It’s one of the biggest spiritual problems you face. And most of the time, you’re not even aware it’s an issue. That’s because this problem is bone deep. It’s in your bloodstream. It’s part of your DNA.
It’s your instinctive bent toward self-justification. Self-righteousness. Deep down, you want to think that your relationship with God is something you’ve earned, at least in some small measure.
You’ve probably been in church long enough to know the right answer to the question – that your salvation is “by grace alone through faith alone.” But there’s that voice that keeps telling you that God loves you at least in part because of something you’ve done or something you are.
There’s a name for this kind of thinking.
And as we’re seeing, and will continue to see, Paul takes the issue head on in the book of Romans.
Years ago, if you had asked me to define legalism, I would have described it for you as the tendency to take man made rules or customs and elevate them to biblical status. Real Christians don’t dance, says the legalist. They wear ties to church. They don’t sing modern worship songs. They don’t read the Living Bible. They don’t allow drums in church.
That description is true of legalists. But it’s incomplete. A person can see the error in that kind of thinking and still be a legalist. That’s because legalism at its core involves thinking that there is something we bring or contribute that qualifies us, even in part, as adopted children of God.
Sinclair Ferguson writes “The danger of legalism is that it builds up again what Christ has torn down. It distorts and may actually destroy the gospel. It is inimical to the grace of God in Christ. It lies at the heart of many pastoral problems and is one of the most common spiritual sicknesses.”
So how can we spot our own tendencies toward legalism?
Scottish pastor John Colquhoun, who lived in the early 1800’s offered these thoughts (careful – deep water ahead. Read slowly).
“When a man is driven to acts of obedience by the dread of God’s wrath revealed in the law, and not drawn to them, by the belief in His love revealed in the gospel; when he fears God because of His power and justice, and not because of His goodness; when he regards God more as an avenging Judge, than as a compassionate Friend and Father; and when he contemplates God rather as terrible in majesty than as infinite in grace and mercy, he shows that he is under the dominion, or at least under the prevalence of a legal spirit.”
In the next few weeks, we’ll see how Paul describes the proper relationship believers have with God’s holy law. Grace does not lead us to abandon the law. But neither does grace blend itself in some way with law keeping. Walking the path of grace day in and day out, while still honoring and loving God’s law, requires some careful, Spirit enabled understanding.
In fact, the tightrope of grace is hard to walk because the megaphone of legalism shouts at us that God’s love for us is connected to our behavior. The voice in the megaphone may sound pious and godly, but if you listen closely, you can hear the speaker has a hellish accent.
At the same time, the good news of of “freedom in Christ” is trumpeted and distorted into a siren song that leaves listeners thinking that the Bible teaches freedom from walking in holiness. The shoreline of that harbor us filled with rocky crags that have left many sailors shipwrecked.
It’s because our flesh is predisposed toward self-justification, and because our Enemy disguises himself as an angel of light and calls us to fix our hope in our own righteousness, that we must remind ourselves daily of the good news of the gospel.
Our adoption as children of God is founded on one thing and one thing only. Grace. “Grace,” Sinclair Ferguson writes, “lances the boil of merit.” And it’s a boil that must be lanced and drained daily.
Our status as adopted children of God is in no way affected by how righteously or how sinfully we behave. “Nothing,” Paul says, “can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God may discipline us for our sinful thoughts or actions. He may withhold blessing from His erring children. He may even ignore the prayers of those who have lapsed into a self-directed way of thinking and who are neglecting or ignoring the voice of the Spirit speaking through His word.
But the good news is that nothing – not even your worst sin as a child of God – can pluck you from your Father’s hand. Why? Because of grace.
We have His word on it.
“I received this note from Chris Bakke this week. His mother passed away recently, and we sent our prayers and flowers to her memorial service in Texas.
Chris asked me to pass this along to all of you: ‘Sandy and I want to thank everyone for the flowers sent for my mom’s funeral. It was a wonderful surprise. My sister Kay and I are so thankful for you thoughtfulness at this trying time. Thank all of you.”
Ready for a big summer pool party? Bring the kids! Or bring yourself without any kids. Come on out for pizza and fun by the pool next Tuesday night, July 25, at the Pleasant Valley swimming pool at 2300 Arkansas Valley Drive.
You don’t have to swim to attend. You don’t even have to wear swim trunks! Just come out and enjoy the fellowship.
We’ll have the pool all to ourselves from 6:00 – 8:30 (and that includes the kiddie pool too!). Lots of cheese pizza and pepperoni pizza (and maybe a few additional varieties) will be delivered at 6:15! So bring something to drink and come out for pizza at the pool.
The next morning…
It’s the final Kid’s Summer Fest at RCC. You know the drill by know, right? Kids 12 and under are welcome. If you bring someone 5 and under, plan to stay and help out. And if you have questions or would like to help with the activities, text Jen Gurney at 859-771-6580.
Finally, we’ll wrap up the month of July on Sunday night, July 30, from 6:30-7:30 with a church wide night of Prayer and Praise.
This will be a time for the whole church body to gather and to pray and seek the Lord together. We’ll read the scriptures together and sing a few familiar, simple songs. We will pray silently. We will read prayers. We will pray in small groups. We will pray in larger groups. We will pray all together. Our focus will be on praying for Christ to be exalted in and through us, and for His kingdom work to be made clear for us as we seek His face.
This will be a special evening as we come together to call upon the Lord. I hope you’ll make this special evening a priority.
And as we look ahead to August, remember the upcoming new members class on Saturday, August 12.
We’re asking anyone who is interested in finding out more about what membership at Redeemer is all about to do a little homework ahead of our Saturday meeting. We’ll have videos for you to watch and a few things for you to read before you come to the class. That way, we can get you the information you need to make a membership decision without needing a whole series of meetings. You do a little work ahead of time, meet one time on Saturday morning, and you’ll be done.
Find out how to sign up for the membership class and about the pre-work you need to do before the meeting by clicking here.
Remember back in High School when your English teacher taught you how to write a “compare and contrast” essay?
Some of you just got the shivers reading that sentence, didn’t you?
Sunday, we’ll see how the Apostle Paul compares and contrasts the two most influential men who have ever lived – Adam and Jesus.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!