Works (legalism) and Grace lived out


What does it look like when I’m responding to God’s grace in Christ vs. when I’m caught up in legalism/works?

As was  stated earlier, a legalist can be manipulated by fear of punishment or desire for promotion and advancement, because he does not see that he is complete in Christ.  He thinks he lacks something to be completed, and is therefore open to various winds of teaching that will toss him to and fro.

Remember in Ephesians 4, Paul talked about growing into the full knowledge of Christ, so that we would no longer be babes tossed by the winds of doctrine and brought into a system of error by crafty men. He specifically meant that we should grow in a kind of knowledge of grace that causes a person to see that he is fully furnished with everything God requires by Christ Himself. He lacks nothing, and can freely and boldly approach God with joy, full of thanksgiving for what God has done for him in Christ.

The legalist

wants the right things –

to draw near to God, to love Him, to have Him as their portion, and to be pleasing to Him.

But he looks to himself and his efforts, his feelings and his emotions to be the fuel that will get him there.

Inwardly he condemns himself for being what he perceives to be “far from God”, or applauds himself when he thinks he is “close to God”.

When he’s “far” he goes about working to try to make it better -either through bible study, or prayer, or going to church, or giving more, or sacrificing more, or reading books to help him be a better more godly person.

When he’s “close” he wants to be a guide to others and set himself forth as the shining example.

When he’s burned out he may give up, ignore it all and try not to think about it all too much!   (You can be “freely” enjoying the world and all its pleasures, living entirely unto yourself, because you’re a legalist, just as much as you can be zealously pursuing a religious performance routine.  Both courses have the same root motive.)  I speak from experience.

The grace person

Looks to the word and finds out that he has been brought near to God, made nigh to God, on the basis of the blood of Christ.

There is no distance, regardless of the feeling or condition.

He realizes that this is the greatest blessing – to have God Himself.

He knows that he has Him because of the blood of Christ.  He knows that there is nothing that separates Him from the love of God in Christ.  He sees the face of Christ as a smiling face.   Regardless of his situation, this is how he views God, and he is thankful.

He doesn’t go to his feelings for this information, he goes to the word.  He doesn’t start with his feelings, he starts with the word, and the feelings follow his faith.  As he refreshes himself, reminding himself from the word of what he has in grace, his feelings perk up because his heart begins to fill with thanksgiving as a spontaneous result of what he has seen.  This is how faith works.  As Paul says in Philemon “the communication of your faith becomes effectual through the acknowledgment of everything that is good in you because of Christ.”


 Faith connects me to what I already have in Christ and brings me into a simple appreciation that is not focused on myself, but on Hm.

Works spring from a basic disconnect, where Satan conspires with my old nature to convince me that I must strive to get what I already have in Christ.  Works come about because of a lack of vision, lack of faith (which can happen to us any time we drift from the Apostolic ministry in the New Testament).  If our reading of the Bible is not focused on the Person of Christ, the bible itself can put us on the works path!

The legalist on the works trip looks to his feelings, to circumstances, to what religious people around him say, and is constantly assessing “how am I doing”.  He feels dry, he feels far from God, and his remedies are not rooted in Christ, but in the self – what can I do to get “back to God” or to “revive that feeling I once had”.  He looks at himself as the cause –  “well i was really praying back then.”  or “I was really involved with church back then.”  Or “I was giving more.”  Or “I was reading my bible more.”

But at any moment a legalist can become a grace person, when he learns to look away from himself as a cause of anything, and onto Christ as the cause of everything.  Everything is in Christ.  If I look to Him (as He is revealed in the word) – His person, His work, and what He accomplished in His death and resurrection, I see by faith that I have everything.    If I look to myself, suddenly everything is gone and I’m left floundering about for something to “do” to make it better!

Again, a legalist is just someone who thinks he must merit what God’s already given him in Christ.   He looks at himself as the cause and the initiator in the Christian life.  He just hasn’t seen yet that he can do nothing, and that God has already done everything in Christ.  He does not see himself as accepted in the beloved.  He sets out to try to be pleasing to God, or lives in fear that God is not satisfied with Him, without reference to the work of Christ, who made peace with God for us.

The way I’m writing I realize is somewhat absolute – as if there’s a “legalistic” person and a “grace” person.  But actually, as I said earlier, we are all legalistic by nature.  Sometimes we’re a grace person, and sometimes we’re a legalistic person – depending on our focus.  But as we grow, our growth is in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ.   Remember Paul said that his one pursuit was to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness consisting of works, but the righteousness which was out of God and based on faith….  He said that in this pursuit he was not perfected ,but he kept forgetting what was behind and pressing forward in it.  This is what we’re talking about.  We’re increasingly to be found in Christ, not leaning on our own merit, but finding more and more that our reference point is Christ Himself who is our righteousness.

A healthy diet:

It’s important to understand that certain kinds of teaching are legalistic, and certain kinds of teaching are in grace.  We get our ideas from what we allow ourselves to hear and read.  Today we live in an ani-intellectual, activity and results oriented religious age, where what is prized is “effectiveness”, and not truth.   To be a grace person we have to be a truth person.  There’s no way around it.  We have to feed on healthy food and learn to discern what is unhealthy and what is the source of our issues.

Confusion often comes in because the legalistic teaching presents itself as grace – using the language of grace, borrowing the language of Paul, but then mixing it with teaching that endeavours to get Christians struggling to merit.  This kind of teaching always is about YOU.  It’s about what you should be doing, how you should be acting, and what blessing you could have if you were to xyz.  It can sound very passionate, stirring, motivating, and exciting.  It can be loaded with thoughts about how God believes in you, and is standing behind you, and is wanting to bless you…if only you would…  It may even pay lipservice to your position in Christ, but it offers courses of actions that get you looking at yourself and your performance and not at Christ Himself.



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