Give me a word, Lord: LEGALISM vs GRACE

Galations 2:16-21 (NLT) Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.  But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not!  Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down.  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

My daddy is a wonderful christian man. We know that there was only one perfect Man who walked this earth, and His name was Jesus. Daddy isn’t perfect, but I know that my daddy has been made right through the blood of Jesus Christ. He loves to tell others about Christ. He helped to build the foundation for me to become the believer that I am today, and I want to be a witness like he is to others. He told me once that his goal is to share the plan of salvation with someone at least once every single day. When he told me that, I thought, “Wow, I want to be just like him!” Last week, a pastor caused my daddy to have a bit of a spiritual battle, and it had to do with legalism. I’m not a pastor. I don’t have a theological degree. I’m just a nurse practitioner and a farmer who has a heart for Christ and for sharing His word with others, but it is my opinion from studying God’s Word that grace defeats legalism every time.

My daddy was raised in a Landmark Missionary Baptist Church. Actually, the church formed in my grandparents’, his parents’, home. They were charter members. It is still a wonderful church, and we have visited from time to time. They preach the word, no doubt. As young children, we attended a Southern Baptist Church, and in our teen years, we attended another Missionary Baptist Church. We were fed the gospel at both churches. I loved both churches. I grew in my faith at both churches. The church ordinances may have differed, but the fact remains that the gospel was being preached at both churches. Did difference in ordinances make one church wrong and one church right? I’m not here to determine that. My belief is that if a pastor/preacher is preaching and teaching the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, then that church is doing the right thing. How do we determine that the truth is being preached? Well, we have to study the Word of God ourselves. Back to my story, this man told Daddy that the women at the church Daddy attends wear lipstick, cut their hair, wear pants, and sometimes even wear shorts, and therefore, it is wrong for him to attend that church. Y’all don’t pull out your stones or torches just yet, but I’m going to tell you about me. This girl right here wears lipstick, cuts her hair, wears pants, and yes, on a hot summer day in south Mississippi, this girl even wears shorts! BUT, BIG BUT, not little but, this girl also loves Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior more than anything else in this world. Am I going to die and go to hell because “the rules” of my church are different than “the rules” of another church? I must answer emphatically–NO! I know that my eternal home is in heaven. There is not even a shadow of a doubt in my mind!

I prayed a lot before I wrote this today. I don’t want anyone to think that I am making light of the choice of church in which one chooses to be a member. I merely want to point out that Baptists won’t be the only ones in heaven, y’all. And it won’t just be Missionary Baptists walking through those pearly gates. There will be Southern Baptists, Methodists, Non-denominationals, and Pentecostals there too! God isn’t going to just call one church home. He is going to call THE CHURCH. You don’t get to heaven by attending a certain church on Sunday and following the ordinances of that church. You get to heaven by placing faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. It’s a free gift of grace that was given to each of us when His blood poured out on the cross.

Legalism leads with the law rather than the gospel. The gospel stands on it’s own. It doesn’t need any help from us to give it strength. Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can’t work our way into heaven, but we work for the gospel and Christ because of the gracious gift of salvation. But if works are taking the lead over the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is legalism. It’s human nature to distort the glorious truths of God, and I think we have all been guilty of trying to misuse that free gift of grace. God has given us all that we need for godliness. We desire to live for Christ, and we have deep convictions that the sins in our life dishonor God. But sometimes, in the midst of our pursuit for godliness, we forget that it is only by the grace of God that we can live for Him. Unfortunately, we sometimes tend to forget that any and all godliness comes from the Father. We become all puffed up and start projecting our standards on others. We soon begin to judge people and pressure them to conform to our “God lifestyle.” We forget about the principles that the Word of God reveal to us, and we teach our own preferences and practices of the law.

In Galatians 2, Paul brought up an example of when Peter went to Antioch. When Peter first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who were not circumcised. But later on, when some of the friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles any longer. He was afraid of the criticism that he would receive because the other people insisted on the necessity of circumcision. Paul later says, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” Those uncircumcised believers were believers too, and they have receive the gracious gift of salvation and eternal life just like their fellow circumcised believers.

We have to learn to balance the reality that our faith is through grace alone and by faith alone. We are called to glorify God, and we are called to follow His Word. Grace teaches us to separate ourselves from cultural sin, but it never teaches us to use ourselves as the standard for grace. We must look to Christ as the standard, not ourselves! The important questions to ask yourself are, “Have I received the gift of salvation? Am I a child of God?” If you know that the answer is yes, then you know. We aren’t perfect. We are perfectly imperfect children of a perfect God, and it is through Him that we are made right. We can’t do this thing called life on our own accord, but with God we can. We were created to glorify God. If what you are doing is sharing the gospel and bringing honor and glory to our Father, then keep on doing that! That is His desire for each of us. I leave you with this a word from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that assures us, ““Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” Alone, we are weak, but the power of the Father works best in our weakness. His grace is all we need!

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