THE BIRTH & THE THREAT OF LEGALISM
Michael F. Blume
© 2008 Michael F. Blume
Genesis 3:1-5 KJV Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (2) And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: (3) But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. (4) And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: (5) For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
John 6:53-54 KJV Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. (54) Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
The communion supper has ultimate significance in showing us the top priority will of God for our lives as believers. It is actually a vital ceremony we need to carry out, that did not stop at any early date in the church's history, but is as much valid today as it ever was when Jesus and Paul admonished the church to carry it through. It speaks a spiritual picture of the Fruit of Life God initially intended for Adam and Eve, but is now intricately linked to the truth of the salvation of the cross since then.
In the beginning scene where Adam was told to never consider eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil lest he die, we find in his disobedience the fateful conclusion of all Adam knew about Life. One could say legalism was the very root and core of the devil's temptation.
God desired for man to have His Life. This was manifested in the fruit of the Tree of Life. Jesus reiterates this desire of God and noted that He came that men might have life more abundantly. He also said that the way into which one finds Life is strait and narrow.
The disciples heard Jesus speak of eating His flesh and drinking His blood to have eternal life. Jesus explained what he meant saying that the literal flesh does not profit anything, but rather his words are spirit and life. When some walked away, Jesus asked the disciples still there if they would also leave. Peter spoke for them and said, "John 6:68 KJV Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."
Again and again Jesus emphasized the Life He came to give to man. After having been cast out of the Garden and barred specifically from the way of the Tree of Life, man was again given this chance for Life as it came through Jesus Christ. So, whatever the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is all about, we know it is contrary to the Life that Jesus came to give. In fact, when Jesus spoke of the way of Life, He noted that false prophets were known by their alternative fruit. This shows us that error is epitomized by the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
What exactly is this knowledge of good and evil? It is something few recognize and are actually offering to thousands of souls in the name of Jesus Christ! We ought not be surprised, though, since just as Satan offered the woman the forbidden fruit with words of enticement, Paul said Satan is transformed into an angel of light in order to deceive us, along with his ministers.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 KJV (13) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. (14) And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (15) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
Analyze Satan's offer to the woman. He said that KNOWLEDGE of good and evil would make her as wise as God. She would become her own God! What need is there of the One true God if one can replace Him, oneself? Consider that knowledge was offered in place of Life. Due to the good and evil nature of that knowledge, we find the temptation looked and sounded very spiritual. It had to do with what was good and what was evil!
One can realize the evil genius behind Satan's offer when one considers that knowing good and evil could very well seem to answer a lot of issues when it comes to godliness. And this was the trap! Satan was telling Eve to merely acquire knowledge of what is good and what is evil. Once one knows what is good, one can endeavor to coerce oneself to commit that good. Knowing evil would allow one to avoid what is evil, and thereby one could actually make oneself become righteous! What an idea! Get man disinterested in Life and vaunt himself up in his own mind in considering that he could make himself righteous without the aid of God. Who needs God if one can make oneself righteous, anyway?
This is the entire point of difference between the two fruit in Eden. Satan knew quite well that man would be unable to make himself righteous by simply acquiring the knowledge of good and evil. And look what happened! Did man become righteous and successful in spiritual things by becoming his own God after knowing good and evil? No! In fact, God mocked their newfound state of having acquired such knowledge.
Genesis 3:22a KJV And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: ...
Knowing what was good and what was evil did not cause Adam and Eve to excel in their existence. It did the opposite. It threw them into a wretched state of sin, and left them destitute without the most important thing of all -- eternal Life. They would die.
The fact is the God's Life enables us to be what folks desire to be through obtaining the knowledge of good and evil: Righteous. Think of what legalism is. It is trying to cause oneself to excel to the point of attaining righteousness fit to put us into Heaven and Glory one day. And this insidious deception of the knowledge of good and evil replaces precisely the very thing that causes us to inherit glory -- God's Life.
Amongst legalists, the one understanding they do not possess, or else they would not be legalists, is the teaching Paul provided for us in the Book of Romans, especially, and elsewhere in his epistles. Paul taught that one could have all the God-given knowledge of good and evil one could hope to have, and yet still be unable to live righteously.
Romans 7:8-11 KJV But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. (9) For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (10) And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. (11) For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
The Law of God cannot be denied as providing us with an apt list of all that is good and evil. However, Paul found that acquiring this knowledge caused him to die instead of live! The commandment was ordained to life. Yet Paul said he died when he was introduced to its knowledge.
