Saturday, November 12, 2011

Legalism And Grace

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.  —  Titus 2:11–14 (NASB95)

What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all."  —C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain

There are two basic approaches to living as Christians.  One might be described as legalism.  It's the idea that we've got to be good, godly people because being right with God depends on how good we are.  After all, doing things right counts for something!  The other might be described as grace.  Being right with God doesn't depend on our goodness, it depends on Jesus' goodness.  We are right with God by our faith in Jesus, whose perfect life became a sacrifice for us.  Salvation is a free gift, grace.

The fact is it's that second one that is taught in the Bible.  But that doesn't make everybody happy.  After all, if we're not right with God because of the way we live, then maybe we can just live any old way we want and let grace make up the difference.  This, apparently, was the thinking of some that Paul dealt with in sixth chapter of Romans. Verse 1 says, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?"  So, the danger is a possibility.

But this isn't what grace is, and it isn't what grace is designed to produce in a believer's life.  When Paul wrote, "the grace of God has appeared," he went on to make a bold statement about what grace teaches.  "Deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age."  That's potent teaching.

So what's the difference between legalism and grace?  Both say that we ought to live in a way consistent with God's will.  The difference is in when you fail.  You have, and you will again.  The legalist, depending on his own righteousness, is doomed from the start.  Righteousness isn't an occasional thing.  It's a total thing.  Only God is righteous because God has no sin.  The legalist is fooling only himself.  The believer living under grace can freely admit his sin.  Jesus makes us right so we can keep on trying to get it right.  The difference is huge!