“The fatal mistake is to think of sin always in terms of acts and of actions rather than in terms of nature, and of disposition. The mistake is to think of it in terms of particular things instead of thinking of it, as we should, in terms of our relationship to God. Do you want to know what sin is? I will tell you. Sin is the exact opposite of the attitude and the life which conform to, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ If you are not doing that you are a sinner. It does not matter how respectable you are; if you are not living entirely to the glory of God you are a sinner. And the more you imagine that you are perfect in and of yourself and apart from your relationship to God, the greater is your sin. That is why anyone who reads the New Testament objectively can see clearly that the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were greater sinners (if you can use such terms) than were the publicans and open sinners. Why? Because they were self-satisfied, because they were self-sufficient. The height of sin is not to feel any need of the grace of God. There is no greater sin than that. Infinitely worse than committing some sin of the flesh is to feel that you are independent of God, or that Christ need never have died on the cross of Calvary. There is no greater sin than that. That final self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction, and self righteousness is the sin of sins; it is sin at its height, because it is a spiritual sin.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. …For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” —Galatians 5:1, 13
In standing firm and not submitting we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that defending the north side of the fort is the same thing as defending the fort. What is most important is the freedom stood in, not the legalism stood against. If you make standing firm against legalism on the north your only concern, you’ll be blindsided out of the south by libertinism.
In standing firm against legalism, it is easy to fall backward into libertinism or antinomianism—(anti: against; nomos: the law). Luther colorfully said, “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can’t help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil’s.” The world is doomed to fall off one side or the other. The saints can be taught to ride. They can learn to run well and walk by the Spirit down the straight and narrow. Even so, we, the saints, never keep it perfectly between the lines and it is easy to drift. Our ears must be tuned to the Word so that we hear the warning rattle of the rumble strip as we’re making our way to the ditch.
The danger stands not only on both sides, but within. The flesh wants to drift from the center of gospel freedom. Likely, you recognize your steering has an alignment issue towards the left or the right. Which son are you? The older brother or the prodigal? The legalist or the libertine? It’s good that you’re aware of your bent, but you must also beware of the danger of overcorrecting. It is in this letter, containing Paul’s sharpest rebuke of legalism, that we find this warning concerning antinomianism. The recovering legalist shouldn’t reason from grace to sin. “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:10).
Jumping off the starboard side is not a good way to prevent falling off the port side. If standing firm against legalism is your sole concern, you’ll fall off the other side. The point of standing firm isn’t simply to avoid falling off of one side of the boat. Our chief concern shouldn’t be what we are standing firm against, but what we are standing firm in.
We are standing in the gospel, in freedom, to by the Spirit, unto God and in obedience to Him, love our neighbor. Stand firm. Do not submit. You’re free! Use that freedom to by the Spirit, love your neighbor for the glory of Christ.
“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” —Galatians 2:17
Paul, for his defense of his apostleship and the gospel, is now is dealt a foul backhanded in return. Paul doesn’t simply dodge the accusation, he does a bit of judo, flipping things around, slamming his perceived opponent to the ground with his own strength.
The accusation is that of antinomianism, of being anti-law, anti-obedience. People’s pride dresses up as piety, human hubris as holiness, and attacks the gospel as antinomian. Paul is basically dealing with the same accusation that follows his presentation of justification in Romans.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2)”
There are true antinomians, and their teaching is heretical, but the Judaizers were saying that the gospel itself is antinomian. They were accusing the gospel of freedom as frivolousness and the gospel of liberty as leading to license. The legalist will always slander the gospel as license. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took comfort in such accusations.
“The true preaching of the gospel by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”
Paul demonstrates that the legalist ironically doesn’t understand the law, for if Paul rebuilt what he tore down, namely, his efforts at justification by works of the law, then he would be a transgressor of the law (2:18). It is only because Paul died to the law, by the law, in the death of Christ, that he can live unto God by faith in Christ. Herein is the paradox, if you don’t die to the law as a means of justification, all your law-keeping is law-breaking, but if you die to the law as you are in union with Christ through faith, then you live in Christ, by faith, unto God.
In the Old Testament Israel was drowning on one side of a boat. God delivered them. To prevent drowning again on that side of the boat they decided to throw themselves off the other side. To avoid falling off the starboard side of the vessel into the ocean of pagan libertinism, they jumped off the port side into the ocean Pharisaical legalism.
The Pharisees evaluated every boundary that the Bible establishes, and then tried to move the fence a few yards back, thus their traditions became more revered than the law. They thought that if you kept the traditions, you would never get close to breaking the law. But any time man tries to draw his own lines, his concern isn’t holiness, it’s sin. The Pharisees are like the lust filled adolescent who asks, “How far is too far?” I have no doubt that Jesus would reply to them as He did the rich young ruler, “One step, one thought, one glance, one touch!” The inflamed teen who asks this question, isn’t concerned about pursing purity, but lust. They want to know how close they can get to sin and be “ok.” Wanting to walk a line close to sin, is sin. It is the worship of sin.
God does draw a line in His law, and that line does differentiate between good and evil, righteousness and transgression, but it is less like a fence line, and more like the line of a rocket trajectory. It is not a line that you walk where sin is on the other side, and you can envy its green grass. It is like the rocket trajectory that lifts your eyes away from worldliness toward the heavens. The line God draws is a line toward perfection. Walk it and you walk away from sin, not towards it.
Be wary of reading this passage and concluding that, “Jesus is about a relationship, not rules.” Jesus want’s your heart. That is the point of this text. But the contrast here isn’t heart verses law, but tradition verses God’s commandments. When Jesus gives a new heart, it is a heart that loves the trajectory of the law (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
John is known as the apostle of love. The language of love pervades his writings. Listen to how often He connects love to obedience to God’s commands.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. …If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. ” (John 14:15, 23)
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3)
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments…” (2 John 6)
Commandments are not contrary to love, they are a means of expressing it.
Holiness is a dance. God wrote the steps. Jesus leads. We follow. No one looks at two skilled dancers who are wildly in love with each other and think that all the “rules” get in the way of their love. No, the dance does not choke love, it is a means of manifesting it, and it is beautiful, it is a delight.
The law for those redeemed by Christ is not merely a bridge between the two oceans of libertinism and legalism. It is a bridge toward holiness. Jesus traversed this bridge perfectly for us, in the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. All whom He saves from the oceans, He sets on this bridge, and empowers by His Spirit to follow Him to the glory of the Father.
This is true holiness. Let’s dance.