Those who misunderstand law and grace often call those who have standards and strong convictions “legalists.” In so doing, they reveal their misunderstanding of the Scriptures. A legalist is one who adds something to salvation apart from grace through faith.
Legalism is adding good works, baptism, church membership, communion, confirmation, or confession, to faith. These sometimes sincere but misguided ones point us to II Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” However, they do not understand the meaning. They would say that since the coming of the Holy Spirit during this age, rules are no longer important and that standards are of little value, but they misunderstand II Corinthians 3:17. They interpret the words, “Where the Spirit of the Lord, there is, liberty,” to mean that where the Spirit of the Lord is, the Christian is at perfect liberty. All he must do is follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and this is the only law, rule or standard. They forget that the Spirit of the Lord WROTE the Book and that the Book IS Spirit! John 6:63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Hence the Holy Spirit does not have to lead a person when He has already spoken. For example, it is very plain in the Bible that the Holy Spirit wants ladies to wear modest clothing. I Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” It is likewise plain that a man is not to have long hair. I Corinthians 11:14, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” Now when the Spirit writes in His Book a standard or rule, it is as much the Spirit’s leading as if we ask Him in prayer to lead us in some intangible way.
These interpreters of the Bible also misunderstand the work “liberty.” The liberty here is not talking about the liberty of the believer. God is not saying here that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty for the believer to do as he wills. He is talking about where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty for the Holy Spirit to work and do as HE wills.
These students of the Bible also would lead us to believe that in this age all of the rules and standards have been broken down and that there has been a change now. They are right in one thing. There has been a change. They are wrong, however, in their teaching that God’s expectations of us and from us are less than they were in the Old Testament. Notice Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” This verse teaches us that on this side of Calvary we have moved to a new country. Hence, we are under a different law. We are now under the law of love. However, God expects more from us under the law of love than He did under the written law.
Notice Matthew 5:17-22, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the counsel: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Now, decide in your own mind during which age God expected the most. He tells us that under the old law, man was not to kill, but under the new law a man that is angry or calls his brother a fool commits an equal sin.
Now notice Matthew 5:27, 28, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Under the old law, man was not to commit adultery; under the new law, he is not to look at a woman and lust after her in his heart. In which age does God expect the most?
Now notice Matthew 5:31, 32, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The old law said if a man puts away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement; the new law said that there is only one reason for this divorce.
Now read Matthew 5:38-40, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” Notice, the stricter law is the law of love.
Now read Matthew 43, 44, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Notice in how many cases our Lord reminds us that under the law of love we are to go beyond the law of the letter.
Now turn to II Corinthians 3:6, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” These words teach us clearly that we are to do the same in this age of the law of love and the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus as we were to do under the law of sin and death. However, there is a DIFFERENT REASON for our actions. The letter killeth and has been pronounced guilty. Now the spirit has brought life. The law was never punished by spiritual death but by physical death. Hence, we keep it, not to avoid death but in order that we may realize the only way to receive life is through Jesus Christ. Basically, the difference between the old law and the new law is that we have just changed reasons for doing the same thing.
Here is a person who goes to work in a new job. He does his job because he has character. He doesn’t particularly like his boss, but he realizes his responsibilities and fulfills them. For months he works under those conditions until one day it dawns on his that a boss is a nice person, and whereas he used to have a distaste for the boss, now he loves him. He still does the same responsibilities under this new found love that he did under his old legalism. He is doing the same thing he always did, maybe even a little more, but he has a new purpose and a new motive.
Here is a teenager who is made to iron her dad’s shirts. She doesn’t want to, but she has character and so she obeys the orders given to her by her parents. Then one day she gets married. Now she irons the same number of shirts that she ironed before, but she does it through love. She doesn’t have the liberty to quit ironing shirts; she irons shirts just as she always did, but now she does it through love, not through the letter of the law. The same standard prevails, but the is a different reason and incentive.
The story is told of slaves who were emancipated by Abraham Lincoln and yet who chose to return to their masters and serve as they always had. These were called bond slaves. Hence, should not we in this age have stricter standards and go beyond those of the letter of the law?
God has not changed His mind about right and wrong. What was wrong in the Old Testament is wrong in the New. What was wrong 3500 years ago is wrong today.
Now let us return to II Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” We are not the ones who have that liberty mentioned in this verse; `its the Holy Spirit Who has the liberty to tell us what to do! This means, where the Spirit of the Lord is in a life, the Holy Spirit may feel free to have the liberty to control us and to command us.
This is not our having the liberty to work as we will, but the Holy Spirit having the liberty to be able to work through us as HE wills.
Here is a dating couple. They think they like each other enough to go steady. The young man asks the young lady if she will give up all other young men and not go with anyone else. This she does. Then the day comes when he asks her to marry him. Now he is saying, “From now on, you go only with me.” These are two ways of saying the same thing. Right and wrong have not changed, but the reason has changed.
It is necessary, to begin with, the law in the life of a child. We tell him he can’t do this and he can’t do that, and we chasten him if he disobeys. There comes a time in his life, however, when he can transfer his actions to love. He still does not do the wrong and he still does the right, but he does it because of love.
This is what the liberty of the Spirit means. When the Spirit of the Lord is present in a life, the is liberty. There is liberty for him to tell us what to do and what not to do. These may be things that we did not do before because of rules and standards, but in every case, the manner of behavior exceeds under the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus that which was under the law of the letter.
by Dr. Jack Hyles