Selective Obedience: The Real Legalism

How can I know I am saved? In answer to this question, some have looked to themselves, seeking to earn or deserve salvation. This is legalism, and it is wrong.
Salvation is by the grace of God. As we sing in the old hymn: “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.” There is nothing I can add to the work done for me by Christ. As the apostle wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
Grace, however, is conditional. Not everyone will be saved, but only those who accept God’s free gift through repentance and faith, as expressed in the good confession, in baptism, and in the faithful life which begins with baptism’s new birth.
The Community Church movement, however, cheapens grace by teaching a gospel devoid of penitent faith. Using “grace” as a catch-phrase, they dismiss any call to obedience as “legalism”.
Perhaps no holy word has been more desecrated in the current apostasy than the word “grace”. Sometimes I hear people complain that the Community Church teaches too much about grace. This, however, is not possible. As we sometimes sing:
“could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”
The problem is never that truth is taught too much, but rather that what is taught is not true. God’s grace, in Scripture, means forgiveness of error. In the Community Church movement, grace has come to mean acceptance or indifference towards error.
While the Community Church confesses Christ with its lips, its heart is far from him. For healing to come, hearts must be changed. There must be both repentance and the fruit appropriate for a penitent heart.
The Bible is a book of grace, revealing our Lord as the loving husband who buys back the unfaithful wife. This is the power of the restoration principle: not that we are perfect, but that we aspire to the perfect standard. If we are faithful in the small things, God’s grace will permit us to be faithful in much.
The Community Church Movement, however, does not stress repentance, but rather acceptance as a response to grace. This emphasis comes through clearly in the hallmark question of the Community Church Movement: “Is that a salvation issue?” Implicitly, this question consigns most, if not all, doctrinal and moral matters into the dustbin of irrelevance.
Selective obedience is the greatest legalism threatening the church today. Rather than believing God’s objective way of salvation, the Community Church movement has presumed to decide for themselves who is saved and who is lost. Setting themselves up to decide which commandments are required and which are optional, they set themselves up to play God. The way of faith accepts God’s right to command without question. The concept of selective obedience springs from a lack of faith.
In contrast to this infidelity, the Bible shows clearly that repentance is a salvation issue. A Christian, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ, is not free to indulge in selective obedience. If it is the will of God that I sing to him without instrumental accompaniment, for example, I disobey God’s will in this matter at the risk of my soul. Every aspect of our obedience to God is a salvation issue, not only the things which are culturally convenient, but (more importantly) those aspects of obedience which cause us to deny ourselves.
None of us is perfect. We are not perfect in our doctrinal understanding, so we continue to study the Scriptures. We are not perfect in our attitudes nor in our actions, so we continue to repent and to rely on God’s mercy. We are sorry we have failed in our service to God. Loving the Lord, we want to please him in every way.
The Restoration ideal is simply applied repentance, recognizing that God’s way is right and must be followed in all things. Such obedience is not legalism. It is humble service before a gracious God.

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Greg Tidwell

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