Monday, March 26, 2018

The Definition of Legalism

Grace 10

Note: This is the second in a series of posts by Joe Cassada discussing legalism. The first can be found here.

Previously, I mentioned that two popular understandings of legalism2legalism fail to take the battle to the enemy: the first is the idea that legalism is simply being overly strict; the second is the idea that legalism is only an effort to save oneself by one’s good works. With the first understanding, it is implied that legalism is defeated by merely relaxing the rules; with the second, legalism is seemingly dismissed by rejecting a false doctrine.

The first understanding is woefully shallow – perhaps even theologically ignorant. The second doesn’t go far enough. I said I would offer my definition of legalism this week, and I will. But the astute reader may have already discerned a definition in my last post where I said, “... at its root, legalism is a grace-abusing condition of the heart...” Before we dive into that, let’s start with a very brief dip into a few verses of Scripture.

Legalism is a challenging word to define biblically because it doesn’t appear in the Bible, so we must take what we widely understand about the word, and search the Scriptures for more information. And the thing about legalism that is widely understood (because it is obvious) is that legalism deals with the law – specifically it deals with the law in relation to the Christian. Is there any passage in the Bible that deals specifically with the law in its relation to the Christian’s life? Yes, there are many, but one book really stands out: Galatians.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul doesn’t hold back in his strong condemnation of the abuse of grace by Judaizer heresy. In his opening remarks, he jumps right into the fight with a jab-right-cross: I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ. Pow! Paul is defending grace with the zeal of a man defending his own mother. Paul knew what grace was, for he had experienced God’s amazing grace in a blindingly brilliant fashion (pun intended). It was grace that birthed him into the family of God. It was grace that turned him from blood-thirsty persecutor to bold Gospel preacher. This Gospel of grace that Paul received was not through some Johnny-come-lately from Jerusalem, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:12)

The Galatians, though, had turned from the Gospel of grace to another gospel – which isn’t a gospel at all. (Gal. 1:7) So learn this: when grace is diminished, the Gospel is twisted and ruined - “perverted” is the word Paul used. A gospel devoid of grace is no longer gospel – whatever it is, it isn’t good news.

The Dispute at Antioch
by Judepe de Ribera
c 1640
Paul wanted his Galatian friends to know that he was no stranger to dust-ups with Judaizers and their sympathizers. Paul even shared the story of how he had withstood Peter to the face when that esteemed rock crumbled underneath the pressure of legalistic sensibilities (Gal. 2:11, 12). If the Apostle to the Gentiles wasn’t afraid to get in the face with the Apostle to the Circumcision, you can bet your next allowance that he wasn’t gonna back down to the Judaizing bullies who were kicking sand at the Galatian Christians.

Listen: when Peter (et al) refused to eat with the Gentile Christians because of the name-dropping Judaizers, Paul said they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel. (Gal. 2:14) That’s huge. For a saved man to insinuate through his actions anything that is contrary to Gospel grace is to, therefore, walk not uprightly according to the truth. Saved people, even the ones who preach the Gospel, can act legalistically. Peter did, and so do we (more than we would care to admit).

Peter’s refusal to eat with the Gentiles insinuated that the grace of God wasn’t good enough to make them good enough. And that’s bad. Legalism can be full-orbed works salvation (a false gospel) and also an attitude that grace alone isn’t enough to sanctify a believer to an acceptable level or cleanliness – there remained in Peter’s view of the Gentiles a “favor that had to be earned” (if ever it could be). Legalism, then, is an abuse of law and grace so that God’s favor becomes something that must be earned.

Ah. Now we see legalism in its ugly nakedness. The Judaizers were nothing new. Their brand of poison was milked from a Serpent’s fangs long ago, for this attitude that “God’s favor must be earned” is as old as the first sin. Sinclair Ferguson, in his wonderfully helpful book “The Whole Christ” describes the scene in the Garden of Eden where the Serpent asks Eve, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? and thereby intimates that God had not been good and gracious in literally giving our first parents every single tree in the Garden but one. The Serpent switched the focus away from God’s provision and onto God’s prohibition. God’s law was no longer loving and gracious but cruel and mean. “Now, like a pouting child of the most generous father, she acted as though she wanted to say to God, ‘You never give me anything. You insist on me earning everything I am ever going to have.’...God thus became to her ‘He-whose-favor-has-to-be-earned’” (82). Ferguson goes on to note that, “Legalism is simply separating the law of God from the person of God...[Eve] was deceived into ‘hearing’ law only as a negative deprivation and not as the wisdom of a heavenly Father” (83).

