Newness of Life: Legalism vs. Grace
Posted by Brad Quiring on April 27, 2018
Mike Quarles writes in his book One Day at a Time “Christians can have an intellectual knowledge of the truth, but not personally believe and appropriate it so that it changes their lives.” (Page 94).
Our lives without Jesus are based on systems not related to Christ at all. Whether our belief system is religious or not, we follow patterns established on a foundation of what is called, “legalism”. Legalism is a set of rules established by our belief system and reinforced by our own sinfulness and the environment in which we grow and learn.
The Truth that is Jesus Christ leads us to a new life based on grace. Grace which comes directly from God. This grace flows through God and into us. We, too, are changed by God himself to be able to accept and live by this grace.
The two ways of living are sharp contrasts. They work against each other. Both have the common goal: to please God. The problem is that legalism comes from within ourselves, therefore it will always fall short. We are sinners who sin. Therefore, we always fall short. Romans 3:23 says, “...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just before this famous verse we read this in Romans 3:20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
Grace, on the other hand, comes exclusively from God. Grace is God’s unmerited, unearned gift that leads to our salvation, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8.
We are declared innocent by God through His grace, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24
Grace allows us to approach God and receive His help, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Remember: all this is free from God. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. Because of God’s love and mercy, we receive grace.
Legalism, on the other hand, comes from us and it is a harsh taskmaster who is never satisfied.
Under legalism, we can do nothing right, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James 2:10
Legalism looks good on the outside, but is meaningless to God at best. At it’s worst is blasphemous, ” Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,” Isaiah 29:13
According to Jesus, legalism has nothing to do with God, “‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:7-8
Are you frustrated with your Christian walk? Perhaps you are neglecting grace and holding on to legalism. You know the truths of the Bible, but the head knowledge hasn’t reached the heart. This was the problem with the religious teachers with whom Jesus was constantly arguing. They knew God’s Law backwards and forwards, yet it had no effect on their lives. They tried to please God by doing stuff, but they really didn’t love God. In the end, they were trying to please themselves and everyone else around. And they expected the same of those who followed.
God wants us to live according to grace. We do not strive to please God by checking off the list. We please God based on our faith in Him, in Jesus Christ and His work, “ And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
Faith IN God. Believing God exists and works. Not us. We may seek Him, but the reason God is found is because He, in His grace, made himself to be found by us. This takes all the pressure off. We now let God do His work in and through us. His pleasure comes from our absolute faith and trust IN HIM.
Live by Grace. Not by the Law.