Sunday, May 3, 2009

Common Legalist Arguments - Part II

In my last post in this series Common Legalist Arguments - Part I, I went over the idea that "The law is harder to keep; the Spirit helps you to keep it, grace makes up for your failures." We saw the flaws hidden in that approach of partial law-keeping. Now, I would like to investigate the next argument that I commonly hear from legalists. I believe this one is much craftier and more likely to trip us up.

Argument #2
"God wants people to be obedient."

This is a well crafted argument; very sly in its design. After all, who wants to be seen as DISobedient? Herbert Armstrong was filled with these clever little traps. But never the less, is this the right approach to a New Covenant relationship with God?
Answer: absolutely, positively not!!

You're taken aback already, I'd wager. My answer hinges on what is hidden in the word "obedience". Let's investigate.

One can always go to the Old Covenant, which we have as an example to us, and see exhortations to obey. Regulations and restrictions controlled, from the outside, almost every aspect of a person's life. The inside, however, rarely changed. Israel as a majority did not obey, and they received the punishments prescribed in the law. God predicted it from the very start that they would fail and be carried away (DEU. 31: 16). Now it becomes all the more easy to distract a person and claim that unless we obey then we will draw the wrath of God on us as we see in the Old Testament.

But in contrast, in the New Covenant, God does not want obedience in the same manner.
(JOHN 15: 15) 15 No longer do I call you servants... but I have called you friends...
He wants people to be faithful and believe in His Son. That is the very core of the Good News! Our salvation is already prepared; we need merely accept and confess it. That work of salvation already is complete, once and for all time, from Jesus' death, forward into all eternity. If we are faithful, God will then grant us His Spirit. It is that Spirit which causes God's will to be fulfilled in us.

This argument that God wants an obedient people betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the New Covenant. Why? First, because as we saw in the last post, the righteousness God wants is not our righteousness. It's His righteousness. Second, because the law, as holy and righteous as it was, controls from the outside, whereas the Spirit of God in us transforms from the inside.

It is not about us. It is not about what we do or fail to do. It is not about control. It is not about obedience. It's not about law at all. It is about Jesus Christ. It is about God replacing the sinful persons we are. Out of sinfulness creating righteousness. Who besides God can do such a marvelous thing? It is He who does the work, not us. He does not control, He transforms, not from the outside but from the inside. The difference is likened to a child learning to obey, and a mature adult who has already learned well to the point where the lesson is now nature. He puts away the childish things.

We are re-born. We are not reborn into the same Old Covenant, or even a modified Old Covenant, but a glorious New Covenant. Not subject to the old letter of the old law and ordinances, but to the spirit of a Spiritual law, a Royal law, of faith and love.
This new Way, this spiritual way, replaces the old way in its entirety. The old way isn't brought forward, it isn't altered, but is destroyed completely. That is the nature of Covenants. Even so, the new way fulfills the righteous requirements of the old way. The new is not without righteousness, even though there is no law written in stone. The new way fills up the old way and overflows it; tearing it like an un-shrunken patch on old clothes; bursting it like new wine into old skins.

That being the case, we have to ask, what do you mean when you say "be obedient"? You say "obey", but you don't obey (GAL. 6: 13)! Only one Man has ever been sinless. So, "obey" what? The Old covenant law? The Old Covenant is gone (ROM. 7: 6; II COR. 3: 7, 11, 13). Do you seek to earn through obedience to it? You cannot earn anything from God; it is a gift (ROM. 5: 16-18; EPH. 2: 8). What good comes of your partial "obedience", then? Righteousness? Your righteousness is like filthy rags (ISA. 64: 6). Righteousness is not of the law anyhow (GAL. 2: 21). What does make a man righteous?

(ROM. 5: 19) For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

It is Christ! And Christ alone. You can't be "obedient" to the law and receive this. You can't be obedient to the law at all. Men tried for 1,500 years under the Old Covenant and failed. It's not about you. To even think that you can do anything is to steal from Christ.

(GAL. 3: 2-4) 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

To think you know anything, let alone do anything, you do not yet know as you should (I COR. 8: 2).

(ROM. 10: 2-3) 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God

Romans 8: 3 says people seek their own righteousness. How do they do that?

(PHP. 3: 9) and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith

This expressly says God does not want us to pursue our own righteousness from the law!! This completely smashes the second legalistic argument! People say "God wants obedience." Yes, but not by law. God Himself says that He doesn't want you to pursue your own failed righteousness by law, He wants His own righteousness in us by faith! This is a profound difference not to be taken lightly!