Legalism, then, is both the abuse of grace and the perversion of the law. It twists people’s minds into seeing God as “He-whose-favor-has-to-be-earned.” Contrary to popular opinion, legalism and antinomianism go hand-in-hand, for when one abuses grace, they inevitably divorce the law of God from the person of God, and vice versa.
Haven’t you ever been amazed when some of the most straight-laced people are found to harbor some of the most scandalous sins? It’s because legalism and antinomianism are weeds that spring up from the same ground.

Perhaps you think my thoughts on this matter and those of Ferguson’s are new-fangled innovations injected in an age-old controversy. Some might say I muddy the waters, and I understand why they would think that: legalism was much less confusing when it was simply salvation by works. But now that I see that it is also a spirit (the “legal spirit” the Old Timers spoke of) that is not merely a false doctrine to be mentally rejected but a deed of the body that needs mortification.

I hope, if my handling of those few verses in Galatians, and Ferguson’s treatment of the Garden scene are unsatisfactory, that you would give heed to a preacher who predates #OldPaths. Thomas Boston (1676-1732) warned that
“Legalism is one of the dangerous engines the gates of hell Tbostonare directing this day against the church built upon a Rock: this is an attempt against the grace of Christ, bringing in a scheme of religion that has no relation to Jesus Christ and his Spirit, and putting virtue or a virtuous life in the room of Christ's righteousness, for acceptance with God, and the exerting of our natural powers in the room of the influences of his Spirit, by which means the corruption of nature, and the necessity of regeneration, are buried in deep silence, and living by faith, attending the Spirit's influence, and communion with God, are branded as enthusiasm: Thus a refined heathenism is palmed on us for Christianity" (106).

Boston added, “In a sinking state of the church, the law and gospel are confounded, and the law justles out the gospel, the dark shades of morality take place of gospel light: which plague is this day begun in the church, and well far advanced. Men think they see the fitness of legal preaching for sanctification but how the gospel should be such a mean, they cannot understand" (106).

“Legal preaching for sanctification” - sound familiar?

So far we have seen the danger of legalism and the definition of legalism; next time we will discuss the detection of legalism, and we will ask, “Lord, is it I?”


Works Cited
Boston, Thomas, James Hog, et al. Gospel Truth Accurately Stated and Illustrated. Canonsburgh: Andrew Munro, 1827. PDF.
Ferguson, Sinclair. The Whole Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016. Print.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Danger of Legalism

Grace 9

Note: In planning this blog series on grace I felt I wanted to cover the subject of legalism in some depth. I have asked my good friend, Pastor Joe Cassada, of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Maryland Heights, Missouri, to address this topic for us. This is the first of several posts covering the topic.

Best-Boxing-Gloves1Legalism is a word that has received quite a bit of attention – usually because it used as a blunt force instrument. For example, Christians of the fundamentalist stripe have frequently been accused of beating people over the heads with the Bible, but if such a pugilistic spirit does find expression in our ranks, I think it is sometimes because we are simply trading blows with those that beat us over the head with the charge that we are being legalists or pharisees. In fact, it would seem the favorite punching bag of the young Christian social media phenoms is the previous generation’s legalism. Sometimes the punches land squarely on the nose, and other times they are wild swings whiffing through the air.

When traipsing through social media, it doesn’t take long before one comes across some fresh-faced video maven who is waxing eloquent about how “it’s about a relationship, not a religion.” His sweet words and sincere looks are convincing, and it’s easy to finish watching his four to seven minute sound-bite-sermon thinking that Jesus loves me so much he doesn’t really care what I do or how I live. Because “legalism is bad, and most Christians are judgmental prudes. But Jesus is totally cool. Maybe I should I get a tattoo just to prove to everyone that I am totally not a legalist” - or so the thinking goes.

Little effort is needed to find some zealous (and vocal) opponent of legalism who confesses to have “really struggled with it” in the past, and who now is apparently delivered of its powers. The evidence they offer for their deliverance is that they dress down for Sunday morning church, rap the snare drum for worship, and prater on pretentiously about their favorite microbrewery. They didn’t used to do those things, but now they do because they’re not legalists anymore.

