Thursday, October 29, 2015

Root of Legalism

Augustine of Hippo stated that good works done in order to earn something from God are not good works. If I give only to get back, am I really fulfilling God’s Law (Matthew 22:37-39; Acts 20:35)? Augustine also said that pride was the mother of all sins (Proverbs 8:13; 16:18; Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:13,14). But if I can earn my salvation, how can I avoid pride, which leads to boasting--which Scripture says is excluded (Romans 3:27; 4:2; Ephesians 2:8,9)? Or to look at it another way, we can look at life as if everything depends on our performance. This is not limited to the religious context; secular legalism (I need to be successful, have money, have fame, be highly attractive to the opposite sex) can be worse than religious legalism. And what I find is I am trapped in a perpetual treadmill, where it can never be clear that I have done enough. Or I can jump to the other extreme and adopt the “accept yourself” philosophy and claim that I am good, no matter who I am and what I do. The result of this is to leave us with no goals and no direction, and stuck in our current situation with no way to change.

There is a legend from ancient times which may not be true, but it makes a point. There was a town named Gordium, which had a reputation for being famous for knots. It was claimed they had one very complicated knot , which was extremely difficult to untie. And they had a tradition that whoever untied it would conquer the world. The story says that one day Alexander the Great came by Gordium on his mission of conquest. He had heard of the tradition and pulled out his sword and cut the knot in two at the center. He then went out and proceeded to conquer the world.

The gospel is like Alexander’s sword; it cuts apart the tangle made by looking at our performance. First, it allows us to love God, not to get something from Him, but out of love and thanksgiving for His having already saved us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Colossians 3:1-4). Our boasting is destroyed because we cannot save ourselves (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), but must rely on the work of another (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Colossians 2:13,14). We can stand before God forgiven, based on what Christ has done (Romans 8:33,34; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 3:9). But we are still called to go on with Christ and grow, based on our love for Him (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 3:12-14; Titus 2:11-14). But sometimes we as believers in Christ can forget this (2 Peter 1:9) and can get caught up again in the trap of trying to impress God by what we do. And when we do, we need to remind ourselves that the battle is already won for us by Christ (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; John 19:30).

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