Previous article in this series: October 1, 2013, p. 7.
The History of the Concept Worldview
In considering the transition from the Old to the New Testament, we have seen the glory that the light of Christ shines upon our way of living as God’s people.
Having been redeemed by Christ, we have been made children of our heavenly Father, taken into the very fellowship of God Himself, His own covenant life. With joy we confess with the apostle in, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!”
To live in that covenant relationship with the Holy One, to live as the bride of Christ, is to live in the liberty with which Christ has made us free. With the perfect law of liberty written in our hearts, we are free to serve God in thankfulness for our relationship to Him and for the treasures that are ours in Christ Jesus.
The New Testament, therefore, with its clearer light of revelation, points us to Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament ordinances and inveighs against the children of God being brought into bondage again to the law or to the commandments and doctrines of men.
Legalism would rob us of the treasures of Christ by making our religion one of externals and placing the focus on what we do rather than on who we are—children of the kingdom of our Father.
If we are to lay hold of the Reformed worldview, it is important that we understand this error.
From a certain point of view, legalism is appealing to us. If there were not an attractiveness to legalism, this would not be a threat to us, and the Holy Spirit would not have had to give us warning through the inspired apostle. To our sinful flesh there is a certain appeal in legalism, even a strong attraction—especially when we don’t want to come to grips with our personal spiritual deficiencies and sins.
To keep the focus on that which cannot be seen, to look to Christ, not only in what we believe but in our life’s practice, is not easy for us who are so earthly-minded. To put off the old man, to guard our tongues, to live in love one for another, to walk in holiness—those are difficult for us, indeed impossible, when we are not holding to the preeminence of Christ.
Much easier it is to make religion a mere outward expression of what we think it ought to be. Much easier to set the standards as low as following this rule and that rule, than it is to strive after God’s standard of love.
And so legalism produces a surface religion, with its adherents emphasizing things that have no basis in the Bible or that are not important, while at the same time ignoring the deep things of God, even the proper place of the law in the life of the Christian.
Legalism would limit us to a shallow self-righteousness, ignoring such deadly sins as gossiping and coveting, bitterness and hatred, slandering and refusing to forgive. And, as is evident from, legalism breeds a certain judgmental attitude that is not grounded in biblical principle, but is rather a wretched, soul-destroying expression of pride. Those who don’t abide by those self-determined ordinances of the legalist are judged to be lesser Christians, if they are Christians at all.
No greater threat is there to joyful Christianity, to peace in the church, to joyful living in covenant fellowship with the God who made us free. No greater threat is there to the Reformed worldview than that of legalism.
To be brought back into bondage, to be held to ordinances after the commandments and doctrines of men, is to be led into a form of Christianity—and it is only a form—that is without joy, that is oppressive, that will certainly drive the youth of the church away. God forbid we succumb to such foolishness, as attractive as the devil might make it to our flesh!
The reason for guarding the treasures of the Christian faith and soundly rejecting every form of legalism is that we and our children must live in the consciousness of the glory of our Redeemer. That must guide our life. The glory of our Redeemer and our life in Him must be the foundation of the Reformed worldview.
With “the mind of Christ” () we view all things, including our calling in the midst of this world. In the light of His Word we bring to expression the mind of Christ, seeking to do the will of our heavenly Father.
So we also understand the warning of the apostle against legalism in: “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?”
The apostle is not denying the place of God’s ordinances in our lives. He is rejecting and telling the members of the church in Colosse to reject those ordinances that would bind us “after the commandments and doctrines of men” (v. 22).
We love the ordinances that Christ has established. We yet sing with the psalmist, “O, how love I Thy law.” That Word of God is the rule for us as we long to express our thankfulness to God for these great treasures that are ours in Christ Jesus. To walk in the light of the Word, in obedience to the God of our salvation, is our delight as those who love Him with all our heart and soul and mind. Indeed, that law is written upon our hearts ().
But Paul sounds a clear warning against those who would make our Christian life one of externals, who would bind us to practices and ordinances that rob us of the joy of living in fellowship with our Redeemer, who would take our minds off the preeminent Christ and His glory.
Christ alone is the One to whom the entire church owes her spiritual growth.
In Christ alone the entire body is supported and held together.
In Christ alone we have our life, and by His Holy Spirit our sanctification.
To live, therefore, with the exalted Christ before our minds is foundational to the Reformed worldview.
Apart from Christ, apart from living in the consciousness of the treasures that are ours in Him, our spiritual life will deteriorate, our perspective will be clouded, and our purpose will be corrupted.
A church so affected can only disintegrate.
In Christ we have been made full. In Christ we have been given the calling to live to His glory, seeking the things above, and putting all earthly things to the service of that end. In the fellowship of Christ alone is the fullness of joy ().
We can easily fall into legalism and its accompanying self-righteousness, fault-finding, and joylessness.
We can easily succumb to a proud, elitist spirit that contributes nothing to the welfare of the congregation or Christ’s church.
We can easily fall before those errors because the sinfulness of our nature is inclined to such proud rebellion against God.
The answer to legalism is the continual focus upon the riches of Christ.
Let us understand the profound nature of our salvation.
Let us live with our consciences free from the bondage of ordinances that are against us.
Let us know that in Christ all is ours, and we are God’s—to the glory of His name.
Let our gaze as penitent sinners be upon the preeminent Christ, as we look up to Him from the foot of the cross. In Him is our joy, and the joy of our children.
That comes to expression even in our life in the midst of this world.
In the words of, it comes to expression especially in seeking the things above.