31 May 2010

Legalism and Christian Liberty Again

by Phil Johnson

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1)

hat one verse captures the essence of Paul's whole appeal to the Galatians. It could be called the key verse of the book of Galatians. It distills Paul's whole answer to the Judaizers in a single statement.

Note: it is an imperative. It gives us an order to obey. It is a strong and unequivocal command to stand fast in the liberty Christ has given us. It powerfully reminds us that our freedom in Christ is a sacred trust to be carefully guarded. Liberty is not just one optional benefit of our salvation; Paul says it lies at the very heart of God's saving purpose.

In other words—contrary to those who like to define Christianity with a list of rules that govern our public behavior—Scripture defines the Christian life as a life of complete and total liberty. It's the purest kind of heavenly freedom. It's the only true freedom.

That's about as foreign to most people's thinking as it can be. The world tends to think religion should be a confining, constraining thing. But Scripture portrays Christianity as just the opposite: a liberating, emancipating, bondage-breaking freedom. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). And, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (v. 36).

At the very outset of Jesus' ministry, when He read the Scriptures in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from Isaiah 61:1, that prophetic passage that says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 41:8). So the idea of setting people free was very much at the heart of Christ's redemptive work, and it is therefore the very heart of Christianity.

Of course, when Jesus spoke of freedom for captives and liberty to the oppressed, he was not describing something as mundane as political liberty for people under earthly tyranny. He was not planning the overthrow of the Roman government, as despotic as that system was. He was not trying to foment political revolution. He was not employing those terms the way modern political radicals employ them.

Instead, He was speaking of a spiritual liberty—the birthright of every believer. It is a vast freedom from the yoke of any earthly, sinful, or Satanic bondage. It is the greatest liberty imaginable. It includes both freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom from the yoke of the law. There's a built-in equilibrium to the whole principle.

And the principle itself is the very antithesis of the Pharisees' idea of holiness. Their answer to sin was a list of rules and a catalogue of rituals. They tied up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laid them on people's shoulders" (Matthew 23:4). But Jesus wonderfully set sinners free—free from sin, and free from the burden and the condemnation of the law.

There's an inexorable tendency toward legalism in every fallen human heart. We're all more or less naturally inclined to try to deal with sin the way the Pharisees tried to—by compensating for our sinfulness and trying to constrain the flesh through manmade rules and rituals. It doesn't work; in fact, it is sinful in and of itself. It compounds guilt and weighs the sinner down with false duties and false hope.

Last Thursday's post made that point, and the long comment-thread following the post illustrates how difficult it is to shed legalistic ways of thinking.

Today is a holiday (in America, anyway), so I'm not going to write any more on this subject this morning. (I slept in and am late with this post already as it is.) But in the days and weeks to come, we'll be looking in closer detail at this subject of Christian liberty and it's twin foes: legalism and libertinism.

As we discuss these subjects from Scripture, I hope we can set aside the vitriol and snarkiness that surfaced a few times in last Thursday's comments.

In fact, let's make a rule for today's comment-thread: no arguing, from either side. Instead, use the meta of this post to pose some of the questions you'd like to see us address as we delve into this surprisingly difficult subject.

Phil's signature


Anonymous said...

Could we replace the word "libertinism" with "lawlessness"?

I look forward to the treatment of Christian liberty.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

1) Does legalism have primarily to do with the motive for the action someone is taking to "be holy"?

2) Does refraining from doing something become legalistic when it moves from "I don't want to" to "I shouldn't"? (I sure hope that question made sense, because it was the only way I could think to put that).

Jim Collins said...

Just a little nit-picking here. I use Google Reader to read blogs, and the Pyro-blogs, whose writers use a lot of hyphens or en-dashes, display those en-dashes not at all. Instead the dash and its surrounding spaces are omitted - much to my reading dismay. Or in Google-display: "...spaces are omittedmuch to my..." And no, I don't have a suggested fix. Just saying.
By the way, enjoy all your blogs at Pyromaniacs very much.

SandMan said...

Will you be naming names? I am interested in hearing your take on what Bill Gothard is peddling. (And I am not asking to try to start a fight with anyone, but I have been seen as a second-class Christian, of sorts, by family members who look down their noses at me because I have been reticent to follow him with them).

Anonymous said...

I would like to see your take on what a modern day weaker brother looks like.

I am thinking of the following:
1. wine and meat in the NT were being sacrificed to idols
2. what does it mean to offend or cause to stumble? is it merely hurting someone's feelings which seems to be what a lot of legalists have in mind
3. how do you define the line between (a)the truly weaker brother would be biblically offended by another brother drinking wine and (b)the legalist who is trying to control the lives of others?

JackW said...

I was recently asked to review our newly written church constitution. I pointed out that it was over three times longer than the Constitution of the United States! The response I got was that the church was more important and they wanted to make sure the church was kept holy. So my question has to do with whether the local churches can become legalistic in their pursuit of keeping the church unblemished by loading the church documents with bureaucratic complexity concerning things like church membership and leadership requirements?

MSC said...

How does imposing a code of conduct (such as I mentioned in the latter part of the comments section of your previous post) like that of TMS upon its students fit into this issue? Similarly, how does imposing standards for your children (i.e. house rules, etc...) keep one from a legalistic pattern? Or is it right to impose rules on your children (i.e. what programs they can watch, music they can listen too, etc...)?

Anonymous said...

I would like to see how "good works" and Christian freedom relate, relative to election and knowing that one is saved.

In other words, how does Calvinism or the TULIP, avoid necessarily leading to legalism (given the NECESSITY for "good works")? I.e. At a systematic or methodological level.

Zumbudu Chief said...

