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Monday, March 24, 2008

Our Confidence: Answering The Assault Against Holiness

2 CORINTHIANS 6:14-7:1

I want to address an issue head-on that I have touched on several times over the course of this series. It is the use of the terms such as legalism and legalist. I have come to believe that this is the spiritual equivalent to “tolerance” in the socio/political sphere. We now live in a day that to raise a cry against worldliness and a lack of separation in dress, language, and entertainment, etc. it to be labeled a legalist.

There are a couple of interesting points to be made about this phenomenon:

The very people who use the term legalist/legalism would often decry the use of the term “toleration” in the socio/political realm.

According to their definition of legalism just a few decades ago most, if not all Baptist pulpits were filled with legalist. The idea that Christians are to be different in their dress, language, and entertainment choices is no novel invention. It was not that long ago that most Baptists were known for opposing dancing, drinking, smoking and going to the movies! It was not that long ago that most Baptist were known for believing a woman should dress and look like a woman and a man should dress and look like a man. Now to embrace these views is to be a legalist. Consequently we are left with concluding that the great preachers and churches of a previous generation were unenlightened.

What is a legalist? Let us consider the definition provided by Webster. 1. One who desires a strict adherence to the law. 2. (Theol.) One who regards conformity to the law as a ground for salvation.

Legalism – Strictness in adhering to law, or trusting to conformity to law; as, the spirit of legalism.

These definitions are important to consider. In a general context a legalist is one who desires a strict adherence to law. Most people are probably legalist in the application of justice in the criminal justice system. Most Christians are probably legalist in that they desire strict adherence to law, even if it is the law of not being a legalist! Now there is a novel application, being legalistically opposed to legalism. The point is we are all legalist the only question is the standard we embrace. In this sense it is not a negative thing.

The word legalist does have a theological use. And as Mr. Webster rightly expresses it. Theologically a legalist is one who regards conformity to the law as a ground for salvation. That is a legalist is one who believes that human effort or behaviour contributes to or produces salvation.

Legalism as defined by Mr. Webster is probably something that everyone practices in relation to some standard. Again the issue is not whether we embrace legalism but what standard we embrace, to what law do we conform.

Having considered the definition of these terms it seems to use them in the context of a discussion concerning separation is not helpful. The use of the terms fail to bring clarity and it seems often times is simply an attempt to silence the person who draws the lines more conservatively. Again, the word is used in the same manner that the word toleration/tolerant is used in the cultural arena.

Do you believe it is wrong to steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, etc.? Is that not legalistic?

But it is wrong to say it is wrong for a woman to dress like a man or wear her hair like a man, or to say it is wrong for a man to dress like a woman or wear his hair like a woman, it is wrong to say that certain choices for entertainment are unacceptable for the Christian, it is wrong to say it is wrong to wear bathing suits and participate in mixed swimming, etc. . .

They say it is not wrong to think those things are wrong but it is wrong to expect other people to live by those standards. Is it wrong to expect other people to live by the standard of not stealing, lying, murdering, or committing adultery?

You say well those things are clear in the Bible. They are clear to you!

There is nothing so clear in the Bible that no one will take exception to it!


The law is not the problem.

Romans 7:12,14 - Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good . . .
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

The law is holy.
The law is just.
The law is good.
The law is spiritual.

In contrast:
I am carnal.
I am sold under sin.

The problem is not the law, the problem is me. My inability or unwillingness to obey the moral law of God provides no legitimacy to calling into question its authority.

Psalms 19:7-11 - The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

The law of the Lord is perfect.
The testimony of the Lord is sure.
The statutes of the Lord are right.
The commandment of the Lord is pure.

In contrast it is:
My soul that needs converting.
I who need to be made wise.
I who need to rejoice in right.
I who need to have my eyes enlightened.

The law warns.
Keeping the law brings great reward.

Romans 7:7 – What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid.
To hear some speak of the law you would think the law is sin. "Well, that's in the Old Testament" they say. It is as though because it is in the Old Testament it is relegated to sub-standard material. It ceases to be true. I would be the first to admit that some things in the Old Testament or not applicable to the New Testament economy. But those things are clearly identified and explained in the New Testament. Things such as the Jewish ceremonial law. Hebrews deals extensively with this aspect of the law being set aside in the New Testament. I have yet to find a place in the New Testament where the moral law of the Old Testament is set aside in the New Testament. The moral decrees of God are timeless and transcend the Testaments.

The law does not cease to be relevant once we are saved.

Romans 3:31 - Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
This verse is at the end of chapter where Paul is arguing that we are not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul, having so vehemently opposed the idea of being justified by the works of the law he stops short those who would take the arguments presented and use them to completely dismiss the law.

