Legalism could be defined as any attempt to rely on self-effort to either 1) attain or 2) maintain our justification before God. In Paul's Epistle to the Galatians he warned them sternly about such false understandings of the gospel when he asked the offenders: "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gal.3:3). Legalism always seems to have one thing in common: it's theology denies that Christ is sufficient for salvation. That some additional element of self-effort, merit or faithfulness on our part is necessary. As an example, those who erroneously teach that a Christian can lose his or her salvation are, in essence, denying the sufficiency of Christ to save to the utmost. They believe their effort has some merit in contributing toward the price of their redemption. They also believe certain sins to be greater than Christ's grace. But Christ's righteousness which he counts toward us is not only efficient for our salvation, but sufficient. His once for all sacrifice put away sin for all time in those He has united to Himself (Heb 10:10). His salvation includes not only saving us at the beginning but preserving us to the end, sealing us in His perfect righteousness and whose blood "reminds the covenant God" not to treat us as our sins justly deserve. Any attempt to add our covenant faithfulness as part of the price of redemption after regeneration and justification is an "attempt to attain our goal by human effort" and thus a complete misapprehension of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must, therefore, reject any and all attempts to maintain a judicial standing before God by any act on our part. Salvation is of the Lord.
God wants all people to obey his summons to repent and believe the gospel, and so be saved (Acts 17:30; Ezek. 18:23). In light of this, the church is called to preach the gospel indiscriminately to all people ... to the ends of the earth (Matt 28:18). But sadly, all men without exception have a heart of stone, and in their willful blindness, turn a deaf ear and refuse to believe and follow Christ (Rom 3:11, 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14). He has no pleasure in seeing a humanity so unyielding and inflexible in their rebellion against Him.This saddens God and indeed angers Him. But even though all natural men reject this call to faith in Christ, God is yet still merciful. Instead of giving all of us what we justly deserve (His wrath), He still gives life and pardons more ill-deserving sinners than any man can count (Eph. 2:5; Rev. 7:9).
One of the elements that makes the Bible have such a ring of truth about it is its brutally honest assessment of human nature. Your résumé has value in every other worldview because each focuses on a belief in human attainment ... on human progress. In other words, the natural tendency of mankind is to teach views which say if you do this, and if do that, you can progress and please your god and win brownie points. This idea is one we naturally gravitate to since it gives people a sense of their self-importance. Even in secular culture each generation thinks of themselves more enlightened than the last.
But from the beginning, the Bible has been more forthright and accurate about who we are. God sent the Prophets to Israel to testify against each generation, flatly exposing their wickedness. Even when God went after other nations, he continually reminded Israel that they deserved the same, and that it was God's mere unmerited favor that upheld them. And He kept sending His messengers up to the time of the Great Prophet, Jesus Christ who testified against His own generation. Not only did Jesus confront openly wicked people to repent of their evil, but Jesus spent even more time exposing the sin of the so-called good people, calling them to repent of their goodness. Of course, He was not calling them to repent of doing good, but of trusting in it, since our deeds fall so woefully short of any real good. In the Bible, it is strikingly clear that religious people have nothing over irreligious people - they are not more righteous or deserving of God's redemptive favor because of something they do better than others. Salvation is granted, rather, in spite of ourselves, by the sheer mercy of God and nothing else, for if our hope were based on what any of us deserved (even partly), then none of us would have any future to look forward to.
It's called "the Armor of God" because its components are not of our own making, but are the gift of God. Some wrongly credit the "shield of faith" to themselves, but this is a recipe for defeat against the flaming arrows of the evil one. Only a supernatural, God-given faith can withstand those assaults. We rob God and indeed even rob ourselves of great resources in the Christian life when we ascribe any of them to ourselves and not to Christ alone. (Eph 6:10-18)
Scripture frequently refers to the the LORD as our shield (Gen. 15:1; Ps. 5:12; Prov. 30:5), so when we take up the shield of faith it means we rest in the Lord ... in Christ Himself.
The Holy Spirit has joined us to Christ and our supernatural faith is like a shield because it continually lays hold of Christ who covers us with His righteousness which makes us immune to the attacks of Satan. Satan paces around the earth hoping to falsely accuse the brethren as being not worthy of the kingdom of God. Of course if we remembered our own record, he would be right, Of ourselves, in armor of our own crafting we have no defense against Satan's fiery darts. And if we ascribe the shield of faith to something we muster up in the flesh we would be unprotected and completely open to his attacks. But the shield of faith is not something we have to muster up ... it is a piece of armor the Lord has given us to use Only Christ our shield protects us.
The Reformed understanding of total depravity appears to be wrong. Deuteronomy 30: 11, 14 declares human ability to obey God:
"This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off...."The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it."
How can you reconcile that passage with your view?
