Summary: Today there are two extreme positions being expounded. Not new, they have existed since apostolic times. Each critical of the other. Neither is biblically correct. On the extreme right is legalism; on the left - license. The biblical position is liberty!
LIBERTY, LICENSE, AND LEGALISM
INTRODUCTION: Today in Christianity there are two extreme positions. These positions are not new they have existed since apostolic times. Each is critical of the other. Neither is biblically correct. Both are devastating to the cause of Christ. On the extreme right is legalism; while on the extreme left is license. There is between legalism and license the biblically correct position and that is liberty. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia to deal with this matter as the church at Galatia was caught up into the controversy.
I. Legalism – a mixing of faith and works
A. The Galatian Error - Legalism
1. Galatians 1:6 "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:"
2. Galatians 3:1 "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?"
3. Galatians 4:11 "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain."
4. Galatians 4:20-21 "I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?"
5. Galatians 5:7 "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"
6. The church at Galatia had those who were guilty of mingling grace and works. They taught that in order for a person to be a Christian they had to believe in Christ by faith, but also had to submit to and observe the rituals and regulations of religion – i.e. circumcision, the Levitical Law. .
B. "What must I forsake?" a young man asked. "Colored clothes for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don’t eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against him who created us, to attempt to improve on his work." Quaint, isn’t it -- this example of extra-biblical scruples? And perhaps amusing. The list has constantly shifted over the 1,800 years since this one was actually recorded. Jim Peterson, Living Proof, NavPress, 1989, p. 106.
C. There’s something comfortable about reducing Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts, whether your list comes from mindless fundamentalism or mindless liberalism: you always know where you stand, and this helps reduce anxiety. Do’s-and-don’ts-ism has the advantage that you don’t need wisdom. You don’t have to think subtly or make hard choices. You don’t have to relate personally to a demanding and loving Lord. - Robert C. Roberts in The Reformed Journal (Feb. 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 9.
D. There are people (in churches) who do not want us to be free. They don’t want us to be free before God, accepted just as we are by his grace. They don’t want us to be free to express our faith originally and creatively in the world. They ... insist that all look alike, talk alike and act alike, thus validating one another’s worth. Without being aware of it we become anxious about what others will say about us, obsessively concerned about what others think we should do. We no longer live the good news but anxiously try to memorize and recite the script that someone else has assigned to us. We may be secure, but we will not be free. – Eugene Peterson.
E. Rigidity is the trademark of legalism, the archenemy of any church on the move. Let legalism have enough rope, and there will be a lynching of all new ideas, fresh thinking, and innovative programs. – Charles R. Swindoll (1934- )
F. It was Billy Sunday who said, "Some persons think they have to look like a hedgehog to be pious."
G. The bite of legalism spreads paralyzing venom into the body of Christ. Its poison blinds our eyes, dulls our edge, and arouses pride in our hearts. Soon our love is eclipsed as it turns into a mental clipboard with a long checklist. Charles R. Swindoll (1934- )
H. A bishop said to Louis XI of France, "Make an iron cage for all those who do not think as we do, an iron cage in which the captive can neither lie down nor stand straight up." The awful instrument of punishment was fashioned. After a while, the bishop offended Louis XI, and for fourteen years he was in that same cage and could neither lie down nor stand up. It is a poor rule that will not work both ways. "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again." - Rev. W. W. Landrum