@JAckW, our church is currently experiencing creeping legalism, there are those who are seeking to impose a code of conduct on others in the name of keeping God's house holy. So this series of articles has been extremely helpful. My question to them is "what is your motivation for doing these things?" is it based on tradition, the scriptures? So far I've not gotten a scriptural response, just "we think it should be this way"

stratagem said...

Okay, here's a question: When Jesus (or Paul) proclaimed freedom to the captives of the Pharisees' legalistic rules, people understood, because they were trying to please God in the (futile) way that the Pharisees proscribed. Of course they were also defining freedom from sin's penalty.

In what way can we proclaim "freedom" to the people of today, most of whom who are already not the least bit interested in expending any effort in following religious rules, or in pleasing God? That is, in a way that will make sense to them?

rwt said...

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4:8

This verse appears to me to be more than a suggestion, as does Romans 12:1-2 and others like it.

I'd like you to address how these NT teachings fit your view of liberty.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

This was a very good blog post. Thank you for writing it.

If you could, could you address "legalism" from all sides of the spectrum:

Fundamentalist Legalism. (Be careful to define fundamentalist).


Liberal Christian and Liberal Emerger Legalism. (Again, be careful to define Liberal Christian and Liberal Emerger)


Evangelical Legalism who stand athwart of Fundamentalists and Liberals/Emergers. (Again, be careful to define Evangelical).


Reform Legalism who do not regard regard themselves as either Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, or Liberal/Emergers. (Again, be careful to define Reform.)

Thanks. Look forward to the series.

That Crazy Christian said...

What, specificly, is a Christian permitted in Scripture to do?I'm not looking for a list of do's and don'ts, I'm asking about the specific principles a Christian may draw from to not stray into a sinful lifestyle.

Also, when something is permissible, how can a Christian determine if he ought to do it. In other words, oncea Christian rightly answers "yes" to the question "is this permitted", how then may he arrive at an answer to "SHOULD I be doing this?"

Lastly, how should one approach another brother or sister who is engaging in an activity that is permissable, but not beneficial?

I'm looking forward to this. Thanks Phil

Stefan said...

This is germane to the discussion, but a more general question.

Deuteronomy 6:13, 8:6; Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13; and Philippians 2:12 all imply that the ground of obedience is the fear of God.

Indeed, Paul writes to the Philippians that we are to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

In Christ we have freedom and the remission of sins, and yet we are also to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are freed from the curse of the Law and the wrath of God through the blood of Christ, and we are to fear nothing—except God Himself.

How does one walk that line, living in the love of Christ and the fear of the Lord—knowing that our sins are forgiven but also that we are called to lives of holiness, and knowing that the grounding of our sanctification rests in the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit as much as our justification—without falling into legalism?

(I have my own answer, but it's just been through a three-year process of chastisement and sometimes painful discipline from God, and learning that although I am not saved through obedience to the Law, I am instructed and corrected through the Spirit's application of the Law on my heart.)

donsands said...

"It is the greatest liberty imaginable."


I love my freedom here in the USA. But I love my Christian freedom way more.

Good post.

"..as we delve into this surprisingly difficult subject."

It is a deep teaching of God's Word, and to dig into His Word, and gather small nuggets of the same truth to cause truth to become richer and more edifying is what we need to be doing.

The truth of God is deep, infinitely deep, and lovely and wonderful. It's our greatest treasure, other than the Savior Himself.

Have a blessed week in His joy and peace.

Anonymous said...

how are pastors or teachers in the church to make application suggestions without stepping over the line and becoming legalistic?

for example (and i hear this often) a pastor preaches on honoring Christ. he then poses a hypothetical situation: "what if the president of the USA asks to meet you?" he says we'd all probably put on our best clothing, be very early at the white house, and make sure we've brought a nice gift for the commander-in-chief. he then reasons that if we can bring ourselves to so honor an earthly ruler, how much more should we honor God by being early on sunday mornings, wearing our best clothes to church, and giving a heartfelt offering etc.

is that legalistic? how are preachers to urge their people to follow and honor Christ, to live with conviction, without laying down legalistic suggestions/rules for living?

great topic, thanks for pursuing this!

cy said...

I'm wondering, if anything does not glorify God, is it sin? Are there only two categories to classify any deed, sinful or righteous?

one busy mom said...

I'm so glad you're delving into this, and really look forward to understanding it better.

In particular, I'ld like to learn your views regarding setting standards for groups - when standards are required to be set.

Can you elaborate on how to correctly and Biblically balance not being ruled by the legalism some are in bondage to (and hence appear to endorse and perpetuate it) - with not offending the conscience of the truly weaker brother.

JK said...

Phil: you want questions here they are with a proposition to lead off.

Proposition re: the posts and metas flowing out of Dan's LOST deal: I have the "freedom" in Christ to watch things with provactively dressed women, people drinking beer, war movies with profanity, Last Temptation of Christ, read anything, drink wine, eat at casinos, and so on.

Question: but do things such as these glorify God, tantamount to being a good steward of my time, meditating on things that are "pure, wholesome, etc..." - in short Christ-like?

Question: is faithfully watching Seinfeld or other such shows, movies, books and so on really a Christian liberty issue - in the context of Dan's LOST deal?

Question: isn't the question more like - what am I doing judging a brother less "spiritual" than me because he does that? Or my knowledge of the holiness of God has puffed me up so that I do that? (1st Cor 8:1-2)

Comment: looking forward to all this.

Anonymous said...

From slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness?

In John 8:33, the Jews thought that they were already free. Jesus' words about truth and freedom made very little sense to them; much like it is with the lost today - slaves to sin, lost without a permanent home.

However, the moment we're set free from sin, we become slaves of righteousness by obedience? So, freedom must not be the absence of law but the presence of something else--something better!