Of course, the suits-and-ties crowd cringe and bristle at stuffSuit_tie like that. They swear they aren’t legalists because “legalism is works salvation and we obviously don’t believe in that. And to prove we don’t believe in that let me remind you that we go soul winning every week for at least one hour. Every week. For one hour. At least. Exactly as the Bible says. Because if we didn’t, we would be backslidden. But then, if we were backsliding, we would be sure to hit the altar after the sermon to get right...of course we will do that anyways because if we don’t hit the altar, then that means we’re backslidden. Just like the Bible says. But, we’re not legalists. The Catholics are, but we aren’t. We don’t do empty rituals.”

By now you’ve picked up on the sarcasm, so let me just be frank: legalism is misunderstood and misdefined, and because of this it goes undetected and untreated. Like a cancer, it grows and corrupts individuals, families, and entire churches and denominations. It’s sneaky, deceptive, and a master of disguise. It’s the proverbial beam in our eye.

Permit me to continue the personification: legalism is a disgusting little monster that doesn’t care about your biases, creeds, or church’s statement of faith. Legalism is the slithering imp that is able to worm his way into your heart regardless of your profession of salvation by faith alone. He doesn’t care that you hate legalism in other people either, because he is all the happier to make a warm home in your own dark carnality (and antinomianism is one of his favorite roommates).

That’s the really terrifying thing about legalism: it doesn’t follow our stereotypes; it follows us. The starched-collar-preacher and the skinny-jeans-worship leader can both be guilty of it – and to the same degree. And while they throw stones at each other marked “liberal” and “pharisee,” the Devil laughs. If there is one area in the Christian life that we should stop pointing fingers and hurling insults without first seriously looking to our Savior and humbly asking “Lord, is it I?” this is that one area. The purpose of this piece is not to lampoon the caricatures of the culture spectrum, but to remind us all, whether young or old, whether #oldpaths or #newIFB; that this fight against legalism is every man’s fight, and your respective corners of the cultural boxing ring do not necessarily place you closer or further away from legalism’s insidious influence. Because wherever you go, you take him with you, son of Adam.

Legalism is a dangerous and hellish sin because it can grow like a weed even in soil that is on fire for God. Legalism is a sin that is capable of surviving massive doses of revivalism, righteous indignation, and well-intentioned reform. Legalism is not afraid of the fiery pulpit, the open Bible, or the bent knee.

Legalism will go with you to church and sit right next to you for worship. But he will also tag along to the bar and high-five some of his other friends that are frequently there. And legalism will hold your hand while you read your Bible and pat your back when you say your prayers. He won’t mind if you light up a stogie and proclaim your Christian liberty to all your Instagram followers. He’s down with that too, as the kids say. He’s just at home with the hipster in the tattoo parlor as he is the stuffed-shirt traditionalist in the sanctuary.

chameleonssssHerein is the terrifying danger of legalism: it loves sin and morality both. He fears neither conservative values nor progressive ideas. He is the ultimate chameleon.

Legalism loves how we’ve turned his sin into a generational issue, as if it wasn’t a matter of every individual’s heart. It’s the older folks who are the legalists, right? Legalism loves how the younger evangelicals carry on like craft beer is some kind of vaccination against it – or how so many think that encamping along the extreme edge of the gray areas is a sure-fire way to escape the touch of legalism. It isn’t. “How can I be a legalist when I embrace all the seedy elements of the subculture that my parents rejected? Jesus ate with sinners and hated the religious right, and so do I.”

Oh, foolish Christian! You play right into the enemy’s hands!

Legalism loves how the older folks tend to think that since they profess salvation by faith alone, then they are quite safe from any charge of legalism. They aren’t, because legalism isn’t segregated along denominational boundaries and doctrinal definitions alone. Legalism breeds just as well under conditions that are officially sola fide.

Wake up! Your Webster’s Dictionary definition of legalism doesn’t go far enough. You’re bringing a knife to a gun fight.

There are two popular definitions of legalism that are leading people right into the trap: one is the idea that legalism is being too strict. I think an honest assessment would show that though most deny such a technical definition of legalism, it is nevertheless the most practical application of it. According  to this is common paradigm, the legalist is simply the guy who is stricter than me.

The other definition that tends to hinder our victory over legalism is the understanding that legalism is only in believing that salvation can be attained through obedience to the Mosaic law. And while this is technically a true part of the theological understanding of legalism, it should not be our entire understanding of legalism. So, on the one hand, legalism is treated as merely old-fashioned strictness that is out of style and needs to catch up with the times, and on the other hand it is viewed only as bad doctrine that is easily rejected. But at its root, legalism is a grace-abusing condition of the heart that robs the Christian of true joy and communion with God.