This is why I said, "absolutely, positively not," when speaking about obedience. Because I know what is really meant by "obedience" is "obedience to law." That is not what God wants.

The law was brought in to condemn you so that you could clearly see how hopeless you are, see how inadequate you are to this task, see your need, and see how you must depend entirely on the grace of God. He has saved you. God doesn't want condemnation, He wants humility. He doesn't want obedience to law, He wants you to let Him give you what he has prepared for you. And that is the length, breadth, width, height, and depth of the good news! In what way is that insufficient?

(ROM. 5: 15-18) 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

God wants people to be faithful. He will take care of the obedience on His own.

(ROM. 9: 30-32) 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.

There is obedience, but not by law. To "obey the Gospel" is to have faith. If people were actually obedient to what God says He wants, they would have faith. Once faith has come in, they would have the Spirit. Once the Spirit has come in, they would have love. Love is the fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law. And once love has cone in, the actions in life - the works - would be a response to faith and love, not a cause of it. Works are a byproduct of grace, not a cause of it! And it would all be because of God's grace, and nothing of your own. As I once heard, "Jesus Christ did not come to make you better, He came to replace you." (GAL. 2: 20)


What was argument #2 again? "God wants people to be obedient."

There is an obedience, and it is to the truth. God's word is truth, and it desires faith. If there is a commandment, it is to love. God is love. It is about God, not us. In all sincerity, invite Christ in to do these things from the Spirit within you, and you have fulfilled ALL righteousness.

Deeply loved by God, I hope you all come to fully understand what the New Covenant entails. I pray you are completely transformed from the inside by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. If the Spirit is in you then you are the temple of God, and are made holy by His presence, not by anything at all that you can say or do (or not). Be transformed! Step into the New Covenant!

(I PET. 1: 22-25) 22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the LORD endures forever.”
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

[Also see Part I, Part III, Part IVPart V, & Part VI]


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.



Anonymous said...

in the New Covenant God does not want obedience, He wants people to be faithful and believe in His Son.

and how are we to be faithful without being obedient?????

Seeker Of Truth said...

"Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts." 2 Co. 2:15The answer to this question cannot be understood until one truly wants the truth.

It's easy to accept what sounds good or appeals to us. What about wanting the truth regardless of preference?
When one reaches this point, God will remove the veil.

God doesn't want you under His thumb, He wants you to have love in your heart and be guided by that love, not follow a bunch of specific rules and regulations that were like a school master to lead us to Christ. That's for those who cannot or will not govern themselves. We are no longer infants who need milk. Paul told some regarding the Word, that they should be eating meat and yet still need to be fed milk.

Again, when one truly wants the truth without preference, God will respond to that and ones eyes will be opened.

xHWA said...

"and how are we to be faithful without being obedient?????"

Anon, it's not about us. I can't hammer that home enough. To make anything about or conditional upon obedience puts the focus on yourself and what you can do rather than on Christ and what He can do (or rather, has done, is doing, and will do). It makes it no longer a gift, it makes it no longer a promise. Besides, in what way was Christ's sacrifice insufficient?

I would ask you much the same as you asked me, how are we to be faithful in Christ when our focus is on ourselves?

Faith has absolutely nothing to do with obedience. The Pharisees were anal in their pursuit of obedience, yet they did not please God. Were they, then TOO obedient? Some would say that the Pharisees went to far and were no longer being obedient to God. I would say the exact same in this case. God wants faith, not our own righteousness that comes from the law.
Paul himself touches on the very question you ask.

(ROM. 30-32) 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.

Also read Romans 3: 7, 28; 4: 5, 14-16... etc, etc.
Actually, go here to Bible Gateway, do a word search on "faith" in Paul's epistles. If that doesn't make it more clear than I could hope to, then peace be with you.

I am guessing that you see righteousness as coming from obedience. I have already touched on the Biblical truth that righteousness is not of the law (ROM. 3: 21; 4: 13; GAL. 2: 21).
So, I suppose you see the choice as a) Christians have standards, and those standards are set in the law, or b) without law, how can we know how to be good people.
This is where faith must come in. I will try to be as plain as possible - faith comes, then the Spirit, and it is the Spirit in us that does any good. So, it is Him, not us. If you have Christ in you, then you will by nature be doing the things of the law because the law will be written on your heart. Christ in us will transform us from the inside. That is fundamentally different than conforming to laws from the outside.

