Breaking the rules of Legalism

Note: This is sort of an on-going personal review of the book, The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney. For example the title of my post today is taken from chapter 3 in his book. I will be quoting from his book, and I hope to be thorough in my noting of such. This review is primarily for my own on going sanctification and understanding of God's grace in my life, of His work on my behalf. I share this here for the benefit of whom God bring to this little blog. I invite people to share their thoughts and questions. In doing so we can all grow in our understanding of THE most important event in all of history. On to the task at hand... :) An item near the top of the list of things to fall into as a Christian has got to be legalism. It seems that human nature just moves us towards feeling like we need to perform some action in order to achieve everything - including our salvation. A very concise, and helpful, definition of legalism that C.J. has shared has been (1):
Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.
Legalism is also a hinderence to our witness as Christians. How many times have we heard about too many rules. That Christianity is a religion od "thou shall not". When in reality what the cross accomplishes is actually the exact opposite. I think the warning by Thomas Schreiner, as quoted by CJ is also helpful, and a little sobering (2):
"legalism has in its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law, then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means that the glory goes to people rather than God."
What more dangerous ground can there be when we are looking to ourselves to accomplish only what God can, and in doing so essentially claim that the death of Christ on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficent. (3) C.J. then goes on to give the example of spinning plates. As we work on 'perfecting' our walk we will begin 'spinning plates'. (4) Study the scriptures, check. Quiet times every day, check. Memorize verses, check. Visit the prison/elderly, check. Witness to family/friends, check. And the list could go on and on. Each task becomes yet another 'spinning plate'. The problem is the plates don't sustain themselves. Innevitably a plate will 'plate' will start to wabble, maybe even fall crashing to the ground. The result, when we look to these things to fulfill what only Christ can (our acceptance before God) we will then start to base our relationship with Him based on our success or failures. When we accomplish these things we easily begin to feel that we are more acceptable to Him. It is easier to come in prayer and worship before the Throne of Heaven - but when we fail, woe is me. We are more like the man in Luke 18:13 than those pictured around the throne in Revelations. I myself tend to fall more to the side of 'license' than to legalism, but that can be a serious slope in and of itself. We as Christians really need to find that "narrow road", but realize Who has placed our feet on that path. That our works are a result of His accomplished work, and not a means to accomplish what only God can (and has). Two terms that C.J. seeks to expound upon and to make us more familiar with are justification (pg. 30) and sanctification (pg. 31). Once we have accepted Christ we are justified. "It is finished" was our Savior's cry (Jn 19:30). C.J. quotes William Plumer (5):
"Justification is an act. It is not a work, or a series of acts. It is not progressive. The weakest believer and the strongest saint are alike equally justified. Justification admits no degrees. A man is either wholly justified or wholly condemned in the sight of God."
Sanctification is the process by which God transforms our lives, our minds. For me Romans 8:28-30 demonstrates this, but there are many other verses. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians are all excellent books to see these two things in perspectives towards the other. C.J. also uses some side by side comparrisons that are very helpful (6):
* Justification is being declared righteous. Sanctification is being made righteous - being conformed to the image of Christ. * Justification is our position before God. Sanctification is our practice. You don't practice justification! It happens once for all, upon conversion. * Justification is obective - Christ's work for us. Sanctification is subjective - Christ's work within us. * Justification is immediate and complete upon conversion. You will never be more justified than you are the first moment you trust in the Person and finished work of Christ. sanctification is a process. You will be more sanctified as you continue in grace-motivated obedience.
"Understanding the differences between justification and sanctification is vital to defeating legalism." (7) C.J. reminded me that no one can add to what Christ accomplished. To say that anyone can is to say that what He accomplished on our behalf was incomplete. As C.J. puts it, "Our work is motivated by the grace God has poured out in our lives."(8) I will wrap this post up by quoting a prayer that C.J. placed in his book as an example (9):
"Lord, I ask for Your grace and strength as I seek to serve You today, I thank You that all Your blessings flow to me from you Son's work on my behalf. I am justified by Your grace alone. None of my efforts to obey You and grow in sanctification add to Your finished work at the cross."
Let us boast in nothing but the cross of Christ, as we set about the works that the Lord has laid before us since before the creation of universe. (1) pg. 25 from his book The Cross Centered Life (2) pg. 25 ; originally - Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law & Its Fulfilment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1993), 15. (3) pg.25 (4) pg. 26-30 (5) pg. 33; orginally - William S. Plumer, The Grace of Christ (Keyser: Odem Publications, 1853), 195. (6) pg. 32-33 (7) pg. 32, C.J. Mahaney (8) pg. 34 (9) pg. 35 Verse for today: Galatians 6:12-15, esv It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which [2] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.


Bob said...

Wow, we must be running along the same lines this morning. Thats what really stood out this morning when I was doing my morning Bible study/ Quiet time............

samurai said...

I always find it amazing that God would even reveal anything to us, but it is even more so when He is revealing similar things to many people - over a wide geographical and/or demographic region/group.