The following concerns what is commonly called legalism. The brand of legalism I'm most familiar with is Herbert Armstrongs version, but what I have to say here is applicable to most other varieties, so when I say Armstrongism you can mentally replace the word with one of your own choosing or simply legalists or legalism.
If you’re not one who has ever been a follower of Armstrongism, trying to understand someone who is can be perplexing. It doesn’t matter what old covenant believing organization one gravitates to; the question is why?
I can’t speak for everyone, but my granddad (pre-HWA), my mother and others I know of, started from a singular point. And it’s the (what Armstrongites call the “worldly”) churches that created the trap these people fell into. However good an external law the Ten Commandments may be, the fact that these churches teach that they are God’s eternal law start the dominoes tumbling. And calling Sunday the Sabbath makes the trap complete.
The story goes that my Granddad looked at the list of commands and noticing that Sabbath keeping is commanded he reasoned that he should keep it as God instructed. The next domino was the perceived realization that human beings had changed the Sabbath to another day. My Granddad thought to himself,”How can I see this obvious irregularity and other Christians don’t?” At this point his entire mindset was primed, he had swallowed the bait and the next domino was about to fall.
My Granddad continued reasoning to himself that if Christians are wrong about the Sabbath, they could be wrong about everything. What he was seeing, to him was willful disobedience, and the disobedient cannot be of God. Now he questioned how he came to have the scales removed from his eyes, and virtually everyone else was still blind. “Wow,” he said to himself, only God can do this; I must be specially chosen. Feeling special, he vowed to be worthy of this unique calling, and diligently obey every detail of the law.
Granddad was so overwrought by the apparent rebellion of the church, where he was a longtime member and a deacon, that he wrote a dissertation on the need to obey God by keeping the correct day as Sabbath, and he nailed it to the front door of his church, much to my Grandmothers embarrassment.
What is obsolete & aging will soon disappear.
Armstrong doctrine has certain pillars of belief that are used to interpret everything else in the bible. One such belief is the idea that what they call the “spiritual law” the Ten Commandments, holy days etc. are separate from the “ceremonial law.” A handful of verses that appear to back up the idea that the eternal law of God is the Ten Commandments outweigh all other evidence in the eyes of followers of Armstrong theology. ‘Never mind’ that everything preceding Ex 24:3 is referred to in the oath that Israel took upon entering into the old covenant, "Everything the LORD has said, we will do." This is repeated in v.24:7 before the covenant (contract) was sealed with animal blood. Also ‘never mind’ that the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Deut 4:13), are the tablets of the covenant; Deu 4:13 “He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.” This is repeated in Deu 9:11 “At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the LORD gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant.”
In the minds of Armstrong followers (and contrary to the above scriptures) the old covenant is embodied in the “ceremonial law.” Therefore, Hebrews 8:13 “By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear”, to them means only the rituals/ceremonies are done away. Since Hebrews focuses on the discontinuation of rituals, this is seen as proof that the remainder of the Law is still in effect. They’ll read right over Heb 9:19 “When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.” I suppose they would prefer this to read “When Moses had proclaimed every ritual of the ceremonial law," but it doesn't. The Ten Commandments are part of the old covenant.
Armstrong needed some creative excuses for what Paul said in 2Cor 3:7; Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone (the Ten Commandments), came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! This states that the law written on stone was temporary. The Ten Commandments are part of the old covenant, the scaffolding that can be removed when the intended structure is built. Gal 3:19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. That is until Jesus came.
If the current law of God, is the law given to Israel at Sinai, then we must do all of it including the following, which Jesus calls the Law of God ; Mat 15:3 “Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, 'Honor your father and mother and anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'”
Every Armstrong follower will quote this (KJV) definition of sin: 1John 3:4 “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law”. The (NIV) translates it this way: Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” I looked this up in the Greek interlinear and the NIV has it right. The usual word for law is (G3551 nemo) which is always how old covenant law is referred to, but this verse uses (G458 anomia) which refer to violation of law in the ordinary sense or just general wickedness. The interlinear puts it like this, "Everyone practicing sin also anomia practices; and sin is anomia." Sin is not defined by breaking the old covenant law, because we are no longer bound by that contract. Just because a list of 10 do’s or don’ts are similar to another contract does not make them the same contract.
