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Marks of a Legalist

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Romans 7:1-6


Something in human nature makes us want to go to extremes; a weakness from which Christians are not wholly free.

chapter 6- On the one hand- "Since we are saved by grace, we are free to live as we please." license

chapter 7- On the other hand- "We are saved by grace, but we must live under Law if we are to please God" legalism


license ill.)- Russian munk named Rasputin of the Romanou family- " those who sin most require most forgiveness, a sinner who continues to sin with abandon enjoys each time he repents more of God's grace than any ordinary sinner."

-where sin abounds, grace did much more abound-

-grace is freedom- not free to sin, but free not to sin

I Peter 2:16 "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God."

equal and opposite error- legalism (ch. 7)

(read vss. 1-6) (timely and important issue)

Almost every growing Christian understands the experience of Romans 6,7.

not articulated as well as Paul

ill.) my own experience

When I got serious about growing, I set standards, ideals (good, high, biblical)


-intellectual development

-spiritual growth and discipline (prayer, Bible study, etc.)

-physically (exercise, athletics, etc.)

for awhile the spiritual progress was very fulfilling- I was experiencing spiritual life and growth like never before.

Out of necessity (increased understanding_ the standards became higher- my attainment of those standards became less fulfilling (out of reach consistently)

I began seeing more deeply into my own heart and found sins I didn't know were there.

Everything crumbled around me!

(looking back on the pilgrimage) My Christian experience had gone from elation over new spiritual achievements and growth to frustration and guilt over a sense of shortcoming.

-all the while my desire to please God had remained constant.

(it's not that my desire had changed, my experience had changed)

Without realizing it, I had moved into '"legalism" and was learning the truth about sin, the Law and myself.


legalism- "the belief that I can become holy and please God by obeying laws."

-measuring spirituality by a list of do's and don't's

the legalist fails to see the purpose of God's Law and the relationship between law and grace.

Major 1st century battle- Paul's fight to deliver men from the Law and acquaint them with the depths of God's grace.

-the question Paul raises in chapter 7- "Does the law help us, as believers, to handle the problem of sin in our lives?" yes and no

yes- up to a point- It will help us define the problem (v. 7ff)

no- the law is no help at all when it comes to delivering us from sin.  In fact it makes things worse.

v. 1 paraphrased (Conybeare) "You must acknowledge what I say or be ignorant."

-not under law or go on in spiritual ignorance

I speak to those who know the law

(back-up) What do we know about the law?


purpose #1.  to restrain men until they find true freedom in Christ (Galations 3:23, 24)

-tutor exercised restraint, disciplined the child

-gov't laws are imperfect reflections of God's law-restrain

purpose #2.  to reveal the awfulness of sin

-Romans 3:20-epignosis- full knowledge

-Romans 5:20-increase?  

-ill.) prohibition "Do not touch!"

contradiction!! - restrain evil and stimulate evil- the law contains two elements

-command- inwardly stimulates rebellion

-penalty- externally restrains action

purpose #3.  to establish guilt

-Romans 3:19

"accountable" better than "guilty"- (stronger)- not only broken law but, under obligation to suffer penalty for what he has done.

understand this effect of the Law

the Law condemns; produces a sense of defeat, despair

ill.) never a pat on the back

-police stop you to congratulate you?

-never in dean's office

People react to this despair in different ways:

(test yourself) Four marks of a legalist (very subtle- still believe we are acceptable by Law)

#1.  Proud of their record

(doesn't sound like discouragement)

diversion to cover, despair

Point out areas of success to keep us from looking at areas of failure, ex.- business success, rotten marriage

ill.) awareness that some ministries looked cancerous the closer one got to the center. (numbers, projects, programs- no godly fruit, spiritually cancerous)

#2.  Critical of others

another diversionary tactic

-get your eyes off me and my short-comings by holding up someone else's faults

-very unforgiving

in the absence of a Spirit-produced quality of meekness grows a critical attitude toward others

#3.  Reluctant to admit error or fault in their lives.

ill.) Colson's characterization of Nixon in 'Born Again' said- even when Nixon obviously had a  cold-nose running, eyes red, sneezing,- he'd never admit it.  He felt so heavily the standard of conduct expected of him that he'd pretend he was living up to it, even if he wasn't.

Waren Wiersbe "In my pastoral experience, I have counseled many people who have suffered sever emotional and spiritual damage because they have tried to live holy lives on the basis of a high standard.  I have seen the consequences of these attempts: either the person becomes a pretender, or he suffers a complete collapse and abandons his desires for godly living." (Be Right, p. 73)

like the Pharisees of old- pretending righteousness

#4.  Subject to times of inner boredom and depression

The Law is doing its work of condemnation which produces depression of spirit, discouragement, defeat.

Did you know this about the Law?  We must if we are to understand this passage.

If you know this, you can see it is a major problem in churches today.

-set up a standard of "pleasing", "holiness" that comes by observing laws-- pride, critical, reluctance to error, depression

Paul gives an illustration to help us understand our relationship to Law

vss. 2-4

You and I are the woman in the story.  She has two husbands- one after the other.

Paul's point is what the death of the first husband does to the woman's relationship to the Law.

Notice the place of the law in this story- v. 2

law binds them together (wife and husband)  if he dies her relationship to the law changes

She's free to go, do... be with whomever she chooses

Who is this first husband?  (in Context)


We were linked to this old life, married to it, couldn't get away

like being married to an old, mean husband

v. 3 Paul says

can't have two husbands at once- stuck with #1

-we have to share the corruption and shame of Adam (our first husband)

Now, if the woman tries to live with another, she is called (by the Law) an adulteress

Spiritual lives- law says, "you are a hypocrite" you are united with Adam, you fall short when it comes to living for Christ

v. 4- fantastic statement of the gospel

Paul is saying that Christ took on a body and on the cross, He became that first husband.

-identified with the race; bearing our sins

And when he died, we were freed from the law, the law has no more to say to us.

We are free to be married to another

who is this?- the risen Christ

1st husband- Christ crucified

2nd husband- Christ risen

We now share His name, His position, His glory, His hopes, His dreams- all that He is!

v. 5,6

What is different about the Christian's service as opposed to our old life of sin?

-For one thing, the Holy Spirit energizes us as we seek to obey and serve the Lord

Under Law no enablement was given

-God's commands were written on stone and read to the people

Under grace,

-God's word is written in our hearts (true personhood inner man delights in the Law...)

We walk in "newness of life" (6:14) and serve in "newness of spirit" (7:6)

We are dead to the Law, not in the sense of being lawless; but in that the dynamic and motivation of our lives does not come from the Law: it comes from experiencing more deeply the grace that comes from knowing our union with Christ.

-Love, tremendous live, motivates us (constrains us)

"If you abide in Him..."- unbelievably supernatural life

If you don't...- legalism or license

"To many people this appeared impractical and optimistic, but Paul trusted the Spirit of Christ in his converts, in the long run his trust was vindicated; though he had to endure many heartbreaking disappointments in his spiritual children until at last he could see 'Christ... formed' in them."  F. F. Bruce

Titus 2:11-14

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