I hope that helps. I hope you pray and study about this, asking God to prove His truth to you.

xHWA said... more thing...
When I say "by nature doing things of the law" I do not mean such things as keeping the Sabbath or any other Old Covenant article. I mean you will love. And love, it is quite plain in the Bible, is the fulfillment of the righteous requirements of the law.

Raccoon said...

xHWA - Nice post, I enjoyed it.

At first I gave pause because, like Anonymous seems to think, I thought you were saying we shouldn't be obedient at all, but that's not really what you said.

What you said was that we need to allow Christ to transform our lives. To paraphrase Galatians 2:20 (which you used in your post) - we have been crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in us. If Christ lives in us and transforms our lives we will start naturally doing the right things. (NOTE: That does not include doing whatever I please and deluding myself into thinking it was right.) In effect we are being obedient, but not of ourselves, I cannot be obedient fully on my own, it comes by the power of the one - the ONLY ONE - who was ever perfectly obedient.

As soon as I start trying to retake control and do things on my own, that's when I fall short.

xHWA said...

Raccoon, I think you're right, that appears to be what tripped up Anon.

And you're right that I most certainly am not saying that we have the freedom to do whatever comes to our mind because we are saved.
I mean, and I hope this makes it plain, if Christ is in us what kind of acts will He be performing? Righteous, of course! But is it us, by our effort? No!
A Christian has faith in Christ, His Spirit will take up residence in us, and good fruit will be produced by the Spirit in us.

Now, we can still go our own way. God does not force anything upon us. Paul over and again warns against that, though. We are not to crush the Spirit in us by turning again to the things we used to do. Our job is to have faith in Jesus (JOHN 6: 29). God will perform the good works thereafter. But good fruit will be produced from it, not bad fruit.

It's a fine line, but critically important to understand. I love the way you put it, "As soon as I start trying to retake control and do things on my own, that's when I fall short." Amen!!
Obedient or disobedient, when I try to take control, I fall short. THAT is the difference.

Luc said...

“and how are we to be faithful without being obedient?????”

There is an enormous difference between obedience and willing cooperation. Ask yourself which of the following options would you choose; option one: You have a child and you say you’d like to do something with the Child's participation but the child puts on a stubborn expression and says “I don’t want to” so you resort to commanding what you want done to be done; the atmosphere is poisoned with tension and distress.

Option two: you have a child who loves you such that he or she would do anything for you simply because of a desire to please you. Option two is not obedience; it is love, and the goal of option one is satisfied without the poisoned atmosphere and tension.

Which option do you think God chooses?

Luc said...

Incidentally xHWA Wonderful post.

Luc said...

I forgot to add that one who tries to please out of love responds to perceived need or desire of the one loved precluding the need for a command.

Seeker Of Truth said...

Excellent article xHWA.

Seeker Of Truth said...

Anon (10:37 PM),

One can go through the motions and the heart be unchanged. God doesn't want you going through the motions, He wants a changed heart. We are slaves to sin and therefore will always sin. One single sin qualifies us for the death penalty. But though faith in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin because by His payment of our debt, He purchased us from sin and now belong to Him, and we receive the Holy Spirit, the down payment, the guarantee of eternal live. What is that faith in Christ?

It is acknowledging that there is NOTHING we can do to save ourselves from the pit, but that by grace God will save us from that pit IF we acknowledge it, and also that Christ in us, the Father in us, the Holy Spirit in us will be what makes us righteous.

God created us with a certain nature for a reason. He made us in such a way that we cannot be free of sin. We are not capable. If we could do that on our own, what would happen? There would be a whole lot of what Lucifer was guilty of: pride & arrogance - "who needs God? We can do it on our own! Arrogance is not love & therefore, sin. Therefore we were created with a nature that makes us slaves to sin & THEREFORE - we need God. We need God to save us!

Since we can do nothing of our of our own to save ourselves, since we sinners are destined for the pit, all there is left for us to do, the only option remaining, is to accept an offer graciously given by God.
If we will acknowledge that we are incapable of saving ourselves, if we will acknowledge that we are sinners and that only God can save us from eternal death, that He ALONE is good, that we don't WANT to be sinners but WANT to be good, then He will grant us that salvation from eternal death.
It is about what is in our hearts. That is the core of the matter to God - our hearts. We could go through the motions, but if the heart has no love, we are of no value & will be destined for the pit. However, if our hearts ARE about love, He will grant us eternal life.
When the three year old who WANTS to be like Mommy and help wash the dishes, but cannot get them clean - all that matters is that she WANTED to be like Mommy & that is what saves us.

