2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
Coming from a legalistic church upbringing, I can smell a legalist a mile away. But my approach to a legalist is changing. I don’t want to change their mind by arguing scriptural text as much as I desire to affect their heart.
It is so easy to get caught up in the do’s and do not’s of ‘the law’. It’s easy for us to think this way as it is the way of human nature. Do the right thing, get rewarded. Do the wrong thing, and get punished. And let’s face it, God has his hand in furthering this belief. His had in the Old Testament dealings with the nation of Israel point this out. Israel transgresses against God, and the next thing you know they are taken captive and enslaved for 40 years. While this may be true we must if course remember the special relationship that God had with the nation of Israel. God made a deal with the Israelites assuring them that this is the way things would happen. In a moment of spiritual weakness thinking that their will power and intestinal fortitude might be enough to carry the day… every day continually, they agreed to God’s terms.
As believers today, God has offered us a new deal. A new Covenant if you will. This deal is not one of legalism based on rights and wrongs, but one of, ‘Love and be loved’, in spite of any baggage or sin that you show up with, and rest in Him. Or, you may choose to do things exactly the way you want do, with a guaranteed no interference clause from God. In the end, contrary to the Calvinistic point of view, you make the decision, not God. Scripture refers to salvation, redemption and our eternity with God (in whole or in part) as a gift (Luke 11:13, John 4:10, Acts 2:38, Romans 1:11, Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 9:15, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 6:4, and more). A gift is not a gift if it is forced upon someone or if an individual is not given the choice to take it or not. In that case it is a mandate, and neither is it something that we have to work for. Freely it has been given (I Corinthians 2;12).
To me, not only understanding, but accepting and living in that gift that God has given us through His Son, that gift that is salvation, is easy to wrap my brain around. Again, our human nature sometimes fights against this because it understands the good rewards for good behavior. However, I find hope and rest in taking God’s gift for what it is – a gift. Once I progressed spiritually, and began to understand this, to make the mental transition from legalism to grace, I know that not only is this where God meant me, and all of us to be, but it is where I want to be! I revel in the fact that I, in an incomplete state of sanctification, and still in this fleshly body that at times overcomes my spirit, He still accepts me, knowing my failures, and beckons me to His side. What could be better than that!?
Paul however, knows that we are weak. That a simple understanding based on reward and punishment is appealing to some, and the only way of life for others. Paul also knows that this appeal is universal, and will attract even those who have already committed their lives to Jesus. In his heart of hearts, Paul knows this is not only a problem, but that it can be ruinous to our faith and to our future. He knows that many will still be attracted by legalism, and also knows that many others will be attracted to pointing out the failure of others in judgmental fashion. This is perhaps even a bigger concern and what Paul truly addresses here.
Here Paul rightly points out something that I had not understood prior until this devotional study. We know we can wrongly judge people who still choose or seem to choose to live under the ‘law’. Living in such a way that their good deeds, or their ability to follow a set of rules and regulations are what makes them acceptable and appealing to God is a dead end. It cannot be done. Our works are like filthy rags to God. But when we judge people for this theology in their life we join them in their legalism.
Being a judge over someone is to be part of a legalistic system. Judges are part of the legal system. There is but one righteous judge, and it is not you or me, or any other person living today. It is Christ in Heaven waiting to have us join Him by invitation delivered to us as a free gift. In the same manner, the person who chooses to live worrying about their good deeds outweighing their bad deeds, regardless of what they want to call it, is in a legalistic system of faith. Funny thing is, legalism requires no faith at all, just a cerebral understanding of something humanistic and temporal, which is why it is rejected by God.
It is wrong to get caught up as Paul describes in legalism. When you do so, be you the willing participant or the judge, you are estranged from Christ! This is a warning that cannot be given enough credence. We have fallen away from grace, and even a legalist understands the need for grace – as a legalist is ultra aware of his failures.
Grace be to God for He is Good.