06 July 2007

Gospel Sanctification 4 - Legalism's Wrong Assumption

At one point I came to understand the need for the ministry of grace to strengthen believers. I struggled knowing exactly how or where the preaching of commandments came into things. I was challenged by a legalist to explain why we can't simply take an 'imperative' text and preach it, by which he meant rebuke believers for their lack of faithfulness and exhort them to obedience ( i.e. club believers with the commands). After all, it's in the Bible, we need to hear it, and be exhorted to obey, right? It took quite a while for me to figure out what was actually wrong with what he was saying (and doing).

I came to realise that an assumption was brought to the commands by the legalist that forgets that the indelible mark of a Christian is he "loves to keep God's commandments because those commandments are no longer grievous" ( I John 5:1-3).

The assumption implicit (and sometime explicit!) in legalistic preaching is that believers don't want to obey and need to be dragged against their will to obedience. Taken out of the equation is the new heart, the Spirit's work, New Covenant realities, and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself.

Legalists underestimate the power of a believer's new heart feasting on the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. So legalists turn their attention to subduing the flesh through rebuke and sharp exhortation. Scripture teaches this doesn't help bring about obedience but rather fuels the sinful nature by either leading to pride in those who feel successful or leading to despair in those that feel the burden of failure.

In one illustration, Walter Marshall says that much preaching is like telling a man to take his weapons and go and enter a battle. If the man is a soldier he will do it readily. But we are more like sick men on our death beds without the strength to so much as pick up our weapon. The question that needs answering is: How can I, without any strength in myself, perform such an overwhelming task?

The strength to enliven us, and give us power to get out of our sick beds to face the battle, is the gospel alone - to be embraced afresh every day. So our first duty is to believe on Christ and receive healing strength from the great physician who alone gets the glory.

"1O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? 5Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-- 6just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?" Galatians 3:1-6.

Resting in grace-




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