Legalism or Faith
Will we ever learn that faith is God’s work in us, not our work for God? All men by nature are legalists. We all naturally assume that there is something we can and must do to distinguish ourselves from others and recommend ourselves to God. One of the most subtle forms of legalism is found in the attempts of almost all “Christian” religions to make faith in Christ a legal work by which man contributes his part to the work of Christ for justification before God.
Fallen man, in his vain, self-justifying legalism, tries to make the cross of Christ of non-effect. Man tries hard to get away from the cross. If he does not openly deny the doctrine of the cross, he alters its meaning, takes away its offense, and tries to make it congenial to the tastes of his own lusts. The trend of the day is to transfer the merit and virtue of Christ crucified to some act performed, or something experienced, or something felt by the sinner. Thus the legalist, with a pretense of defending the cross, nullifies its simplicity, denies its saving efficacy, and makes it of non-effect. Either the Lord Jesus Christ saves us by himself, completely, or not at all! We either find complete justification in the cross, or no justification at all. We do not come to Christ by faith to justify ourselves, but to find complete justification in him.
True faith does not make salvation partly the work of the Savior and partly the work of the sinner. Faith is the acknowledgment that Christ alone is our Savior, and that he saves alone. Faith adds nothing to the work of Christ. Faith contributes nothing, but receives everything. It owns the fulness, and sufficiency, and suitableness of the crucified Son of God. It bids farewell forever to all works, ceases from labor, and enters into rest. Faith does not come to Calvary to do, but to embrace. Faith beholds the glorious spectacle of all things done, and rejoices! Faith has no doubt about the efficacy of Christ’s finished work. Faith hears the Savior cry, "It is finished," and says, "Amen!"
Where faith begins, labor ends. Yes, believing sinners walk in and maintain good works. -- God has ordained it. -- The love of Christ compels it. -- Grace experienced demands it. But the believer repents of his dead works of self-righteousness and ceases trying to obtain life and pardon, justification and peace from God by what he does or does not do. Faith is rests on Christ alone. Faith is the giving up all our weary efforts to do or feel something good, in order to induce God to love and pardon us. Faith the calm reception of the gospel’s good news so long rejected. -- Grace is free! Sinners are justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Faith is the acknowledgment of the fact that there is no goodness, righteousness, or merit in us. Faith looks to Christ and Christ alone for goodness, righteousness, and merit before God. Faith finds in Christ that “Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” We sometimes speak of faith as “saving faith.” That term is accurate only if we understand that faith saves, because it finds complete salvation in another, not because it contributes something for salvation. The whole work is his, not ours, from beginning to end. Faith does not believe in itself, but in the Son of God. Like the beggar, it receives everything, but gives nothing. It consents to be a debtor forever to the free grace, boundless mercy, and everlasting love of God in Christ. Faith’s resting-place is Christ, the foundation laid in Zion. Faith rejoices in the Substitute, not in itself. Faith’s song is, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us." AMEN.