Home > Grace, Legalism > The Legalist’s Red Herring

The Legalist’s Red Herring

He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:14 [NET])

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about [was realized] through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17 [NET])

Grace did not begin until Christ. Christian grace will not be found in the Old Testament.

For Christians the law ended at the cross.

Law is the knowledge of good and evil and is most often found in written form. In man’s hands, the law is never static, always subject to interpretation, amelioration, and addendum. The law always punishes and never rewards. Keep this in mind as we talk about law and grace.

Christians avoid the reality of grace and in doing so miss the joy and freedom of the Christian life. They impose God’s moral law as a mandate for Christian living. They assert that Christians will rampantly sin if taught grace without the law.

One writer has this insight: “It seems that our vigilant efforts to prevent anyone from “turning grace into license to sin” has resulted, ironically, in our managing to turn sin into a barrier to accepting grace.”

“License to sin” is a red herring. It ends the discussion about grace and turns it into a discussion about the law. As soon as you introduce the law, you are no longer talking about grace. Grace and law do not complement one another despite the rigor the legalist applies to make them compatible. Law and grace are completely different systems and they oppose one another. One eliminates the need for the other. You live in the reality of grace or you live with the consequences of the moral law. The choice is either/or, not both/and. Grace produces life while the law produces death. Injecting law into a discussion about grace chases a red herring that cannot lead back to grace.

Only grace effectively deals with sin in our lives. The legalist refuses to come to terms with this Scriptural truth. They do not allow the discussion about grace to get that far. They offer their red herring and demand that we mix law with grace in order to have a balanced Christian life. They cling to the law not understanding what a terrible burden it is. Paul warns Christians about reintroducing the law into their lives:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)

He is talking about the moral law, the Ten Commandments. Yes, the Ten Commandments will enslave us. God’s moral law does not set us free, nor does it produce life or righteousness. It offers a righteousness we can never achieve because we can never keep the whole law. By contrast, Paul makes it absolutely clear what grace accomplishes in the Christian life:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14).

It is argued that obeying the law will help us accomplish what those verses promise. Paul says it will not. Follow the law and sin the more. Follow the law and suffer the only thing it offers which is death. Grace, on the other hand, teaches a believer to reject ungodliness and makes him eager to do what is good. The law condemns us and excites us to deeper expressions of sin. Grace sets us free from the hold sin has over us producing life. At the Cross, the very nature of sin was broken and it is only by accepting God’s grace (Christ alive in us) that we can benefit from Christ’s work. Christians need to stop chasing a red herring and take a hard look at what grace is and what it accomplishes. They need to move beyond the law to something far more powerful. [Grace is not what Christian’s generally think it is. A place to explore grace can be found here where Jim Fowler writes in detail about grace.]

Looking hard at grace is intimidating to the legalist and he changes the subject by pulling out his obey the law red herring. He says we will take advantage and sin the more without the law. Without the law, how can we know how to be pleasing to God? It is only under that law that we can discern good and evil.

The legalist presents us with a hypothetical, a red herring. He speaks of a born again Christian looking to sin as much as he possibly can because he is now free from the law. I have never met such a person. The overwhelming testimony is that lives change for the good when Christ comes to dwell in a new believer. Those new lives move forward demonstrating the ever-weakening hold of sin. It is not always easy or pretty, but Christ joining Himself with a person has an undeniable and positive impact on lives. The Titus verse above makes it very clear that Grace instills in the believer a longing to do what is good.

Why do legalists pose the hypothetical? Why do they want to change the subject? Why do they refuse to explore what grace really is, or admit the negative impact of the moral law in the life of a Christian? Before I answer let me make it clear that we all suffer from this. We all struggle to come to a place where we are more focused on Christ than on our own human efforts. The problem resides in our flesh.

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5 [ESV2011])

We cling to the law because it feeds our desire to be like God. We hold up the law, saying that is good and that is evil. We do this in our own life and for the lives of those around us. We pick and chose the laws we like and those we do not. We provide interpretations that make the law easy to comply with for us and hard for others. We use the law to judge ourselves righteous while we judge others unrighteous. In a word, we act like gods.

Hold fast to Satin’s lie that man can discern good and evil and miss the joy of our freedom in Christ. Hold fast your effort to be like God and you will never be free for you cannot possibly do what only God can do for you. Only God is good and only God knows what good is.

I am speaking to a systemic problem in the Church. Talk about grace in depth and you excite a range of emotions and responses that tells us something about ourselves. We become defensive. We sense fear. We express anger. We resist intellectually (red herrings, and many Bible verses). That is because grace attacks the last stronghold in us. It attacks the “me”, the “I”, the self-sufficiency that we cling to for our security.

Grace takes our self-control and joins it to another. Grace exposes the mortality of the flesh and denies that the flesh can be redeemed. Grace attacks our ingrained desire to decide for ourselves what is good or evil in our lives. Grace attacks the principle of sin in us. The flesh will always resist grace.

By grace, we have died to the flesh in Christ on the cross. Yet the battle rages in the Church and in our very being. God has won that battle in Christ. He has set us free to live our lives abundantly with Him apart from the law. Grace is the living dynamic of Christ in us expressing God’s purpose and character through us. New Testament grace did not begin until Christ rose from the dead and entered into the very being of man.

Grace is Christ Himself.

Categories: Grace, Legalism
  1. Jim Minker
    April 9, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Excellent word on grace, my friend Dudley!

    • April 9, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Thanks so much Jim…fixed the James Fowler link to his grace article.

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