EXCERPTS FROM “UNDERSTANDING GRACE AND HOW TO INTERPRET IT IN YOUR LIFE AND CHURCH”

Lee Turner

Many pastors, [teachers, dad’s, and mom’s] desiring that their [members or son’s and daughter’s] live holy lives, mix law with grace.

Mixing law with grace only produces guilt ridden, defeated Christians and robs them of joy.” (Emphasis added in brackets)

To unleash God’s grace in our lives, we must understand the contrasts between the two covenants.

  • New Covenant promised in Luke 22:20, and described in 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 9.
  • The Law was written on stones, 2 Corinthians 3:3, versus the Law is written in hearts, 2 Corinthians 3:3.
  • “The letter kills,” 2 Corinthians 3:6, versus “The Spirit gives life,” 2 Corinthians 3:6.
  • The promise to forgive sins, Jeremiah 31:34, versus sins were forgiven, Hebrews 9:15.
  • Continual offerings for sins, Hebrews 10:1, versus made righteous by Christ’s finished work, Hebrews 10:14.
  • Conditional forgiveness based on performance. You must earn it. Matthew 6:14-15, versus unconditional forgiveness based on Christ’s work. We must forgive others: Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13.
  • The Law taught to bring men to Christ, Galatians 3:24 versus grace taught to regenerated believers: Galatians 3:24; Galatians 5:1.
  • Mainly earthly blessings, Genesis 15:18-21, versus mainly spiritual blessings: Ephesians 1:3, 20; 2:6, 10; 6:12.
  • Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, versus one commandment, Galatians 5:14.

It is impossible to experience the joy and victory of the resurrected life of Christ until you bury the grave clothes of the law.

This book will teach the significance of our identity with Christ. Not only how his death redeemed us from the law, but also how our oneness in His resurrection gives us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:4). Once we understand the Christ life (“Christ, who is our life” Colossians 3:4), we can enjoy allowing him to live His life out through us, instead of working for Him.

Understand Legalism

In the last chapter we saw how body life was the key to harmony in the local church. The Apostle Paul told us to keep the unity that the Holy Spirit has already established in the body. Now we will see how the Holy Spirit accomplishes this.

Believers controlled by the flesh (self) produce conflicts. Believers controlled by the Spirit produce harmony.

Paul admonished the church at Corinth, “You are still worldly. For since there is jealously and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3). Paul encouraged the Christians at Ephesus to, “be controlled by the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The result would be believers who will, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21). Only believers in submission to Christ can submit to one another. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. The author’s survey of churches revealed that “personal conflicts” are the major cause of not the norm. The author’s survey of churches revealed that “personal conflicts” are the major cause of church problems.

The “flesh” (self) and legalism (externalism) are synonymous. They are the antithesis of grace.

Tragically many believers do not recognize legalism, nor can they even define the term. I once attended a seminar where pastors were asked to define legalism. I was surprised that no one even tried to define the term. Little wonder the destructive nature of legalism is not recognized in the church. Grace is taught throughout the New Testament as the only way for a Christian to have power in his life. Christ condemned legalism when he spoke to the Pharisees. The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians, not only to condemn man’s efforts to save himself, but to also show that the believer cannot produce spiritual fruit in the energy of the flesh. However, few understand this doctrine. The consequences are powerless lives and critical attitudes that cause divisions in the church. God’s standards never change. All sincere Christians have the same goal: to live pure lives that will honor Christ. But the methods are diametrically opposed—grace versus legalism.

Grace works internally through the power of the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit and good works. Legalism works externally by trying to keep God’s standards in the energy of the flesh (self).

 Legalism produces conformity, conformity, which has the appearance of good works. But only submission to the indwelling life of Christ can produce the genuine fruit of the Spirit which is supernatural.

Conformity is mistaken for spirituality. Like “Barbie” dolls, saints look alike, dress alike, act alike, etc. when in reality they are exercising fleshly legalism and not the supernatural working of Christ in their lives.