It is interesting that Paul taught how Law was only intended to drive men to Christ.
Galatians 3:22-25 KJV But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. (24) Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Law was "the scripture" mentioned in verse 22. Its purpose was to conclude that everyone is beneath sin.
Paul said the law provided knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:20 KJV Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Law came in order to convince humanity of sin. When the Israelites were given Law, they were in effect "cultured" by God. They looked down upon the Gentile nations with deep disdain. Romans chapter 1 contains a means Paul used in order to drive the point of Law across to the Jews should they have missed it. Although Law came to conclude everyone under sin, many Jews never got that point. When you read Romans 1 through 3, you can watch the wisdom of Paul in setting up any Jewish readers for this impacting point. First, he speaks of the gentiles in very condescending manners and refers to their homosexuality, which sin the Law informed the Jews was wrong and abominable. Paul also wrote of Gentile idolatry. But then comes Chapter 2. After getting any Jew on his side and shouting, "Amen!" to Paul's condescending list of Gentile wickedness and unrighteousness, Chapter 2 shocks the Jewish reader and tells him that he is no better than a Gentile if he merely tells people what is right and wrong and yet does not live accordingly, himself.
Romans 2:1-2 KJV Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (2) But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
God is no respector of persons, whether a man has a correct knowledge of good and evil and yet fails to live accordingly.
Romans 2:11-13 KJV For there is no respect of persons with God. (12) For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (13) (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
Paul stressed the fact that knowledge of good and evil does nothing if one cannot experience a life without committing the evil. This was exactly what happened with the Jews, and himself according to Romans 7, by resorting to Law in order to serve God. So, in effect, when Law was used in order to help people make themselves serve God, Law actually was the cause for people realizing that they have a force within their flesh that prohibits them from living righteously, and that force is called sin. By telling man what to do, and what not to do, Law urged man to make himself avoid the evil and do the good. Law actually said that one would be righteous through such feats of accomplishment.
Galatians 3:12 CEV The Law ...promises life only to people who obey its commands.
Leviticus 18:5 KJV Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.
When man could not find such Life through obedience to Law, due to failing to obey it successfully, and realized something indwelt his flesh and hindered him from fulfilling the Law, man came to understand what sin was! Paul repeated this purpose of Law, and actually taught that God intended man to come to this knowledge through attempts at law keeping.
Look at all the references Paul made to this true purpose of giving Law to Israel:
Romans 3:19 KJV Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
After Paul rebuked Jews who felt that mere knowledge of good and evil provided by the law made them superior to the wicked Gentile world, while their deeds continued to be evil, Paul quoted the Old Testament that was written to Israel. This showed that even the law, itself, stated that Israel was sinful, despite their possession of Law.
Romans 3:9-19 KJV What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; (10) As it is written,
The manner in which Law was given in order to bring Israel to Christ was by helping them realize that all of their knowledge of what was good and evil did not help them live righteously, but rather revealed to them their inability to overcome sin despite knowing what was good and evil. Since Christ offered forgiveness of sin through His substitutionary death, because all who sin deserve death, people would run to Him as a result! To think that one could simply never make oneself righteous because of sin inside one's flesh, and knowing that one is cursed to die if one sins, and then hear that Christ forgives us of all such sin, would cause anyone in their right mind to run to Christ for this salvation from sin.
It is wonderful to realize, then, that Law was just like another presentation of the knowledge of good and evil!
It would cause one to die, just as God said the forbidden fruit would cause Adam to die.
Genesis 2:17 KJV But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
It would bring about a curse, just as a cursed came due to eating that fruit.
Genesis 3:17 KJV And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
We should not make the mistake of thinking that God desired man to be cursed by providing them with Law. God certainly did not will for man to be cursed. But when we see how much the law accomplished the very things the forbidden fruit accomplished, we cannot deny an association. And the only conclusion is that the sin of Adam and Eve in preferring the knowledge of good and evil was so important an issue that God sought to ensure that man never settle into that mindset and be fully recovered from it. So, before salvation came by way of Grace, God gave Law to prove once and for all that knowledge of good and evil will not allow one to become like God and make oneself righteous. Otherwise, might man thank God for grace and Life, but walk away thinking he could make himself righteous by the mere acquiring of the knowledge of good and evil? God knew man could not make it on his own, but merely telling that to Adam did not stop him from dying, anyway. After experiencing death, and even receiving a knowledge from God as to all that is good and evil through law, man might think again!
