Aug 11

Often when I try to show professing Christians they must keep the moral law of Christ or their faith is dead (Jam 2:17) I get accused of legalism or of being a Pharisee. Most people misunderstand what legalism really is. I would consider a good example of legalism today to be those that require you to keep sect rules and say you are not saved if you don’t.

Wikipedia has one of the better definitions of legalism I have seen and one I pretty much agree with.

Legalism, in Christian theology, is a pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on law or codes of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigor, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption. Its opposite error is antinomianism, which is alleged against a view that moral laws are not binding.

I find that many professing Christians will accuse you of legalism if you hold that Christians must be obedience to the moral law of Christ. I am not talking about sect rules here I am talking about the moral law of Christ as we find it in the New Testament. They that hold that the moral law of Christ is not binding are what I would call antinomians. definition of antinomianism — a person who maintains that Christians are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel.

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One Ping to “A Good Definition of Legalism”

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7 Responses to “A Good Definition of Legalism”

  1. 1. christophmcleod Says:

    In this post you mention a couple of times “Christians must be obedient to the moral law of Christ”. Two questions, 1) what is the moral law of Christ? (Ten Commandments?) 2) what do you mean by “must be obedient”? What happens if they aren’t? Does that prove that they were never really children of God afterall? Does it mean they won’t be able to live a life free from sin?

  2. 2. Bob Mutch Says:

    Hi christophmcleod; The ten commandments has one ceremonial law which is Saturday keeping.

    The moral law of Christ is the New Testament law. I would consider the Old Testament covenant or law (moral, ceremonial, civil) replaced by the New Testament covenant or law. Most commandments in the New Testament covenant are moral but there are some ceremonial like baptism.

    I don’t believe that willful sin is compatible with true faith. If a Christian is willfully disobedient to a known law of Christ they no longer have true faith and need to do there first works over again and be saved. I won’t says some one that goes back into sin after being saved was never saved.

    I hold that all Christians live a life free from willful sin.

  3. 3. Jim Says:

    I agree with you. A believer should follow after holiness, after all; God has called us onto holiness. As long as a person realizes that they can walk in the Spirit because they have been Justified and not that they are Justified on account of their holy living. For a person to think that they are in right standing with God due to their own righteousness, they would have to greatly misunderstand a large part of the NT. I notice in one of your articles that you reject semi-pelagianism. I would assume that you would reject the wellspring of semi-pelagianism as well (Pelagianism.) The reason I ask is because I thought I detected you referring to Finney in a favorable light. I followed Finney for years. My copy of his Systematic Theology is nearly worn out and so marked with underlining and notes, it’s nearly unreadable. I was a Finneyite through and through. Thank God he brought me out of that, as Finney was a pure Pelagainist. Denied original sin, and based his whole system on the carnal reasoning that obligation requires ability. A philosopical concept the he called a “first truth of reason requiring no proof.” He denied the atonement or that Christ actually died for anyone…he died to satisfy “public justice.” Actually, Barnes wrote a whole book on the subject and bought into the “new school” theology as well. Finney denied any influence of the Holy Spirit beyond ‘moral suasion”, etc. He remade every major doctrine in the Bible into something out of his own convoluted logic. In the end here is where you arrive. Present entire obedience is the condition of Justification. In other does this sound: total and complete current sanctification is the condition of you staying Justified. I’m sorry, the Bible says that God is just and the justifier of the UNGODLY! Justification goes before sanctification. His brand of righteousness is something accomplished by YOU, as you were always able to obey the law anyway. I could go on. This is not the gospel, it is a system of works religion that is actually another gospel. So if you are toying with Finney I caution you as someone who does have a sound grasp of what he is all about. Your site puts out the vibe that you are quite the scholar, so I hope you have considered the ramifications of Finney’s Pelagianism and know what you’re getting into. If I’m wrong about your affection for C.G.Finney, please forgive my presumptousness.

