The Fence of Legalism

I have some bad news.

And I have some good news.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  You can do nothing – absolutely nothing – to earn salvation, forgiveness or God’s love.  Your fate is entirely in the hands of God Almighty.

Now… here is the good news.  You can do nothing – absolutely nothing – to earn salvation, forgiveness or God’s love.  Your fate is entirely in the hands of God Almighty.

Yes, they are one and the same thing.  How can the exact same circumstance be both bad and good?  It’s all according to which side of the fence you are on.

When Jesus Christ walked on this earth, there were two groups of religious leaders He stood up against: the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Both were legalistic sects of Judaism.  The Sadducees were the rich rulers of Jerusalem.  They believed in strict adherence to the Pentateuch. But they did not believe in an afterlife (or any other sort of spiritual life for that matter – which is what made the Sadducees sad, you see…)

The Pharisees were not quite wealthy, and accepted life after death and spiritual matters with no qualms.  However, they too fully equated their own rules and laws with those of God.  Both sides were quite full of themselves, sure that they were the ones who had a lock on God – that they were the only ones who not only were right, but had the right to say who and what was right.

The Pharisees believed salvation came through strict adherence to the law, as they saw it (including the additions they made, which were originally intended to make one holier).  The problem was that, in the end, the legalism led them (and their followers) away from the truth about God.

When one is filled with legalism, faith becomes difficult, as does any sense of forgiveness or mercy or kindness or love.  This is why I have such a problem with legalistic Christianity.  I believe a lot of people suffer from depression, anxiety, etc… because they have no real mechanism for processing God’s forgiveness, and love.  They have no means of honest identity with Jesus Christ.

In John 15 (ESV), Jesus tells us what it means to be a Christian, and who we are in Him:

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”

Notice that Jesus is referring to “mou patēr” – my literal, personal Father.  God is not merely some abstract, legalistic deity. The Lord is so personal that, in Romans 8:15, we read, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  “Abba” is an endearing, loving, personal word for Father, perhaps better translated as “Daddy”.

2  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

The later example of Sadducees illustrates this point clearly.  Jesus was crucified around 33AD.  Less than forty years later, the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans.  The Jews scattered, thus beginning the Diaspora.  The Pharisees continued, but the Sadducee sect of Judaism disappeared with the temple.  Taken away.

3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

This statement flies right in the face of legalism.  Your good works cannot save you.  Only God can do that!

4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

The Pharisees and Sadducees dwelt in the Temple.  But, Jesus is pointing out that we – the believers in Christ – are the true temple.  He abides in us, and we in Him!  Remember, the Holy Spirit lives within you.  (Okay… technically that didn’t happen until Pentecost, but you know what I mean…)

8  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Legalism brings God no glory.  All it does is impose rules and regs on people.  Faith cannot be forced.  True faith is rooted in love, and trust, and hope.  Legalism destroys all of those things.

9  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

I point all of this out for one reason: don’t let legalism get ahold of you.  Understand that, if you asked the Lord to forgive you, He has forgiven you.  It’s done.  You are clean not because of what you’ve done (or not done), but because of Jesus Christ.

Abide in the love of Jesus Christ.  Stop beating yourself up.  Believe you are forgiven, because you are.  Believe you are loved, because you are.  Believe the Lord is with you always – within you always – because He is.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

The results are not your responsibility.  Nor are we called to figure it all out.  Just trust.  Just believe in Him.  Take Christ at His Word: undiluted, unpolluted.

Have you asked God to forgive your sin?  Have you truly accepted that Jesus as your Savior?  The understand this: the old you is gone.  Dead.  Who you were is no longer who you are.  You are now under new management.  You are no longer a slave to sin but a friend to the Lord.  You have hope.  You have no worries.  You have a new focus on loving others through Jesus Christ.

You are a new you.  Free.  Beloved.  Saved.

Revel in that.

Abide in God’s love.

Be salt and light.

Be who God created you to be.




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