Ro. 10:2-3 and 8: 3 is saying that one does NOT acknowledge this, rather continues to seek righteousness by their own actions, rather than to give the credit to God, where it belongs.
As xHWA points out in Php. 3:9, obedience to the OC is your OWN righteousness. It is telling God you don't need Him, that you can do it without Him! Doesn't that remind you of our little children? They refuse our help, "no! I can do it myself!". When we do that, it is arrogance! Give the credit back to God - only He can save us! We are filthy rags!

As in 1 Pet. 1: 22-25 We may begin youthful, strong and gorgeous... but it is fleeting - so where is pride and boastfulness? Gone. In everything, God has & is showing us that we have NOTHING without Him - we are only filthy rags. HE gives us value. He knows we have no value, but if we acknowledge that & tell Him we don't want to be filthy rags, but WANT to be like Him, THAT is what pleases God. THAT is what moves Him to give us His Holy Spirit, the down payment, the guarantee of eternal life. THEN we walk in love.

Remember the analogy of the two sons? They are asked to do a particular thing. One says "Sure! You bet!" but does nothing. The other whines and complains and says he's not gonna do it.
In the end he who said "Sure!" did nothing. He who said "no" did what was asked.
This is the difference in the two covenants. The first boy is the OC. He shows "obedience" on the outside, but that has NO VALUE, because his heart was without love. The second boy is the NC. He shows sin on the outside, but he HAS VALUE because on the inside his heart has love!
The first boy "appears" to be "good", but is not. The second boy "appears" to be sinful, but is righteous. THAT righteousness comes from God IN us, and CANNOT come though the OC, which CONDEMNS man. Christ cannot be IN us if we seek righteousness on our own through the OC because that is APART from God, it alienates us from Christ!

I really hope this helps anyone to understand the difference.
I would ask you to have no preference for truth, but to want the truth free of preference and tell God so. If you are sincere, you will be amazed!

xHWA said...

Thanks Luc! Thanks Seeker!

I'll pass those compliments on to the One who deserves the credit. After all, it's not about me. ;D
I merely write what the grace of God in me leads me to.

xHWA said...

How many times did Jesus say, "O ye of little obedience"?

Byker Bob said...

Also, when did Jesus or the disciples ever command anyone to keep the sabbath, or correct anyone for breaking it?


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said: "and how are we to be faithful without being obedient?????"

The believer is obedient to the faith, and not a covenant law that came to an end. See: Acts 6:7; Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26.

It's not what you do on the outside, it is what you are on the inside.

Anonymous said...

"If you have Christ in you, then you will by nature be doing the things of the law because the law will be written on your heart."

This "law" is not the written code of the O.C., rather this law is God's Spirit, aka the heart of flesh that replaces the stony heart one is born with. If this law were the O.C. law written on the heart, then Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8:9 would not be making the point this law is not like the covenant law given to Israel after leaving Egypt. Only by playing with semantics can you come to the conclusion it is the same law.

Anonymous said...

The last two anons were mine. Sorry, missed the statement above.

I will sign as "...."

xHWA said...

Right, Anon May 7 09. I agree.

Which, I will remind the reader, is why I said:
"When I say 'by nature doing things of the law' I do not mean such things as keeping the Sabbath or any other Old Covenant article. I mean you will love. And love, it is quite plain in the Bible, is the fulfillment of the righteous requirements of the law."

Questeruk said...

You say:-

“But in contrast, in the New Covenant God does not want obedience,(JOHN 15: 15) 15 No longer do I call you servants... but I have called you friends...
He wants people to be faithful and believe in His Son. That is the very core of the Good News! We are already saved; we need merely accept and confess it.

But yet the very verse before this, John 15: 14, says ‘You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you.’

Doing whatever Jesus commands sounds rather like ‘obey’ to me.

As Peter said in Acts 5: 29 “We ought to obey God rather than men.” And then follows up in verse 32 by saying “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him”.

There’s this ‘obey’ word again.

