We’ve been looking at the “3rd type” of legalism, which is a counterfeit gospel. Another way to see the difference between moralism and the gospel call to obedience is this: the gospel calls us to an obedience we cannot complete in ourselves, and so drives us ever deeper into Christ.
I’d written the paragraph above and several of those below when, yesterday, I came on this article at The Shepherd’s Scrapbook. In this very well-written piece Tony reminds us that eschewing legalism should not bring us to think little of obedience, or consider it a minor requirement. I especially like the way he ends the article (you should read the whole thing):
…His Cross can sustain the weight of these high demands.
Here is what I’m getting at. In light of the coming tragedy, Christ raises the bar of obedience and fruit-bearing expectations for His disciples. This is how Jesus saw fit to comfort His disciples in the coming storm! He knew the higher the bar was raised in personal obedience the deeper He would drive the disciples into Himself.
We cannot miss this: The high calling to pursue personal obedience will (graciously) press the saint into Christ and into the Cross. And this means, at a profound level, the Cross-centered life is compromised by laziness in the pursuit of personal obedience. [emphasis original]
In Mark 12, a Pharisee (law-teachers were Pharisees) asked Jesus: “Which of the 613 laws in the Old Testament is the most important? 613 commandments are waaaaay too many — that’s crushing! Give us the main thing, give us some sort of keepable, doable, minimum requirement for heaven. Help us!”
Jesus answers: “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
In other words, Jesus says, “I’ll help you out. We’ll reduce the laws to just two. Everything for God, absolutely, 100% completely, no mistake, no missing, no diminishing, ALL. Nothing less will do. Nothing less.
“And from there, love others like you love yourself.
“There are two for you…and all the laws hang on them. Every single one of those 613 require full-hearted commitment to God, and God alone, and must be obeyed in complete love.”
That’s it. That’s all God requires. Simple. Everything in everything, and far more than you’ve ever begun to realize.
Simple, and impossible. We sinners can never get there.
The moralist is crushed. He knows enough to see that he can’t do it. This exceeds all sacrifice and burnt offering! There’s no way I can have any of my faults or failures covered!
Rather than have the 613 reduced down to a manageable amount, Jesus reveals the terrifying truth (v. 34) that law-keeping is far more crushing than this trembling Pharisee had ever realized.
The law-teacher basically says so. “This is more than any worship can bring. This is more than all our entire moral system.” And through the crowd, no one dares ask any more questions. His responses are too terrible.
And Jesus responds: “You are not far from the kingdom.”
This legalist is broken, he’s crushed, he sees the futility of his entire system…and he’s arrived at a good place! Because the gospel of Jesus Christ crushes our legalistic framework, and then as we begin to see our brokenness and sinfulness and neediness, points us to our Savior. He comes for the lost, he comes for the sinners, not the righteous. And this trembling Pharisee is beginning to see his abject, sinful, lostness. Ahh…not far from the kingdom! You see your need; now, see your Savior!
The gospel doesn’t make obedience less, it makes it more. It shows us a level, a weight, that only the cross can bear. And it calls us to come in to the cross, come deeply in to a Savior who has kept all the law for us, and borne all the punishment of our failure. Come in joy and thanksgiving and worship, and come in faith-dependence upon him. We’re still called to no less than to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…but we rejoice that he has loved on our behalf, and brought us into the relationship of love where this can now be begun!
The law is to be lived in love; love is found in the cross, in the Savior, in the gospel. Here is where obedience was affirmed, and here is where it begins.
The gospel does not end the need of our obedience. It begins for us, in us, the law living in love. In relation to God, in Christ, it is the life of joyful, full-hearted response.