We seem to move from slavery to slavery, or from failing, lost orphans to obedient, righteous sons and daughters?

I'd rather be controlled by God and bound tightly to His goodness and glory, than to be controlled by lies, perpetual failings, and an endlessly lost and forsaken state, if that's what freedom means!

Can't wait to learn how that translates into practical Christianity. I don't always want to obey and yet do want to obey, if that makes any sense at all!

Can't wait...

shadowlands said...

ngearhart said...
Could we replace the word "libertinism" with "lawlessness"?

This is my thought--
Herein lies, I think,the faulty thinking that some Christians have. Liberty does't mean Lawlessness, unless you are somehow tied to the thinking that God will like you better if you keep the BIG 10. Liberty means freedom to move about in the Gospel in ways we may never have imagined if we have been freed from the confines of the Law. BTW we are still under' the Law' in that the Law is summed up in the great commandment..." love the Lord with all you heart and love you neighbor as you love your life [ my paraphrase]. Look forward to the discussion

shadowlands said...

Liberty means freedom to move about in the Gospel in ways we may never have imagined if we have been freed from the confines of the Law.
-- I need to amend that. It should have read [had not my brain misfired] Liberty means freedom to move about in the Gospel in ways we may never have imagined if we HAD NEVER BEEN freed from the confines of the Law.

Seth Meyers said...

Thanks for dealing with this topic.

1. Is sanctification synergistic or monergistic?

2. If synergistic, then how can a believer confront the scores of cultural decisions he must make regarding raising children without making some kind of list?

3. How can we have any kind of standard for membership or ministry in a Christian organization without some kind of list?

Shamgar said...

I don't have a question per-se, but I have perennial concerns that I find worth discussing in this larger issue, but which only rarely seem to generate much insight vs commiseration.

1) Mencken rightly said that the problem with fighting for liberty (human in this context) "is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. for it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."

I think, unfortunately, this has some parallels here. However, it has a slightly more metaphorical parallel, in that the issues that tend to be the lightning rods for this tend to be so generally insignificant. Issues like the consumption of alcohol for example.

Given the really critical nature of this doctrine, even such a silly issue as this one needs to be defended, but one feels so ridiculous arguing so for something that seems so trivial. Worse, sometimes one or both sides loses sight of the real larger issue, becoming too narrowly focused on that one example.

2) The doctrine of the weaker brother is wonderful, truly representing the love God has given us horizontally with our brethren. But, like so many things, it depends on a church that is generally operating biblically. A church where the members are being discipled, and actually realize they should be growing up.

Instead, so often this doctrine is turned on its head, resulting in a group of petulant (spiritual) children exercising tyranny over the consciences of the mature. This is a self-perpetuating problem that quickly spirals out of control. Yes, church discipline can fix this - but a church that has gotten to this point frequently doesn't have such, and how do you discipline a member for being "a weaker brother"?

3) Often there are men who are truly thankful for their freedom, and who do joyously give thanks to God for even such things as alcohol or tobacco, and enjoy them in proper moderation, but feel no shame or need to be abashed in their expression of their enjoyment of them or sharing it with their brethren of like mind.

While none of this would be out of the ordinary for someone who enjoys woodworking, or a great juicy steak, or a day hunting if they do so in regards to these areas that are so frequently in dispute in our age they are often judged to be guilty of all manner of evils for it. Motives are ascribed to them which often (though sadly not always) have no basis in fact.

While it is good to be sensitive to controversies, it seems that again, being too accommodating here only perpetuates the problem.

eric opsahl said...

Eph 5:8 tells us to walk as children of light. we are told not to have unfruitful works of darkness.
As such, don't we all live by a set of "rules" or standards ? For instance, God tells woman not to dress immodestly. Am I being legalistic for telling woman who come out on the boat that they can't wear a two piece bikini?
How about the classic argument against gambling. Can an argument be made that a Christian should not spend his time and money in a casino? What make this rule or standard legalistic? Many Christians would say I'm legalistic to prohibit gambling in a casino.

Charles E. Whisnant said...

"I do exactly what I want to do, my want to has changed." Freedom to do exactly what you desire to do is a great freedom as a believer. I now have the freedom to live and act as one who has been freed from the bondage of the world, and the flesh.

Emily said...

If there are hungry lions in the streets waiting to devour me, i don't feel too free to leave my home and enjoy the outdoors. But, if I go out with the Lion of Judah, then it is the hungry lions that are not free to get me. How else should we feel free to live if our father is gonna take us to the woodshed if we step out without him? (Hebrews 12)

Rob Bailey said...

I'll tell you all a true story. When I was about seven years old, my dad had a desire to be able to be a part of a church that was close to our house, about a mile away. The church we had been members of had dissolved. We went to the church for several weeks, then the pastor came to our house for dinner to discuss membership. My brother spilled the whole pitcher of tea (sweet) on him. My dad drank beer, on a fairly regular basis. Never drunk. The pastor knew it. He asked my dad to sign a piece of paper that said he would abstain from alcohol as a member of that church. My father's response was; "Do you mean it is more difficult for me to join your church, than it is to enter the kingdom of God?" I choked on my fried chicken. He had already had a pitcher of tea in his lap, and now he had a truckload of reality.

Caison Jones said...