Seeker Of Truth said...


you guys are missing the point. Let me try saying this differently:

God doesn't want to belt out commands and have us jump-to. That's not the relationship He wants with us. (That's the difference between servant and friend.) What he wants is that we love each other.
Do you have kids? Have they gotten into fights/arguments with each other? Don't you just want them to stop all that and just love one another? It's about love, right?
Well, that's what God wants from us. He doesn't want to hand out rules and regulations, He wants us to ask ourselves, before we say or act, "Is it love?"

That's the contrast between the Old and New Covenant; the Old is harsh, it's all about rules and regulations and the hard consequences of not jumping-to. Like children who just can't behave and have to be given harsh rules and consequences.
The New is about us being big kids and making sure our choices are made in love.
He wants us to act in love. He doesn't want to be hash to us. He doesn't want to be the shepherd who whacks his sheep with His staff. That's not the relationship he wants with us.
If we make our choices out of love toward one another... we are obeying Him.

Or how about that statement we hear on TV sometimes?: "We can do this the hard way... or the easy way."

The OC served it's purpose. It ran it course then made way for the NC.

Let me ask you this: Why do you think "obey" pertains to the OC? Why don't you think "obey pertains to the New Covenant?

If your 17 year old daughter told you she was going to one place but went to another, and having found her out, you told her that from now on, she's to give you phone numbers and names so you can verify her activities, would that still be in effect when she's in college? Of course not. The rule was only in effect while she was still a minor or still living at home. It ran it's course and served it's purpose.

Jesus fulfilled the OC. It was finished. It served it's purpose, and now we are to obey the NC; love one another.

I apologize for all the repetition.
Hang in there, I know you can get this.

Seeker Of Truth said...

The Israelite's were those kids who just couldn't behave, and thus they were given some harsh rules and harsh consequences, Ga. 3:19. It was given to them. It was their school master.
He is offering to guide us as opposed to whacking us on the head with a stick.

Ga. 3:19-25 says a lot.

xHWA said...


I skipped that part of the verse on purpose, to see if anyone was reading these verses. Certainly someone would mention that I skipped that part. Then, being more interested in what the Bible says than what I say, this would be a person I could discuss matters with. Thank you. Please now permit me to discuss this with you. Because you have also skipped a part of that section, and it is this:
(JOHN 15: 12) My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
God does not say, "And my command is this: the Old Covenant law and statues and judgments". This is a new law for a New Covenant. Even though it is not anything new.

I agree entirely with Seeker. The difference appears slight, but it is of utmost importance. It is like children who have grown to love their parents and do what they were taught from nature and love rather than commands and orders and rules and regulations.

And I agree with Raccoon that it is not about freedom to do whatever despicable thing we lust after, but rather we will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law if Christ is in us. If Christ's Spirit motivates us, how could we do otherwise (ROM. 8: 1-4)?

Let me add this, however. I will get to this in a future installment in this series, but let me touch on it here: what are we to be doing?

(JOHN 15: 12) 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

also see (JOHN 13: 34, 15: 12; ROM. 13: 9; GAL. 5: 14; I TIM. 1: 5; I JOHN 3: 23, I JOHN 4: 21; II JOHN 1: 6)

If you love, will you not be fulfilling all the righteous requirements of the law? People always try to tell me that we must keep the 10 Commandments [unchanged from their Old Covenant form]. Well, the 10 are not the apex of God's law. There are higher! Mark 12: 28-43 speaks of love. Love to God and love to man is higher than the 10. After all, what is God? God is love! Love trumps all. Love is the apex, that is why love is the New Covenant and law is the Old. The 10 are three levels down, if I may put it in those terms. Why would I insist on going lower down the chain when I could go directly to the source (love) and have all fulfilled? But they never stop there, they keep on going and adding more Old Covenant laws. The purpose of everything God has commanded is to bring you to love (I TIM. 1: 5). If you love, you've fulfilled the law.

If you love, Jesus won't have to command you to do anything, you will be doing His will by nature. Yet, not you, but Him in you. THIS is the New Covenant "law", and if we love Jesus, we will be doing THIS.

Luc said...

The word translated 'command' in John 15:14 is 'entellornai G1781 meaning 'am directing you'' as apposed to the usual word used, which means to order 'keleuo G2753; mandate 'paraggelia' G3852; invoke 'parakalao' GG3870, and two words for command..... epitasso G2004, and paraggello G3853 meaning "I am charging you".