Category Archives: Legalism
Some, not all, Church of Christers claim to be without sin and to be perfect. So this article is posted here for them.
SOURCE: I’ve been receiving an increased volume of e-mail lately from proponents of “sinless perfection” doctrine in response to my article, “Can We Live Sin Free?” None of these supposedly sinless folks offer any argumentation from the Bible, since the doctrine they espouse can’t be found there, but yet they seem quite concerned that I’m doing terrible things to peoples’ Christian walk in maintaining that humans never attain sinless perfection. I am, according to one writer, “an agent of Satan” holding back the true believers in Christ, and should “seek God and be taught of Him.”
Obviously, another article on this is required, since the first, although quite laden with Biblical facts on the matter, does not dissuade these people from e-mailing me to label me a heretic, unknowledgeable, and “Satan’s agent.” So, I offer these facts about people who advocate “sinless perfection.”
Advocates of Sinless Perfection Do Not Believe the Bible.
James writes, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). So, is James not saying here that a man can indeed be perfect? No, because only a few verses later, he comments, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
There are two things about sinless perfection to be drawn from James’ comments. First off, James is stating that no man can tame even the tongue to the point of perfection, let alone his whole body. Advocates of sinless perfection are calling James a liar and are calling the Scripture a lie in this instance.
SOURCE: The section of the Gospel of Mark stretching from 2:1 to 3:6 deals with five controversies that arose between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day. As we have examined each one, we have noticed that opposition has grown stronger each time. When Jesus claimed authority to forgive sins, the scribes responded with silent accusations. When Jesus was found to be associating openly with “sinners,” the Pharisees responded by questioning the disciples. When Jesus was not found to be fasting when the Pharisees and John’s disciples were fasting, they brought the interrogation directly to Him. When the disciples were seen nibbling wheat on the Sabbath, the questioning intensified. In this passage (Mark 3:1-6). we have another Sabbath controversy. While the flow of narrative here leads us to the assumption that it immediately after the previous one, Luke actually tells us that this occurred on another Sabbath. This time, when Jesus responds to a man in need on the Sabbath, the opposition reaches a pinnacle.
You may recall from last week’s message on the preceding passage that a whole host of regulations had been developed to protect the Sabbath. Since violation of the Sabbath was prescribed in Scripture as a capital offense, the religious experts and authorities wanted to insure that no one came close to violating it. Thirty-nine categories of work were expounded upon in the rabbinic writings stating precisely what could and could not be done on the Sabbath in nearly every imaginable scenario.
When it came to dealing with a person’s health, Sabbath laws had little to say about healing. After all, it was outside the realm of most people’s experience of “working.” We do know that it was permitted to assist with childbirth, since that can’t exactly be put off until tomorrow. And we know that it was permitted to save a person’s life which was in danger. A person with a sore throat could receive medicine, since a sore throat could have been a sign of some deadly illness. If a person was trapped beneath the rubble of a fallen structure, enough rubble could be moved to determine if the person was dead or alive. If alive, and in danger of death, they could be removed from the rubble. If it was determined that the person was dead, or that their life was not in danger, they were left lying until the Sabbath ended. If a person was injured, first aid could be given to prevent their condition from worsening, but not in such a way that their condition was actually improved. That would be considered working on the Sabbath. Specifically relevant to this episode is the passage from the Sabbath Mishnah which stated, “they may not straighten a deformed body or set a broken limb.” All of the Sabbath regulations concerning healthcare are summed up in this statement from Misnah Yoma: “Whenever there is doubt about whether life is in danger, this overrides the Sabbath.”
On this particular Sabbath day, when Jesus entered the synagogue (presumably at Capernaum), He was confronted by a deadly disease. Now, you may look at the man with the withered hand, and say, “What is so deadly about that?” Certainly it does not appear that his life is in danger. Luke 6:6 says that his right hand was withered. This would affect his ability to work in certain capacities. An early but questionable tradition says that he was a mason who had been injured on the job, and could not longer work. He had been reduced to begging. Now, that tradition may or may not be true. The wording of the passage suggests to us that his condition was the result of an injury or an accident rather than a birth defect. The word used is used in other passages to indicate something that had dried up (5:29) or become stiff (9:18). But certainly we are not going to try to defend Jesus by saying that his condition was life threatening. Certainly he could wait until the next day to tend to this man. But I suggest to you that this man’s withered hand was not the deadly disease that Jesus intended to heal.
The most terminally ill people in the synagogue had no clue how critical their condition was. I suggest that the deadly disease Jesus was seeking to heal on that day was the deadly disease of legalism which infected the Pharisees. What is legalism? Millard Erickson gives a good definition of it: “Legalism is a slavish following of the law in the belief that one thereby earns merit.” Now let me clarify: It is RIGHT, it is absolutely right, to seek to live your life in accordance with the law of God. But, it is WRONG, it is infinitely, and eternally, and dangerously WRONG to believe that by living according to that law that we are earning favor with God. And what makes the strain of legalism that infects the Pharisees so completely deadly is that, not only do they believe that their observance of God’s law earns them credit before God, but they expand God’s law to a nearly endless and impossible system of man-made regulations that they strive to uphold as a means of earning an acceptable state of righteousness before God. If you were to ask these people, “Why do believe that God will find you acceptable before Him?” they would answer, “Because of what I do. I do this, this, and this; I don’t do that, that, and the other thing.” And it is a lie. It is a dangerous, deadly lie that comes from hell, and leads to hell.
Now why, on this Sunday, January 28, 2007, with the Lord’s Table prepared before us, would I spend this time talking to you about the error of the Pharisees? It is because, beloved, I fear that this same illness infects many in our own day who call themselves Christians. My greatest fear is that one day I will stand before the Lord to give an account for my life and ministry, and discover that people who sat under my preaching and teaching week after week, walked away thinking that they are made right before God because of what they do or don’t do. So I want to carefully and lovingly remind us once again of those very important words that we studied in Philippians 3:9. Paul said there that his desire was to gain Christ, “and to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Righteousness before God is not earned by our striving to obey the Law. The righteousness that God accepts is an alien righteousness – it comes from outside of ourselves. It is the righteousness of Christ. How can I have the righteousness of Christ? God offers it to us freely by His grace, and it is imputed to us as we turn from sin and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. We receive it from God by faith. And all those who reject that righteousness and seek instead to earn favor with God by our doing and not doing are seeking a legalistic righteousness that they will never find, and which God will never accept. Our righteousness is but filthy rags before Him. Christ’s righteousness is what God accepts, and it is given to those who are found in Him.
Now I want to focus on three symptoms of this deadly disease that we see in this passage. As we look at this, I want you to ask yourself, am I infected?
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