Derivation: In the NT, the term νομικός (nomikos) is commonly translated "lawyer." Actually in form it is an adjective meaning "law-related, legal." It is most commonly used as a noun in the Gospels to describe men who are expert in the Law of Moses (semantically overlaps grammateus. "scribe"). In forming the English word, I convert the kappa (κ) to "c," as is common in Greek-derived English words (logikos becomes "logical"; kritērion becomes "criterion," etc.).
Meaning: I plan to use this of people who have an irrational (or, at any rate, unbiblical) fear of any sort of external authority or law. We saw it some in the recent posts on God's command that we involve ourselves in local assembly, and the Biblical way a Christian sees his relationship to God.
The manifestation of nomicophobia goes something like this:
- Cite any part of Scripture a professed Christian doesn't want to hear.
- Tell him/her that you agree with God: Christians really should believingly obey God's Word.
- The nomicophobe calls you a legalist.
- That's meant to end the discussion.
(Some background understanding on what motivates my observation here might be found in items 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 14 of the 25 things I've learned.)
I'm often minded of an improbably good scene from an improbable source: the TV series MASH. Yes, I know, I know; and I agree.
But there was a sequence that stuck with me from decades ago. Hawkeye had been ordered by Col. Potter to help a rich-looking Korean woman. Resenting the order, Hawkeye mocked her and Potter and the whole situation — until he found that (IIRC) she ran an orphanage. This revelation changed everything for him.
Afterwards, Hawkeye asked Col. Potter why he hadn't told him more about the situation, so he could understand better.
"Son," Potter replied, "when they pinned these 'colonel' stripes on me, I lost that bone in my head that forces me to explain every order."
God, of course and by definition, has no such "bone," and never did. Read the many laws of Leviticus, and all the "explanation" you generally get (nearly fifty times) is "I am Yahweh."
The should-be backbone of evangelical Christianity is jellified by people who — unlike Christ and His apostles — imagine that every order requires hundreds of words of explanation, qualification, reorientation, and decaffeinization. God forbid we think orders (even divine ones) are meant to be obeyed.
By contrast, Christ clearly felt that His question "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things I say?" (Luke 6:46) was self-explanatory. Paul, apostle of grace, clearly had no hesitation about saying things like "Wives, subordinate yourselves to your husbands" (Colossians 3:18), and "Husbands, love your wives"" (v. 19), and "Flee immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). Nor did Peter hesitate to say "Love one another strenuously from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22), nor the writer of Hebrews to say "Obey those who lead you, and yield to them" (Hebrews 13:17). Then there's James... well, James. The whole book. Period.
But so many who are so sound in so many ways cannot abide anyone simply agreeing with the apostles, simply affirming God's Word as binding on the conscience and will. Their theory of inspiration measures up the finest ever crafted. Yet their practice? Not so much.
So here's my test of apostolic soundness: if I can't preach and write what the apostles preached and wrote, I'm almost surely doing it wrong.
To be specific: if I can't simply assure someone, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31), I'm doing it wrong. If I can't affirm that salvation is all by grace through faith in Christ, alone/alone/alone (Romans 3-5; Ephesians 2:8-9), I'm doing it wrong. If I can't follow up by telling converts that they should "[perform] deeds in keeping with their repentance" (Acts 26:20), I'm doing it wrong. If I can't affirm that conformity to the word of God is a test of Christian reality (1 John 2:1-6; 3:4-10; 5:1-3), I'm doing it wrong.
In fact, if I can't equally affirm and echo apostolic and dominical commands, promises, assurances, and warnings, I'm doing it wrong.
So in sum and carefully-worded: is calling a Christian to obey God's commands to Christians "legalism"?
Only to nomicophobes.
Sum: the pathological need to explain, or demand explanations of, God's right to issue commands (and expect believing, grace-enabled obedience to them), is not a sign of good spiritual health on any level.