Obedience and Legalism

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, February 10, 2017 5 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“The church is the height of apostasy when it calls obedience ‘legalism.’” ~David Wilkerson, sermon “Bearing Fruit”

I do not fully agree with this statement, simply because there could be worse signs of apostasy, but I do agree with the sentiment. The church has a wonderful tendency of acting as a pendulum. When we see a problem in the church, we tend to swing so far to the other side that we end up with an equal and opposite heresy. My pastor would describe the roads in the panhandle of Texas where there is a ditch on one side of the road for irrigation of the farms and another ditch on the other side of the road. There is a danger when we strive to stay so far away from one ditch that we fall into the ditch on the other side of the road. Then like a pendulum, when we seek to avoid that ditch, we end up back in the other one. Instead, we need to drive straight down the middle.

In this topic we have two extremes: absolute freedom where you can do whatever you want, and legalism where even what you wear has to be examined before you go out in it. There are many legitimate arguments for one side or the other. 1 Corinthians 10 addresses this issue using what kind of meat you eat as an example. Jewish Christians were still rooted in the Law and would not eat any meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Gentile Christians knew the idols were dead and gave no regard to the idols and simply wanted cheaper meat. The Jews were under a more legalistic approach, while the Gentiles were under a more liberal approach. Who was right? Paul addressed it simply by putting yourself in a position where you are not offending the other person.

But the issue of legalism vs freedom has taken on a new front that has nothing to do with “side issues.” In this final post on my series on intellectual Christianity versus actual Christianity, the debate about how to handle side issues has been misapplied to doctrine and Christian living.

Do we have the freedom to believe whatever doctrines we want? Do we have the authority to enforce certain doctrines but not others? We speak against homosexuality, but do we speak against gluttony or slothfulness? And what happened to simple obedience to Jesus Christ? In this whole series, I have spoken about the areas where God has been showing me the problems with intellectual Christianity, but in all that, we must not dismiss intellectual Christianity. Following Jesus Christ is not a free-for-all. There is order. There is structure. And it is logical, reasonable, and defendable.

There is this talk of how we have been freed from the Law and are now under grace, therefore we have freedom to do what we want to do. As a result, we are allowed to drink as we want. We are allowed to be homosexual and a Christian at the same time. We can cuss, chew, spit, smoke, watch any show/movie we want, eat whatever and how much we want, talk however we want, and we do not have to worry about any consequences from that because we are saved and are going to heaven anyway. Let me tell you that this mindset is a lie from the pit of hell. Jesus DID give us commands. He not only enforced the Law of Moses, he actually raised the bar. Under the Law, you just had to not commit murder to be safe from that command. You just had to not commit adultery. But Jesus stepped it up. He said just hating your brother is the equivalent of murder. He said looking at another with lust is the same as actually doing the act.

“But… but… that’s legalism.” This is where I agree with Wilkerson above. When you call obedience to Jesus Christ ‘legalism,’ that is not Christianity. That is apostasy. It is sin. It is looking for an excuse to disobey God. How dare we call ourselves a follower and a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, if we have no desire to do as he says. You are making a mockery of the name of Jesus if you claim to carry his name and you live a life that is a lie. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?” John said, “If you claim to have fellowship [with Christ] and yet walk in darkness, you are a liar.” I did not say it. The Bible does. Take your argument with God.

“But… but… that’s legalism. No one can live perfectly.” Yes, that is right. No one can live perfectly except for Jesus Christ. He is the only one that ever did and ever could live perfectly. That is WHY we need a Savior. You are NOT alright with God. You are NOT on good terms with him. There is nothing in you or of you that is good. There is none who are good. No not one. Only Jesus Christ. The only way we are able to even stand a remote hope’s chance in heaven is by being under the covering of the blood of Jesus Christ. That means submission to him.

Romans 10:9 is also one of the most misquoted verses. It is often cited with Jesus as Savior, but few mention the fact that Jesus is LORD. To a Jew, Lord meant ruler, but to a Roman, ‘Lord’ actually is the same term for God. If you actually follow Romans 10:9 to the meaning of the intended audience, you would have to declare that Jesus is God. After all Jesus himself said he was. Do you believe him or not? If you do, that means he is the rightful ruler over your life. If not, you are calling him a liar and you better be right.

