Thursday, November 01, 2007

In Defense of "Legalism"

In the Galatians Bible Study class last Sunday, one of the members requested a moratorium on the use of the word "legalism." His point, I think, was that too many people want to escape the restrictions of clear boundaries to justify unruly behavior, so they make a straw man out of "legalism." When Paul stressed salvation by grace and not by works in Galatians he was not suggesting that we simply live as we please. He was not saying that "anything goes." He was saying that believers are bound to live by the more excellent law of Christ. Consider the following verses:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;

This member also suggested that those who denounce "legalism" are prone to throw around the word without ever properly defining it. That sent me to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary which offers two possibilities for "legalism": (1) strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code; and (2) a legal term or rule. I think we would agree that "legalism" that adds to Biblical expectations is to be avoided while "legalism" in terms of zeal for keeping the law of Christ faithfully should be sought. We want to be conformed to the moral law of God and to the new law of Christ as the rule and guide for living.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Evangel Article 10/30/07.

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