Two related points I wish to highlight here:
A frequent question the Christian may encounter as we bring the gospel to the world is "Do you think I am going to hell?" or "Do you think such and such type of person person is going to hell? (because of some heinous sin they have committed)" This question is often loaded and not all what appears on the surface. Most of you are probably familiar with this. At early stages of the conversation, when people may still be on the defensive, the skeptic may not yet be trying to ascertain real information about what the Bible says about their eternal state, but instead, are trying to draw out your self-righteousness or judgmentalism toward them. If you perceive this to be the case, and want to know what might be a biblical response, read on.
To the mass of ill-deserving sinners on earth, God holds out the gospel that any person who looks in faith to the Son will receive eternal life. But what if no one actually responded to that message? What if not one person took advantage of this opportunity? Because this is the actual condition we find man in - No amount of outward appeals by God to man's heart or reason will suffice to persuade him to come to Jesus. Left to himself he is hopelessly given over to darkness. If he refuses to come it isn't because God is holding him back or coercing him against his will in the way of sin. This is what man wants in his heart of hearts.
Does the love of God allow Him to simply leave all people in the misery of their own stubborn willful choice because to do otherwise would violate their so-called free will? It would certainly be just but God loves His people too much to leave us to our own stubborn will. So out of the mass of ill-deserving sinners he still has a plan to save them in spite of their obstinacy. If people are to come to faith in Jesus they also need mercy to be delivered from themselves - from their own hardened heart. Because it is in man's heart that sin resides and holds him in inescapable bondage. We need God to give us, not just a way to choose, but a supernatural disarming of our innate hostility to God and an implanting of a new heart which loves God - which sees the beauty truth and excellency of Jesus Christ. (John 6:65, 65, 37; Ezek 36:26' Rom 9:15, 16)
The following are some resources that were posted this week that many might find edifying and useful for their studies.
No One Seeks God – Romans 3:9-20 Dr. Timothy Keller
Look to Christ, Not to Self by C. H. Spurgeon
Diligent in Studying the Scriptures by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Amillennialism (Audio/MP3) by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger (interview)
Boast Not in Your Graces by C. H. Spurgeon
In Christ Jesus by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Why Is Faith Required? by Thomas Manton
A True Understanding of Sin by J. C. Ryle
God’s Unspeakable Love by Thomas Manton
What Is the Gospel Message? by J. I. Packer
God and Natural Disasters by Jerry Bridges
Free from the Fear of Judgment - 1 John 4:18 by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)
"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)
What does Jesus mean when he calls people not to judge others? Does he mean he wants us to be undiscriminating between what is right and wrong? Or does he mean to simply keep your comments about right and wrong to yourself? Or to live in such as way where we don't care how other people live at all? Is he telling us to just leave others alone? Well, when we read the statement in context Jesus actually said something quite different than most people imagine. According to the remainder of the passage Jesus is saying that when we confront other people's sin, we should always keep in mind our own ... we then speak from a posture of humility, love and empathy. Jesus does not say, "forget about it" but says "first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." So he clearly isn't telling us to ignore the sins of others but to remind ourselves of our own condition before saying anything. So does taking the speck out of our own eye mean that we must first be sinless ourselves if we are to be qualified to help others our of their bondage? ... no the Bible is indicating that we are to always approach other sinners on equal ground recognizing that we are likewise only saved by grace alone, by God's good pleasure, and nothing more. We have nothing over anyone else ... so remember that when we bring the good news of the gospel to others.
Question: The Bible clearly shows that the choices we make will alter our destiny. For example, God appeals to wrongdoers, saying: “Turn back, please, every one from his bad way and from the badness of your dealings . . . that I may not cause calamity to you.” (Jeremiah 25:5, 6) This appeal would be pointless if God had already fixed each individual’s destiny. Moreover, God’s Word states: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the person of Yahweh.” (Acts 3:19) Why would Yahweh ask people to repent and turn around if he knew beforehand that they could do absolutely nothing to change their destiny?
Response: Left to ourselves, our choices would only lead us to perdition. None of these Texts you cite show the moral ability of man to follow Christ, apart from the Holy Spirit. They are simply imperatives - God telling us what we OUGHT to do ... not what we are ABLE to do. You have to read into the text to and presuppose another meaning - that any time God give a command it automatically means man has the ability to fulfill it ourselves, in the flesh. But this is to forget the whole reason for Jesus coming. Did He not come to be the Savior for the very reason that we are NOT ABLE to live a sinless life and live? Are we not sinners in need of grace? God commands us to love him with all out heart. Does this mean we are willing and able, of ourselves, love him with all our heart?
Take the time to meditate on Roman 3:19, 20. The purpose of God's command is NOT to show our ability but reveal our inability ... to expose our sinfulness: