There are two extremes afflicting the church.
- Legalism: those who burden the people of God with teachings that make salvation a work
- Antinomianism: those who say that the saved have no obligation to the Law
There are many forms of legalism in modern evangelical churches and we must shun every form. Jesus warned us of the leaven of the Pharisees and we must take care that it does not raise its ugly head in our churches. It will be constantly seeking to undermine our gospel.
Christians are burdened by all sorts of things that steal away the joy of the gospel. Here are some examples:
- that keeping the Sabbath Day or Lord’s Day Holy must be held
- that tithing must be done
- that to partake of alcohol is sinful
- that we must attend church no matter what
- that we must sign up to serve in the church or be counted lazy and unspiritual
- that to partake of the Lord’s Table in a “unworthy manner” could result in God’s judgment upon themselves
Pastors burden the people of God by these and other “laws” and requirements and the list goes on and on.
What is a good thing or a legitimate concern is made by the legalist into a bad thing.
In response to the points above consider the following brief replies:
- The idea of resting is a blessing from God but only a legalist actually thinks that he or she has actually kept the Lord’s Day holy by abstaining and doing certain things on a day! See this page on this site [Former Sabbatarian]
- While giving to the Lord is always a good thing and the Lord loves a cheerful giver, there is no commandment placed upon New Testament Saints that we must give at least 10%
- Drunkenness is a sin, but partaking of alcohol is not a sin, plain and simple
- While we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the norm there must always be liberty to not attend without censure – one may benefit more from having a time to sleep or to go on a holiday!
- While ‘whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies‘ it must initiated and sustained by the one doing the serving of their own free will
- Partaking of the Lord’s Table is never a matter of our own worthiness but the Lord’s worthiness – anathema on those who teach this form of legalism! The test of examining ourselves was never intended to be a question about how faithful or sinful we are as Christians, but that we were not abusing the actual practice as addressed in the context of the text in question [1 Corinthians 11:23-34].
Here is a good summary verse:
Colossians 2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day
The other extreme is to say that because we are under the grace of God we have no obligation whatsoever to the Law of God. The term Antinomianism is ‘against’ – ‘law’.
While we are not saved by our works it is not as though the Law of God does not exist anymore.
Romans 3:31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
The Law did not disappear. Faith has established the Law. Meaning that faith affirms Jesus as the only One who has fulfilled the Law and that being of faith we have the fulfillment of the Law attributed to us. It is those of faith that it can be said: ‘so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ [Romans 8:3,4].
We never at any point fulfill the Law according to our own flesh. The Law is fulfilled in those who walk according to the Spirit, meaning that as we are in Him who fulfilled the Law we are counted as those who have fulfilled the Law. We stand in the righteousness of Jesus Christ under the grace of God by faith.
Again, the Law, in its absolute requirements, has not disappeared. It is still a sin to violate the Law. If a Christian under the grace of God commits adultery then he has sinned according to the Law. The reason why stealing, lying, committing adultery, and murder, are counted sin is because the Law has not passed away.
Paul asks the necessary question, showing us that the answer to these things are provided for us.
Romans 6:15,16 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?
Paul is saying that though we are under grace there is something imperative for us to understand. If we sin intentionally we are presenting ourselves as slaves to sin and this will necessarily result in death. The death that he refers to is firstly experiential, meaning that the Christian senses the separation that are sin brings, which necessarily grieves the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 4:30] and causes us to feel death [Isaiah 59:2; James 1:14,15]. Secondly, the death that he speaks of is a warning to us that the ultimate realization of death is hell, where the disobedient are eternally separated from God.
A true Christian cannot lose their salvation, even as Paul asserts in Romans 6:1,2, ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?’ A true Christian has died to sin and cannot live in it. But the heart is desperately wicked and it is easy to become deceived. When we sin we firstly undermine our assurance of salvation, but then secondly, we present ourselves under a requirement of death, that if not repented of, will necessarily result in damnation.
He deals in Romans 7:14-25 with the reality for the Christian that we do things that are sinful, that we are slaves to sin, and that there is a principal of evil in us. This is regarding one who is a Christian, for as Paul laments his body of death he also says after the triumph of Romans 8:1 that though our spirits are alive because of God’s righteousness our bodies are still dead because of sin [Romans 8:10]. Notice what Paul said, ‘For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.’ The Law is not a bad thing, but a good thing.
Galatians 5:19-21 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
How can an Antinomian say that we can totally disregard the Law when Paul forewarns Christians that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God?
We live with the tension of warfare in the Christian life. If the Antinomian is right then there is no warfare at all. On the contrary, we are in a battle against the flesh [Galatians 5:17] and yet the solution is not to revert to legalism but to learn how to walk by the Spirit [Galatians 5:16].
A Few Scripture Verses Demonstrating our Obligation
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 5:17-20 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Romans 8:12-14 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called….
Ephesians 4:17-32 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-5 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God….
1 Peter 1:13-17 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;
1 John 2:3-6 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Definitely not exhaustive!
Read my book Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit, which addresses these issues and provides an empowering answer as to how to live the Christian life.