds like you know). Instead, there are consequences in this life (loss of relationships with others, loss of health, even loss of life), and consequences at the Judgment Seat of Christ where we experience shame and loss of eternal reward (this is what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Eternal life is not decided yet. Jesus clearly explains this in the parable other the Sower in Matthew 13. And while some parables are hard to understand, Jesus gave the interpretation of this one. He also said that he who stands firm til the end will be saved. It is decided later. Our life after accepting Christ as Savior absolutely matters.
On legalism, it’s not about addressing sin as taught in the bible. It’s about adding stupid rules like don’t curse, smoke, dance, etc.
I agree with you. Let me interject something here. There appears to be a big difference between gaining eternal life and inheriting the Kingdom of God. Paul seems to insist that the former is by grace alone but that the latter is gained by the “correct response” to grace. Twice he tells us that if we continue to resist the Lord’s grace inspired transformation, that we shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10 & Galatians 5:21) And at another time he says that we will not enjoy an inheritance from this kingdom (Ephesians 5:5).
But like you, I don’t see this as meaning we will lose our eternal life. Instead, according to Galatians 5:19-26 and Luke 19:11-27, two places where the “Kingdom of God” is mentioned, it appears that our possible exclusion from this kingdom has to do with our quality of life, both in this life and the next. The former record appears to indicate a barrenness in our ability to produce the fruit of the spirit; the latter, of us not being asked by the King to help him govern his future millennial kingdom. As you’ll notice, none who belong to the King in this parable end up perishing. That fate belongs to those who reject his lordship entirely. Let me know what you think. Thanks.
Jeremy Myers says
Absolutely. That difference between eternal life and inheriting the Kingdom is not something I understood for the longest time. But once someone pointed that out to me, so many Scriptures all of a sudden made sense. It was a like a piece of the puzzle falling into place. So critical to understand.
I completely agree with your take on Gal 5 and Luke 19. The Kingdom of God is in view, not eternal life.
Someone also showed me that there was a difference between these two themes also and proceeded to show me the Luke 19 account as documentation of a future application. Then later on the Galatians 5 understanding came to me when I saw the word, “but” in “but the fruit of the spirit is …” after reading that “those who continue to live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Isn’t it great to know that there is no contradictions in the Word of God when properly understood?
I would have responded earlier but my computer crashed. I’ll be fully up and running again in about a week, hopefully.
Jeremy Myers says
Ah, the fun of computers. Mine is dying too… Looking forward to your return!
It appears that all Christians are saved but that not all Christians will inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s what the Apostle Paul kept saying.. Please read my February 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm comment on this post to see what I mean about not inheriting the Kingdom of God. Then let me know what you think… I’m open to anyone. Thanks.
Jeremy Myers says
I, for one, completely agree with you! I believe this understanding is critical to a proper interpretation and application of these sorts of texts.
Awhile back I wrote a sarcastic blog on keeping the law and here it is if you care to take a peek
Grahame Smith says
Great post Jeremy. Describes what legalism is and how to dismantle it. I never saw myself as a legalistic but clearly I was just applying another set of less draconian rules than others. It wasnt till I was seriously roasted by a extremely legalistic church did I wake up to myself and realize what was missing….it was boundless grace. That was quite some years ago no (but not that long ago). Jeremy helped me a great deal to understand what really God was like…..he is like Christ. Strange I managed to miss that. God is not angry with us and never was. Legalism is what will end the institutional church in my view. Importantly legalism and revering the temple (church building) seem to go together with monitoring- church attendance, participation in groups and obeying and submitting to the authority of the leadership. The result is works based faith and grace is lost in the rules and regulations.
Glenn Hager says
Jeremy – Thank you for this beautiful reminder of the counter-intuitive nature of God’s grace. It makes me feel like breathing a sigh of relief!