Just to put it out there first so this post isn't taken the wrong way, I am against any legalistic yoke that isn't biblical. For example the idea that it's a sin to drink wine or for my wife to wear something other than dresses or any other "man made" rule. With that being said here are my questions.
1) Shouldn't we define the term liberty biblically? What I mean by this is that it seems as though we do have commands that we have to follow. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20 that His disciples were to teach others to obey all that He had commanded. So then there are commands that are to be followed and perhaps this is what James is referring to in chapters 1 & 2 in reference to the Law of Liberty.
2) Shouldn't the things that Jesus and His apostles commanded followers of Christ to do be the dividing line between legalism and libertinism? We are bondservants and as such are subject to the commands of our Master, but He has also thrown off of us the yoke of the Law of Moses.
It seems to me that the meta of the "Lost" post lost the tension that exists b/t the things we are commanded to do and not do as followers of Christ and our Pharisaical tendency to erect rules around the law of liberty so as to not break the law written on our hearts.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

How about writing something regarding Catholic legalism?

Tim Bushong said...

Ps. 119:45: "I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts."

Just a couple of thoughts:

Any appeal to obedience within the context of the New Covenant really can't (by definition) be legalism. Legalism (as in Rob Bailey's example) always ADDS to God's requirements, but doesn't neglect those same requirements. Sure- spiritual growth and increasing maturity must be considered ('milk to meat'), but asking someone to cover-up what the bikini doesn't (as Eric mentioned) is actually being 'others-minded' and honoring to Christ.

Another question dealt with the list of rules regarding children- children don't yet possess the wisdom or maturity to discern correctly, so one starts with "because dad says so" and moves towards a "here are the principles in Scripture- YOU apply them" model. Reversing this can be very destructive, like when a child is left to themselves at a young age only to have the boom dropped on them as they begin to reach adulthood.

Kendall said...

What about these statements:

“If Christians really loved God they would wear their Sunday’s best; who would even think about showing up at the White House dressed in blue jeans.”

"I personally feel that you should dress the best you can when attending church."

If it is just your personal opinion, you should not say that you think "you should dress your best..." I would say if you believe that then you should live out that conviction. It sounds like you are judging those who don't wear the suit or dress slacks. If it is expected that this is what you do for weddings or a certain job, fine... But the NT doesn't have this requirement for gathering with other believers on the lord's day.

I think it is legalism when someone is told that it is wrong or dishonoring to God when you don't wear your best to church.

Jon from Bucksport said...

Thanks for taking this on. I grew up in fundamentalism so I have certainly been called a legalist more than once! I would like you to address the how this seems to be either or when I think we would nearly all admit that it is both-and. That is either you have standards therefore you are a legalist or you don't have standards and you are a libertine. It seems that no one is really saying there should be NO standards and conversely, I know of no one who is actually advocating that anyone's salvation is based on keeping a set of rules.

My own struggle is to look at anyone with looser rules than me as being less spiritual and anyone with stricter rules as being legalistic!

The greatest part of this debate that I would like you to address is that as Americans we don't seem to want anyone to "be the boss of us!" But God is about changing us using His Spirit, His Word and His people. So how do I allow these things to change my heart and life and avoid legalism?

Cyrano said...

I'd like to see some thoughts about how this issue impacts/echoes a biblical understanding of "speaking the truth in love." That's a subject that I'm studying myself now, and I think there is a connection, though not one I can articulate well yet; I'd like to see others' thoughts.

Robert said...


I would like to know how church members should work to eliminate the devisiveness that is created within a church where other members have become legalistic. And how do we work to prevent the "cliques" that form in the church based upon different people's rules that they cling to?

Kendall said...

I think with certain things individuals should keep their view to themselves. It seems one crosses the line when they try to bind others to their view when it is not a Scriptural view (in "my view"). Examples: (1) I don't eat out on Sunday because it is the Christian Sabbath. You shouldn't eat out on Sunday either.
(2) I wear my best on Sunday. I would never wear blue jeans. You should wear your best on Sundays and blue jeans are disrespectful towards God.

bp said...

If it's true, as you said, that it's the actual doing of profane and immoral things that is sinful and not necessarily listening to or watching them for entertainment, how do you train your children in regards to discernment?

For instance, if you cannot tell them that watching such and such a show or listening to such and such music is inherently sinful or wrong, how do you teach them to discern for themselves what may be sinful or not in a media-saturated culture that is becoming increasingly depraved? (esp. if they have not shown evidences of true saving faith, but even if they have).

What rules did you have for your own kids regarding media?

Kendall said...


What is your take on the dress your best for church view? Do you believe that a pastor must wear a suit and tie? Do you have a problem of a pastor wearing jeans and polo shirt/ sweater?

Rob Bailey said...

You must be consistent in your life. You must teach your children to do the same. We don't believe in "Sunday clothes." We also don't believe in "white house" clothes. My daughter went to her promotion ceremony to go into middle school today wearing jeans. Everyone else were wearing dresses and suits. She was one of the key speakers. Taking pride in being less than dressed up is no better than than taking pride in being dressed up. It is a matter of the heart. My wife may have put it best; "I don't get dressed up, and put on make-up, and fix my hair for the general public; I do it for my husband." If only we do the things we do for our Lord instead of men.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

With regards to Catholics and Legalism, there are many areas and roads to explore how they may have taken the road to pharasaic legalism.

One particular road that you might consider writing about in your upcoming series is the Catholic dogma that masturbation is a grave and mortal sin.

It's in the Catholic catechism and I'm wondering whether that particular Catholic dogma falls into legalism from the perspective that you're going to be writing about. Of course, Catholics don't think it's being legalistic at all when they say that masturbation is a grave and mortal sin, but what do you think?

Rachael Starke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachael Starke said...

I have questions around how church leaderships exercise proper discernment around requiring things of elders and lay leaders that makes specific what Titus 1 seems to make only general - e.g. drinking, dancing, wearing ties, wives not permitted to work outside the home, etc. How do churches ensure the requirement for leaders to be "above reproach" is not just holied-up legalism? How do Christian institutions (which are not churches), such as seminaries and colleges, shepherd their charges in the same way?

