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Threats To Christian Freedom: Legalism, Part 1

September 11, 2011 Pastor: John Fonville Series: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 5:2–5:12

Threats To Christian Freedom

Part 1


Text: Galatians 5:2-12




A.       A Double Threat and a Double Cure


“…in the fear of ethical nihilism, one senses a failure to appreciate the power of God’s Spirit operative in the believer. When the “antinomian” implications of Paul’s teaching were raised as an objection against that teaching, Paul responded not by introducing a ‘new law’ but by pointing to the Spirit (Gal. 5:16ff.) and to union with Christ (Rom. 6). To be sure, there needs to be recognition of the fact that Christians often fail to walk in accordance with the Spirit and need ‘law’ to correct and discipline them (Luther is eloquent on this point). But any approach that substitutes external commands for the Spirit as the basic norm for Christian living runs into serious difficulties with Paul.”

(Douglas Moo, “The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ”)


“Be of sin the double cure;

Save from wrath and make me pure.”

(Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages)

“Many Christians lives with a truncated view of the gospel. We see the gospel as the “door,” the way, the entrance point into God’s kingdom. But the gospel is so much more! It is not just the door, but the path we are to walk every day of the Christian life. It is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation (which is also part of our salvation- J.F.). It is not simply deliverance from sin’s penalty, but release from sin’s power. The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification). The gospel changes everything!”

(Bob Thune & Will Walker, The Gospel-Centered Life, p. 14)


B.       A Solemn Warning


C.       The Legal Issue: Circumcision


1.       The Judaizer’s View of Circumcision

2.       Paul’s view of circumcision


“The need of qualification had to be specially emphasized under the Old Testament. At that time the promises of God had proximate reference to temporal, natural things. Hereby the danger was created that natural descent might be understood as entitling to the grace of God. Circumcision teaches that physical descent from Abraham is not sufficient to make true Israelites. The uncleanness and disqualification of nature must be taken away. Dogmatically speaking, therefore, circumcision stands for justification and regeneration, plus sanctification (Rom. 4:9-12; Col. 2:11-13) (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 90).




How do you know if you have diminished God’s law and fallen prey to a “circumcision-like faith?”


1.       you are more inclined to ground your acceptance with God upon your duty and performance instead of Christ’s duty and performance for you.


“From this it is easy to know how far good works are to be rejected or not, and by what standard all the teachings of men concerning works are to be interpreted. If works are sought after as a means to righteousness, are burdened with this perverse leviathan, and are done under the false impression that through them one is justified, they are made necessary and freedom and faith are destroyed; and this addition to them makes them no longer good but truly damnable works. They are not free, and they blaspheme the grace of God since to justify and to save by faith belongs to the grace of God alone. What the works have no power to do they nevertheless-by a godless presumption through this folly of our- pretend to do and thus violently force themselves into the office and glory of grace. We do not, therefore, reject good works; on the contrary, we cherish and teach them as much as possible. We do not condemn them for their own sake but on account of this godless addition to them and the perverse idea that righteousness is to be sought through them…” (Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, p. 26).


2.       You are more disturbed by the sins of the “world” than by your own “respectable” sins.


“…have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own more ‘refined’ or subtle sins” (Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins, p. 9).


3.       your focus is more upon evidences of grace in your life, than upon the imputed righteousness of Christ.


4.       Your obedience is more influenced by the terrors and curse of the law than by the allurement of grace.


“God does not drive you along with whips and terrors, or by the rod of the schoolmaster, the law. Rather, he leads you and draws you to walk in his ways by pleasant attractions (Hosea 11:3-4). The love of Christ…is the greatest and most pleasant attraction to encourage you to godly living (2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 12:1)” (Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 236).


5.       You look to what is promised only in a conditional way.


© John Fonville

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