Legalism or Law-loving?

It is nearly impossible these days even to mention the word “law” without being accused of legalism. Certainly, any promotion of actually, you know, keeping the law is out of bounds (sports pun intentional here). Of course, that means that we have to shove many biblical passages under the rug, most notably the entirety of Psalm 119. How can David say that he loves the law?

The essence of the law is love. If more people got this through their thick skulls, there might be a good deal less antinomianism. We love love, but we hate law (and therefore we wind up not doing very much loving, either, because we have a completely wrong view of what love is!). This is a contradiction, my friends. How did Jesus summarize the law? Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Traditionally, that passage has been interpreted as Jesus’ summary of the entire moral law. What we cannot escape, biblically speaking, is the plain old fact that the law reveals God’s own character. Hate the law, hate the Lawgiver. Antinomians hate God when they hate His law.

I very much enjoy watching sports…on Saturday. I have no animus against sports per se, although I agree with Mark Jones entirely that there are some very big, fat sports idolatries going on in America right now. If you are contemplating watching the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, please, please read Mark Jones’s article on the matter first. You’ll be glad you did.

28 Comments

  1. January 26, 2015 at 9:13 am

    If “keeping the law is out of bounds” and such a notion would cause you to dismiss whole passages of Scripture, how would you dismiss such explicit statements of Paul? For example:

    “God will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

  2. Justin said,

    January 26, 2015 at 9:29 am

    The Law is a gift in several ways, none of which are the transferal of the letter into New Covenant ethics. We serve by the Spirit, not the letter, and the Spirit Himself writes the law ethic on our regenerate hearts. I’m with the Lutherans and patristics here: Christ is the fulfillment of civil and ceremonial letter, and in Him the Sabbath is a rest from all our works, not just those on Sunday or Saturday. To continue striving for a ceremonial ethic is to stick the Sabbath in Moses, although he is superseded. The Sabbath, being eternal, has been remade in Christ, our Sabbath rest. In other words, keep your Sundays if your conscience is weak, but keep it as an optional form of piety, not as a Christian law by which God judges our covenant faithfulness.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    January 26, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Joseph, that’s a good point. It’s all the more stark in a context where circumcision is being expounded as being irrelevant as to faith.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 26, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Justin, so you would argue that the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments not to be upheld in the New Testament? Surely, the other nine still hold, don’t they? Look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and see if you can still hold your viewpoint. You need to read Dennison’s book _The Market Day of the Soul_ in order to get a good understanding of the Puritan viewpoint.

  5. Justin said,

    January 26, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Lane, -WE- would argue together that “when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Heb 7:12 ESV), and then we would try to work out the particulars of that central NC concept as it pertains to the moral law.

    No, I am not arguing the abrogation of the Sabbath commandment, but its fulfilled state after the resurrection of the Messiah. A one-day ceasing of work was its incarnation *ahem* before the incarnation. It was the link between Israel and the 7th-day-resting Yahweh (a work-ceasing), but the Sabbath is now the link between Israel and the 1st-day rising Yahshua (a works-ceasing for all time in Him). It is therefore a covenant violation to work on the Sabbath, i.e. to add to what God has provided in the sufficient death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Reformed piety in this regard is not evil, but rather a law-fence around the Christian ethic of liberty. It is an enforcement of a perpetually unsteady conscience.

  6. ackbeet said,

    January 26, 2015 at 9:56 am

    The law says to love God and love your neighbor. That is, if you are obeying the law, then you are loving God (plus neighbor). But Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Therefore, if you love God, you will obey the law. A implies B, and B implies A. Therefore, A and B are logically equivalent. Loving God is logically equivalent to obeying the law.

    “If you are contemplating watching the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, please, please read Mark Jones’s article on the matter first. You’ll be glad you did.”

    And don’t forget to have a Superb Owl party this coming weekend. That way, in the words of my dear wife, you can feel all pious for failing to worship football the way the rest of the US does.

  7. Bob Suden said,

    January 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

    I always understood the sabbath to be a creation ordinance, as well as ceremonial.
    But then again the evangelicals were never good on that.

    Or they picked and choosed (sic).
    Marriage for sodomites and lesbians – bad.
    Sports and shopping 24/7 – good.

    Neither is we planning on recording the Stupor Bowl to watch it later.

    FTM in the olden days of the puritanical puritans, professional entertainment was an unlawful occupation any day of the week.

  8. Truth2Freedom said,

    January 26, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  9. Jack Miller said,

    January 26, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    @Lane,

    It is nearly impossible these days even to mention the word “law” without being accused of legalism.

    And wouldn’t you agree that sometimes it seems impossible to question how law is sometimes used these days without being accused of antinomianism?

  10. January 26, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Why do you (and others) assume that Psalm 119 was written by David? The psalm is anonymous. We have only two biblically-authorized examples of anonymous psalms being attributed to David: (1) Psalm 2, per Acts 4.25-26 and (2) Psalm 95, per Hebrews 4.7. I think it’s better to err on the side of caution and take the authorial anonymity of the other anonymous psalms seriously.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    January 26, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Jack, that is certainly possible. I have never personally seen it. I also think that antinomianism is absolutely rife in our culture and in our churches. I haven’t seen nearly as much legalism. Of course, the answer to either error is a full-orbed gospel, not an over-reaction pendulum swing to the other side.

    Richard, thbthbthbth (sticks tongue out). ;-)

  12. Jack Miller said,

    January 26, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    @Lane,

    How are you defining antinomianism? If you mean those that advocate that obedience isn’t necessary for disciples of Christ then I’m not hearing that advocacy. If you mean there’s a lot of sinning amongst the Lord’s people, then yes… welcome to the church as it is in this age. We are still sinners who sin even though we would that it were not.