Knowing your enemy is fundamental for victory on the battlefield, and having a biblical definition of legalism is essential to defeating it in your own heart. Since such an important term deserves careful attention, we will let the Bible (not the dictionary or our own prejudices) define legalism for us. This we will work through next time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Under Grace

Grace 8

Note: This post deals with Paul's use of the phrase under grace in Romans 6. But I think to understand this post in context you should first read the post that deals with Paul's preceding phrase, not under the law. It can be found here


Rom 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.

Leaf from John Newton's 1779 Olney Hymns
 with this song's original title,
"Faith's Review and Expectation" 
I believe in grace. I must, for God does. Grace, loosely defined, means unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, unearned goodness, and complete acceptance. The word has the idea behind it of some wonderful blessing or favor given to me in spite of the fact I do not deserve it in the least.

God dispenses grace in many different forms and in a variety of applications. In his first epistle, Peter described our responsibility to understand and apply this when he said as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (I Peter 4.10) "Manifold" means something that is marked by diversity and variety which makes it a perfect adjective for grace.

How is the grace of God a manifold thing? Namely in this: grace brings us salvation but then grace brings us everything else as well. We see this illustrated in Paul's interactions with the church at Corinth. In II Corinthians 8 he is calling on them to fulfill the promises they made in reference to giving money to the needy in Jerusalem. Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. (II Corinthians 8.7) Paul as much as states that we exercise each of these spiritual disciplines not in our own strength but by the grace of God. The Corinthian church had a strong faith. Why? Because the grace of God enabled them to do so. That was true as well of their fervor in witnessing, the depth of their knowledge of God, the fact they worked hard at their Christianity, and even their very affection for Paul himself. In their own power, the Corinthians were unable to do any of these, but with the grace of God they could do them all. Thus, Paul's point is that this same grace was available to help them to give sacrificially and cheerfully as well.

I call this idea helping grace. My father, who pastored for thirty eight years, calls it spiritual guts. The basic premise is that just as I cannot save myself so I cannot be what God calls me to be or do what God calls me to do in my own power. God has to grant me the strength, the ability, the power to be and do what His children ought to be and do. So I go to Him and ask for it. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4.16) What do I need help with? The answer does not really matter for every spiritual truth and application is in view here. Do I need God to help me to be what I ought to be? At the throne of grace I will find the enabling grace I need to be that. Do I need God to help me to do what I ought to do? At the throne of grace I will find the enabling grace I need to do that.

How does this fit with grace's standard definitions? Perfectly. I do not deserve God's enabling power, His grace to help in any area of my life. He gives it to me all unmerited. In this, we see how it is exactly similar to its saving work in my life. I am saved by grace. I am enabled to live out the will of God, the commands of God by grace. How did Jesus face Calvary and redeem humanity? But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2.9) How did Paul build such an amazing life and ministry? By the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. (II Corinthians 1.12) How will you and I serve God in a way that is acceptable to Him? By the same enabling grace that Paul used. Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12.28)

We see here an absolutely key point: grace is not permission;are_you_under_grace_not_law2 it is enablement. God did not design grace as a catch all to allow me to choose for myself what the Christian life ought to be. No, He designed grace to be the power that enables me to grow into His image. Peter did not say, "Have fun in grace." He said grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3.18) It is ungodly to view grace as God's liberating permissiveness because this turns the grace of God into lasciviousness. (Jude 4) Grace does not allow us to live how we want to live and to do what we want to do. To the contrary, grace is what helps us to deny ourselves and follow Him. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. (Titus 2.11-12)

It is precisely this idea that Paul is communicating in this highly misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied passage in Romans 6. Grace does not produce more sin by giving license; it produces less sin by making holiness possible. (Romans 6.1) Our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection frees us from the consequence of sin – hell – and the curse of sin – its dominion over us. (Romans 6.2-10) When we understand and believe this we realize sin has no power over us. Formerly, we could not not sin. (No, that is not a misprint.) Now, we can not sin by choosing to yield ourselves to God to do His will. (Romans 6.11-13) "But," Paul knew his opponents were muttering, "you already said no man yet has ever kept the Law. It simply cannot be done." Right. It cannot be done if the Law is all you have, and that is all the unsaved man has, just the school master to point out his errors. But the saved man has more. He has so much more. He has grace, the manifold grace of God to help him do whatever it is God wants him to do. (Romans 6.14-15) This gives him the strength to obey God, and to serve Him. Thus, under the enabling power of grace, you can now live a life of holiness in a way you never could under the administration of the Law. (Romans 6.16-22)

license-to-sinWhen you set this wondrous pearl of a phrase not under the law but under grace in its context this is precisely what it must mean. On the other hand, if you define its terms carelessly and then yank it out of its context you get the permission to enjoy whatever you want to enjoy as long as you feel close to God. Beloved, such an approach to God and to the Christian life is an appalling one. It does a terrible injustice to Him, and to His purpose in our lives. It produces Christians – sincere, yes, but highly misguided nonetheless – who think this passage lets them enjoy what they have always wanted to enjoy and to live how they have always wanted to live.