And, relatedly, how do churches shepherd their people when there do seem to be divisions of fellowship along non-essential lines - e.g. homeschooling vs. public schooling, abstainers vs. drinkers, etc.

bp said...

I have a couple more questions that I hope are pertinent to the discussion. Since Christ has completely taken away our guilt and God's wrath toward us, what is God's attitude toward those who:

1. Are sinning, but don't realize it? (only compassion and patience?)

2. Think that something (that isn't addressed in Scripture) might be a sin and yet they still do it (Anger? Compassion? Patience?)

3. Know that something is a sin and continue to do it anyway (anger? Frustration? compassion? patience?)

I do often wonder God's disposition toward me.

CR said...

Given BP's last comment, perhaps a post on what is the gospel is in order?

bp said...

CR, I know the gospel. But we see instances in Scripture where God was clearly angry with His people for their sin, such as when it was kindled against Moses when he said he wasn’t eloquent enough to speak to Pharoah. And when it says that the anger of the Lord blazed hotly against Israel when they complained about the manna. Or His anger toward His people when they were worshiping the golden calf...enough that He killed many of them. And many other instances (like Jonah, for instance).

They all had their sins removed in the same way we have..at the cross.

sem said...

what is God's attitude toward those who:

1. Are sinning, but don't realize it? (only compassion and patience?)

If I may, I think what CR may be referring to is the above, for instance. It is a question that doesn't take into consideration the sin nature and the totality of God's grace. Meaning, whether someone is aware of the individual sin or not is irrelevant in considering God's attitude. He doesn't sit at a distance shaking his head because bless her heart, she doesn't even know what she did was wrong. We are all sinners deserving of judgement regardless of our awareness of individual sins. A believer can have assurance that God's grace is sufficient for all of his sins.

bp said...

Oh. For clarity sake then, Sem, I know that we can have assurance that all of our sin is taken care of at the cross. I don't want to leave the impression that I think that if God is angry at our sin, it means that it's not atoned for. After all, He got angry at Moses, Jonah, etc.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...


I don't know if this helps you,but this helps put things in perspective for me. Paul likens the Christian life to a race where we are pressing forward for the prize but have not attained it yet (Philippians 3:12-16) and we are leaving behind the things of the past to press ahead. The problem comes when we stubbornly refuse to repent of what we know is sin or deal with it (2 Corinthians 7:10). If we are pressing on to the goal God will work in us (2 Corinthians 3:18)to reveal sins we do not know and clarify and correct the ones we do. It is when God clearly tells us "You go to Nineveh," and we deliberately refuse we have a real problem.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

None of this changes the fact that everything should be referred back to Christ who is the only basis for our forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12)

Rachael Starke said...

I found this recent post by Tullian Tchividjian, and found it really helpful...


Anonymous said...

When I think of Christian liberty these things come to my mind...

~in Christ I am a new creation
~all things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial
~we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (not meaning salvation by works)
~love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength
~don't be a stumbling block to another

Sometimes the decisions I make can appear legalistic to others.

How do I explain to others why I choose to avoid various movies, tv shows, music, situations, without making them feel guilty for participating in what I believe God wants me to abstain from? I don't judge them for having different convictions so how do I stop feeling judged for my own? I hope that made sense.

This issue is an area that I struggle with so I look forward to following this series of posts.

Anonymous said...

Rachael, that was a helpful article. I particularly appreciated, "God wants a sustained obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained, gospel-motivated obedience can only come from faith in what Jesus has already done, not fear of what we must do."

Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross I want to set my mind and heart on things above. That causes me to obey out of my love and appreciation for Him, not out of trying to earn my way to heaven.

CR said...


I very much would like respond to your comment here because I think it's something we must all be reminded of, but I'm trying to fit the special rule for this post on questions only.

Steve Scott said...


I agree with what you've had to say about legalism and liberty in these two posts. An observation: I've never heard a legalist admit to being a legalist. Legalists always seem to claim their legalism comes directly from Scipture, even if it takes twenty successive logical fallacies within a greater slippery slope fallacy to make their claim. Do you see the same thing?

Also, could you give your view on "offending" the "weaker brother"? Do you think that somebody inducing indignation within their own heart over an activity they see another engaging in constitutes offense, or do you think it has to do with actually inducing somebody into an activity contrary to their conscience? In between?

Steve Scott said...

Oh, and would you see somebody as "weak" because they abstain, or because their conscience hasn't been fully persuaded?

Aaron said...

I can see where we free in Christ but my question is how do we not place undue burdens on people but then again stand for holiness or have this idea of Christian Liberity of as long as it doesn't bother me it's o.k.? Also what about the whole bad Christian Testimony argument for not doing something? i.e. not dancing or watching R rated movies for example becuese other people think it makes you look like a "bad" Christian?

bp said...

Thanks Mike (Erich). That helps a little, but it's still not clear to me.

CR, thanks. Hopefully Phil will address this. I do often feel that God's dissapointed with me or angry, even. And I can't help but feel He is more pleased with me when I'm being obedient. I don't think this means that I'm not fully trusting Christ for the forgiveness of my sins though, it's just that I don't think the fact that our sins are removed means that God has a perpetual smile on His face no matter what we do.

Idk, maybe it's appropriate that we should sometimes feel His anger or disappointment(?)but it sometimes makes me feel depressed because of my on-going sin, and I don't know if it's right for me to feel loved more when I'm obedient than when I'm not (?)

Sorry if that was confusing.

Stefan said...


As CR already pointed out, we are to pose questions only, but please know that God loves you. Jesus Christ bore God's wrath for our sins upon the cross: past, present, and future sins, since He knows the beginning from the end, and chose you before the foundation of the world. It is finished.

