You will recall that legalism is the theme of the June Tabletalk (the subtitle says it all: “the delusion of man-made religion”). In the last full-featured article on the subject, Dr. Sean M. Lucas addresses how to overcome legalism, with the revealing subtitle – “Let No One Disqualify You.”
His answer to the sin of legalism is really simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of who Christ is for us, what He has done for us, and what we are in Him.
Here is a part of what he has to say (worth your time reading the rest of his article too):
This gospel formation means that Christianity really isn’t about rule-keeping. To be sure, a Christian obeys God’s Word, but the way to obedience is not by focusing on keeping the rules, flying right, and doing better. At the heart of what Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is to explode the notion that righteousness is about external obedience to the law. When He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), He tells us that the way to righteousness is not through mere external obedience. Instead, the way to a righteous life is the Spirit’s inside-out transformation as we progress in living into the gospel. As we use the means of grace—including corporate worship that centers on the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, as well as private worship—God meets us, drives the gospel into our hearts, confronts our patterns of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and makes us new.
But this sort of gospel transformation takes time. We progress in it as we are formed and shaped and molded by the Spirit’s work. As we go further up and farther in, we see more sin, confront more deception, believe more gospel, receive more divine comfort. We learn by experience and gain wisdom and insight as we turn from folly to reverence and love the Lord.
And here’s the thing: as we live in step with the Spirit, we actually live in ways that “keep the rules.” Those who bear the Spirit-fruit of love will be those who keep the two tables of the Ten Commandments. Those who bear joy will know the strength to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Those who bear peace will be whole and wholesome, not restless or anxious. And so forth. We keep the rules, not by focusing on them as merely deeds that must be done, but by focusing our hearts on Jesus, who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing by the Spirit in us to make us fulfill the law.