In 1871, three sound Scottish ministers published a commentary on the entire Bible that was well received and has come down to our generation not a little respected. In their discussion of Romans 6.14-15 Jamiesson, Fausset, and Brown had this to say: "The curse of the law has been completely lifted from off them; they are made 'the righteousness of God in Him'; and they are 'alive unto God through Jesus Christ.' So that, as when they were 'under the law,' Sin could not but have dominion over them, so now that they are 'under grace,' Sin cannot but be subdued under them. If before, Sin resistlessly triumphed, Grace will now be more than conqueror."

In short, I do not have to become a proselyte, a Gentile convert to Judaism. I do not have to follow the ceremonial strictures of the Old Testament. I do, however, have to obey the moral commands of God that have applied to every generation in every age. Crucified, buried, and risen with Him I have the freedom to do so. Under grace I have the enabling power to do so. And this, this is what produces holiness in my life. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Romans 6.22)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Not Under the Law

Grace 7

grace-and-gods-law_472_265_80Note: In the first six weeks of this series on grace, I have developed what may be called devotional concepts. For the next few weeks, we are going to head in a more doctrinal direction. Specifically, I want to explore some seriously misunderstood concepts related to grace in twenty-first century Christianity. We begin this new section this week, with an examination of the phrase "not under the law." I am currently writing a book on holiness; today's post is a chapter from that next book. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Rom 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.

We come now to one of the most critical and most critically misunderstood aspects about holiness in contemporary American Christianity. This has not always been the case. In past centuries, there was a clearer understanding and a better application of this passage. In this chapter, I want to set out the better understanding first, the poorer understanding second, and then explain to you why the former is better than the latter.

The Classic View

The classic view of the phrase not under the law in church history can be summed up in three basic statements. First, not under the law means that we are not under the ceremonial or civil aspects of the Torah.

The Mosaic Law had three basic sections. The first was the moral law, things that are right in every generation in every culture. Murder has always been a sin against God. It was prior to the Ten Commandments and it is now. That is moral law. The second section was the civil code for Israel, what the Westminster Confession calls the judicial law. This was rules pertaining to Israel as a nation, rules that organized the society politically and nationally, so to speak. The third section was the ceremonial law. This encompassed different aspects and instructions regarding Israel's religious observances grouped first around the Tabernacle and then the Temple. These were designed to picture the coming Messiah, to help them understand Him, and to help the people keep in mind the purpose of His coming. In this sense, then, not under the law means that as New Testament Christians, we are not under the necessity of observing the Old Testament's political instructions to national Israel, nor are we required to follow the intricate details of the sacrifices, the feasts, and the Temple worship system. We are, however, still obligated to follow the moral code, the basic rules for right and wrong that are applicable in every generation.

Second, not under the law means that we are no longer under the condemnation of the Mosaic Law. When we placed our faith in Christ's atoning work on Calvary, we were justified. This justification means that in God's eyes we are perfectly righteous. The Law cannot condemn us because positionally in Christ we have obeyed it perfectly. The Law could not condemn Jesus and thus it cannot condemn us.

Third, not under the law means that we are no longer powerless to stop sinning. Every human being is born with a basic inability to keep the moral law. As we have seen quite clearly in Romans 6 as children of God we are now out from under the thumb of sin. As I will discuss in more detail in the next chapter, we are now enabled through grace to keep the moral law.

The London Baptist Confession, written in the same century as the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, explains it this way: "The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation."

We see then that the classic view of not under the law choose-lawdelivers us from the power of sin, releases us from the Jewish ceremonial obligations, frees us from the civil requirements of political Israel, and yet still requires of us obedience to the timeless precepts of the moral law.

The New View

The new view, which has come into prevalence in the last sixty years or so, goes in an entirely different direction. It, too, can be summed up in three statements.