Only the Spirit can strip away the externals and bring fresh life to a church. Girard comments, “Our experience has been that the first issues dealt with by the Spirit are usually issues of faith, prayer, witnessing, attitudes, fellowship and love.

In evangelical circles, the traditional approach is to deal with the easy external issues first. This is done by imposing pseudo–spiritual rules upon people to make them appear ‘spiritual’ (which means acceptable to us) whether they are really spiritual inwardly or not.

Most of the churches’ efforts have been expended on dealing with secondary, peripheral things. Things that only tend to increase spiritual pride, conformity and bondage to ‘Christian law’ and a creeping, debilitating death in the church.”

We must start with a biblical definition of legalism that is on a collision course with grace. Like oil and water, they cannot be mixed. In Romans 8:4 Paul said, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” From this verse we could paraphrase a definition of legalism,

“Trying to live a righteous life in the energy of the flesh (self), rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

A holy God does not change his standards, but his standards must be fulfilled in us by walking after the Spirit, not the flesh. Some might define legalism as adding non–biblical standards or personal preferences to biblical standards (length of hair, style of dress, etc.). But even if we limit our list of standards to the ones specifically mentioned in the Bible, it would still be legalism (externalism) if we try to keep them in the power of the flesh. Legalism is anything done in the flesh, whether good or bad! Paul wrote the book of Galatians to teach that legalism is not only a man doing something in the flesh to gain salvation, but also doing something in the flesh after he is saved, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3). We are saved by Christ’s finished work for us, and we live by his continuing work in us. Christ died for us, that he might live in us, in order to work through us. Legalism is man trying to do something in the power of the flesh to gain acceptance with God before, or after, we are saved.

A legalist does not feel unconditionally loved and accepted by God. Therefore, he strives to perform better trying to earn God’s love and acceptance. He becomes very critical of himself. He relates to other people the same way; he is judgmental of them because he is critical of himself.

Birds of a feather flock together and they form a FBI (Family Bureau of Investigation).

They scrutinize each other and apply peer pressure to make others perform up to their perfect standards. Their stated motive is to glorify God and protect his holiness, but their internal motive is to gain acceptance that their soul craves.

Tragically they are trying to achieve the impossible—God’s unconditional love and acceptance. It is an unattainable goal because …

God has already stated that the believer is already unconditionally loved and accepted, not because of what he does, but because of his identity with Christ—God’s perfect Son.

Grace does not weaken God’s standards. His holy character is immutable and does not change (It is always wrong to lie, steal, covet, etc.). But the power to live such a life must come from the Holy Spirit and not the flesh. Holy standards alone are not legalism.

Legalism is making these standards a gauge of spirituality. It becomes a game men play that leads to pride and hypocrisy. This pride produces critical believers who make moral judgments on others.

This cannibalization produces division and strife that destroys the harmony of the church. Paul warned the Galatians, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). Pastors who teach legalism unwittingly produce people who will not only devour one another but may in turn devour him.

Legalism has an obsession with what a believer does and not what a believer is.

If a believer is inwardly controlled by Christ, he will outwardly reflect his holy life. Gene Getz addresses this problem, “It is possible to go into some evangelical churches and discover there is little difference in the lifestyle of its members and that of non–Christians.

They may know the Bible, but their lives reflect little of the fruit of the Spirit.

On the other hand, many evangelical churches have developed false criteria for evaluating spirituality—an unfortunate legalism that reflects the same spiritual sickness of the Pharisees.

Spiritual depth is measured primarily by external—certain ‘Thou shalt nots’ that have become standard in some Christian circles. If Christians don’t do certain things, they are automatically classified as spiritual. It is possible to refrain from many activities and be extremely carnal and yet feel ‘comfortably spiritual.’ And when it comes to basic Christian attitudes toward both fellow Christians and unsaved people, particularly an attitude of love, there is a decided lack. This is not to advocate total freedom—a concept that is very unbiblical.

But both extremes—license or legalism—are a reflection of institutionalized Christianity. Again, we must evaluate spiritual maturity by means of proper biblical criteria.

And Jesus stated the most important criterion, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35).”

 

Check back later for Part 3!