This post is part 29 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page.
I’ve spent much time over the past few weeks looking at key passages in Scripture about grace, the law, legalism, justification, and sanctification, namely in the books of Romans, Galatians, Philippians, and Hebrews.
I am putting up front that there is simply no way to expound upon these huge doctrines within the scope of a few wrap-up posts at the end of this series, but I am going to attempt to share truth as simply and honestly as I can in order to clear up any misunderstandings that you may have.
To do so, I need to go a little bit deeper than I normally would in this space. Please stick with me here. I know sometimes it’s easy to glaze over posts full of Scripture, but this is important:
1. The laws and commandments of God are important. We can’t just throw them out and pretend that they aren’t there. The purpose of the law was a) to show us what sin is and b) to show us that we are incapable of measuring up to God’s standard of perfection and that we desperately need salvation.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7)
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Romans 7:18)
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)
3. Accepting God’s grace by faith is the only way to please God or to “be righteous”:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand (Romans 5:1-2)
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21)
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
3. Once we accept God’s grace for salvation, we are no longer under (responsible to keep) the law, or follow a system of works to please God. The righteousness that was given to us through justification is all that God requires.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)
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. (Romans 7:6)
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6)
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:25)
Phew. Are you still with me?
There’s been a running theme through this series. Can I break it down even more simply?
1) I’m not good enough to please God – ever. This is why legalism is futile.
2) I need Jesus, his grace and his righteousness – both for salvation and for power for daily living
3) His grace and righteousness are enough for me, every day
4) Even when I fail, God accepts me because I have accepted Christ
I’m not sure how to make it any more simple. I feel like it makes sense in my head but I’m failing to explain it well because I know it’s a big thing to take in.
So then, what do we do with all of the commands of Scripture, especially those that fall outside of the Mosaic law (as in the teachings of Christ in the gospels and the guidelines for Christian living found in the New Testament)?
We obey. Out of a heart of love, through the power of grace.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.
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. (Romans 6, portions)
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh (Galatians 5:13)
This isn’t about trying harder to be a better Christian. This isn’t about checking boxes in order to please God. This isn’t about earning more of God’s love through our awesome behavior management techniques. This is about recognizing the wonder of grace, daily – and being motivated by LOVE – letting the Christ who lives within us live THROUGH us. Letting HIS righteousness shine through.
For the love of Christ constraineth us; …that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
…nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2)
We will fail. Because there is nothing good in us. We are bound my this human flesh and there’s no getting around that. We can’t work ourselves perfect, obey ourselves into righteousness. Even our best will fall short.
But this is where legalism fails.
Because when a legalist works and fails, disobeys, tries but falls short – all that’s left is guilt and shame, and the hope that maybe if you just try harder, eventually you’ll get there.
But when we are walking in grace and we fail and fall – we can raise hearts of worship to the God of second, third, and four-hundred-seventy-fifth chances. The God of grace, who bids us to come boldly to him in all of our ugliness.
I used to think that legalistic living was the closest thing I could get to perfection and pleasing God – and that “those people” who just wanted to talk about love and grace and live however they wanted were far far from God.
(And yes, there is a lot of that going on in Christianity today, don’t get me wrong.)
But TRUE grace-filled living is not about doing whatever you want without care and crying “there’s grace for that!” when you know what you are doing is wrong.
Yes, he says “Come boldly to the throne of grace” but he also says “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
It’s about balance. It’s about having the right power source, the right motivation. It’s about staying humble and remembering that you are nothing and he is everything.
There are legalists and there are anti-legalists. The anti-legalists have a tendency to swing the pendulum so far the other direction because legalism is so distasteful. They make up their own rules as they go. They get puffed up with how not-legalistic they are and cast judgment on the legalist.
I’m sure I’ve even done some of that in this series. But it’s not my intention, because I know that’s not what God wants for his children. He wants grace-filled, love-filled people who speak truth and live their lives for him, not for themselves.
Both sides of the pendulum are fleshly because they are still all about you. What you do, what you don’t do. How good of a Christian you can be or how good of an anti-legalist you can be.
In reality, what we need the most is more of Jesus and less of everything but Him.
To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.
Next post, part 30: From legalism into grace: one man’s story