  4. 4. joe cotroneo Says:

    Why complicate the matter? …. it is simple

    What you may call the moral law is merely Jesus’ commandments or sayings

    reference Matt 7:24-27

    24.Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
    25.And the rain descended , and the floods came , and the winds blew , and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
    26.And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
    27.And the rain descended , and the floods came , and the winds blew , and beat upon that house; and it fell : and great was the fall of it.

    A good starting point would be the sermon on the mount of which these words above
    are our Lord’s concluding remarks…the only problem is that most people
    have reasoned that it is not necessary to follow Jesus in these matter
    or not “practical”

    I even heard of a pastor who was convicted in this area and decided
    to preach the sermon on the mount and that we ought to follow it 100%

    He lost 1/2 his congregation in 2 weeks

    Didn’t Jesus in Matt 7:13-14 say for us to enter in by the straight gate
    which leads unto life, but there are FEW that find it?

    And immediately therafter he goes on to preach against false prophets, I
    believe because he knew that many would “water down his words” or say
    it was not necessary to follow his sayings

    Do you Love Jesus?

    Jesus said those who love Him KEEPS His commandments
    John 14:21……There is NO OTHER way to Love Jesus by His own words
    than to OBEY Him

    After all this…didn’t Jesus say….

    Why do you call Me Lord and not do what I say?

  5. 5. Tyler Johnson Says:

    Christ is our Life. If your theology stops at the notion of a God who gives us a way to live and expects us to do it then-good luck. Already tried that, like amny others, and we have failed. Christ is Christianity. It’s only one Person who can do it and so for us to be Christian we need Him to do it through us.
    Grace is Christ in us enabling us to live Jesus’ Life. If it we think it is of our own working without Grace (Pelagianism) then, trust me, God will do whatever it takes to bring you to the end of yourself, the law and sin. I believe we are truly dead to all three.
    Now can a Christian, living by Grace, mess things up. For sure. Not because sin is alive in them or they don’t trust Jesus anymore…it’s just that we can all choose not to live by our Spirit Union with Christ. This is goofy of course. But it can happen. We don’t fall out of Grace…we fall right on His lap - Praise Jesus!
    To sum up here I believe our Life is Christ. To live is Christ as Paul said. Paul also said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ in me” (Gal. 2.20).
    We will follow the moral law and love as Christ does only through submitting to Him to do so. Otherwise we get caught up in ourselves and what we do instead of letting Him do what He does - through us, in us and as us.

  6. 6. Tommy Says:

    Excellent Joe, I totally agree, the gate is narrow, and those who enter it must follow and obey Christ, not in any way to earn our salvation, BUT because we love Him above all else.
    Love in Christ,

  7. 7. Joe Eger Says:

    The issue is the difference between salvation and faithfulness.

    Once a person is condemned as a sinner-he has sinned-he falls under the penalty of the law which is the death penalty. How are they then saved from that penalty?

    The answer is that it is only by the grace of God-the favor of God-that we are saved. The condition of that grace being extended is by the “pistis” “assurance of good faith” that the supplicant makes to the court of God.

    If we had been completely faithful in the beginning, there would have been no need for grace or favor of God. We would not have needed a Savior. However, as St. Paul states, “none has lived up to God’s expectations of faithfulness.” Therefore we need a savior.

    Having sinned we cannot “unsin” ourselves by good works. We remain under the original death penalty until it is taken care of.

    God taking care of the penalty by His grace-takes our pledge of fealty-faithfulness-to Him as a guarantee. If we fail in our faithfulness to His expectation, “I would that you sin not,” we are once again in danger of coming under the penalty. Jesus told the woman in adultery to go and stop sinning unless another bad thing comes on her.

    Our faithfulness in keeping God’s expectation is wrongly call salvation by works. Once we have had our position with God reestablished (saved), we are expected to keep the King’s law.

    No salvation by works, just faithfully keeping the will of God after His mercy is given to us.


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