Those in these latter days that dare to challenge the rebellious departures from God’s Word being made by many professed Christians and their chosen leader/teachers are very often accused of legalism. I know this because it has happened to me. Microsoft Encarta Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to a literal interpretation of a law, rule or religious moral code.” Amazingly, I have never heard the Lord Jesus called a “legalist” and He had no concern about this for Himself in literally interpreting and applying God’s Word.1 My accusers, no doubt, are only attempting to escape their sin guilt from corrupting, compromising, setting aside and/or disobeying God’s Word.
The confusion involved with religious legalism goes all the way back to Eden when the serpent negatively restated God’s actual directive to Adam and Eve added words to it (compare Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-3). Obviously, God intended for Adam to give strict and literal adherence to His specific command. There was no room for exceptional situations or conditions in His command to Adam; God meant for Adam to give absolute and full obedience to what He had commanded him. The consequence of death was also clearly stated to the man for this very reason. Thus, strict obedience to God’s specific commandments and instructions is not legalism, but righteousness!
Satan’s deceitful restatement of and Eve’s added words to God’s very concise and save one prohibitive element, permissive command to Adam presents factors for the first time in human experience that lead especially to religious legalism. God’s Law and all commandments to mankind are always to be understood as for our good and beneficial. Prohibitions exist to help us avoid sin and its consequences. Himself a rebel against God, Satan negatively frames God’s Law and commandments as stifling rules and regulations that we now as sinners by nature, also reflexively rebel against (Romans 8:7). Rebels want their way and hate all rules righteous or not!
Even so, very oddly, mankind has been historically drawn to negatively framed religion. Like Eve and Israel’s religious establishment by the time the living “Word of God” become flesh arrived on the scene, they add to, embellish or arrogantly set aside God’s Law and commandments and expect the result to be legalistically kept (John 1:1, 14-18; Mark 7:1-13; Colossians 2:20-23, NKJV). In their self-made religion they appear to want to outdo God in wickedly attempting to impress Him with their outward show. But the Lord Jesus was not impressed and repeatedly challenged the areas of 1st century Israel’s invented religious legalisms involving God’s Law, commandments and Judaic rituals.
For example, Israel was specifically commanded by God in the Ten Commandments to keep the Sabbath Day holy to Him and cease from all of their normal work to rest (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). However, 1st century religious legalism went beyond God and made it a matter of law breaking to do a good deed such as healing (or being healed) and showing mercy on the Sabbath all of which the Lord Jesus did and rebuked them in the process (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-16). As “Lord of the Sabbath,” the living Word perfectly knew God’s good intent in the Law was for and to bless and refresh Israel with rest in the divine presence (Mark 2:27-28, NKJV).
As the perfect Fulfiller and Interpreter of the Law along with all of the whole Old Testament’s spiritual, moral and ethical instruction, the Lord Jesus Christ continually showed the fullness of divine good intent in them (Matthew 5:17-48). In many cases, the Lord with His literal interpretations and applications in spiritual depth and required actions went impossibly well beyond what the Law on the surface demanded and sinful human nature was willing or able to do--or who really desires to love a known enemy? But this brings us to where the Lord Jesus is the bridge between the terms of Israel’s Old Covenant embodied in the written Law and those of the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-28).2
In ushering in the New Covenant with Israel through His blood, the Lord brought into play its terms announced by God through Jeremiah the prophet which still involved the written Law and commandments (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Now, though, God would supernaturally place His Law ‘“in their minds, and write it on their hearts’” as the New Testament writer of Hebrews also affirms while celebrating the sacrifice of Christ for sin and its forgiveness that makes it all possible (Jeremiah 31:33b; Hebrews 10:11-18, NKJV). Along with producing a new heart (nature) in them, the Holy Spirit would be the Agent of placing God’s Law in their minds and writing it on their hearts (Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:25-27).
1 See the September 16, 2018, Justifying The Means By The End, under the category, Instruction.
2 For a discussion of the New Covenant, read, God’s New Covenant, under the category, Holidays and my two-part post, Party Of The Second Part, under the category,
The Faith all in January of 2014.
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