[b]OBEDIENCE IS NOT LEGALISM[/b]
[i]by Milton Green[/i]
Paul explains how he was set free through the Lord Jesus Christ: "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh (and break God's law). For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God" (Rom. 8:12-14). "But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). We are not under the law, because we are fulfilling the law through obedience.
When someone suggests to those who follow a form of godliness that we are required to be obedient to the commandments of God, you sometimes hear accusations of "legalism." The majority of the Church today is trying to guard against being entrapped in the error of legalism as were the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very legalistic by setting up their own rules. Then obedience to their rules became their standard for fulfilling God's law.
When we attempt to fulfill God's law through obeying our own set of rules, this is legalism and the works of the flesh. We are not being led and controlled by the Spirit of God. When the Pharisees became legalistic by obeying their own set of rules and laws, they were blinded to the obedience God requires to His own laws. They fulfilled their own set of rules and laws but became transgressors of God's laws. This produced a false security.
Almost all of the Church today is legalistic in a very similar way. They have drifted away into a form of godliness and they, like the Pharisees, have established their own righteousness. This happens when we believe our righteousness is fulfilled in the fleshly works of carnal doctrines. This is the "peace and Safety" message of today.
Carnal doctrines are only partial truths, which have fulfilled the selfish ambition of men but do not fulfill the laws of God. Those who follow carnal doctrines are in spiritual darkness because they are not led by the Spirit of God to fulfill the law of God. They remain under the judgment of the law with a false Security. There is no protection from God because of their disobedience. This is why the powers of darkness are in the Church today.
Legalism captured the hearts of the Pharisees. They had developed a very complex system of do's and don'ts. They were constantly rebuking anyone who dared to disobey the rules they had developed.
When Jesus refused to subject Himself and His disciples to their regulations, they were quick to criticize. They said to Jesus: "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?... But lie answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" (Matt. 15:2,3).
The Pharisees had only a form of godliness. All of their regulations were being observed Without once honoring the Lord from their heart. Jesus said to them, 'There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things Which come out of Him, those are they that defile the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, Covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:15, 21-23).
We see a distinction in the efforts of man to please God outwardly by obeying a set of regulations while his heart continues to break God's law with slander, pride, and other sins.
While the Pharisees were carrying out the desires of the flesh and looking good outwardly, the Lord was looking into their hearts. The issue, to God, is does a man love Him with all his heart: "For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
The Pharisees were admired by the people for their diligence and godliness, because they faithfully carried out and defended their legalistic traditions. But Jesus said to them, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. 23:27, 28).
The legalism of the Pharisees consisted of traditions that could be carried out with outward works of the flesh: "Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men, which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body" (Col. 2:21-23). But these things can only make you self-righteous; they will never produce true righteousness.
The church today is filled with similar kinds of legalistic rules and regulations. Each structure has its own set of rules. But like the Pharisees, they are only works of the flesh, a form of godliness, which can never lead people to truly love their neighbor and fulfill God's law.
The flesh nature constantly looks for rules it can fulfill without having to take up the cross and deal with the heart. Much of the church is caught in the same trap today. The rules of these structures, like the rules of the Pharisees, are of no value against the rebellious nature of the flesh. OBEDIENCE TO THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD IS NOT LEGALISM. LEGALISM IS OBEDIENCE TO THE COMMANDMENT OF MEN.
This is why James says, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). Works of love are the direct result of obedience and walking in faith.
All of the legalistic works of the flesh will never satisfy the Lord's demands for obedience to His law. Even the "sacrifices of praise" being offered up to the Lord in churches today are meaningless unless they come from hearts that are obedient to the Word.
The truth Samuel spoke to King Saul still stands true: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Sam. 15:22, 23).
Obedience is the only way we can walk in the love that God requires in His law. By this obedience to His Spirit, we become "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).
Jesus invites us to come to Him with all our heart so He can lead us to be perfected in His covenant of love. Totally through His grace, He makes us strong enough to become doers of the law. "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
However, if you are not ready to give up everything in the world and everything of the flesh, you are not ready to make Jesus Christ Lord of your life. Jesus cannot perfect a good work in you if you walk in disobedience. If you love sin more than you love Jesus, you have a hardened heart. You will not submit to the obedience of the Spirit to be perfected in love.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon