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Threats To Christian Freedom: Legalism, Part 3

September 25, 2011 Pastor: John Fonville Series: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 5:2–5:12

Threats To Christian Freedom: Legalism

Part 3


Text: Galatians 5:2-12




A.       Theological Legalism


1.       Strict Theological Legalism

“Nature was created so good that it needs no help” (Pelagius quoted by Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. 5, ch. IV, p. 194).


2.       Moderate Theological Legalism


Covenantal Nomism is “…the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 75).


“For if they are able to abolish sins and to merit the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by their own righteousness and ascetic life, what good does it do them that Christ was born, suffered, shed His blood, was raised, conquered sin, death, and the devil, when they themselves can overcome these monsters by their own powers. It is indescribable what great wickedness it is to make Christ useless” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 27, p. 10).




1. First, both strict and moderate theological legalism are utterly destructive toa person’s life.


“…anyone who is a founder or a worshiper of the doctrine of works suppresses the Gospel, nullifies the death and victory of Christ, obscures His sacraments and abolishes their proper use, and is a denier, an enemy, and a blasphemer of God and of all His promises and blessings. Anyone who is not frightened away from human traditions and from trust in his own righteousness and works and who is not aroused to yearn for freedom in Christ by the fact that Paul calls the Law of God a “yoke of slavery” is harder than a rock or a bar of iron” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 27, p. 10).


2. Second, we must guard against the danger of falling into a kind of prideful theological righteousness.


3. We must not quickly dismiss the threat of theological legalism and think we are safe from it.


“Our office is to bear the radiant torch, Of gospel-light, into the darkened porch Of human understandings, and display The joyful dawn of everlasting day” (The Practical Works of Ralph Erskine, vol. 10, p. 94).


“Assumed Evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed Evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel…” (David Gibson, “Assumed Evangelicalism Some Reflections En Route to Denying the Gospel”). 


“The gospel is not merely a message that people need to hear to become converted; it is the ‘power of God unto salvation’ in every moment of the Christian life. The commands of Scripture continue to direct, but only the gospel gives. As we mature in the Christian life, the goal is not to move beyond the gospel but to grow deeper in it, understanding more and more what it means to be part of God’s new creation: justified, sanctified, and one day glorified” (Michael Horton, “Law & Gospel,” Modern Reformation, p. 56).


“The life and ministry of the local church needs to be self-consciously gospel-centered if it is to maintain any kind of effectiveness for the kingdom of God” (Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 129).


© John Fonville

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