Legalism is the philosophy that you can merit God’s favor by doing certain things. It teaches that salvation is gained by good works. This is a major problem as it undermines the Bible’s clear teaching that salvation is by grace alone. We cannot allow for even the slightest alterations to the gospel of God’s grace (Gal. 1:8-9).
But I believe that we have overreacted against legalism and now face an equally great danger – antinomianism (literally “against law”). This view teaches that salvation is by grace alone and good works don’t matter. So a good many people profess to be followers of Jesus but they don’t feel any compulsion or obligation to actually follow Jesus and obey all that he has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).
Scripture teaches us that salvation is by grace alone but Scripture also teaches us that good works matter. The key is in the order. Salvation comes first and then good works. Salvation requires simple faith in the work of Jesus. But genuine faith is marked by repentance and obedience. James writes that faith without works is dead – it is not authentic, vital faith (Js. 2:26). Jesus taught clearly that the only ones who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21). It is not that they earn their salvation through works – but rather that they bear the marks of genuine faith.
In our concern to avoid legalism we have completely jettisoned the clear biblical call to holiness. We’ve dropped the ball. In his book, The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung assesses the problem by saying, “My fear is that as we rightly celebrate and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.” That’s great that you have been welcomed to the team. Now tone down the celebration and play some ball!
Photo by Ralph Barrera