Paul showed the futility of thinking one need only acquire knowledge of good and evil in order to serve God by relating how he did just that with Law and how he failed as a result. He wrote of his experience in Romans 7. Before relating his experience of failure to us, he made this statement:
Romans 7:6 KJV But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Serving God is one thing, but the manner in which we attempt to serve Him is another. Paul said it is not enough to know we must serve God. We must also know the proper manner in which to serve Him. The proper way is not the oldness of the Letter, which was simply being given knowledge of what is good and evil in order to avoid the evil and to do the good. It may be a memorized list of do's and don'ts, or written, but in either case it is a LAW-KEEPING manner. That is old and it is wrong. The new and right way is the Spirit.
Endeavoring to keep a dictated set of rules leaves one on one's own fuel of fleshliness. This is why Paul later said we should not walk after the flesh. Flesh is all that one has to work with when left with the responsibility of keeping law. Instead of walking after the flesh, we need to walk after the Spirit, and thereby succeed!
At the close of chapter 7, Paul said his mind is fully in place when it comes to serving the law of God. But when it came to the flesh, he could not help but serve the law of sin and death.
Romans 7:25 ...So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
That is the reason we are to not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit instead.
Romans 8:1 KJV There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
We have to read Rom 7:25 together with 8:1 to see that the reason we should not walk after the flesh is because serving with the flesh only causes us to serve the law of sin and death. Let's read it again.
Romans 7:25-8:1 KJV I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
This brings us back to what Jesus said about His word being Spirit and life.
So, we can now see that if His word is Spirit and is Life, and the Letter of the Law is oldness and not the correct route to take, we see that the FRUIT OF LIFE regards what Christ came to give and anything else, including Law of Moses, was only in existence to bring one to this realization.
It is the indwelling Spirit of God, and learning to live by His power, that will cause us to excel in living a righteous life. Look at what Paul said was the reason for his successfully Christian living, and notice his contrast with how the way of law was not the way.
Galatians 2:20-21 KJV I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (21) I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
There it is, a contrast of fruit of Life with fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
Serving God in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter is refusing to make the same mistake all over again that Paul's early years saw him make. Paul initially thought that he could make himself avoid evil and do good in his own human strength. Israel did this for 1,500 years under law. That is all one can do with Law, when God has not filled one with His Spirit. They thought that all they needed was the list of knowledge of what is right and wrong, verbally or written on paper, and God depended upon that misconception to teach a grave lesson. And yet preachers in the church continue to pump forth the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, and people continue to respond to that in the same way Paul did before he found he could not succeed that way.
Reader, Christ came to give Life and He did not list a group of do's and don'ts. He stressed Life. He said we know a false prophet by the fruit he offers us. And from the start, only two kinds of fruit have played key roles in God's Kingdom: Fruit of Life, or the Fruit of the Knowledge of good and evil. Just as in Adam's day, the forbidden fruit is offered by today's false prophets. When a teaching emphasizes more of what we should do and not do, rather than possessing the Life of God that is vital to Christian living, that teaching is false. When people are left thinking they must make themselves be as good as possible and avoid evil as much as possible, rather than have a sense and understanding that only God's Life within us can enable us to be what we need to be, they have been feeding from the wrong fruit.
Paul learned that Christ actually living inside of him in the form of Christ's Spirit, was the only way in which Paul could successfully serve God.
Galatians 2:20 KJV I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
The book of Hebrews tells us that the fault with the Old Covenant was that the people beneath it could not carry it through.
Hebrews 8:7-12 KJV For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. (8) For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: (9) Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. (10) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: (11) And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. (12) For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
If the fault of the first covenant was the inability of the people to keep it, and a new covenant would replace it and write His laws into our hearts, then the writing of the laws into our hearts must enable the people to carry it through. God does that by giving us His Spirit. Ministry of Spirit was stated by Paul to involve the writing of the Law into our hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:3 KJV Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
The Spirit writes the law in our hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:6 KJV Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Paul called the law the ministration of death, similar to the knowledge of good and evil that God said would bring death to Adam. The ministration of Spirit was life, like the fruit of Life.
Once again, when ministry emphasizes more of a need to do good and not do evil, and barely mentions the need for God's Spirit to enliven us and quicken us and empower us to serve God, there is something deceptive going on. It is the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil all over again. Legalists serve nothing other than the knowledge of good and evil. Since legalism is the keeping of rules, written or dictated to people, in order to excel in the Kingdom, and since there is nothing mentioned nor taught about leaning on the Spirit of God within in order to excel in legalism, we can detect whether or not we've been the victims of legalism.
