Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Idolatry of Legalism

What is idolatry? Can we say that if we do not worship some physical image, we are free of it? Idolatry is putting anything else in the central place that God should have in our lives (Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:24; Philippians 3:19). Now one of the implications of there being one God is that He is the only Savior (Isaiah 43:10-13; 1 Timothy 2:5; Colossians 2:8-15). Therefore, legalism is at its root a form of idolatry (Galatians 4:8,9; 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10; Isaiah 44:9-17). Ultimately, there are two ways to make ourselves our own gods. We can live for our own selfish desires, following our impulses wherever they lead us (Romans 1:18-32; Jude 4; John 14:21). But it is just as evil to think we can earn God’s favor by our own deeds.

We need to realize that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and unable to save ourselves (Romans 8:8; 7:14; John 15:5). Therefore, believing we can be saved by our own good deeds is not to face reality. But we might ask, what if Adam had not sinned (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3)? Would we then be able to stand before God based on our own merits? And would it be idolatry to do so? In this, we need to recognize that Adam’s and Eve’s original innocence was a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 7:28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). Had they not departed from it, uprightness would have been the natural, normal way for them to behave. And they would have attributed this to God, who gave it to them. The problem is that we, being sinners, having lost that natural tendency to do what is right, tend to believe that we are able to somehow work our way out of our predicament. Ultimately, only Jesus Christ can deal with the penalty we deserve for our sin (Galatians 3:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result, He can offer salvation to all who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), apart from anything they can do to earn it (Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 11:6). Now this salvation does result in a changed life, but that is a result of God working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29). And it is based on love for God for what He has already done for us (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). Once more, it is God, not ourselves, who gets the credit.

Underlying all of this is the sin of pride (Proverbs 16:18; Philippians 2:3,4; Romans 12:16). This is the pathway through which sin entered the universe (Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-19). It is this idolatry of self that leads to idolatry and legalism. Because it always attributes to ourselves the glory that only belongs to God. Therefore, humility is not putting ourselves down, but attributing to God the things that truly belong to Him. And putting ourselves in perspective.

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