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Legalism and Idolatry

What is idolatry? Can we say that if we do not worship some physical image, we are free of it? Idolatry is putting anything else in the central place that God should have in our lives (Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:24; Philippians 3:19). Now one of the implications of there being one God is that He is the only Savior (Isaiah 43:10-13; 1 Timothy 2:5; Colossians 2:8-15). Therefore, legalism is at its root a form of idolatry (Galatians 4:8,9; 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10; Isaiah 44:9-17). Ultimately, there are two ways to make ourselves our own gods. We can live for our own selfish desires, following our impulses wherever they lead us (Romans 1:18-32; Jude 4; John 14:21). But it is just as evil to think we can earn God’s favor by our own deeds.

 

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Childern of God

It is unfortunate that the idea that God is our Father has become a cliché. It has been watered down to a vague, sentimental idea that we are all God’s children and should act like it. This is not the Biblical idea, and it takes the punch out of a highly shocking concept. The idea of God for many faiths is that of a high and holy God who is harsh and unapproachable. And Biblically there is an element of truth in this. God does require moral perfection (Isaiah 6:1-5; 1 Peter 1:14-17; Matthew 5:48). But we are sinners and unable to live up to this standard (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). This is the point of the gospel, that a holy God could take condemned rebels hostile to Him and make them into His children. This should not be watered down into a vague indulgence which would not dream of criticizing us for anything we do. But rather, it is God reaching across the divide between us to make a way for us to come to Him.

 

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Inadequacy of the Law

Why did God give the Law? Some say so that we would obey it. But it is not that simple. They are assuming that we are basically good people who just need a little improvement. But Scripture says that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and are not able to change ourselves (Romans 8:8; 7:14; 3:11). Also, even as believers we cannot serve God without the work of God in us (John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Galatians 2:20). Therefore, we cannot assume that because God commands something, that means we can keep it. Why then the Law?

 

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Background of Grace

The standard idea of how to get to God is to keep the rules. And different people have advocated different sets of rules. There are also various techniques or rituals which are meant to help you in being able to keep the rules. And these end up being a set of rules you follow to help you keep the other rules. Nor, when we turn to secular morality, do things get any better. This often requires things we have no control over. The secular rules can often be even stricter than the theological rules. Therefore, the options seem to be strict adherence to a system of rules or complete lawlessness. But there is another option.

 

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Need of Grace

There exists a strong temptation to take everything on our own shoulders. We want to believe that it depends on us and that if we just try harder, grit our teeth, or find the right method, we will triumph. But God says we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), who are helpless without Him (Romans 5:6-8; 7:14; 8:8). In the final analysis, it does not depend on us; it depends on Him.

 

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Stealing Grace

It has been said that Christians have to decide which hills we are willing to die on. Some are willing to fight over every minor detail. Which is one reason there are so many denominations. We divide over too many things that are not worth it. But one thing worth standing up for is grace. This is necessary, because there is a natural human tendency to believe our acceptance before God depends on what we do. One reason we end up so easily dividing over other things is that we have forgotten grace and have based our acceptance before God on getting every detail right, rather than on what Christ has done. We must stand firm for grace, or we will end up contending over trivia.

 

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