GOSPEL PROMOTES SINCERITY
Paul caught the legalistic teachers of Galatia in the hypocrisy of their own theology. “For not even those who are circumcised keep the law ….” (Gl 6:13). These teachers kept only that part of the law they desired. They turned away from that which they chose to ignore. They ignored animal sacrifices. They ignored those parts of the law that would bring them into conflict with those parts of the law of Christ they chose to apply.
The problem in a legalistic approach to Christianity is that one often finds himself in a hypocritical trap. He professes to keep the law, and yet, he must confess that he is not keeping all the law.
Paul wrote, “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (Gl 5:3). In other words, when it comes to law, one cannot pick and choose. If one wanted to return to the Sinai law for circumcision in order to be saved, then he must return to all the law. Paul said the same thing to some legalistic teachers in Rome: “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law [perfectly]; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Rm 2:25). If one wants to go to the law in order to self-justify himself through circumcision, then he must go to all the law. He must give up the gospel of grace.
The law could be profitable on this basis except for one problem. We break law (Rm 3:23). We are thus lawbreakers. And lawbreakers are dead in sin (Rm 6:23). Circumcision availed nothing toward the salvation of the Jews because they could not keep all the law perfectly. Because they could not keep the law perfectly, they were judged by the law to be sinners, and thus, as sinners they were condemned (Js 2:10). Those who would seek to be justified by the law of Christ must remember this.
A legalist cannot theologically pick and choose what laws he wants to recognize and practice. He either has to be theologically consistent by keeping all the law and taking his chances, or he has to step forward and accept the grace of God on the foundation of the gospel. He has to either trust in God’s grace or trust in his own perfect performance of law. If he trusts in his performance of law, then he must be perfectly obedient to the whole law, not just that portion he chooses.
When studying the problem of legalism, we must keep in mind that such is a digression from the truth of the gospel. It is as Paul stated, another gospel (Gl 1:6-9). This other gospel leads one into falling from grace because it leads one to focus on his own abilities to meritoriously keep law and perform good deeds (Gl 5:4). It destroys the liberty one has in Christ (Gl 5:1). It brings one into bondage (At 15:10; Gl 5:1). It leads one to live in conflict with the truth of the gospel (Gl 3:1). It leads to boasting (Ep 2:9; Gl 6:13). It leads to cancelling the effectiveness of the cross (Gl 2:2; 5:2).