To "make void" means to be (render) entirely idle (useless), abolish, destroy, put away.
The question is an important one. Because we are saved by faith and not the works of the law does it mean that we have rendered the law entirely idle and useless? Have we abolished the law completely?

Paul's answer is unequivocal. God forbid!

He goes on to explain that so far are we from making void the law that we establish the law. To establish means to stand, appoint, continue, establish. Because the law does not justify us but by faith we are justified the argument does not follow the law ceases to have any relevance in our lives. It continues to bear testimony to God’s standard of righteousness and what pleases and displeases him!

Romans 6:14,15 - For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
Sin shall not have dominion over you. What a great a glorious truth. It is important to remember exactly what sin is. Sin is the transgression of the law. In effect what Paul is saying is the transgression of the law shall not have dominion over you.

He then proceeds to give the reason why this is true. For ye are not under the law but under grace. Law is not motivating us, grace is.

He then anticipates and proceeds to another question. What then, shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? Shall we transgress the law because we are not under the law, but under grace? This question strikes at the heart of the matter for the Christian. Does grace allow for the transgression of the law?

Again the answer is stated in unequivocal terms. God forbid! Absolutely not!

Romans 7:6 - But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
But now we are delivered from the law. Some take that to mean we are no longer have an obligation to obey the law. Are we delivered from the practice of its precepts or from its condemnation? Are we no more morally obligated to obey God or have we been delivered from the law of sin and death? These are questions that must be answered. In what sense are we delivered from the law.

If I was arrested and charged with unlawful entry of a building. Upon trial I was acquitted by a jury of my peers. I could legitimately be said that I have been delivered from the law. But does that now mean that I can go out and enter any building I want, whenever I want. No, of course not! My acquittal does not relieve me of the responsibility of obeying the law. Likewise when I am acquitted on the merits of Jesus Christ, I am delivered from the law. My justification does not free me from the obligation I have to the moral law.

"That being dead wherein we were held". That is the law having dominion over us as the woman is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth. (vs. 1) Vs: 4 – We are dead to the law. The law no longer has dominion over us. There is no condemnation (8:1). All of this is as it relates to justification.

"That we should serve". To serve means to be a slave to, be in bondage. Serve what? The law? In newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. The legalism crowd jumps on this and implies from this statement we have no obligation to the letter of the law, even though it clearly says “serve”. Then it describes how we are to serve, in newness of spirit. We are to serve not the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. This is the crux of the matter.

We have a New Testament illustration of what this means and what it looks like in life.
Matthew 5

21,22 – Thou shalt not kill.

Vs. 21 – Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
This is the letter of the law!

Vs. 22 – But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
This is the spirit of the law!

27,28 – Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Vs. 27 – Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
This is the letter of the law!

Vs. 28 – But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
This is the spirit of the law!

33-37 – Thou shalt not bear false witness.

Vs. 33 – Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
This is the letter of the law!

Vs. 34-37 – But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
This is the spirit of the law!

Romans 8:1-4 - There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Vs: 1 – No condemnation. Christ frees us from the condemnation of the law. Not walking after the flesh but the Spirit is evidence of a changed heart.

Vs: 2 – Competing laws. The word law here is being used in the same way we would say the “law” of gravity. It is used this way in 7:21 – I find then a law that when I would do good evil is present with me. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It is a law of life.

"Hath made me free". The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is a superior law because it frees from another law. It frees, delivers us from the law of sin and death. You sin, you die. "The wages of sin is death."

Vs: 3 – The in ability of the law.

Vs: 4 – The fulfillment of the law.
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us. That is the spirit not simply the letter of the law. That which goes beyond the letter of the law. It righteous intent touching the heart and not simply the behaviour. Effecting the attitudes and not simply the reputation.

"Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." This is not speaking of our position in Christ but our walk. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in our walk, because it is not after the flesh but the Spirit.


God looks on the heart.

I do not personally know anyone who denies this truth. The problem I have with it is that it is often spoken as though this is all that matters. It is as though some are saying my heart is spiritual no matter how worldly my behaviour. Where it really counts I am what I am supposed to be. As long as my heart is right then my behaviour is only secondary. These are conclusions I cannot accept.

In fact few of us would accept this premise if a fornicator was using this argument. Most would look at his behaviour and say his heart was amiss.

Does God look on the heart and does that matter? Of course.

1Samuel 16:7 - But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

It really comes down to the reality that man sees the fruit and God sees the root. Consequently it must be readily admitted by all that man is not infallible in his judgments, God is!

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
What we must be willing to admit is that we are apt to misjudge our own hearts.

Psalms 139:23,24 - Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
This must be our constant prayer.

