Why do we have such a hard time embracing grace and letting go of legalism? Why are we in such denial?
There is a popular myth believed by many sincere Bible-believing Christians that the New Covenant is just an extension of the Old Covenant. This is simply not true. Our life in Christ is a “new and living way,” unprecedented and never before seen or experienced on the earth before Christ. Jesus was the firstborn, the prototype of this new creation (Col.1:15).
While the Old Covenant gave us types and shadows, how you walk out grace under the New Covenant is very different than how the people of Israel walked out the Law.
The Old Covenant was based on obeying laws, the New Covenant is based on believing promises.
Does the Good News sound too good to be true to us so we feel the need to dial it down with some of the Law (e.g., moral law)? Didn’t we get the memo from James? (James 2:10)
Why don’t we trust being managed by the Spirit instead of by outward restraint?
How do I know if I’m still hanging on to legalism?
When you think you’re saved by grace through faith but must keep your salvation by works. This is textbook legalism, what Paul called “another gospel.” You have actually fallen from grace. (Gal.1:6-9; 3:1-5; 5:4)
When you think your behavior will cause you to lose your salvation, which means you actually believe that your behavior saved you.
When your gospel message is based on what you have to do instead of what He has already done.
Legalism is what it looks like when one is living on the wrong side of the Cross, not seeing our old nature buried with Christ and our new life alive in Him.
Legalism sucks the life out of Christianity, grace empowers the crucified life in Christ. Legalism imprisons us in a humanistic struggle with sin, grace supernaturally frees us from the power of sin.
One problem you may have to face when you let go of legalism, you’ll need to let go of controlling other people through fear and manipulation. You’ll have to be okay with freedom.
What really puzzles me is why we make it all so complicated. Jesus Christ is our theology, and His finished work on the cross is the interpretative lens by which we read the whole Bible.
In one sense, I do understand why letting go of legalism is so hard for us. We live in a world that’s based on performance and not grace. That’s why we need our minds renewed, but it doesn’t help that we’re being inundated with a confusing grace-law mixture that’s been called “grace” in our churches.
The whole thing is really quite clear.
The New Covenant made the Old obsolete. Period.
So let it go.
Does this mean that I think the Old Testament is obsolete? Certainly not. But we must read the Old Testament through the lens of this New Covenant reality in Christ.
When you come to Christ you’re no longer under the Law. (Actually, Gentiles were never under the Law at any time.) Don’t believe me? Let’s see what the Scripture says (bold type added):
“I mean the law was the guardian in charge of us until Christ came. After he came, we could be made right with God through faith. 25 Now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law to be our guardian.” (Gal.3:24-25 ERV)
A couple of points here.
First, notice that under the New Covenant we are made right with God through faith. Behavior doesn’t save us, and it doesn’t condemn us. By faith is how we are saved and how we are to live.
Second, if we have come to Christ we no longer need the Law to be our guardian. Did you come to Christ? Then the Law is no longer relevant to you. I wrote about this “living by the fence” here.
This doesn’t make us lawbreakers or give us license to sin. It simply shows us that we have two very different ways to be managed—Christ or the Law. Again, you can’t be managed by both. You must pick one.
Some say that Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, and that the Law will not pass away until every jot and tittle is fulfilled. That’s precisely my point—Jesus DID fulfill every jot and tittle of the Law!
“When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” (Heb.8:13 NASB)
We know that the New Covenant was established with Jesus’ death (Rom.7:4-6). The Old did “disappear” in 70 AD when all vestiges of keeping the Law and the Temple were destroyed by the Roman armies.
Christ fulfilled the Law, thus ending it as a way to live. This was Paul’s point (bold-type added):
“Christ ended the law so that everyone who believes in him is made right with God.” (Rom.10:4 ERV)
The word “end” (NASB) or “ended” here is the Greek word τέλος (telos). It means “an end attained, consummation; an end, closing act.”
Telos is most commonly used in the normal definition of “the end” (See Matt.10:22; 24:6, 13, 14; Luke 1:33; John 13:1; 1 Cor.1:8; 10:11; 15:24; Phil.3:19; Heb.3:14; Rev.21:6; 22:13).
It can also mean the ultimate goal, but either way you look at it, Christ fulfilled the Law’s ultimate goal and forever ended it as a way to relate to God.
So let’s embrace the freedom of grace and let go of the religious bondage of legalism. It’s really quite simple. If you have come to Christ, you are not under the Law.