The Special of the Day… From the Orange Moon Cafe…
Part 1 - Obedience As Legalism?
I recently spoke with a young lady, a believer, about our privileged responsibility to obey the commands of the New Testament. "Well," she responded, "I don't want to be put back under the law."
"Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:25-26).
First, this sister was never under the law she mentioned. Nor could she imagine the challenge of living under the dictates given to Moses by God for Israel. She may have created her own moral codes, or had others imposed upon her by people (codes that are far inferior to the "holy and just and good" law of Moses - Romans 7:12). However, no Gentile, especially a modern Gentile, has any real experience of life under Old Testament law. We therefore cannot "go back under the law" to which we never had participation. Indeed, the problems addressed in the New Testament regarding Gentiles far more concerned licentiousness and idolatry than legalism (I Thessalonians 4:5). "Ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led" (I Corinthians 2:12).
More troubling was the young lady's notion that obedience to the commands of the New Testament constitutes legalism. Certainly it can. If we view obeying Scriptural behavioral mandates as the basis for beginning and maintaining our redemption, we err. Salvation in the Lord Jesus is the freest gift ever given, purchased by the highest cost ever remitted. Three times in Romans 5, the Apostle Paul refers to salvation as a "free gift" (we might view this as a free gift from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). We did nothing to enter relationship with God other than receive a gift. Nor is our relationship with Him maintained by our own efforts. Christ alone fulfills such wondrous and redeeming grace on our behalf:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His own mercy He saved us… You are kept by the power of God unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (Titus 3:5; I Peter 1:5).
Such grace does not deliver us from obedience to God, but rather unto it. The New Testament is replete with commands meant to be respected, and also expected by both God and ourselves to be obeyed. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, "If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed" (I Thessalonians 3:14). Thus, obedience to New Testament commands cannot be viewed as legalism, when understood in light of God's full revelation in Christ and Scripture. What is this full revelation? This answer actually lies in a law under which born again believers live in Christ:
"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2).
"If ye fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, thou shalt do well" (James 2:8).
What is "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," or as James termed, "the royal law of Scripture"? Paul declares this law to be "life in Christ Jesus." Literally, the life of Christ Jesus dwells in believers, motivating, guiding, and empowering our capacity to obey God. "We... live through Him" (I John 4:9). Obedience to New Testament commands is therefore life, the life of Christ revealed in us, rather than legalism. We must therefore joyfully set forth to live for God by living from God. The difference in the law of Moses and the royal law of Christ the King is power, His power resident and potentially dynamic in every born again believer. We must view every command as a promise, namely, "I am calling you to do this, and I live in you to enable your ability to do so." No careful reading of the New Testament lends itself to any other view than the blessed truth of a free gift that, rightly understood and received, leads to faithful adherence to the will of God. The risen Lord Jesus Himself dwells in us through Holy Spirit. Moreover, He promises to empower our capacity for obedience to every command of the New Testament epistles (and also those of the Gospels and Old Testament that apply to Christians).
"This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not grievous, for whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world."
(I John 5:3-4)
"This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men."
Part 2 - The Expectation of Obedience
Weekly Memory Verse
"O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, because His mercy endureth forever."