God Is Light, Darkness Is Lies

Join Andy as he continues his series through 1 John looking at 1 John 1:5-6.

The Great Sustainer

Colossians 1:16-17, “16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold...

The Strength of Meekness

I came across a manual given to college students on how to assimilate into the North American culture in the United States. Among the suggestions were the following: Never ask an American a direct question about their religion, age, money, salary, weight, or dress...

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund

The heart of God is at the center of the gospel message. His affections towards His people is not a great mystery that needs to be discovered but has been revealed in the person and work of Jesus. God’s heart towards His people is seen throughout Scripture. The Lord...

The Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness

On today’s Warriors of Grace show continuing season two, Dave discusses the righteousness of God and the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and the Word of God, and what union with Christ is and how it relates to spiritual warfare. What you’ll hear in...

Raised With Christ: Your Easter Story

Colossians 3:1-3, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with...
Distinguishing, Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace
Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism

Posted On October 27, 2019

Fear of being accused of legalism has, in some circles of Evangelicalism, led to decreasing calls for personal holiness. This is, I believe, particularly true among younger Christians. Many of them have grown up in a form of hyper-fundamentalism that was marked by all sorts of legalism. One can appreciate, then, and even applaud their disdain for it. Yet, I am increasingly concerned that this fear has caused many of us to be suspicious of all holiness talk. We must remind ourselves that sanctification and legalism are not the same thing.

The Hole in Our Holiness

Several years ago, Pastor Kevin DeYoung wrote about the “Hole in Holiness”, describing a kind of Evangelicalism that is exceedingly reluctant to speak about, and fight for, personal holiness in the life of the believer. He says:

Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort, and duty. Pastors don’t know how to preach the good news in their sermons and still strongly exhort churchgoers to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit (2nd Corinthians 7:1). We know legalism (salvation by law keeping) and antinomianism (salvation without need for law keeping) are both wrong, but antinomianism feels like a much safer danger. (The Hole in Our Holiness, 19)

Out of fear that we will promote—or at least be accused of promoting—legalism, many Christians can no longer talk about the pursuit of godliness. Worse still, godliness itself is very poor in the church. Brad Waggoner and his team at B&H surveyed 2500 Protestants who attend church on a regular basis. Their research and the results of their surveys revealed some disappointing trends.

They asked the participants ten questions to gauge obedience in the Christian life and found that “only 2 percent of the respondents, about 50 of the 2500, gave an ideal response to all ten questions” (The Shape of Faith to Come, 84). So, for example, on the question/statement, “A Christian must learn to deny himself/herself in order to serve Christ”, only twenty-eight percent “agreed strongly”. On the question/statement, “When I come to realize that some aspect of my life is not right in God’s eyes, I make the necessary changes”, only twenty-three percent “agreed strongly”. Thirty-two percent of their sample pray “irregularly or seldom”. Fifty-one percent “rarely or never” memorize Scripture, and only thirty-seven percent of their sample says that “one of the main reasons I live my life the way I do is to please and honor God”. Needless to say, pursuit of godliness is an issue in the church.

Distinguishing Between Legalism and Sanctification

If godliness is poor in church pastors, leaders, and Christians in general, we must find a healthy way to talk about sanctification. We can start by distinguishing clearly between it and legalism. Several helpful steps can allow us to make this distinction clear.

First, we should clearly define legalism. Some of the confusion lies in our understanding of the terminology. Many Christians assume all forms of intentional obedience are legalism. Obedience that happens “accidentally” is acceptable. But attempts to purposefully obey God are perceived as attempts to be legalistic. Legalism, however, is specifically self-righteousness. It ascribes more merit to my good deeds than they are worth. It attempts to attain a high level of morality apart from God. Not all obedience works this way. My daughter might obey me in order to make her brother look bad. She might obey me in order to try and get something from me later. But sometimes she obeys me simply because she loves me and wants to please me. Christian obedience works this way too. Not all obedience is legalism. When we clarify the terms, we can begin to see the difference.

Second, we need to understand our role in sanctification. Salvation is all by grace through faith, and this is not of our own doing (Ephesians 2:8). There is no denying that salvation is a monergistic act. Yet, once we become believers, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, we are commanded to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” (Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 1:10). The New Testament is replete with imperatives. We are commanded, as followers of Christ to do all sorts of things. Our spiritual growth involves our obedience. Christians are not free to do whatever they want; we are under the law of Christ (1st Corinthians 9:21). Love of Jesus demands obedience to His commands (John 14:15; 1st John 5:3). When some people speak of legalism, it is evident that they do not understand our role in the process of sanctification. Teaching on this and studying this can help clarify much.

Finally, we ought to remind ourselves that even in our obedience we are dependent upon God. We have a role in our own sanctification, and yet the Bible tells us that, ultimately, even this is God’s work. So Paul says tells the Philippians to work and that ultimately it is God who works.

Philippians 2:12-13 explains, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Work out your salvation “for it is God who works in you”. We work, but ultimately it is God who accomplishes the work. There are other examples, too. We are being transformed in degrees by the Spirit (2nd Corinthians 3:18). The Lord makes us increase in holiness (1st Thessalonians 3:12-13). God is the one who sanctifies us completely (1st Thessalonians 5:23). Sanctification is by the Spirit (2nd Thessalonians 2:13). God works in us that which is pleasing in His sight (Hebrews 13:20-21). He who began a good work will see it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Yes, we must work, we must obey, we must strive towards godliness, and yet, even this is dependent upon the Lord. It is not legalism when we depend upon God to transform us. Remembering this frees us. As we depend upon God for sanctification, we do not need to fear legalism.

Holiness is important to the Christian and to the Church as a whole. The threat of legalism cannot keep us from addressing the subject. Distinguishing between sanctification and legalism can help us move in the right direction.

Related Posts

Distinguishing, Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

The Great Sustainer

Colossians 1:16-17, “16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold...

Distinguishing, Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

The Strength of Meekness

I came across a manual given to college students on how to assimilate into the North American culture in the United States. Among the suggestions were the following: Never ask an American a direct question about their religion, age, money, salary, weight, or dress...

Distinguishing, Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

The Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness

On today’s Warriors of Grace show continuing season two, Dave discusses the righteousness of God and the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and the Word of God, and what union with Christ is and how it relates to spiritual warfare. What you’ll hear in...

Distinguishing, Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

Raised With Christ: Your Easter Story

Colossians 3:1-3, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with...

0 Comments

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cultivating Holiness Part 1 | - […]  David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  2. Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor | - […]  David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  3. Cultivating Holiness Part 2 | - […] David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  4. This Week’s Good Reads – Pastor Dave Online - […] “Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism” by Dave […]
  5. Weekly Roundup 2/16/2015-2/21/2015 | - […] Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism by David Dunham https://servantsofgrace.org/distinguishing-between-sanctification-and-legalism/ […]
  6. Living as Awakened Sinners | - […] David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  7. The Need for the Bride of Christ to be Holy and Mature | - […] David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  8. JC Ryle's Holiness--A Review | - […] David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  9. Sixteen Books I Recommend on Holiness in the Christian Life | - […] David Dunham wrote on distinguishing between sanctification and legalism. […]
  10. Weekly Roundup 10/2/2017-10/7/2017 - Servants of Grace - […] Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism by David Dunham https://servantsofgrace.org/distinguishing-between-sanctification-and-legalism/ […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share27
Tweet4
Reddit
Pin
Share