Jesus gave a very stern warning to us in Matthew 7:21-23. Many people think they are Christians because they do good deeds. They cast out demons in Jesus’ name, they serve the poor, they follow the Commandments, they help the people. They call Jesus not merely “Lord” but “Lord, Lord.” They call themselves by the name of Jesus. They truly consider themselves under the banner of Christ. They are sincere. But with many, Jesus will say, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” Most people focus on the “I never knew you” part. But there is another part. “You workers of iniquity” actually has another meaning. Other versions use, “You who practice lawlessness,” which translates to: “You who live as though I gave you no law to follow.”

If we are going to cite Jesus’ commands as “legalism” as an excuse not to do them, take a thorough examination of yourself to find out if your faith is truly legit. It is not just a sin to commit an action that directly violates God’s commands. It is also a sin when we fail to do that which we ought to do. If on Sunday and God tells you to give a certain amount of money into the offering plate and you do not do that, that is sin. If you pass by a homeless person on the street and God tells you to stop by and visit that person, and you do not, that is sin. If you give a partial truth, instead of the whole truth, that is sin. This next one is a challenge for me. If you are not purposing to share your faith (easy for me to do online, but not so easy in person), are you really walking with Christ who seeks that none be lost to hell?

As I wrap up this series, understand that head-knowledge is fine, but it is completely useless until we start obeying it. Having the truth in your head does not save you. Mentally agreeing to the facts does nothing. Actually doing something about it does. Our faith as Christians is not meant to be an intellectual discourse. It is meant to be something real that those totally blind to the truth cannot refute it. They may hate us and fight us, but they cannot refute it. Too many want to throw away Christianity because too many of us talk the talk, but there is nothing real behind the words. If the lost see people who claim to be Christian that are virtually no different than they are, why invoke Christ? To them, Jesus does not mean anything, because he does not mean anything to us. When are we going to put into practice true Christianity? I recommend you return to my series on prayer, combine that with what I have shared in this series and spend time with the Lord. Ask him to reveal your weaknesses and areas that need him (hint: all of them do). Christianity is a process of getting closer and closer to Christ. Let us live that faith so the world could testify that we truly do belong to Christ.

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Professor Tertius said...

"To a Jew, Lord meant ruler, but to a Roman, ‘Lord’ actually is the same term for God."

I occasionally come up that "pop exegesis" claim among radio preachers but it is a false distinction and flawed on several levels. Both Jews and Romans used their language's equivalent to the English word "Lord" to refer to most any ruler/master. Check any Roman literature of the first century: DOMINUS often appears where lord/ruler/master is an appropriate translation. It is true that DOMINUS (DOMINE in the vocative) eventually became a standard name for God in Christian writings, such as in the Mass and the Latin Vulgate (and what we would call Ecclesiastical Latin) but you can't use that to argue in reverse that "To a Roman the word Lord is the same term as God." That would come centuries later.

In typical Roman secular usage the word DOMINUS could be used to refer to the slave's master, the PATER of the house, while the feminine DOMINA referred to the woman of the house, the wife of the DOMINUS. So it is an Argument from Anachronism fallacy when some people try to argue that when the Epistle to the Romans refers to KURIOS JESUS (or the later Latin Vulgate version called Jesus DOMINUS), it is a Jesus-is-deity "proof". No.

There are certainly many valid lines of evidence and argument which can be used to support the deity of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate. But the Latin word DOMINUS and claims that Romans assumed that a DOMINUS must be God or Supreme Deity is false. (Similarly, the Greek word KURIOS also fails for the same reasons.)

** Continued below in Part #2 **

Professor Tertius said...

** Part #2 **

"If you actually follow Romans 10:9 to the meaning of the intended audience, you would have to declare that Jesus is God."

The Greek text of Roman 10:9 says that Jesus is KURIOS, that is, Jesus is Lord/Master. Paul could have said that "Jesus is THEOS" to the make the DEITY ARGUMENT you are trying to make--- but the Apostle Paul didn't do that. I won't try to stuff a entire word study into a small prompt window but "Jesus is Kurios" or simply "Kurios Jesus" carries the same kind of absolute obedience connotations and denotations as any slave of the time would expect to render his master/lord. We are so used to thinking of "Lord" as a Divine name applied to God the Father or God the Son, but we get our English language connotations of the word LORD from the KJV English of 1611, where the Lord was the head of the manor and estate to which so many English subjects were bound to obey. The House of Lords still reminds us of that meaning today.

