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Grace and Legalism

A common objection to salvation by grace through faith is that it will cause people to go out and sin. And the final answer is that this is what God’s Word teaches, and I am in no position to advise God how to save people (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). But there is more that can be said. Scripture makes it clear that one of the results of genuine salvation is a changed life (James 2:18-24; Matthew 7:15-20; Hebrews 12:14). But we are also told that some whose lifestyles are sorely lacking, like Lot, Samson, and Rahab, are genuine believers (2 Peter 2:7,8; Hebrews 11:32; James 2:25,26). How then are we to understand this issue?

 

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Bearing Burdens, Lifting Loads

Christians are not expected to live the Christian life alone. Rather, we are to live it in community. This is meant to be an aid for growing in Christ. But there are many hindrances in the way of living in Christian community. Now living in community will never be perfect as long as we are sinful people living in a sinful world. But it helps to have guidelines.

 

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Fruit of the Spirit

It is natural for a tree to produce fruit. I am convinced this is one reason God uses this analogy to describe a Christian’s good works (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14). The fruit is the natural product of the tree. You do not get lemon trees from orange trees by hanging oranges on them. Therefore, growth in Christ is more like gardening than construction. In gardening the growth comes from the life in the plant. No amount of gardening can make a dead plant grow. But it is the job of the gardener to give the plant the right environment in which to grow and to protect it from things that hinder growth.

 

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Freedom in Christ

What is freedom? The common answer is, the ability to do whatever we want. The problem with that is, we do not always want the right things. The things God commands are what is good (Romans 7:12-14; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:33-40). But we are sinners who do not do what is right (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). And sin, by its every nature, is enslaving (Romans 6:16-18; John 8:34; Hebrews 2:14,15). It looks good in the beginning. But in the end, it is a chain which binds us.

 

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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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