Category Archives: Legalism


Do you wish you were perfect?

Human nature and experience  make us think that having our errors pointed out and practicing over and over will make us perfect. This procedure works when we are little children learning to recite the alphabet. It works when we are college students trying to remember dates in history class.

It is utterly ineffective in producing actual holiness, goodness and Chris-likeness. The reason is that holiness is not learned, it is given. It is not developed, it is imbued. It is not a process, it is a gift. Even people who know that fall into the trap of forgetting it. We all do. Our fleshly thinking keeps coming back, even though we know that we are saved from the penalty and guilt of sin and wrongdoing by Christ and kept by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. We fall into the error of thinking that we will be made more perfect and gain victory over sin by that same process that got us through high school without flunking out (if we didn’t). We focus on the law of God and memorize the laws of God and meditate on the law of God, thinking and hoping that all of these things, which are fleshly activities, will perfect us spiritually. We begin in the Spirit of God but fall back into trying to perfect ourselves in the flesh (see Galatians 3:3).

The fleshly process of attaining a spiritual attribute simply does not work. We see that in passages like Hebrews 10:14. Think about this…

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Christ, by His completed work, has already perfected us. We may not see it fully, but it has already been accomplished. There are plenty of other passages of the New Testament that tell us that. For example, see Romans 8:29-30, which says

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30, ESV

Only by grasping that truth, that Christ has already done the work for us and in us, can we hope to see the process that IS going on in us. He has (in the past tense) perfected us for all time, and because of that there is a change in us that we can expect to see and delight in seeing.

We are being sanctified, (that is, we are being made holy) by God. This is an ongoing process in which we are being acted upon. We are the recipients of the changing work of God, we are not the ones doing the working. God is sanctifying us, we are not sanctifying ourselves. That is also the concept we find in Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28, ESV

He is reshaping and reforming our lives to reflect the holiness that is already there. He is doing it by “all things” which are working together to accomplish that purpose of God in us.

After Hebrews 10:14, the author of Hebrews continues his description of the work of God. It is God’s work, not ours. It is a work in which we are being acted upon, not a work we are doing. Here’s how he describes it:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” -Hebrews 10:15-17

We tend to read this passage (quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34) as if we have to put the laws in our own hearts and write them on our own minds. We tend to think of this like being back in high school or college, and act like we are studying for a test. We overlook that this is a promise of God to those who are already in His Kingdom by the work of His Son and His Spirit, not an invitation to take an entrance exam to get into the Kingdom.

If we forget this, and act as if we can make ourselves holy by some process of self-correction, we are simply setting ourselves up for frustration. We will tend to miss that thing we are urged to do under the New Covenant. As Paul says in Romans 8:24-25

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Worse, we will be prone to glorify ourselves when holiness grows in us, thinking that we were instrumental in the process. Instead of giving God all the praise for our victory over sin, we will credit ourselves. That is the temptation of legalism –the idolatry of self-made holiness.

Christ already passed all the exams and earned the degree for us. Not only that, but He got perfect grades that WE get credited with. Now we are to walk as those who have attained what He has given us, but even that we can only do with His help.

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Filed under Christ's work, Legalism, Sin