The old law is good (Rom 7: 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.). Paul said It is holy and good because it fulfills a purpose (Rom 3:20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.). God gave a concrete set of external examples to reveal the state of the inner person. Armstrongites say, “If the law is good it must still be required.” Paul wrote in Gal 4:4 "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law." The Armstrongites say, "Jesus kept the law, so we should too." That law remained in effect until it was finished by Jesus’ death on the cross. So yes, he did keep it, and he did so, perfectly, so we could move on to the higher law. Rom 13:8, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Check out some of the lists of wickedness like 1Cor 6:9; "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
This covers a few things the Ten Commandments do not. But there are plenty of other pre Ex 24 scriptures that cover similar things, and there’s nothing ceremonial about them. It's funny how people who think they must keep Old Testament law pick and choose what part of the law is to be kept. James 3:10 says: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
The next ‘proof’, of the old testament law still being in effect, quoted by the Armstrong followers is: Matt 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen; will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Now those with ‘Armstrongitis’ see the phrase, "until all be fulfilled," but lose it's meaning because of the part that reads: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom." Jesus goes on to give his commands that Armstrong follower’s mistake for the Ten Commandments. But He changes every one of them. Armstrong followers say “he amplified them,” but that would still be adding to a covenant (contract) after the blood has sealed it. Paul points out in Gal 3:15 that this can't be done; v.15 "Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside, or add to a human covenant (contract) that has been duly established, so it is in this case.”
Paul is speaking of the covenant God made with Abraham previously, illustrating a principal which applies equally to the Old Covenant which is a contract he entered into with the Israelites and no one else. A contract is, for all practical purposes, a mutual promise. Some say that they see no reason why God can't change a covenant he makes. He can't because he can't lie or be unfaithful. God is a faithful God. God wont alter a single punctuation in the contract until it completes it's purpose which is referred to as being fulfilled. Mat 5:18 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
Did Jesus add to the old covenant or did he start giving a new law? Does a similarity in some requirements mean it's the same law? Am I subject to the law of England because I obey American law, and in effect, keep parts of English law such as not murdering, or not stealing?
The following is a law of God in the old covenant: Lev 24:20 “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. 22 You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.'” But Jesus clearly changed this Matt 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
This is only one example, but one example is enough. Jesus was speaking of a new law: Gal 5:14 "the entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself.'" The old law is superseded by the new which, I have no doubt, is the eternal law of God. All of the old law comes to an end, replaced by the new: Ephesians 2:15 "by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace. Paul wasn't saying we were free to sin, but that it’s defined differently.” Here Paul points out that he is not under the law, he was not saying that he wasn't under the obligation to perform ceremonies; there is no precedent of any Jew or Jewish Rabbi ever thinking of the 'law' as just the ceremonies and the apostle Paul was a Jewish Rabi;1Co 9:20 “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.”
Rom 14:23 "everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
My granddad thought that human beings had arrogantly usurped the authority of God by changing the day of the sabbath, but there is no place in the New Testament commanding a sabbath as part of the new covenant. Isa 43:18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
Because my Granddad believed in Old Testament law, he was always harsh, a stickler for the rules. Unforgiving, and unbending, he grew old and bitter in his legalism. His children ended up resenting him, having grown up fearing him, and his justice. This isn’t always the case, but like Granddad, Old Testament law is harsh and unforgiving. He became like the law he believed in.
There’s a huge gulf between, not doing what is wrong, (which Old Covenant law focused on), and doing what is good, (which New Covenant focuses on).Sadly, some people never get it.
Gal 5:14 "the entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself.'" I might add here that faith is believing that God is love and that his instructions are for ultimate good. When God directs us individually, what he tells us is a law that applies to us alone; Mat 4:4 "Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ;-)