Playing Fast and Loose with the “L” Word

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

August 10, 2012

Over the last few months I have written a number of posts (e.g., here and here) dealing with a tendency I have observed in some Reformed circles to downplay the moral commands of Scripture.  The motivating factor behind this tendency is often positive, namely a desire to make sure that people remember that salvation is by grace alone and not by works.   In other words, the downplaying of moral commands is designed to preserve the integrity of the gospel.

However, such attempts to preserve the gospel (while well-intended) can have negative side effects. One such side effect is that those who pursue serious obedience to God’s law are sometimes viewed with suspicion.  Perhaps they are hiding their real sins.  Or perhaps they don’t understand grace.  Or perhaps they are…legalists. In such instances, the “L” word gets thrown around rather loosely and often prematurely.  Law-keeping, in some circles, has sadly become the litmus test for legalism.

But, is law-keeping, in and of itself, grounds for an accusation of legalism?  Certainly not.  But, legalism and obedience are all too often being confused with one another.   On this score, I appreciate the recent post by Fred Zaspel, Legalism or Obedience?  It is worth repeating here:

Yet, find a Christian who is careful to obey God in everything, and we won’t have to look far to find another Christian to call him a legalist…But we must be careful not to confuse legalism with obedience. Obedience is not legalism. Obedience is obedience. God commands us to obey his Word, and when pressed with those commands we must not cry foul — “legalism!”  No, disobedience is sin, and obedience is not legalism.

On the contrary, any violation of God’s commands is sin, and there are no exceptions allowed. No custom, no family tradition, no “We’ve always done that!” will cover it. Scripture insists that violation of God’s law is sin.

Simply put, we needn’t fear that we may obey our Lord too much. Jesus said that if we love him, we will obey him.

Happily, God has promised in the New Covenant to give us a heart to obey him. And every true Christian has found that obedience to God is not a burdensome thing. This is the work of his Spirit within us to bring us to obey him — not legalistically but faithfully.

We may be more thankful still that God has provided remedy for our sinful disobedience in laying our punishment instead on his Son, in whom we trust.

Let us pray that God will make us increasingly faithful, increasingly obedient to his holy Word, to his glory.



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