Gospel Freedom (12)


Obedience to the gospel naturally bring unity between all those who obey the gospel. However, religious legalism inherently works against this united fellowship. Since the legalist views his good works as an effort to meritoriously justify himself before God, then he views his works as a “spiritual level” of attainment. He thus compares his works with those of this brother in order to determine his level of spirituality. He views righteousness to be based on deeds. He thus begins comparing himself with others, and others against others.   His religious arena becomes a field of competition between brothers who compare religious achievements. In such a competitive environment, brotherhood is lost.

Jesus said that the self-righteous pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men …” (Lk 18:11). This expresses the attitude of the religious legalist in reference to his brother. The legalist starts counting his or her meritorious works by comparing them with the works of others. He or she develops a spiritual scorecard of works that are used in reference to others who may not have performed equally as well. The legalist thus spiritually discriminates against those who do not score as high according to his own meritorious scorecard. Paul had this group of religionists in mind when he wrote,

For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (2 Co 10:12).

In the Galatian situation, the Jewish believers had come out of a religious environment of believing in the one true God.   On the other hand, the Gentiles were converted out of idolatrous religions that promoted many gods.   Since the Jewish believers thought they had an advantage in the area of belief, they naturally thought that their past religiosity gave them an advantage over the Gentiles converts.   For this reason Paul stated, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gl 3:28).

In Christ there are no spiritual scorecards by which one brother might compare himself with another. In Christ one cannot consider his background to be a spiritual advantage because all come to Christ as sinners and in need of the grace of God (Rm 3:23).

Religious legalism also tends to puff up those who have been older in the faith, and thus, promotes either scholastic or seniority discrimination among believers. Knowledge of the legalistically established codes supposedly gives one an advantage in the status of brotherhood scholarship. One’s knowledge and teaching of the “precision” of the system often promotes one to be the judge and lawgiver in the brotherhood on matters of the heritage of the particular religious group.

It is often stated that the new convert will “fall in line” as he or she grows. Since the accepted rules of traditional conduct of a particular group have been firmly established in the group into which the new convert has come, he or she usually succumbs to the heritage that identifies the particular group into which he is converted. Once the cloning process is completed, he or she “falls in line” and is no longer considered a new convert. One has thus identified with and accepted the new culture of newly accepted religion.

Religious legalism promotes discrimination in reference to performance. Since the legalist is measuring the faithfulness of his life by his performance of those religious rites that identify a particular religious group, he naturally compares his behavior with that of others (2 Co 10:12). In competitive cultures this often leads to “spiritual” competition among disciples. For this reason, Paul often placed statements concerning the problem of boasting in the context of discussions against performance oriented religiosity. To the Ephesians, he wrote in reference to salvation, that it is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ep 2:9).   To the Roman disciples he wrote, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded” (Rm 3:27).

In view of the fact that one is saved by the grace of God, he has no opportunity to boast in reference to gospel living.   When one comes into Christ through obedience to the gospel, his religious competitiveness that he had as a member of some man-made religious group, must be discarded as he grows in gratitude for the grace of God.


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