Embracing grace and letting go of legalism

Law-GraceLegalism is insidious and deceptive. Some of the most legalistic people I know swear up and down they’re not legalistic. After all, who would actually admit such a thing?

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.

Law and grace are actually polar opposites. They are the old and new wineskins. As Jesus tried to tell us, they are completely incompatible. I wrote about that here and here.

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.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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15 Responses to Embracing grace and letting go of legalism

  1. Lance says:

    Telos…telescope…to see into the great beyond. Fun picture. Awesome word Mel. Funny thing about loving Jesus…I actually don’t want to murder, steal, covet, commit adultery, worship Molech or any of that other stuff. Maybe its just me but instead I get to love people like Jesus and in Jesus and watch Him help them through me. Wow! That feels like really living. Yay God!

    • Mel Wild says:

      You know, I just haven’t had any desire to worship Molech lately, or do any of those other things, either. Could it be that God’s grace is enough? Hmmmmm?. 🙂

  2. itsgrace says:

    Great Article Concise and Clear .. Thanks

  3. Gail Manizak says:

    Excellent Word. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Embracing grace and letting go of legalism | The Power and Presence Ministry

  5. jodiwoody says:

    Reblogged this on authorjodiwoody and commented:
    A good word!

  6. Whoo-whoo! Preach it, brother Mel! Amen!

  7. Cindy Powell says:

    “The Old Covenant was based on obeying laws, the New Covenant is based on believing promises.” Perfectly sums it up. Love this! What is so funny is I’ve already recorded the next two podcasts I’m doing and they are “Letting go of Fear” and “Letting go of Performance” – basically a different take on the same stuff. Love it when He gets on themes. This is a good forever theme 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ha, it looks like God is doing a series on this subject! I love it. He must be trying to tell us something. 🙂 Will definitely need to check out those podcasts. Blessings.

  8. Philip says:

    That’s a very good article.I think the self righteousness of Arminianism is a major factor in stopping people from experiencing the grace that powers (I’m not Calvinist either)
    For years I struggled with the usual man “sjns” but only by being assured of my salvation and that I’m justified (declared righteous) have I become loving to others and not full of anger.
    No wonder these Arminians are full of condemnation on everyone.They see God as unforgiving and angry

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, I agree. Being assured of God’s love and salvation is what frees us to love and show grace for others. We always treat others the way we feel about ourselves.
      Interesting, Arminius was a follower of Calvin before he broke away. But they were both cut from the same cloth. Arminius rejected the “once saved always saved” but both were legalistic, compared to our day. And they all saw God as angry and retributive. Jonathan Edwards gave the definitive Calvinist “angry God” message in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in the 18th century. A lot of cognitive dissonance there when trying to say that God is love but He hates you and hangs you like a spider over a flame!
      Of course, their view is about 500 years old now, speaking to a very different culture. While they brought Christianity forward from the Medieval times they came out of, we should progress from their revelation into greater freedom and truth in the love of Christ. Blessings.

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