God does not get angry per se with believers or punish them, because it would be a violation of His own New Covenant with those whom He has redeemed by the blood of Christ.

God does, however, chastise and discipline believers through trials and circumstances, in order to bind our hearts ever more closely to His will, and to teach us to walk in holiness.

It's three years and four months since I was saved, and for years I struggled with sanctification: how do I become sanctified and pursue a life of holiness without falling into works-based legalism?

To be honest, it was too easy to "err" on the side of Christian liberty, believing that as long as I had my theology right, God would sort everything else out.

It turns out I was sort of right, but not in the way I was thinking. God is sorting it out, but through a long process of purifying me through painful trials.

I am only learning now, as I look back on the last three-plus years, that sanctification truly is a Spirit-wrought process after all: one in which we do and must actively participate, but we do it not out of a compulsion to please God through obeying His rules, but because the Spirit works in us to lay conviction upon our hearts and steers us step by step towards deeper obedience.

It's the working out of the New Covenant in our hearts, exactly as God promised in Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Ezekiel 11:19-20.

Anonymous said...

How do you define "freedom"?

bp said...

Thanks Stefan. Yes, I agree with almost all of that..just not sure about this:

God does not get angry per se with believers or punish them, because it would be a violation of His own New Covenant with those whom He has redeemed by the blood of Christ.

That would be another question to Phil. God clearly got angry with His people in the O.T., but is that true, that to be angry with believers today would violate the New Covenant? Offhand, I cannot think of any time when Jesus got angry with believers in the N.T. (aside from Annanias and Sapphirah, but they prob. weren't true Christians(?)...though he seemed to be irritated at times that his disciples were so slow to understand and of little faith.

Ricky St. Claire said...

Before you go any further, Pastor Johnson, I humbly ask that you reconsider your launching point. It is obvious to anyone paying attention that this is in response to the reaction Dan got last week over "Lost". "Lost" is a show that contains sex scenes- essentially soft pornography at least. The unfortunate connection here- "Lost" -> comment thread -> your new blog series- makes an implication that you are claiming it to be legalistic not to watch porn (or shows containing scenes of it to varying degrees), and, in fact, are proclaiming that it is sin for us to say so.

(Again, that is the implication due to this being a reaction to "Lost". I'm fairly certain it's not your intention, especially since I have heard you preach against pornography, which has made this whole issue- which I just came across today- so disheartening and dismaying to see Dan, Frank, and now you responding in such a manner. This blog has taught me how important it is to honor Christ through our words and actions; it is greatly dismaying to see the dishonor done to Him in the meta. But I suppose I'll be attacked for that comment, won't I? Care to prove me wrong, people? ;P)

Rather than attack legalism again, why not offer a lesson on an alternative: discernment. Instead of saying/implying "it is legalistic to say 'don't watch TV with sex scenes', and you are sinning if you do", offer us a lesson on discernment, and avoiding the appearance of sin, and exhibiting wisdom in taking rebuke. That, to me anyway, seems to be the main problem here.

My two cents.

- Ricky, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

CR said...

I think you're reading in to much into the Old Testament, BP. Yes, God was angry with Israel - first, let's not forget that not all Israel was Israel, in other words, not all Israelites had faith in God. Secondly, the anger that the Lord demonstrated against Israel, was just that, a demonstration of his anger or wrath against sin.

The clear new testatment teaching is that we are under God's wrath and He is angry with us, prior to conversion. And yet, while we were still His enemies, He loved us, and declares us righteous and we can no longer be under His wrath or anger. How can He be angry? If Christ's righteousness is put to our account, how can the Father be angry with us? Can He be angry with His Son? No. Can the Father punish my past, present and future sins on the cross and then after I get saved, He goes, wait, wait, wait, dang it, CR did something that really makes me angry, and slap His hand on His foreheard and say, I forgot about that sin, I'm angry with CR right now. No, He can't. He has punished all of my past, present and future sins and has hurled them as far as the east is from the west (i.e. infinity).

Remember, BP, salvation is a free gift. We can't do anything to earn or not earn it. Just as sin was imputed to us by one man, Adam, (that's before you and I did anything to make Him angry), so is salvation. A Christian can't do anything to make God angry with Him. Just as an unbeliever didn't do anything to put him in a state of wrath with God. That was imputed to us by Adam so that what Adam did, was the same thing as we doing it ourselves.

So, get this thing about you "doing" something to make God angry with you out of your mind. We can't do that if we are Christians trusting in Christ. Remember it's not your doing or even your believing that makes you Christian (otherwise believing becomes a work), it is Christ alone that makes you a Christian and of course He does that through trusting in Him.

Can we grieve the Holy Spirit? Absolutely! But that is totally different from wrath or anger.

CR said...

Ricky St. Claire,

No, Lost was not softcore pornography. Please look up the definition. As has already been stated, that is not allowed on broadcast TV. Rated-R films, yes, broadcast TV like ABC, CBS, NBC, no.

Ricky St. Claire said...

"Softcore pornography depicts nude and semi-nude performers engaging in casual social nudity or non-graphic representations of sexual intercourse or masturbation."

That's from answers.com, referencing wikipedia (note: the article contains a picture of naked male from the back). I suppose I need to look up "semi-nude", now, to learn how "Lost" doesn't fit that description to some degree?

Ricky said...

