Keeping the Rules
Legalism is a constant threat to Christianity. There are always those who come along to find fault and to add rules. If you are really saved, according to them, you will keep the rules that they have devised. Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, based on the Scripture alone, focused on Christ alone is not enough for the legalist. Therefore, salvation is not for God's glory alone because legalism puts man in the place of God. It is all about what I do or don't do rather than all about what God has done in the person of Christ. Legalism is so enticing because our flesh, our pride, wants some of the credit. Legalism is also very intimidating because we don't want others to question our salvation or our spirituality. Legalism is attractive because it feeds a tendency in us all towards self-righteousness.
I know about legalism because I've been there. When I was in college and growing as a new Christian I started to ask questions about some of the things I saw Christian groups or churches doing or practicing. Being new in the faith I didn't know what to think of this or how to respond. Then I was introduced to a man who was pastoring a church in our area who addressed the very issues I was wondering about. In fact, he had written some books. He made a strong case for 2nd and 3rd degree separation meaning that not only do you separate from those engaged in unbiblical ministry, but you also separate from those who don't separate from them.
This seemed so right at the time. Pretty soon though a mentality arose that our little church was about the only place in the world that was standing for the truth. The pastor was a great Bible teacher and we were learning, but we were separated. The pastor's name was Charles Woodbridge. He had been a disciple of J. Gresham Machen and had stood with Machen against liberalism in the Presbyterian church. But by the time I met him he was an older man with a charming personality and a skilled teacher, but he had carried the fight against liberalism to the fight against just about everything.
Eventually that little church crumbled. This is the inevitable result of a self-righteous, legalistic mindset. I've seen it throughout my time as a Christian. I remember a time a man in our church said that if he ever saw a set of drums on the church platform that he would leave. What does that imply? That is intimidation. That's a reflection of a legalistic mindset. I've heard people say and even seen books written that take the position that to have your children in a public school is a sin. Then I guess I am a sinner. Again, what intimidation.
Sadly, a lot of legalism is spread by those who call themselves Calvinists or reformed. Keeping their rules is how you prove your election. How intimidating is that? Strange that those who proclaim the wonderful doctrines of grace want to add rules to grace. Even sadder is that they look down on those who do not hold their views. Sometimes the self-righteousness is overpowering.
If you don't think that legalism is intimidating then read Galatians 2:11-14 and see how even Peter and Barnanbas were affected by it. Notice also how Paul took a strong stand against this because he knew that this struck right at the heart of the gospel. From this point Paul launches into one of the strongest statements of justification by faith alone found anywhere in Scripture.
Soon I will be leaving my church here in San Antonio that I have had the privilege of pastoring for the past 10+ years. We have all grown in our walk with the Lord. It will be hard to say goodbye to people we have grown so close to. But we are going home. I will be serving on the staff of Grace Community Church in the LA area. Grace is the first church I started attending as a new believer back in 1974. Grace Church was the church I "separated" from in my days in the fundamentalist movement. I am looking forward to going back and serving in this ministry.
I have appreciated the consistent teaching and practice of Grace Church over the years. Obviously the ministry of John MacArthur has greatly influenced me. I have appreciated his stand for the truth, especially justification by faith. I look forward to working with the other men in this ministry. Phil Johnson has done some really helpful stuff in the area of Calvinism, fundamentalism, and justification by faith. You can check out his stuff at the gracechurch.org web page. Look under adult ministries and Gracelife. You can also read his blog, Pyromaniac, at phillipjohnson.blogspot.com. Not only does Phil write good stuff but he also has helpful links. Phil periodically does some blog spotting so we will see if he catches this link.
In conclusion, watch out for legalism. It ruins relationships. It robs you of joy. It repalces God with man. We walk by faith not by our efforts at being holy.