Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.

“That’s Legalism and Bondage!”
The Loose-Living Christian’s Excuse

Summary:  “That’s bondage and legalism,” say many churchgoers when the pastor preaches on living a holy life. Another reply you’ll hear sometimes is, “I’m not into a ‘works’ trip.” Sadly, reactions like these are often based on either ignorance of the Scriptures or, which is far worse, a willful disregard for the Bible’s consistent, unwavering call to holy living. Some may reply to this with, “But aren’t we ‘called to be free’?” Yes, of course we are, but it’s not a freedom to sin or walk carnally. Let’s see what God’s Word says.

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Galatians 5:13, 16, 24  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh… [16] So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… [24] Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

The context in Galatians of our being “called to be free” is a freedom from much of the rigid codes and systems of the Mosaic Law — things such as animal sacrifice; a limited, selective priesthood; the necessity of circumcision, and the like. As John wrote (John 1:17), “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

However, the grace and truth which came through Jesus never canceled the timeless moral principles that we read in Moses’ Law. In this regard, the great New Testament apostle Paul wrote: “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good… the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:12,14). The Law’s demands for holy, sanctified lives by God’s people are consistently reaffirmed in the New Testament.

Titus 2:11-14  For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

The “legalism and bondage” accusations often stem from a nonbiblical, permissive definition of grace that is taught to justify looseness in living by professed believers. But the New Testament concept of God’s grace is far from loose and permissive. To the contrary, the grace that saves us (vs. 11) also “…teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness … and to live…godly lives in this present [New Testament] age.” We are to serve and to look in faith and hope for the Second Coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness” and to make of us a “people…eager to do what is good.” It was not “bondage and legalism” for the great apostle Paul to exhort God’s people to live holy, godly lives and to be eager to do what is good. And it is not bondage and legalism for Christians today to exhort other believers to pursue holiness.

Titus 3:5, KJV  Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

Ephesians 2:8-10, KJV  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The “legalism” charges sometimes come from a misunderstanding of the role of works in the Christian’s life. You may have heard a fellow believer say, “I’m not into a ‘works’ trip.” And that is unfortunate, because we are commanded by God (vs. 10) to “walk in” good works. However, the chronological order is important.

I wasn’t born again until age 25, in February 1969. I had been raised in a denomination that believed one is saved through a combination of faith and good works. Being not yet saved myself, I had no capability of walking consistently in the good works supposedly needed to get saved, leading to an ongoing sense of futility. Then, at age 25, I first heard the Gospel truth that by grace we are saved, through faith, not by works. As the truth of salvation by grace through faith (not by works) penetrated my soul, I came to Jesus in faith and repentance and was wonderfully saved. I even had a mental vision of Jesus the Savior, as I have written elsewhere.

But thankfully the Lord also drew my attention to Ephesians 2:10. Now that I was saved/born again, I understood that I was now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The wonderful revelation came: we don’t do good works to get saved; we do them because we are saved. Now saved, we enter upon a lifetime of walking in the Spirit, walking in holiness, walking in obedience to God’s Word, walking in the good works that God has “before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Acts 2:40, NKJV  And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.

In his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter exhorted the new believers to be saved from something — “from this perverse generation (NKJV) … “from this corrupt generation” (KJV). This is entirely consistent with Jesus’ earthly mission: to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Referring to their former sexual immorality, lust, evil desires, and more, the apostle Paul wrote that the Colossians believers “used to walk in these ways, in the life [they] once lived” (Colossians 3:5,7). But as born-again children of God, they were now to “put to death” those evils (vs. 5). Sadly, if a pastor preaches that today, in many American churches he would be accused of bringing the people back into “legalism,” an accusation which, as we have seen, is often the loose-living Christian's excuse for carnal living.

Romans 10:9  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This verse disproves one issue of wrong thinking that is widely held among American Christians today. It typically goes something like this: “I accepted Jesus as my Savior, then some time later I made Him my Lord.” This is absolutely contrary to God’s Word in the Scriptures.

The Bible never teaches that we can accept Jesus as Savior, but not accept Him as Lord. Quite to the contrary, the apostle clearly taught that if we declare with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” we will “be saved.” The very name Jesus carries the connotation of salvation from sins (Matthew 1:21). However, it is the confessing of Jesus the Savior as Lord that brings us salvation (Romans 10:9). And that includes our willingness to allow His Lordship to affect every area of our lives, our thoughts, and our conduct.

Ephesians 4:22, 24  …to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires … [24] and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

When we come to Jesus in faith and repentance and become born-again sons and daughters of God, something changes in us. We become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) — “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (KJV). The Amplified Classic version reads: “Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!”

The Christian is to put off his old self and to put on the new self, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” To those who take refuge in the legalism excuse, I would challenge you to consider this clearly-stated purpose of our being new creations in Christ. That is, that we are called to become like God in…holiness.” Far from being legalistic, that verse exhorts us toward one of the greatest imaginable blessings — increasing conformity to the image of God.

1 John 3:22  And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

Jesus said of His own relationship to God the Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29, NASB). The apostle John encourages us to do the same: “to keep [God’s] commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”

Take a moment for some sincere self-examination. Are your life, your thoughts, your words and deeds committed to pleasing God always? Or have you settled for a life that walks the line somewhere between holiness and looseness, even carnality? If the latter, you can change that instantly by coming to the Lord in sincere repentance for loose living. He will forgive you and, by His Spirit in you, will give you both the desire and the ability to walk in ways that are pleasing to Him (Philippians 2:13).

Philippians 3:12, NKJV  Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

If your self-examination before the Lord reveals shortcomings in your walk with God, repent as we said just above, and expect a new, changed direction in your life. Don’t be discouraged when you see how short of a perfect walk you are. Remember the exhortation of the great apostle Paul. He realized that he had “not…already attained” and that he was “not…already perfected.” He still needed growth in his walk with the Lord. But we should take his counsel and “press on” in our pursuit of the Lord and our walk with Him. God will be faithful to respond to your sincere desire to serve Him better. He will forgive and encourage and equip you to walk closer and closer to Him as you pursue the biblical goal of being “like God in true holiness.” And that, my fellow believers, is the farthest thing imaginable from “bondage and legalism”!

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Pentecostal Sermons and
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by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.