"find a Christian who is careful to obey God in everything, and we won’t have to look far to find another Christian to call him a legalist"

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Find a Christian who is careful to obey God about anything, and we won't have to look far to find another Christian to call him a legalist.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

dmyers's picture

I am not aware of ANYONE who labels obedience to God as legalism, if obedience to God is defined (as it should be) as obedience to His will and commands as set out in scripture.  Thus, the Christian who refrains from murder or adultery or unbiblical divorce is not being a legalist and, repeating myself, I am not aware of anyone who would contend otherwise.

The problem is when Christians are "careful to obey God" but have self-defined or have culturally defined obeying God in extra-biblical ways.  Thus, the Christian who insists that women should not wear pants, that one should not listen to contemporary Christian music, that the preacher must wear a tie in church, etc. is in fact a legalist.  But the more sophisticated legalist's defense will be that he is simply obeying God and calling others to do the same.

I'm sure some do play fast and loose with the "L" word.  But it is not a valid response to play fast and loose with the "O" word, lumping together obedience to God's standards as He has revealed them and obedience to God's standards as we have added to them.

Rachel L.'s picture

To piggyback dmyers observations . . .

 

Obedience involves what I do:  I can obey God, but I cannot make someone else obey God.

 

Legalism involves externalizing rules:   I attempt to apply my rules or "God's rules as I interpret them" to others.

 

Obedience has nothing to do with legalism since obedience is personally applied and legalism is externally applied.

dmyers's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

See also:

http://michaeljkruger.com/is-anyone-more-holy-than-anyone-else-the-missi...

Kruger raises a very intriguing point, and I would very much like to see a careful discussion of it, because I am not interested in unnecessarily condoning or encouraging license.  But Kruger's discussion is severely weakened by his completely skipping over what seems to me to be the crux of the question:  How does the Old Testament's category of the righteous man survive post-Calvary?

Kruger acknowledges the question, but assumes the answer.  All he says is, "Surely we cannot suggest that all these passages [about pre-Calvary individuals, including Zechariah and Elizabeth] are simply referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ (as important as that is)."  Why can't we suggest that?  "Surely we cannot" is not an argument or an explanation; it merely assumes the conclusion.  And therefore it is not at all persuasive to someone who would really like to know whether Kruger's point is valid.

For example, what would Kruger say about James 5:16 ("The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective")?  Is that not true for every Christian by virtue of Christ's imputed righteousness?  Is it only true for the subset of Christians who qualify as righteous over and above imputed righteousness?  (Or, alternatively, is this verse a bad example because it's actually dealing with some third category of righteousness?)  I would really like to know, but Kruger's lazy argument makes his position much less credible.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Why would the OT "righteous man" be altered at all in the NT?

The only thing that would change would the specific commands God has given, and not all​ of them changed either.

The problem is when Christians are "careful to obey God" but have self-defined or have culturally defined obeying God in extra-biblical ways.

It is not possible to obey God without self-defined or extra-biblical applications that are responsive to culture. But I'm beginning to sound like a broken record on this point.

Kruger's beef seems to be with the same sort of anti-legalism rhetoric I've been complaining out: the sort aimed at uplifting the gospel but in reality overstating its points, with the result that serious Christian living (Kruger, being Reformed, calls it "law keeping" without embarrassment) is lumped in with "I'm lifting myself to Christlikeness by my own bootstraps."

Since God's agenda in saving us is to produce people who obey Him (heart, soul, mind and strength), this is not an effective way to defend the gospel.

Dan Miller's picture

Rachel L. wrote:
...

Obedience involves what I do:  I can obey God, but I cannot make someone else obey God.

 

Legalism involves externalizing rules:   I attempt to apply my rules or "God's rules as I interpret them" to others.

 

Obedience has nothing to do with legalism since obedience is personally applied and legalism is externally applied.

Rachel, I think you do well to point out the distinction between legalism and obedience. But I think you go to far in saying that they have nothing to do with one another.