Part 1

Pastor Phil, you preached, back in November 2009, a message entitled "Real Transformation" from Romans 12:1-2. (http://gracelifepulpit.media.s3.amazonaws.com/GL-2009-11-29-PJ.mp3) I will quote portions here, with timestamps:

"Here is how redeemed people are supposed to live [...] In light of God's gracious justifying and sanctifying work on your behalf, in light of everything we've talked about for eleven chapters, Paul says, 'therefore I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.' Since you've been justified freely by the grace of God, and since you've been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, Paul says it is only reasonable, it is only logical, it's only equitable that you render your bodies a living sacrifice to God. But notice, this is important, not only does Paul call us to present our bodies to God, he commands us to renew our minds for God, and you can't separate the two. You can't present your body to God if the mind working inside of it is defiled [...] Notice that there are two ways our minds can be influenced. We can either be influenced from the outside by the world through a worldly pressure that conforms us to a worldly standard, or we can be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds. And, by the way, whether you realize it or not, one of those two things is currently happening to you. You are either passively allowing the world to conform you to its own evil standard, or you are actively renewing your mind by being transformed into greater and greater Christlikeness. There's no middle ground." [17:53 - 20:07]

"The remnants of sinful corruption remain in us. Temptation still entices us, and if we neglect the means of our preservation, we can, to some degree, be conformed to this world, and that's what Paul is cautioning against us. As I said, this seems to be the peculiar failing of our generation [...] And so we see multitudes of people today who profess to be Christians but who are being conformed to the world, and in some cases, it seems like, deliberately so. They want to be as much like the world as possible [...] But that's not the way it ought to be. We're not supposed to be indistinguishable from our unsaved neighbors. We're not supposed to immerse ourselves in the same kind of entertainment. We're not supposed to follow all the same fads. We're not supposed to have all the same interests. In many ways, we have been not diligent enough to keep ourselves from being conformed to the world, and it is to our spiritual detriment. It is one of the reasons the testimony of the church in the world today is so weak. It reflects how cold our hearts are to the things of God. Remember, you cannot love this temporal world and all its fads and fashions, and still be a friend of God. You can't do it. We forget that sometimes. And if you know me at all, you know what a foe of legalism I am [...] and yet, in our zeal to guard our liberty, we must remember that there is a grave danger at the opposite end of the spectrum." [24:00 - 26:04]


Ricky said...

Part 2

It's a great sermon. It is deeply convicting each time I hear it.

However, it directly contradicts the position you have taken in this debate about television, a debate prompted by a particular show that is undeniably sexually immoral. As such, I am confused. Have you changed your position since November? Is passively watching television while exercising little to no discernment simply not one of the ways we can be conformed to the world? I don't understand the position Pyromaniacs is taking on this issue. It does not seem to square with your teaching from the pulpit.

I'll close with another one of your quotes from that same sermon, to demonstrate, in your own words, how vitally important this is: "One of the biggest difficulties men these days struggle with is keeping a pure mind [...] and I've come to conclude that that probably, in our culture, in our time, is one of the number one sins that people struggle with perpetually."

- Ricky, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

CR said...

There is no nudity allowed in broadcast TV, hence, no, 'Lost' does not fit that description.

DJP said...

CR! You're not listening! It's "undeniable"! That means you can't deny it! So don't try!

CR said...

My bad...

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I saw a bare shoulder on tv before.


But seriously, how much bare skin can be exposed for it to constitute unacceptable "nudity" on TV for Christians?

Will the answer vary from Christian to Christian and vary from context to context and from circumstance to circumstance?

"Weaker brother" category?

Ricky said...

Heh, all right. I'll concede on that... though you didn't deny "semi-nude". You only denied "nude". :P

But answer me this: Does "Lost" depict scenes that are sexually immoral? Does "Lost" feature actresses dressed in sexually provocative outfits? Does "Lost" present a possibility of temptation to its viewers? If so, you are avoiding the issue by focusing on my use of the word "pornography".

Galatians 5:19 - "The deeds of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality".

Romans 12:1-2 - "I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

- Ricky, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

bp said...

Thanks, CR. Hmm, this is hard to grasp. So, because Jesus took all of God's wrath for our sin, God, the Father, only and always sees the righteousness of Christ when He looks upon us? Never upset with any sin we commit? If the O.T. saints were saved through Christ, as we are, and their punishment was taken out on Christ, how is it that the Father could be angry at their sin, then?

Also, you mentioned "grieving the Holy Spirit." To grieve means to sadden, to distress..so God isn't angry at our sin, but saddened by it (?) Huh, I'm gonna have to study this. I'm a bit confused.

Stefan said...

Ricky asked:

"Does 'Lost' feature actresses dressed in sexually provocative outfits?"

Actually, no. It was rather unique in that it didn't feature female characters dressed in a gratuitous way. High-necked shirts or T-shirts and pants were the norm, on both the men and the women.

CR said...


I noticed you've been mixing up certain key words, I'm sure it's not intentional.

For example, you asked way back when whether God is angry with His people to your recent comment of whether God is angry with sin. I did not say anything about God not being angry with sin, I said He is not angry with His people.

He can't be angry with us, because all of our past, present and future sins were punished on the cross. Is He "angry with sin?" Actually, it doesn't make sense to say he is angry with action, it's better to ask, does He hate sin? Absolutely, that's why they had to be punished on the cross.

I also noticed in your last comment you asked is God not "upset" with us? Well, I didn't say anything about God being or not being "upset." I was addressing your specific terminology of "angry." We do grieve the Holy Spirit but we can't make Him angry.

For your study, I would recommend going through the book of Romans and really focus on the atonement and what Christ's crucifixion accomplished and what justification means.

You said way back when you knew what the gospel was? I don't mean this in any mean or bad way, but I'm questioning that because you said you wonder what God's disposition is toward Christians. If you don't know what God's disposition is toward Christians and you sometimes think he is angry with us, then I submit, with all due respect, you don't really understand the gospel in particular, what the atonement of the cross accomplished.

donsands said...

