I am often amazed by the concept that obedience is the same as legalism. As I have shared my convictions that we must keep the law of God, that His law must be written in our hearts and practiced in our lives, often the cry goes out “LEGALISM”. Soon my words and indeed my very intentions are likened to being a Pharisee. I believe a short look at this might be worthwhile. I believe the fundamental problem is in trying to answer two questions with one answer.
I have found that there are two very important questions that a follower of Jehovah must ask and indeed understand the answers. We as human beings like simplicity for the most part. In matters of salvation we want one question and one answer. The truth is not complicated so let’s look at the two aspects of salvation. The first question to my understanding is “how am I saved?” The bible is simple in its answer.
“And [the jailer] brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Act 16:30-31) Jesus tells us this as well! “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”(Joh 6:28-29)
We clearly see the truth in the scriptures above and many other places in the Bible also tell us that our salvation comes from Christ. We are justified by His life and death and are resurrected with him into life. This is the answer to the first question. How am I saved? It is by faith in the only begotten Son of God who has redeemed me back into favor with the Father!
Many leave the issue here and thus cheap grace finds its footing. We must ask the second question. Now that I am saved by faith in the Son of God, what does this love and salvation require of me. Though my salvation cannot come from anything I do, what does the Lord expect and require of those who accept this free gift of salvation.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Mat 13:44-46)
Like in the parables seen above, once we have found that great treasure of salvation in Jesus, we must leave behind the old life. In each story above, both had to sell and leave behind what they had before, in order to purchase the new. This is the answer to that second question. In our life without Christ, we did not love him or want to keep His commandments. In our new life Christ says to us, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (Joh 14:15)
Legalism is a doctrine that teaches that keeping the commandments of God earns a person the right to go to heaven. This is a false doctrine. But those who keep the commandments out of love for the Father and Son do so because they are saved and are jealous for the character of their Father, not in order to be saved. So next time you are defending God’s law and you are accused of being a legalist, simply tell them you love the law because it reveals the character of your heavenly Father and His Son who have given all for you. Tell them that you keep it because God who you loves you with an everlasting love has asked you to. Then perhaps they in turn will ask themselves, “What is the real reason why I don't keep God's commandments?”!
“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments. My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly. I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.” (Psa 119:165-168)
Jesus not only gave all for us in dying for our sins but He also lived a sanctified life to be our example of how to live our lives attached to our heavenly Father through Him. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic 6:8)
So in conclusion, there are two things we must remember. Our Salvation is from God alone and that when we accept that salvation, we will want to keep His law out of love from him. If we do not want to keep His law, then perhaps we are not living in the grace of His salvation after all.
“Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word. Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God. Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope. Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.”(Psa 119:114-117)