 

There is a link between them: the idea that applications are universal. That idea is that if I apply a Biblical principle in a way that God wants and leads me to, then that conviction is one that all others should also make. 

Now, a lot of believers are ready to say that they don't hold to think idea. Instead, they say that their convictions are their convictions alone. But when the rubber meets the road, most of us do believe deep down that when God has shown us something and we have had the pleasure of obeying Him, others should see and same thing and obey that same God. This is sometimes very easy to do, especially if the application seems, to us, to be very obvious.

Even if you are careful not to expect others to arrive at your convictions, many people project those ideas on the holder of the conviction. I think that is a lot of the impetus behind this article. In other words, if someone near me holds and obeys a conviction that I do not have, it is easy for me to believe that he judges me, even when he says nothing. So we might sometime wrongly deem our brother legalist, even when he isn't.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

On the feature of "whom it applies to," multiple categories exist:

  • Applications that are only for me
  • Applications that are right for me and those I am responsible for
  • Applications that are right for everyone

As examples of the latter, no Christian ought to curse, abort an unborn child, or, say parade with the LGBT folks on LGBT Pride Day. Lots of other examples can be imagined that few would dispute. But as we imagine more of them, we begin to move further into the territory of things believers do not all recognize to be proper applications of Scripture. 

At the point, the solution is not to say "This is clear to me but I'm going to pretend it's application is not universal." Rather, what comes into play is another question entirely: how do I relate to those who don't see what I see? To rephrase the question, What is my responsibility, is it one of persuasion or one of coercion or both?

As far as I can tell, persuasion is never off the table. Coercion depends on a whole lot of factors, but is rarely the right course.

The trouble with much of the anti-legalism rhetoric is that it fails to distinguish

  • People who apply Scripture in many ways that are lifestyle-rigorous
  • People who do the above and also put a lot of energy into efforts at persuasion
  • People who use coercion inappropriately
  • People who use coercion appropriately

We could throw in several other categories as well.

Jim Racke's picture

An easy way to find out if a person is a legalist is:

1. He holds to keeping all the law for salvation

Another form of legalism is:

Taking your own opinions, and convictions and making them equal with "Thus saith the Lord".

A Christian should only promote to others convictions and doctrines that are clearly stated in the Word of God. Too many people take Scripture out of context, or stretch a Scripture making them a legalist and giving fundamentalism a bad name. Examples of legalism are...KJV Only, No pants for women, only certain kinds of music is godly, you can't use screens to put up the words to sing by in church, and the list goes on and on.  Meanwhile while legalists are fighting over crazy things which delights Satan the unsaved are dying and going to Hell and the church is losing the battle. What could happen in America if every fundamental church would be totally united and had God's total blessing behind them- how we could change America for God. Amen!

Jim Racke

dmyers's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Why would the OT "righteous man" be altered at all in the NT?

The only thing that would change would the specific commands God has given, and not all​ of them changed either.

Maybe the OT righteous man isn't altered at all in the NT.  Kruger's failure to make that clear (if that's his answer) is one of the reasons I'm unsatisfied with Kruger's post and am asking questions.  

But if that's the case, (1) define for me what constitutes the OT righteous man apart from imputed righteousness (since Kruger posits that there is a difference, without saying what it is), and (2) do the same for the NT righteous man.  And explain how your definition of the NT righteous man applies in the context of James 5:16.

My own (perhaps ignorant or ill-considered) understanding is that the OT righteous man was one who, like Abraham, believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, as distinct from those who kept the law but not the spirit (such as the Pharisees) and those who flouted the law.  So to speak of someone in the OT who was righteous apart from imputed righteousness mystifies me.

Likewise, my understanding of the NT righteous man (such as the one referenced in James 5:16) is that he is one to whom Christ's righteousness has been imputed.  

Clarification would be appreciated.  Thanks.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Kruger's point seems to be not that the OT "righteous man" is righteous apart from​ imputed righteousness but that he has ​more than​ imputed righteousness. The passages he cites speak pretty well for themselves: he is a person who behaves obediently, who's ways are righteous. In NT lingo, he's a believer who's walk is worthy. 

