Liberalism and Legalism Balanced by Grace


Peninsula Community Church

Liberalism and Legalism Balanced by Grace

March 10, 2019

Romans 6:10-14 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Over the next few weeks I would like to look at a couple of subjects that I believe will inspire us and help us in our growth in Christ. It will help us in our ability to reach people with the lifesaving message of the Gospel. Through these studies, I would like to look at what the men have been focusing on in their study on Tuesday nights. The challenge will be to let go of offense. We will look at the idea of reaping what we sow. Finally, we will look at the power of fear and how that can keep us from being the person God wants us to be.

Today, however, I want to focus on four ways to deal with the culture we encounter. First, we can compromise our beliefs to address the culture. Second, we address the culture by cloistering ourselves and moving to the margins by way of legalism. Third, we can address the culture by becoming apathetic about what is going on around us. This can produce an attitude of giving in and giving up as there is no faith or hope that things will change. I will also submit to you a fourth way to address the culture and that is through God’s grace. That will be our focus today.

Before we begin let me share some critical information that is a wake up call for the church. I have been reading many reports that show that most churches in the US are declining or or they are stagnate. In fact, I just read a report from the North American Mission Board of the SBC that reported that 85% of their churches are stagnate or declining. The consensus is that North American churches as a whole are declining or stagnate. 

Fortunately, there is another side to this story that must be considered. It is a sobering thought that those churches that are growing are growing because they are engaged with the communities they serve. They are not just a church in the community but they serve the community around them. This does not mean they are standing on the corner preaching but rather that they have a heart to see culture change one person at a time. They are reaching the unreachable. They are praying for their community. They are speaking God’s love. They resist judgement toward those they encounter. And, they sincerely love those in their community. They practice Christ’s last commands to His disciples. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Go is the great commandment. 

With that in mind let’s look at these issues. First, there is legalism. Legalism can be defined as the effort to control and manage sin. The truth of the matter is that we were never called to control or manage our sin or someone else’s sin for that matter. We were to called to forgive and allow the grace of God to fill us with the righteousness of Christ. That is what Paul is saying in the passage before us. Just because God calls us to be instruments of righteousness does not give us the right to control sin, especially the sin in others. Legalism leads to the judgement and criticism of others. We must use the instrument of righteousness correctly. Write this down. True righteous is not what we do as much as what we are. Here is the point. We can dress right, talk right, act right, and yet our hearts can be far from God or His purposes. This is most critical as we attempt to reach our culture. Remember the story that Jesus told. 

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus had this to say on this subject. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Notice what He says. We are trying to get the speck out of the other person’s eye while we have a log in our own eye. It never works. We need to deal with the log in our eye before we can consider the speck in someone’s eye. Legalism seems to always points out the sin of others and judges others for their sin rather than recognizing one’s own sin.

The other problem with legalism is that it tends to cause us to cloister together and make it hard for anyone to get into our little circle. We make it hard because we are quick to judge and beat our chest that we are not like the tax collector who was in humble prayer at the altar of God. Listen to Jesus’ words. ”Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:9-13)!

The second way we can address the culture is to compromise. Here we try to minimize sin in an attempt to reach the culture. You might say that legalism over emphasizes sin while liberalism under emphasizes sin. We ignore sin or worst yet we begin to engage in sin thinking that we will somehow be better positioned to reach our culture. The problem however is that we lose our influence in the very culture we are trying to reach. The problem is that without recognizing sin and wrong we cannot change or move toward a healthy environment. If there is nothing to change why would anyone want to become a Christian. 

We do not have to look very far to see how this is effecting our culture today. Whether we are looking at the abortion issue, euthanasia, gender identity, legalization of drugs, legalization of prostitution, and so much more we find that there is a minimization of sin and a distortion of truth. We find many who have a form of godliness but they deny the power of God to bring change and bring salvation. They would rather compromise than speak truth in love. They would rather look more like the culture than be in a position to bring change.

The third way to address the culture is to become apathetic. The problem here is that we come to the place where we do not care about people. We can lose our love for people and come to the place where we do not care if they are hurting or need help. We are in our own little world and that is all we care about. Sadly, we do no believe that God can bring change or bring salvation. This is really a state of faithlessness. 

But there is a better way and that is through the way of grace. Grace is a powerful tool and a powerful means to reach people with the gospel and make an investment in our community. Through grace we do not judge because we know that except for the grace of God we would be lost. If we are honest we would have to admit that we just sin differently than others because the fact is all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Roman’s 3:23). 

In our passage today we find that Paul issues a challenge to us and that is the consideration that we are dead to sin and alive to God. Think about that idea! We are dead to sin but alive with God. In our sin we are dead but in God we have life. Because of that we are commanded to present ourselves as instruments of righteousness versus instruments of unrighteousness. That is what it means to walk in grace. 

Let me ask you a question. Are people drawn to you, or are they pushed away when it comes to spiritual discussions? Jesus is our model. Sinners and saints were drawn to him because He was a real man dealing with real issues. That was grace. He met them where they were without judgement or condescension. He loved them enough to give everyone seeking grace that gift. 

In life, I find that the instruments we have can be powerful and bring life or they can bring destruction. The same instrument can cause life or it can cause death. It is for that reason that I believe that God gave us grace in order to use the instruments of righteousness the way we should. 

Through grace we will have a correct view of sin. Rather than cloistering ourselves together and maximizing sin, we will walk in grace. Rather than compromise and minimizing sin, we will develop a proper perspective of sin. Rather than apathy we are awakened to a new reality and a new way to live and connect with our community. We are grace receivers and we are grace givers. 

Let me close with a story I read just this week. A man went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone and during the the prayer time his phone accidentally rang. The pastor scolded him. The worshippers admonished him after the prayers for interrupting the silence. His wife kept lecturing him on his carelessness all the way home. One could see the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation on his face. After this he never set foot in church again.  

That evening, he went to a bar. He was sill nervous and trembling from his earlier adventure. He spilled his drink on the table by accident. The waiter apologized and gave him a napkin to clean himself. The janitor mopped the floor. The female manager offered him a complimentary drink. She also gave him a huge hug and a peck while saying, “Don’t worry man. Who doesn’t make mistakes?” He has not stopped going to that bar since then. We have the chance to give grace to others and touch this world with the gospel, the good news. 

So how is your grace today? Are you just a receiver or are you a giver of grace? 

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/messages.

Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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