Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Legalism Type II: Salvation That Doesn’t Save

Legalism is a cheap substitute for salvation. No one wants to be a "legalist" because legalism doesn't save. But in the process of trying to avoid legalism, many Christians have become legalists—just a different flavor!

We all know that generally, legalism is saying that "salvation is gained through good works". And yet that concept is only one kind of legalism. There are at least three kinds of legalism. And some of the strongest and most vocal critics of one type of legalism have fallen for one of the other kinds.

Legalism Type II: Legal Salvation

Here's how this type of legalism works: A person says that salvation is a series of legal transactions: some happening centuries ago, and others light years away up in Heaven. Salvation is entirely a legal transaction where the sins on my books of record are legally transferred to Christ.

This is legalism not because one is depending on the law for salvation, but because one is "legally" saved by Christ, not "literally" saved by Christ.

The difference is huge! Rewriting jots or erasing tittles in a Heavenly book in another galaxy does not deal with my bondage and slavery here on earth. "Sin is death." When I am overcome by temptation I am in bondage: "Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." 2 Peter 2:19.

Being in bondage to sin is a terrible thing, and Christ came, not to merely provide a legal way to escape sin's penalty: He came to "save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21.

Sin is something we need to be saved from! Sin is bondage. Sin is slavery. And Jesus said, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Is bondage freedom? Hardly! Have you been saved—have you been freed? John 8:36.

Captivity and Bondage

Suppose you committed a crime in the United States and for your crime you were banished to a remote island. Shortly after you arrived, you an evil king captured you and you were made a slave in a hot, smelly dungeon.

Every day was weary, painful drudgery and bondage in murky darkness. But one day, kind man slipped in and said, "I am here to save you. I am from the embassy in the United States, and the president has just signed a law pardoning you and making you free!"

Then he smiles at you and disappears, leaving you standing there in the gloom. And in walks the evil king and he gives you a beating for not working fast enough.

Does that legal transaction in a far away country actually benefit you? Surely you must say it does! But it did nothing to save you from your captivity—it hasn't really saved you.

The Bible teaches that if I yield to temptation, I'm not free. I am a captive—a servant of sin. "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Romans 6:16.

Here's the problem with this type of legalism: "saved" people have not been saved from sin: They are in literal reality still sinners (i.e. still sinning). And because of this, they are still in bondage.

If my salvation consists merely in a legal transaction—if it does not actually save me from sin—then I am a legalist as surely as the one who tries to gain salvation without Christ by keeping the law.

What Then?

We know that Satan will be bound and then destroyed, so we won't be tempted by him in Heaven. But yielding to Satan's temptations is only one of the ways we sin: A person is also "tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed." James 1:14 NKJV.

Even though Satan will be gone, I will still have my own desires in Heaven. Adjusting the words in a book, and performing legal transactions does nothing about those desires. What if I have not learned to yield those desires to God? What if God ask me to do one thing, but I want to do something else? If my salvation was anything less than a transformed life, I might very quickly find myself a sinner in Heaven—and that cannot happen.

If all my life I have lived in bondage to sin—if on a regular basis I know what God wants but I choose to do something else (either because I can't obey or I won't obey Him)—what will happen to me when He returns to take us to Heaven?

Even if I could have been forgiven for every sin up to that moment, if I am still in bondage to sin—I am still in bondage! God isn't going to make me into a robot the moment I enter Heaven: He is not going to take away the freedom of choice that allowed me to disobey Him on earth.

This is why salvation must be both legal and literal. It must also save me from sin's bondage—from sinning. If I only have the legal part, I am a legalist and am missing a critical component of my salvation!

True Freedom

Christ's salvation is full, it is complete. It is deliverance from sin in every way: From sin's legal condemnation, from sin and temptation's literal power over me, and in the end from this sin-cursed world! "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20.


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