First, not under the law but under grace means we are accepted by God no matter what we do or how we live. There is nothing we can do or must do in order to make ourselves acceptable to God. It has all been done in Jesus Christ. Philip Yancy, who's 1997 book "What's So Amazing About Grace?" (we will look at in more detail later), explained this when he wrote, "I fight the tentacular grip of ungrace in my own life. Although I may not perpetuate the strictness of my upbringing, I battle daily against pride, judgmentalism, and a feeling that I must somehow earn God's approval… By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, of liberation."

Second, while it is true that the Christian is called to live a holy life this life is not a matter of rules; it is a matter of relationship. God is not pleased with me on the basis of what I do or do not do. The rules are not important, indeed, there are no more rules; the Law is gone in every respect. What is important is that I am a child of God, secure in Christ. Consequently, feeling close to my Father and resisting the urge to judge other people is what is vital.

Third, in progression then we are not under any rules or commandments other than these two: we are to love God and to love people. Every other commandment, instruction, ordinance, rule, or requirement is gone. All of our thoughts and actions are now to be driven solely by the rule of love. In Charles Swindoll's influential 1990 book, "The Grace Awakening", he explains it this way: "I like the way some saint of old once put it: 'Love God with all your heart… then do as you please.' The healthy restraint is in the first phrase, the freedom is in the second. That's how to live a grace-oriented, liberated life."

Reasons for and Responses to the New View

A blind man on horseback a mile away can see the startling dichotomy between the classic view and the new view. Thinking Christians on both sides of the debate paint it in stark terms. How did this shift come about? Or perhaps I should say, what thinking underlies this shift in perspective from the classic view to the new view?

First, those who hold the new view reject the division of the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral segments. They insist that such divisions are foisted upon the Old Testament externally by theologians and are not supported within Scripture. Thus the Law is one, entirely linked, and if we are not under the Law then all of the Law is gone.

9781498420013_lgIf this is indeed the case why does Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount go to such great pains to expound aspects of the moral law? Indeed, He did not just expound upon it but strengthened the then currently weak understanding of its application with His famous but I say unto you. If Jesus saw no distinctive segments in the Law, why did He so clearly call for men to obey its moral commands? "Yes, well, then, the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to us today." If that is the case why does Paul repeat, explain, and emphasize so much of it in his epistles? Such a position – throwing out all that Jesus said and did prior to the cross – is absurd.

Second, those who hold the new view assert that Jesus fulfilled and thus ended the purpose of the Mosaic Law. (Matthew 5.17)
It is true that Christ fulfilled the ceremonial aspects of Judaism's Temple observances. These pointed forward in time to His arrival and work; He had arrived and those external observances were no longer necessary. Hebrews expresses this in wondrous detail. It is also true that Jesus fulfilled the moral aspects of the Law. He stood before a crowd of people that hated Him and asked, Which of you convinceth me of sin? (John 8.46) What is not true is that "fulfilled" always means "ended." Christ fulfilled the moral aspects of the Law to perfection but that does not mean He abolished the necessity for you and me to fulfill them.

Third, those who hold the new view say that the only commands Jesus ever gave was the command to love God and the command to love our neighbor. (Matthew 22.35-40) Thus, the dictum "love God and do as you please" arrives.

It is true that love is the fulfilling of the law. All of the commandments are comprehended in this saying. (Romans 13.9-10) But "comprehended" does not mean "thrown out"; On these two hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22.40) does not mean there are only two rules. It means these two thoughts are the guiding principles that underlie the moral law, that drive the moral law. These two principles are like nails driven into a wall; every aspect of the moral law hangs on one of these two – but they still hang there. The existence of these two foundational principles does not eliminate God's laws rather it explains the motivation behind them.

People often say to me, "But, Pastor, their heart is in the right place." Good. Mere outward obedience without the correct inward motivation – love – is not enough. By the same token, mere inward motivation – love – without outward obedience is not enough either. Holiness is not simply a feeling of love inside my heart; it is an inward grace that works its way outward. Holiness does not throw out rules; it keeps the rules – for the right reason, in the right spirit, with the right power – but it still keeps them.

Fourth, those that hold the new view believe that the New Testament illustration of Christian liberty as revealed in the discussion about eating meat offered to idols is applicable here. It is a guiding principle for all activity in the Christian life. 