"Does "Lost" present a possibility of temptation to its viewers?"-Ricky, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan will constantly tempt us to sin in many ways. Like Paul said, "I don't do what my heart wants, but i do what I want."
Who can save me from this struggle i have in this body of death? I thank the Lord for the Cross, and for my Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for me."

Satan may also tempt us to be self-righteous, and so we slip into even more dangerous ground, unless we repent.

Legalism vs a too easy-going view of sin is something I have never nailed down completely, but TeamPyro sure do help with their teachings. And the comments also help, as the Holy Spirit enlightens us.

have a great weekend, and Lord's day.

bp said...

Ok CR. I’ll start with Romans. Same question as before though: If the O.T. saints were saved in the same way we are (through Christ's atonement), how is it that God could be angry towards Moses, Jonah, David, etc.?

CR said...

There are examples in OT (and NT) Scripture where God is disciplining His children but this far different from the anger He has for those who are not saved. Discipline applies to only those who are in Christ. The attributes experienced by the unregenerate are anger and wrath.

bp said...

“And the LORD was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him.” – Deut 9:20

“The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” – Ex 4:14

“At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.” – Ex 4:24

“Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage.” – Ps 106:40

So, maybe God can get really angry with us, but it’s not the same anger/wrath He feels toward unbelievers(?)

CR said...

The Lord can never, never, never be angry with His new covenant people. Never. You won't find a single passage in the NT where you find God angry with any of His NT saints. If you continue to believe that the Lord can be angry with you, like I said, you'll be a very miserable Christian, because you won't obey out of love and gratitude for what God has done, is doing and will do in your life, you'll obey Him to get back into His favor. This is what the legalist does. He doesn't obey out of love and gratitude but earn favor or avoid disfavor.

With regards to the OT passages you brought. Most of the them talk about an anger kindled against them rather than God angry with them per se,except with Aaron. Even so, God's wrath had to be revealed in Scriptures otherwise we wouldn't even know what we were being saved from.

The passage with Aaron is in part a anthropomorphism. So, naturally, God was not going to destroy Aaron. He had already determined that from eternity past, just as God was not going to destory Israel, when He told Moses he would. Many of the passages in the OT demonstrated God's revealed wrath.

Now, that doesn't mean that God's wrath in the NT is changed and that He no longer has wrath. For the believer, His wrath and anger against the believer has already been propitiated (satisfied) through the atonement.

God is not angry with you, BP, He can not be angry with you, if you are believer. I'll give you the last word.

bp said...

Sorry for my slowness in getting this, CR. I want it to be true. And I can see how it can become legalistic to think that He's pleased with me when I'm obedient and displeased or even angry with me when I'm not. But I still don't understand how it is that He can be angry toward OT saints but not NT saints if God's wrath was poured out on Christ for their sin in the same was it was for ours, You mentioned that God's wrath had to be revealed in the Scriptures or we wouldn't know what we were being saved from, but His wrath against unbeliever's would have been sufficient for that, wouldn't it? But His anger at His people (for complaining, not trusting, disobedience, etc.) makes it hard for me to think that He's not angry at me for the same things. Maybe I'm missing something.

CR said...

BP: You mentioned that God's wrath had to be revealed in the Scriptures or we wouldn't know what we were being saved from, but His wrath against unbeliever's would have been sufficient for that, wouldn't it?

No, it wouldn't have. Both the reprobate and elect (prior to justification) are/were under the wrath and condemnation of God. The only difference is that God's wrath against the elect is propitiated at the cross. If all we saw was the anger against the reprobate, we would think, gee, God's elect are that bad of a people.

BP: Maybe I'm missing something.

Yes, you are missing something very crucial and vital. I'm sorry, but I don't know what else to say that I haven't said already. You are in a very precarious situation wondering what God's disposition is towards you. There is no nice way to say this. What a terrible and miserable and depressing state to be under.

bp said...

I assume you meant, "We would think, gee, God's elect aren't that bad of a people" (at the end of your 1st paragraph).

CR, are you basically saying that
God needed to show His wrath against His "justified" saints in the OT to show us that prior to justification, believers were just as bad as the reprobate?

bp said...

Btw, when I said that I often wonder what God's disposition toward me is, I did not mean that I thought His disposition could be to punish me for my sins. I know Christ already took that punishment for me.

bp said...

Sorry if you’re frustrated w/me, CR, but you have to admit that your reasoning was a bit confusing. He can’t be angry w/us because all of our sins were punished on the cross…in regards to OT, most of them talk about an anger kindled against them rather than God angry with them per se, except with Aaron…even so, God’s wrath had to be revealed in Scriptures otherwise we wouldn’t even know what we were being saved from...If all we saw was the anger against the reprobate, we would think God's elect aren't that bad.

It doesn't make sense that God can get angry with OT saints but not w/NT saints. For all have their sins removed at the cross.

Anyway, I don’t think it was fair to say that I’m “in a precarious situation” and in a “terrible and miserable and depressing state" just because I'm wondering what God's attitude is toward us if we live in on-going sin (unknowingly, knowingly or suspecting).

bp said...

but I spose I shouldn't have added "unknowingly sinning" since I agree that we all sin everyday unknowingly.

CR said...

I'm sorry but there is nothing more I can say.

Do you go to a Bible gospel preaching church? If so, I would ask your pastor these questions you have been asking.

If not, I would commend two books by Jerry Bridges, the Gospel For Real Life and the Disciplines of Grace.

bp said...

Interesting sermon today. It was totally on the subject of God's anger being removed from us at the cross and how for freedom sake Christ set us free. I still don't understand why God was angry at OT saints who also had their sins removed, but I'll ask one of the pastors when I have an opportunity. This sermon really ministered to me. Thanks for your patience w/me, CR. :)

ps. you can listen to the sermon tomorrow at DG.