Twin Dangers—Seeker Sensitivity and Legalism

And still I need to bring out that self-righteousness can take another form. This is the other cliff. It has a very different appearance from pop Christianity. Yet, it, too, stems from every human’s basic desire to justify himself. This form of self-righteousness is called legalism. It is trusting in works and the law for even a part of one’s salvation instead of trusting in Jesus Christ alone.

I was once a member of a church that stressed the law. In fact, I was more than a member. I worked in the head office, assisting the church’s founder and writing for their slick magazine that had a worldwide circulation of around 8 million. Sure, we told—I told—people that Jesus is our Savior. But we also always brought the message around to tell people that they had to keep the law. Why? It comes from not believing that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough. It comes from not trusting that God can keep His people in line with grace. It comes from trusting in self-righteousness.

The Pharisees really believed that it was possible for them to please God by perfectly keeping the law. They really did. But for a Christian to trust in law keeping to merit him in any way is to return to the bondage of the law. Look out! It is self-righteousness, and it will eventually lead to misery and doubt and depression. It is inventing a new religion based on self-righteousness just as much as the couple did I told you about earlier. The Bible doesn’t say to bring the law and grace together.

The Bible says, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The Bible says to Christians, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), implying that if you do start trusting in the law, sin will have dominion or be master over you. The Bible says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21) and warns, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

Some people say that we start off being justified, or declared not guilty, by grace through faith, but we must then go on to be sanctified, or made holy, by the works of the law. But Romans 6:19 says, “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” Now, I just read to you Scriptures that equate justification with righteousness and essentially say that we are not made righteous through the law. And Romans 6:19 says that righteousness, which, remember, comes by grace through faith and not by the law, results in holiness. So where does holiness come from? It comes from righteousness that comes by grace, not by the law. Picking it up again in verses 22 and 23, we see, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is all of grace, friends, all of grace. In Ephesians 2:8-9, we read, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

God, by His grace, opened my eyes to see the great error in trying to mix law and grace, and I left that church I worked for. But I was surprised to find that so many others also mix law and grace. Yes, there is New Covenant law, the law of Christ that is revealed in the New Testament. It guides Christians, showing them how to fulfill their desire to do what is right and kind and loving. But, unlike THE law, the law of the Old Testament, it does not condemn us when we fall short. If we attempt to keep the Old Testament laws as Old Testament laws, the Law of Moses, any part of it, we are guilty of self-righteousness.

Now I am going to tell you why we use the name Word of His Grace. When the apostle Paul suspected that his arrest and eventual execution were drawing near, he called for the elders of the church in Ephesus. His farewell address to them is recorded in Acts 20. In verse 32, knowing that he would no longer be able to be their overseer and shepherd, he told them, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.”

Did you know that there is great significance to the church today, and to you personally, in those words? In fact, there is as much significance in what Paul didn’t say as in what he did say. Just what does it mean to be commended to “God and to the word of his grace,” and what does this mean to you personally, in your life?

First, what does commend mean? It means to deposit, as a trust or protection. That is, to entrust. Paul is placing these elders in the trust of God and the word of His grace. God and the word of His grace are going to be in charge of them.

Copyright © 2007-2009 Peter Ditzel