    And as far as not having ever “personally seen it” – don’t you think the Tullian affair of the last two years might qualify?

    Btw, my questions are offered not with an edge (hopefully) but as simply stating how I’m viewing these things.

  13. Jack Miller said,

    January 26, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Let me amend regarding the occurrence of antinomianism. I’m not hearing of it very much in comparison to a legal-bent that I sometimes find among reformed Presbs of which I am one.

  14. January 27, 2015 at 7:59 am

    It has always been my intention not to bind the conscience of other men. Aman may come home from church and take a nap, eat lunch, or watch the super bowl. We arevnot under law but under grace. For my Reformed brothers who are strict sabatarians praise the Lord. But for those who arent, I try to remember this. God knows the heart of his people. K

  15. Ron said,

    January 27, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Kevin,

    That we are not under law but under grace doesn’t seem very helpful to me. Salvation was always by grace and never by law-keeping. Law in that sense refers to a particular administration of grace, or the economy of grace. The question at hand is whether the law in view is moral and, therefore, binding. Such things as “God knows the heart of his people” sounds at best trite to those who think the Lord’s Day is up there with laws against adultery and murder. After all, with respect to adultery I don’t think we would expect one to say “God knows the hearts of his people” and “We’re not under law but under grace.” I think those sorts of cliches should be left out of any discussion such as this. :)

  16. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    January 27, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    The way in which I see so many people in confessionally Reformed circles use the phrase “we are not under law but under grace” reminds me how deeply the influence of dispensational theology remains a large problem we need to deal with.

  17. Jack Miller said,

    January 27, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I like how Fisher puts it in The Marrow of Modern Divinity concerning believers:

    And, therefore, you are now under the covenant of grace, and freed from the law, as it is the covenant of works; for [as Mr. Ball truly says] at one and the same time, a man cannot be under the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

    Which jives with WLC 97:

    What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
    A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.

  18. greenbaggins said,

    January 27, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    I think Mark Jones’s book on antinomianism is very apropos here. I view antinomianism as any attempt, conscious or otherwise, to lessen God’s requirements of obedience in any of the three uses of the law. With Tullian, for instance, I feel very uncomfortable with several of his formulations. See Mark Jones’s book for what I am talking about, although I think there are a couple of things I would say differently from Mark Jones.

  19. Jack Miller said,

    January 27, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    @18
    I’ve read Jone’s book and there are things in it I would also say differently. In a way, you give support to my point. There are things that make you feel uncomfortable about how Tullian formulates certain things. Depending on what you are referring to, I can agree. But I think it’s absurd that Jones states emphatically, “But his [Tullian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything] whole book is one lengthy antinomian diatribe,” If that is true then one would be indicting quite a number of Reformed and Lutheran theologians/teachers who would disagree with that characterization. Not to mention, Tullian explicitly endorses and teaches that Christians are not exempt from obedience to the moral law.

    I just think the terms legalist and antinomian get thrown around all too easily to the point where any number of overly broad and inaccurate definitions are imported into those words.

  20. January 27, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Ron, what about the argument that gentiles were never bound in the OT to the sabath. And according to Paul it is part of the ceremonial law?

  21. January 27, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Ron, also I never said we arent to keep the moral law. But keeping the Sabbath wasnt required of gentiles in the OT, ever.

  22. Don said,

    January 28, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Kevin Failoni 21,
    That’s not quite true. Per Deuteronomy 5:14, any Gentile living in an Israelite city was also required to keep the Sabbath.

  23. Ron said,

    January 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

    Ron, what about the argument that gentiles were never bound in the OT to the sabath. And according to Paul it is part of the ceremonial law?

    Paul,

    If it’s part of the ceremonial law you might have a point. It was a creation ordinance, which you are bound to admit preceded the ceremonial law. Secondly, it would be a bit passing strange for it to be the only ceremonial law among nine moral laws.

    Ron, also I never said we arent to keep the moral law. But keeping the Sabbath wasnt required of gentiles in the OT, ever.

    Your entire argument is that it’s part of the ceremonial law. I’m not inclined to argue against such an esoteric belief.

  24. Justin said,

    January 28, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Or that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance/moral law which took on ceremonial garb from Moses to Jesus. At fulfillment, the ceremonial requirements of day-rest were transformed into works-rest in Christ, our Sabbath (Matt 11:28-30 & 12:1-8; Heb 3 & 4). Keeping a day as an expression of worship in liberty is not evil, but keeping a day as a ceremonial law (Puritan style) is to worship Christ while facing Moses.

  25. greenbaggins said,

    January 28, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Justin, I would be slow to accuse the Puritans of legalism, which is what you are essentially doing.

  26. Justin said,

    January 28, 2015 at 10:44 am

    You’re right Lane, but I mean no disrespect. I love and honor them, and only wish our society were under a Puritan structure in so many ways.

    What I mean to say is that yes, the Puritan reading was a form of soft legalism, i.e. not toward justification, but toward sanctification via a flattening of the covenants (Moses–>Jesus).

    That’s not a fatal flaw, or so much a heresy of any type as it is a fencing of Christian liberty by means of a law ethic that downplays the indwelling Spirit and His working of the new ethic in our lives, apart from the letter.

    Grace to you…

  27. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    January 28, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    In other words the Puritans were not Antinomian enough for the American spirit…

  28. roberty bob said,

    January 28, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    Well, the Sabbath Day was the actual seventh day of the week, God’s rest from His creative work. The Christian Church decided early on to gather on the first day of the week to break bread and worship in honor of their risen Lord and Savior. The first day of the week is not the seventh day. Call the first day the Christian Sabbath if you want; it is the one day in our week that we hold as holy unto the Lord [according to the guidelines of Isaiah 58].


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