It is true that Paul obviously grants God's people liberty to choose whether to perform some actions or to abstain. (Romans 14, I Corinthians 8) What is not true is that Paul applied this to the entirety of the Christian life. The Bible is the revelation of God. If in that revelation He makes clear and plain what He expects I do not have the liberty to ignore such instructions. What I do have liberty in is those areas about which His revelation is not clear. Thou shalt and thou shalt not are about as clear as it gets. God's expectation that I obey the moral law has not changed because of the dispensation in which I live.

judge-gavel-1461291738X4gAdam Clarke, an 18th century Methodist theologian whose 6,000 pages of Bible commentary represent his life work, said, "Your liberty is from that which would oppress the spirit; not from that which would lay restraints on the flesh. The gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law; but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is antinomianism." An antinomian (from the Greek word for "lawless") uses the cover of grace to ignore the necessity for obedience to God. Clarke's point is that when your guiding principle for spirituality is Christian liberty the result will be a Christianity that is anemic, worldly, and licentious yet completely justified in the eyes of its consumers. Who knew Clarke was seeing three centuries into the future?

The fifth support for this new view of not under the law is the idea that the Mosaic Law was never intended to be kept in the first place. It was not given to lead us to perfection; it was given to show us our sin. Its very inability to lead us to moral perfection becomes the impetus for pointing us to the cross of Christ as the only real solution. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3.23-25)

I heartily agree that this is the over-arching purpose of the Law. We will shortly here in Book Three examine Romans 7 in which Paul states, I had not known sin, but by the law. The moral law reveals to us our desperate condition, sold under sin. At the same time, the ceremonial law points us to the only possible solution, Jesus Christ. Having said that, my agreement does not mean that it then follows that the Law is no longer necessary. This is true in that the Law still accomplishes both of these aspects, though the ceremonial one is only in retrospect. But it is also true because as we shall see in the next chapter under grace does not revoke the Law, rather it gives us the power to obey it in actuality, a power we never had prior to salvation when we were under the condemnation of the Law.

Reasons for the Classic View

I mentioned above that the idea that the moral law is still in force is the long-held traditional view of orthodox Christianity. Having said that, there are better reasons to hold the classic view than just the fact that so many learned men down through the centuries have done so. As Baptists we hold that our sole authority is the Word of God. It must be to the Scriptures then that we turn in order to find support for the classic view.

The two-word phrase the law occurs three hundred twenty-six times in two hundred eighty-one verses in the KJV. I have looked at every single one. In the Old Testament the term can be loosely organized into the following three usages:
-the law refers to individual laws, as in the law of the trespass offering, for example. In context, it is isolated to the terms of a specific instruction. Such usage is not helpful for our purposes here.
-the law refers to a foreign legal code, as the law of the Medes and Persians, for example. Obviously, this kind of usage does not help us either.
-most of the time, however, that the law is used in the Old Testament it refers to the entire body of the Mosaic Law via terms such as the law of Moses, God's law, the law of God, the book of the law, etc.

The New Testament uses this same term, the law, five different ways.
-as in the Old Testament, the law refers most often to the entire body of the Mosaic Law.
-occasionally, the law references the civil legal code of a particular time and place.
-the law refers to salvation by grace through faith, as in the phrase the law of faith. This phrase does not mean the Law's purpose of revealing sin and pointing to Christ. It means the absolute rule that justification comes to us not by works but solely by faith.
-the law refers to the rule of sin in the unsaved person, as in the law of sin, a phrase Paul uses twice in Romans 7 and once in Romans 8. He is not referring to the Mosaic Law but rather to the old nature, the warped bent of our fleshly desires that drives us instinctively in the direction of unrighteousness.
-finally, the law refers to the reign of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, as in the law of the Spirit, a phrase Paul uses in Romans 8. He is not referencing the Mosaic Law, but rather, the new principle which rules in the child of God, the godly desires of the new nature, the new man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness.

You can immediately see the problem, or at least the source of some of the confusion. If you mistakenly mix up one definitive use with another you will stand on a point God never made. Indeed, I have run into such carelessness more times than I care to remember in discussions on this topic with various people. Paul himself uses the law in most of these senses in the book of Romans and it is incumbent upon me to understand that, isolate those usages, and apply them appropriately.

I am not going to weary you with further explanation of my approach. I mention it here just to give you an understanding of how and why I arrived at my reasoning in this section.

mosaic-lawWhat is that reasoning then? What drives me to hold the classic view rather than the much more popular new view? Essentially, it boils down to this: how Jesus and Paul spoke of the Law.

