Thursday, August 26, 2010
legalism does not preach the gospel
Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
Peter's summary of the situation that the Jerusalem church council was considering is masterful. He knew that the gospel existed as a totally new message. His generation was the last one that ever had to wrestle with the burden of keeping the Law. Jesus, by His saving work on the cross, had changed all of that. Peter saw legalism (the system of religion that insists that those who call themselves Christians must keep the standards of the Old Testament Jewish legal code) as dangerous for several reasons.
The first reason it was dangerous was that it was ultimately working against God's plan. Peter calls this "putting God to the test". The leaders of the charge to make the Gentiles into Jews were those from Pharisaical backgrounds. They had created much of the confusion by adding to the Old Testament their own tedious interpretations of it. They had been masters of making man the center of the relationship. And Jesus had no kind words to say about their selfish pursuit of legalism. It really hurt and angered the heart of God.
The second reason it was dangerous was that it had already been proven a failure by history. Jesus brought a better way. All throughout Jewish history God's people had struggled to keep every demand of the Law. And Peter admits that right up to his own generation none had been able to bear the burden of legalism added to the Law. And they shouldn't have been able to do so because it had become something that God never intended it to be.
The third reason had to do with the nature of the gospel. It comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus, and not by the works of the Law dutifully followed. Peter's words are telling. He puts the Gentiles first, showing that he clearly had a learning moment by watching salvation come to the Gentiles. He says the Jews will be saved this way, just like the Gentiles. By the gospel reaching the whole world, the ineffective nature of Pharisaical legalism is glaringly obvious. It is clearly all about the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There have been times when I have run across those within the present church who insist that there is some reason to keep the Old Testament Law. They shortchange the gospel just like Peter charges here. Most recently, it was watching a YouTube video of Joel Osteen (try not to snicker) delivering a "sermon" on the dangers of eating pork. And you could see he was passionate on the subject. Here is a guy who can barely talk about sin as an offense to God, and he wants to preach the dietary restrictions of the Law as having some healthy value. Odd... Pharisaical... and a clear indicator that he does not preach the gospel. That is ultimately what legalism does: it does not preach the gospel.
- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.