Living by Faith
A legalist is someone who attempts to satisfy the just demands of God by their own works. They have either refused God’s offer of grace or have never heard so as to understand and believe the gospel. They feel cursed or condemned because nobody has perfectly kept the law. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (Jms. 2:10). “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11).
Paul says, “The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them’” (vs. 12). Our understanding of law and grace affects how we live. If we choose to live under the law, we will seek to know the commandments of God as the Pharisees did and try our best to live accordingly. This usually results in a lot of rules and regulations that are enforced by the community. Additional rules are added to the list of dos and don’ts in order to keep us from breaking the law. Trying our best to keep the law in our own strength can only result in defeat,
frustration, and burnout.
The good news is, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (vss. 13,14). Under the New Covenant, we live by faith according to what God says is true in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Under the law, we try to change people’s behavior. Under the grace of God, we change what we believe and that determines what we do, which is why repentance is so important for the new believer. Repentance literally means a change of mind. The grace of God is also a dynamic enablement. We no longer try to live the Christian life in our own strength. We have received the promise of the Holy Spirit, and we live by His strength.
Trying to change behavior without changing who we are, and what we believe will lead to legalism or license. A legalist’s superficial conformity never matches their inner turmoil. Jesus said to the teachers of the law, “On the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23:28). License results in moral corruption. If you live by faith according to what God says is true in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
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