Of course, once the Epistle to the Romans became part of the Vulgate, the "Lord Jesus" of Roman 10:9 in Latin became "DOMINUS IESUM". So to any Roman in those early centuries, both the Greek "KURIOS JESUS" and the Latin "DOMINUS IESUM" communicates the same idea as the English "Lord Jesus": a slave calling his Lord by the appropriate title followed by the name, as in a slave entering a room and bowing to say, "You called for me, my Lord Jesus?" or "You called for me, Master Jesus?" It would take awhile for the Romans and other Christians to start connecting the word "Lord" with the idea that Jesus is God. We must keep that in mind and ignore anachronism fallacies.

This type of "Jesus is God" argument is a good example of Christians often sincerely trying to "help out the Bible" by inserting and imposing meanings into the text which were not at all apparent to the original audience. Indeed, it brings to mind another infamous Vulgate scripture, the Comma Johanneum of The First Epistle of John at 5:7–8. Church leaders were frustrated that the Doctrine of the Trinity was not quite as emphatic and clear in the scriptures as they might have wished---so they helped it out a bit. Nothing like adding an explicit Father, Son, and Holy Spirit where the context seems to allow for a nifty little insertion! Apparently, they felt that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in getting the right words into the New Testament text about the Trinity didn't go quite far enough to settle the issue. So they gave it a boost! (Of course, when there were complaints that no Greek manuscripts supported that "novel" extra phrasing in 1John 5:7-8, Papal scholars suddenly "found" some. Very convenient, and just in time for nipping in the bud some doctrinal crises!)

I like to collect these types of "pop exegesis" and "bogus word studies" examples. Indeed, I doubt that there is a Christian alive today who hasn't been fooled by one of these at one time or another. (I certainly have been, especially before I did my Hebrew/Aramaic grad work in mid-life.) And the Internet has helped to multiply these types of pop exegesis far more prolifically than ever before in the history of the Church.

FOOTNOTE: Of course, there were other Latin words which could also be translated as "Lord" or "Master." As with DOMINUS, the semantic domains for those other words often worked quite similarly to the equivalent word in Hebrew, Greek, and English.

Charlie said...

Professor Tertius,

Thanks for being civil on this one. Your argument would have weight if you understood the context of what the argument is addressing better. The Romans considered Caesar as a god and that is specifically what the reference is talking about. They weren't addressing just any master, they were specifically using the term "Lord" or "Dominus" in context of how they would address Caesar. Please stop trying to find any kind of technicality you can to refute someone you disagree with just to try to make yourself sound smart. It's not working.

Answer me this:
//This type of "Jesus is God" argument is a good example of Christians often sincerely trying to "help out the Bible" by inserting and imposing meanings into the text which were not at all apparent to the original audience.//
Are you suggesting Jesus is not God?

Professor Tertius said...

How sad that you couldn't resist being dishonest after I had very explicitly stated "There are certainly many valid lines of evidence and argument which can be used to support the deity of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate." Yet you just had to imply the opposite by saying "Are you suggesting Jesus is not God?"

It was this level of dishonesty and the dripping contempt that so many Young Earth Creationists have towards other Christ-followers that the Lord used to lead me out of the "creation science" movement. I pray that the Lord will change your heart. I will leave you to stew in your vile contempt towards others because I've had enough of your "warrior" echo-chamber. You need to ask yourself what you are ACTUALLY warring against. The Spirit of Christ is not to be found in your words that are filled with contempt for others.

Charlie said...

Don't let the door slam on you when you leave. As you go, get a mirror because you are the epitome of everything you accuse me of. I'm sure you know the psychological term for having such an issue inside you that you have to point out every flaw in everyone else to self-justify yourself. The Bible calls it hypocrisy. My contempt is not towards others but those who claim to be my brother in Christ, repeatedly try to stab me in the back, and bring division and heresy into the Body. I never considered you to be my brother because I knew from the beginning the spirit you carry is not of God. Keep on persecuting and mocking the Bride of Christ and making up what anyone says (including God) to fit your arrogance and ego. You are a fine fulfillment of Scripture of those who persecute the Bride all the while claiming to be doing God a favor.