Kruger is going after expressions of sanctification doctrine that suggest actual obedience is not our responsibility and/or that actual obedience has little to do with sanctification. But he is very brief, so it's hard to see his whole approach. Would be interesting to see him develop it further.

Edit... actually I think it's fair to say that Kruger's main target is a focus on justification and neglect of sanctification. So the way he's looking at it, the currently popular tendency to lump all the serious lifestyle change/obedience under the heading "legalism" and dismiss it or even oppose it is not a problem of incorrect sanctification doctrine so much as a problem of emphasizing the imputed (justification) at the expense of the lived (sanctification).

The statement in the thread title is actually from Fred Zaspel, presumably another Reformed guy. http://www.credomag.com/2012/08/10/legalism-or-obedience/

Don Johnson's picture

Fred Zaspel is a Reformed Baptist, I believe. He is a BJU grad, I think from 1980? I remember being in class with him, but I think he is a year younger than me.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

BJU... gotta be a legalist, then. Wink

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

On the feature of "whom it applies to," multiple categories exist:

  • Applications that are only for me
  • Applications that are right for me and those I am responsible for
  • Applications that are right for everyone

As examples of the latter, no Christian ought to curse, abort an unborn child, or, say parade with the LGBT folks on LGBT Pride Day. Lots of other examples can be imagined that few would dispute. But as we imagine more of them, we begin to move further into the territory of things believers do not all recognize to be proper applications of Scripture. 

At the point, the solution is not to say "This is clear to me but I'm going to pretend it's application is not universal." Rather, what comes into play is another question entirely: how do I relate to those who don't see what I see? To rephrase the question, What is my responsibility, is it one of persuasion or one of coercion or both?

As far as I can tell, persuasion is never off the table. Coercion depends on a whole lot of factors, but is rarely the right course.

The trouble with much of the anti-legalism rhetoric is that it fails to distinguish

  • People who apply Scripture in many ways that are lifestyle-rigorous
  • People who do the above and also put a lot of energy into efforts at persuasion
  • People who use coercion inappropriately
  • People who use coercion appropriately

We could throw in several other categories as well.

Aaron, good reply. I agree that persuasion is probably always on the table.

I like your use of the idea of coercion. Except that I think if you want to say "coercion appropriately," then you won't want to use "coercion."

Also, attention has to be given to how a church persuades (or does more to) a member compared to how a church confronts a believing outsider or even an unbeliever.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I like your use of the idea of coercion. Except that I think if you want to say "coercion appropriately," then you won't want to use "coercion."

I'm not sure what you mean here. I believe it is possible to coerce rightly. For example, when a congregation carries out discipline, it attempts to use persuasion first but gradually persuasion includes more external pressure (one of the things happening in Matt 18 sequence) and eventually, if it goes that far, the end of the process is purely coercive. In the end, it's "repent or else."

To use a less drastic example, our church has a rule in its bylaws that its pastor may not marry previously divorced persons. The rule predates my tenure, but I agreed to abide by it. I don't actually believe that it would always be wrong under all circumstances to perform the marriage of a divorcee. But I am coerced on that point. Presumably there would be some censure or worse if I broke the rule.

Similarly, we have a rule that collections at church are to be counted by more than one person and that they are counted and recorded by treasurers and the like, not by the pastor. It's a good rule. I believe in it. I'm persuaded that I should not handle the money. At the same time, the rule rightly coerces pastors to refrain from this task whether they believe in it or not.

I coerce (sometimes attempting some persuasion at the same time) my son to brush his teeth ... which he never believes needs doing. Biggrin

So anyway, I might be demonstrating a moot point here, but that's to explain what I have in mind by appropriate coercion.

Similarly, a university or day school aims not only to unload info on students but to create an optimal learning environment. Of necessity, that means a bit of engineering. If their view of the "optimal environment" includes one where certain behaviors are entirely (or almost entirely) absent, they're going to have to have some rules and some coercion.

No spit balls... no blue jeans in chapel... no rock music in the dorms. These are really not substantially different things.