The heart is the root of behaviour.
Proverbs 4:23 - Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Matthew 12:35 - A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
Matthew 15:19 - For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
Mark 7:21-23 - For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
James 1:14.15 - But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
It is hard to read these verse without realizing there is a direct connection between one's heart and one's behaviour. In fact what we learn from these verses is that in most cases the behaviour is a very reliable indicator of the condition of the heart.

Of course in this discussion the issue of judging always comes up.

Matthew. 7:1-5 - Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Let me give just a brief summary of these verses:

Vs: 1 – A simple premise. It is not amazing that everyone has this verse memorized but most are absolutly clueless concerning its context.
Vs: 2 – A restraint on our spirit of condemnation
Vs: 3 – The problem of improper focus.
Vs: 4 – An ineffective ministry.
Vs: 5 – An effective ministry.
The bottom line is that we are not preculded from passing judgment. In fact the opposite is true. We are encouraged to remove the mote that is in our brother's eye. The hitch is that we are to only do so after we have removed the beam out of our own eye. Others are approached only after serious self-examination, confession, and repentance. This ensures that we will make the approach with humility and a vivid awareness of our own inadequacies.

1 Corinthians. 13:5,6 – Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Charity does not think evil yet at the same time it does not rejoice in iniquity. This whole process involves making judgments about people and dealing with them appropriately in the context of charity.

2 Corinthians. 10:12 - For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

Others should not be the standard by which we judge ourselves. We should not be the standard by which we judge others. To do either is not wise.

Our behaviour matters to God.

Jeremiah. 17:9,10 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
Think about what these two verses tell us. The heart is desperately wicked. The Lord searches the heart. The Lord gives to every man. According to his ways. According to the fruit of his doings. You will note that the while the Lord searches the heart he gives to every man according to his ways and doings. Why? Because his heart is revealed in his doings.

2 Corinthians. 5:10 - For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Receive the things done in his body. According to that he hath done. At the judgment seat of Christ we will be rewarded according to what we did. The behaviour is clearly judged and rewarded accordingly.

"Whether it be good or bad." Every thing we do will be judged as either good or bad. Where is the gray? It is inconceivable that at the judgment seat of Christ there will be a large category of behaviour that was neither good nor bad. In fact in 1 Corinthians 3 we find our works be placed into two categories. One is characterized as gold, sliver, and precious stones. The other is characterized as wood, hay, and stubble. Every work is considered to be one or the other. When it is tried by fire the only thing remaining will the works that are characterized as gold, silver, and precious stones and those works will be rewarded. Everything else will be burned up and we will suffer loss of reward accordingly. But remember the judgment is based upon what we have done.

Ephesians 6:8 - Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
Colossians 3:25 - But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
Revelation 22:12 - And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
1Corinthians 6:19,20 - What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
2 Corinthians 7:1 – Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

These verses, and there are many more like them, clearly indicate that behaviour matters. We decieve ourselves by thinking that our hearts are right when our behaviour is wrong. I can, hypothetically of course, hear believers now at the judgment seat of Christ when many of their works are burnt up saying, "But it is the heart that matters not the outside."


The cry of legalism provides a natural defense against public preaching.

Isaiah 58:1 - Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
We live in a day when few people want to hear the voice of a prophet but rather the platitudes of a teacher.

2 Timothy 4:1-4 – I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
The reproof of carnality is dismissed as legalism.
The messenger of rebuke is discounted as a legalist.
The exhortation to holy living is distorted as legalism delivered by a legalist.

The cry of legalism provides opportunity to sidestep any position that is more conservative.

Legalism is often the home of shallow thinkers. It delivers them from the hard work of actually working through an issue. It delivers them from the difficult task of searching the Scripture for wisdom and insight concerning an issue. They free themselves from having to ask does this please God and deicsions can be made based upon things such as what is culturally acceptable and what they personally like.

To label another’s genuine convictions as legalism or the messenger as a legalist is the same as the liberal politician labeling the opposing view on gay marriage as intolerant.

Hebrews 10:23-29 - Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Again let me give an abbreviated outline of this passage:

Vs: 23 – Holding fast is a virtue.
Vs: 24 – We are to be provoking one another unto good works.
Vs: 25 – We are to be exhorting one another.
Vs: 26,27 – Willful sin invites chastisement.
It is not good enough to just say, “that’s not the way I see it.”
Vs: 28,29 – Showing despite unto the Spirit of grace.
The word "despite" means to insult. What greater insult than to plead grace in order to sin (transgress the law)? What insult to the Spirit of grace to label someone who is seeking to provoke unto good works a legalist.

In conclusion let us remember the words of Romans 3:31 - Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
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