For example, Jesus clearly tells us that He did not come to destroy the Law, indeed, that the Law cannot actually be destroyed. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5.17-18) In other passages Jesus speaks of the Law only in terms of the greatest respect, and constantly advocates obedience to it. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matthew 23.23) And to those who would argue that we are no longer under the law I would offer Jesus' classic expression of the eternality of the Law in Luke 16.17. After marking a clear dispensational shift around the time of John the Baptist, He said, It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. You can argue that by "fail" here He meant no longer be true, and I would respectfully disagree. Such an instruction pairs exactly with the differentiation between sign gifts that do "fail" or stop being applicable (I Corinthians 13), and the Word of God that always remains applicable.

In fact, Jesus makes it a repeated point of emphasis to explain much of the moral law, and to stress the importance of obeying its commands. In fact, He equated obedience to the commandments to love for Himself. If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14.15) He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. (John 14.21) If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love. (John 15.10). Each of these three He gave to His Apostles in the context of what He expected of them after His crucifixion. 

Yes, those commandments – the moral law – hang on two nails of love, but He obviously meant for numerous commandments to continue to apply in the Church age. There is no other reasonable explanation here in this context. The Apostle whom Jesus loved, John the Beloved, interpreted Jesus' instructions this way for sixty years later he wrote, For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (I John 5.3).

Paul, the Church's original theologue, discussed the Law quite often obviously, and if you genuinely want to understand what he wrote in Romans 6.14-15 you have to place it within the context of all that he said about it. For example, when discussing the interaction between sin, faith, and justification a few chapters earlier he said, Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Romans 3.31) Why would he establish in chapter three that which he was soon to abolish in chapter six? The truth is faith in Christ does not eliminate the Law; it establishes it more firmly than ever. By faith we trust that He fulfilled the prophecies and pictures inherent in the ceremonial law. By faith we grow in holiness as we depend upon the Spirit to enable us to fulfill the dictates of the moral law. Both of these are only possible when we place our faith in Christ.

In Romans 7 Paul repeatedly speaks positively of the Law. We know that the law is spiritual and I delight in the law of God after the inward man. Again, why would he say such things if he had eliminated it in toto in the previous chapter? Obviously, he was not eliminating the Law for in the following chapter he calls on us to obey it. 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 – the Mosaic 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 – the right and wrong portion of the Mosaic Law, the moral law – might be fulfilled in us. (Romans 8.2-4) I am no longer under the condemnation of the Law and the stranglehold of sin. Now I am free to fulfill its commandments through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Law in both cases – before and after my salvation – is the same; the difference is in how we are empowered to keep it. When I am unsaved, in the flesh, I am powerless because of sin. When I am saved, in the Spirit, I am empowered to keep it. The moral law did not change; what changed was now I can actually obey it whereas before that was impossible.

Elsewhere, Paul is careful to explain that the portion of the Law that was set aside was only the ceremonial observances that pointed toward Christ. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is Christ. (Colossians 2.16-17)

No, beloved, the Law is not abolished. It is fulfilled in Christ, and through His grace to us, via the Spirit we are empowered to keep it. The ceremonial aspects are fulfilled but that only changes our observance of that aspect; it does not abolish the moral code. For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. (Hebrews 7.12)

This chapter is not just theological hair-splitting. The No-Rulespractical ramifications of taking the wrong position here are deep. Simply put, your own feelings become your guide. There are no rules. There is only relationship. So as long as you feel close to God you are ok in your own mind. You have the mind of Christ. You are walking in the Spirit. You are living in liberty. So long as you love God you can do as you please.

The depth of the behavioral problems that stem from the above paragraph are found in our reliance upon our own heart for guidance. But our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17.9) The demonic beings which we so often ignore in this spiritual war are likewise deceptive. (II Corinthians 11.14-15, I John 4.1) This is the scriptural explanation for why there is a direct correlation in American Christianity between the ever-rising popularity of the new view and the worldliness of said Christianity. I do not doubt my brethren in Christ's sincerity; I highly doubt the wisdom and scriptural validity of their worldly application.

The Holy Spirit will guide you – but never contrary to Scripture. You can know the mind of Christ – it is revealed in Scripture. Our religion is a relationship – and I know how I am doing in that relationship, not based on my feelings, but based on my obedience to His will as revealed in Scripture. It is not my internal spiritual instincts and/or my twinges of conscience that are to guide me, rather it is what saith the Scripture? (Romans 4.3)

On that at least we can be clear. And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. (II John 6) Anything else is unscriptural.


The post dealing with the second phrase in this passage, under grace, can be found here. The two are linked by Paul and I think it would help you if you read my take on it together.