Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Battling Sin: Legalism

(by: me)

While in the car yesterday and Sunday, I enjoyed the wonderful message "Enjoying the Grace and Detecting Legalism" by C.J. Mahaney. I encourage everyone to listen to it as it is really fabulous!

When I look at my life and lifestyle I see many things. I notice my struggles with particular sins, I observe where I am falling short in my responsibilities as the Proverbs 31 woman, I take note of what the children in my home are learning and what issues I need to address with each one's heart, but have I for a moment stopped to ask myself if I am being legalistic? Not really, and perhaps it is because I do not have a full understanding of the term.

It has taken me the better part of two and a half years to comprehend legalism. Had you asked me in 2006 (when I first received grace) what legalism is, I could not have answered. Today, I can give you an explanation however C.J. Mahaney has pointed out I still do not have a thorough grasp of it. Not only is it acting like a Pharisee, going though the motions, following the rules, yet being like a whitewashed tomb (Matthew 23:27)…there is so much more to it and God takes it very seriously!

C.J. Mahaney says,
“Why are we prone, why are we so apt to so quickly and so easily forget the gospel? Well a primary reason I submit to you, a primary reason for our tendency to forget the gospel is in a word, legalism….Legalism is a daily tendency, legalism is a daily temptation for each one of us. No one is exempt from this daily tendency and temptation and no one present will mature beyond this daily temptation and this tendency. And Paul in Galatians chapter two is addressing this daily tendency and temptation…”

Galatians 2:15-16: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:21: I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.


Okay, so far so good for me! I get it and currently feel I am not just a whitewashed tomb but rather a creature who was given a new heart of flesh. And since I received this regenerated heart only by God’s grace through faith alone, my actions, words, and life as a whole are significantly different. Therefore I am not doing good works because I think that is the right thing to do, I am serving and behaving as someone who follows Christ because I am so in love with God, Jesus, and Christ’s obedience to His Father and sacrifice for me on the cross.

C.J. Mahaney goes on to state, “
Let me not assume all present understand legalism. Let us begin with a definition of legalism….Legalism involves seeking to achieve forgiveness from God, justification before God, and acceptance by God through our obedience to God. Legalism involves seeking to achieve forgiveness from God, justification before God, acceptance by God through my obedience to God….Legalism, its essence is in effect substituting my works for His finished work….In a phrase, legalism is self atonement….Legalism is my attempt to atone for my sins.”


Still going good here! I continue to feel my heart is in the right place! Legalism, in my opinion is a pride issue. And, though I do struggle with the sin of pride in some areas---as Jonathan Edwards (I believe it was) said, “It is not IF you are prideful but rather HOW you are prideful.”---I do not yet draw a line to legalism in my own life. Perhaps this is an accurate self assessment or maybe I am just fooling myself…we shall see.

Martin Luther said, “The only contribution we make to our justification is the sin God so graciously forgives.”


Moving right along…you will have to listen to the mp3 to hear all of the excellent things C.J. says regarding legalism as self atonement!!!

C.J. Mahaney points out some evidences of legalism. He says, “
1. You are more aware of and affected by your past sins than you are the finished work of Christ…. I have had a number of interactions with Christians over the years who have no difficulty receiving forgiveness for all sins committed prior to conversion but do find difficulty receiving forgiveness from God for sins committed since conversion….If you are more aware of sin, if you are more aware of any season of sin in your past, than you are the person and finished work of Jesus Christ, that is the evidence of legalism. That is an evidence that legalism is present in your life….

2. You are more aware of and reliant upon godly practices than you are the cross….Now while preparing this material I thought [a plate spinner (man/woman who spins plates on a flexible rod) for a variety show like the Ed Sullivan show] is a picture of a legalistic Christian….If you don’t understand the difference between justification and sanctification you will engage in [biblical/godly] practices not as a means of grace but instead as a means of merit….”


Yes! So far I have a gold star! Whoo-hoo! I do not feel I am more affected by my sins than the finished work of Christ and I do not consider myself more reliant upon godly practices than the cross. I love, adore, delight in studying God’s word!!! It is a passion that I would much prefer to do rather than anything else…especially chores! While my children are studying their school subjects each day, I use the time to commune with God and learn His word (between helping the kids with their work).

I was right in the middle of my touchdown dance when I heard C.J. Mahaney say the next evidences of legalism, “
3. You consistently experience condemnation which is distinct from conviction….Ignorance of justification leaves one vulnerable to condemnation. Actually I can assure you that if you don’t understand justification you will experience condemnation….I can either repent of my sin and receive forgiveness and receive righteousness as a gift from God or I can seek to establish my own righteousness….Until you’ve resolved the guilt of sin biblically you’ll never be able to weaken the power of sin in your life….How do you resolved the guilt of sin? You receive the forgiveness that was achieved on the cross by the substitutionary sacrifice of His Son. And if you don’t receive forgiveness because of the cross you are in effect setting aside the grace of God and declaring that Christ died for nothing. It’s not that you think His death was unnecessary but in effect was insufficient….”


And then, came the killer for me! The final evidence of legalism according to C.J. Mahaney, “You lack joy!” And there, dear sisters in Christ is where I crashed and burned!!!

Serve the LORD with gladness! (Psalm 100:2. ESV.)

Now, I am not saying I always walk around with a sour puss attitude. Usually I delight in serving others and the Lord however sometimes, in some areas of my life, I do not and can be quite the stinker about it!!! And it is during these times that I realize I have taken my eyes off of the cross! I am no longer focused on Christ and His most gracious Father!!! But, rather I am only focused on myself!!! Ick!!! So I then have to preach to myself and get my eyes back on the cross.

Charles Spurgeon said, “One might better try to sail the Atlantic in a paper boat than to get to heaven by good works.”
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