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Threats To Christian Freedom: Legalism, Part 5

October 9, 2011 Pastor: John Fonville Series: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 5:2–5:12

Threats To Christian Freedom: Legalism

Part 5


Text: Galatians 5:2-12




I. Paul warns against the destructive consequences of Legalistic doctrine (vv. 2-6)


A.       Christ will be of no benefit in the final judgment, v. 2




B.       Become a Debtor to God’s law, v. 3


“The more men try to satisfy the Law, the more they transgress it. The more someone tries to bring peace to his conscience through his own righteousness, the more disquieted he makes it” (Luther’s Works, vol. 27, p. 13).


“When I was a monk, I made a great effort to live according to the requirements of the monastic rule. I made a practice of confessing and reciting all my sins, but always with prior contrition; I went to confession frequently, and I performed the assigned penances faithfully. Nevertheless, my conscience could never achieve certainty but was always in doubt and said: ‘You have not done this correctly. You were not contrite enough. You omitted this in your confession.’ Therefore, the longer I tried to heal my uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more uncertain, weak and troubled I continually made it. In this way, by observing human traditions, I transgressed them even more; and by following the righteousness of the monastic order, I was never able to reach it. For, as Paul says, it is impossible for the conscience to find peace through works of the Law, much less through human traditions, without the promise and the Gospel about Christ” (Luther’s Works, vol. 27, p. 13).



How does functional legalism change us from being grateful responders into functional debtors?


1. When you allow your conscience to be unlawfully oppressed by the usurped condemnation of the Law.


“we love this kind of treatment because we are legalists at heart… It is a constant temptation to want to take our spiritual pulse and to apply the sanctificational barometer. This is not necessarily the same as the worthwhile discipline of self-examination. Self-examination is a way of uncovering and coming to terms with the very problem under review. True self-examination is a means of going back to the source of our salvation because it reminds us of the constant need of grace (Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 118).


2.       When our lives are continually governed by a sense of “ought” rather than “done.”


“Jesus Christ alone offered a sufficient sacrifice for sin (Heb. 5:1; 9:26; 10:12), and this brings to an end any notion of debt in our relation to God. Therefore, the line from the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount” that says, “Oh! To grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be,” makes the wrong connection. Debt is the wrong correlate to grace. We can never be debtors to grace: ‘Who has given a gift to Him, to receive a gift in return? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen’ (Rom. 11:35-36). We were once debtors to the law, but in Christ we are justified. Therefore, there is no debt relation to God whatsoever through faith in Christ” (Michael Horton, People and Place, p. 299).


“[Is] joyless, mechanical obedience really honoring to Jesus? Did God intend His commands to feel like drudgery? When faced with this dilemma, most people settle for either legalism (obey even though you don’t feel like it) or license (don’t obey at all). But neither of these is the gospel!” (Gospel-Centered Life, Lesson 7, p. 69).


“[We can] accurately say that when Jesus lived a perfect life, we lived a perfect life. When He died on the cross to suffer the penalty of sin, we died on the cross. All that Jesus did, we did, because of our legal union with Him” (Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, p. 38).


“Have you ever thought about the wonderful truth that Christ lived His perfect life in your place and on your behalf? Has it yet gripped you that when God looks at you today He sees you clothed in the perfect, sinless obedience of His Son? And that when He says, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased,’ He includes you in that warm embrace?” (Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, p. 39).


© John Fonville

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