My Addiction to Legalism

Under the impulse of desire, man feels himself urged onward in some path or pursuit of activity for its gratification. The faculties of his mind are put into busy exercise. In the steady direction of one great and engrossing interest, his attention is recalled from the many reveries into which it might otherwise have wandered; and the powers of his body are forced away from an indolence in which it else might have languished; and that time is crowded with occupation, which but for some object of keen and devoted ambition, might have driveled along in successive hours of weariness and distaste—and though hope does not always enliven, and success does not always crown this career of exertion, yet in the midst of this very variety, and with the alternations of occasional disappointment, is the machinery of the whole man kept in a sort of congenial play, and upholden in that tone and temper which are most agreeable to it.

Thomas Chalmers

“In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new.” -Thomas Chalmers

These quotes are from Thomas Chalmers’s article The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. Basically he says that the only way we will forsake the old man and the worthless things of the world which distract us and hold our affections, is if our hearts are captivated by a greater and more glorious object of desire; namely, Jesus. Reading this article is affecting me greatly. Relating it to what I am learning in Hebrews and Galatians, my barriers of self-righteousness and legalism are definitely being dealt with. If this isn’t a particular struggle for you, you may read this and think I’m repeating the same thing over and over again. You’re right. But I have been so entrenched in legalism that preaching to myself the same truth over and over shocks me the same way every time. May the believer who shares in this struggle find comfort in these words.

I wake up late. Class starts at 8:00, and I overslept to 7:50. Ok, sometimes I don’t over sleep, but I intentionally turn off the 10 alarms I’ve set from 6:00-7:30. My first thought? Well, today is a failure. I go to class without spending time with the Lord, and go throughout my day assuming that I will be unable to “spiritually succeed” (whatever that means). Or, it could even be as simple as ignoring people in the hallway. I am being so unloving today. I go around fearing people think I don’t like them because I didn’t say hi. I fail a quiz, no; I get a C on a quiz. I didn’t study well enough, I didn’t steward my time well. Failure. Then I resolve to go back to my dorm room and enter a netflix coma for the remainder of the day.

Is this really how Jesus wanted me to live?

I would like to point out that in all three of these scenarios there is sin. Maybe not all the time, but most of the time. To value sleep more than time in the Word of God, to be unloving/apathetic, and wasting time on selfish/pointless pleasures when I should be studying are all offenses that need to be dealt with in my heart. And we MUST be repentant over sin. But the struggle I want to talk about here is allowing condemnation to remain, when Christ has set us free. To stay on the ground when we fall, instead of getting up to fight once more.

Our flesh wants to condemn us. If we stay in condemnation we won’t have victory. Satan wants us to believe that redemption is impossible. He wants us to believe that God doesn’t really love us that much, that there is no hope. He wants us to forsake the truths of the gospel instead of clinging to Christ and confessing our own inadequacy again and again. The law should be a tutor to lead us to Christ, but instead we continue to let it condemn us. In one of Matt Chandler’s sermons on Galatians, he calls the law the “diagnostic”, meaning it can tell us the problem but can never have the power to solve it.

 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” –Romans 8:3-4

I know at least for me, I run to the law too often, expecting my works to bring me life, yet again and again I fail and condemn myself. He has promised us life in our mortal bodies through Christ but through our disbelief we forsake these promises.

 “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” Hebrews 3:18-4:2

Our sin is too great, our nature is unchangeable. In believing this we fail to see the power of God in salvation. We fail to see that He is both just AND justifier. When we deceive ourselves we are not remembering the power of God and banking on the promises of Scripture. This is what Thomas Chalmers was talking about. We must fix our eyes on Jesus, someone of infinitely more worth, and who can be the constant remembrance that only in Christ is there no condemnation. Just like the Israelites, We don’t enter the rest of grace because of disbelief. We must unite the law with faith and come boldly to the throne of grace. When the Son captivates us, we will forsake the useless pursuit of self-righteousness.

 “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:11-16

The Word is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Are we obeying out of glad submission? Or out of lifeless legalism? Closing the gap between head knowledge of the gospel and true belief, true heart circumcision, I’m learning is a life-long process. It is the power of the Holy Spirit at work inside of me. A day-by-day battle. I can’t be a perfect Christian. Matt Chandler, in his sermons on Galatians says we will “stumble” into eternity. The sooner I realize I’m unable to live up to my own idea of perfect godliness, the sooner I can start living in freedom again. The sooner I will stop placing unrealistic expectations on others, because I place them on myself.

Living as a believer is learning how to continually come boldly to the throne of grace, and hope in the promises of Scripture when we are tempted to rely on our own good deeds, our own understanding. It starts with believing that all we have to offer really is filthy rags. Confessing this and knowing it is the ultimate humbling. You can never be good enough. I can never be good enough. Even as I write this I know how difficult it is. I’ll be honest; sometimes it’s really hard for me to believe the promises in Scripture. Especially when I’m being too introspective, gazing as how ugly my sin is. We must force ourselves to continually gaze on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, trusting that He will redeem us and that He is sanctifying us. Believing the gospel and walking by the Spirit day by day is going to force us into a place of humility our flesh will fight against with all its might. God delights in me? Truly incredible.

This life is a struggle, and because of that the gospel must constantly be on our lips, spoken to one another in word and in deed. One of the biggest encouragements to me lately has been how my sisters in Christ love my and accept me regardless of my actions. They just keep extending grace to me and it’s hard for me to fathom. Every time they do I am reminded of the gospel. It is only through Jesus working inside of them that they are able to do this. This fellowship is teaching me the gospel continually. Every time I am amazed by the love of God. Another great example of the gospel in my life is my father. Growing up, there are so many instances when I expect him to be furious with me and punish me unreservedly. Instead, he forgave me and showed mercy. He even reassured me of his love for me! At the very times when I least expected it. I look back on these times in my life and am reminded that I am so prone to believe the lie that I can attain righteousness on my own doing. If you were raised in church, you probably know how easy it is to fall into this trap. The addiction to legalism.

 “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

You can’t be part of enough ministries, do enough good deeds, give enough, and sacrifice enough, to earn the favor and love of God. Through Jesus, you already have it. Why? For His glory. We were regenerated and redeemed, for the glory of God. We don’t deserve it, but the Lord wanted to show His glory, and to do that He chose us. To demonstrate His love.

 “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,

And He who formed you, O Israel,

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name; you are Mine!

“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’

And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’

Bring My sons from afar

And My daughters from the ends of the earth,

Everyone who is called by My name,

And whom I have created for My glory,

Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Isaiah 43:1, 6-7

Throw aside your self-righteousness and legalism. Cling to the truths of Scripture and in the midst of sin run to the throne of grace banking on the sacrifice of Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus and be transformed by your new affection for Him. Be enamored by who He is, and don’t look to the flesh, but the Spirit. Run the race with joy and obedience knowing that no matter what happens His blood is enough to cleanse us of our sin; past, present, and future. The blood of bulls and goats could never be enough, so God Himself came to earth to earn righteousness for us, to take on our sin, and to assure our perseverance to the very end. Recognize that grace is costly, and lay down your life for the One who laid down his life for you. We must seek to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge that we may be filled up to the fullness of God.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” -Galatians 5:1

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” -1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Here is a link the sermons from the village church on Galatians

My favorite so far is “A forgetfulness that leads to foolishness”


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