We already quoted Paul's words to the Romans in speaking of the Jews who applauded the thought that Gentiles are wretched. Paul then told the Jews that if they could not cease from sin then they were just as wretched as the Gentiles were, despite the fact the Jews knew what and what not to do. This brings us to the element of Pharisaism that is associated with legalism. Pharisaism went so far as to propose teachings that the Word of God did not propose.
Matthew 15:2-9 KJV Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. (3) But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (4) For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. (5) But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; (6) And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. (7) Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, (8) This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. (9) But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
The commandments of God were violated by the Pharisees due to their extrabiblical traditions. This refers to the writings in the Talmud. the Talmud contained teachings that stemmed from the actual Law of God, and were additions and details never mentioned in the Law, itself. Jesus showed that the Pharisees actually contradicted the Law with their Talmudic writings that were supposed to be based upon the Law.
Similarly, there are myriads of men's traditions that have been added to the Word of God in many Christian circles today. people are being made to think that unless they carry these regulations through, they cannot be pleasing to God. Rather than propose the need for God's Life to change our hearts, these false teachers dictate the teachings, themselves, as though the Spirit was not given to change us.
It must be understood that there is nothing wrong with preaching what is wrong and what is right. But it must not be left to make the people think they are do fend for themselves and not learn to pray that God's Spirit and God's Life change their hearts. Grace does not condone sin.
Titus 2:11-12 KJV For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, (12) Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
I have seen people think that grace means there is no such thing as sin any more because Jesus took our sins upon Himself. If that be the case, then Titus would have never written that grace teaches us to deny ungodliness. So there are severely wrong extremes with some believers in thinking grace means we cannot even sin if we wanted to.
God's Life and Spirit and how it works in our lives can be understood through the communion supper, or Eucharist, as some call it. Jesus said eating His flesh and drinking his blood gives eternal life. He later said the words he taught were actually what He alluded to, and they gave Spirit and Life. So, something powerful is to be understood in the symbols of the bread and wine.
Broken bread and poured wine represents the breaking of death in his flesh and the shedding of His blood. They speak of the experience of His death on the cross. And eating broken bread and drinking poured wine stands for learning the truths of the Cross and how God's Spirit, as a result, empowers us to live righteously. Putting food and drink into our mouths represents receiving the truth into our lives.
When Jesus died, He died in our places. He died as us. This is the truth of the Gospel. Putting broken bread and poured wine into our bodies represents the truth that what happened to Him is considered to have happened to us, in God's eyes. We hold His broken flesh in symbol form of the broken bread. That speaks of His death experience. When we eat that bread, we are saying that experience is now in us. It is our experience. Believing the word of the Gospel is believing He died in our places as us.
Since self cannot make self live righteously, we simply had to die. The answer to our sin is not recovering ourselves from it in our human strength and will power by doing good and avoiding evil, but rather it is to send our sinful lives to death through the death of Christ. And as it took the Spirit of God to resurrect Jesus Christ from the dead, and cause Him to live again, God's Spirit is given to believers in order to quicken them while in their mortal bodies, so they do not have to continue their existence of failure in living after the flesh. That is exactly what Paul said:
Romans 8:10-12 KJV And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (12) Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
Once we genuinely understand we simply cannot succeed in human will power and fleshly energy to cause ourselves to serve God, and see that we had to die with Christ, we then need to understand God's Spirit can now move in and empower us. We need God's Spirit. Without Him, we can do nothing.
John 15:4-5 KJV Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. (5) I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Here, again, we see allusion to the fruit of Life. God requires us to abandon all hope in making ourselves excel and overcome sin, before He will work to empower us to sin. In fact, He also waits for us to ask Him to empower us. Paul told us that we are to actually pray and thereby present ourselves to God for His empowerment.
Romans 6:13 KJV Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
We yield ourselves to Him by means of prayer. How many of us think to pray for God to empower them to successfully serve Him? Maybe that will tell whether or not we have been fed the fruit of Life in teachings or the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
What impression does your church leave you with? The pressure to perform more to please God, or your need to rely upon the Spirit's strength in order to serve God successfully? Legalism is rooted in providing nothing but information concerning what is good and what is evil, to encourage one to make oneself do good and avoid evil. Legalism is wrong.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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