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,
(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Keep in mind that the definition of legalism, in scriptural context, is to work one’s way to salvation. It simply cannot be done. The Frowning Four in the cartoon above are familiar to most of us. Perhaps we’ve been part of that fearsome foursome. Most of us have, I think, when we disapprove of what others are doing. The irony, of course, is that our criticism of others is usually self-righteous and therefore not pleasing to God.
Paul asks an interesting question here. Since we profess to have died with Christ from the rudiments (basic principles) of the world, then why do we live under ordinances (rules and regulations) that keep us chained to the world we claim to have forsaken?
“Well, yes, Linda! We agree with that! As Christians, we have liberty and we no longer have to worry about the Old Testament law. We can live as we please!”
What’s wrong with that last sentence in the previous paragraph? I’ll tell you :). “We can live as we please!” No, that’s not true. It is true that keeping all sorts of rules will not earn us our salvation, but because we profess to love and serve God, we are obliged to live in a way that honors Him and is not a stumbling block to anyone else.
The difficulty arises in our apparent need to make and obey rules that are man-made, believing that we are serving God by doing so. “Don’t touch this, don’t taste that, don’t handle the other.”
Legalistic religion is full of such Do nots. Such a religion is defined more but what we don’t than by what we do.
True Christianity is and should be a matter of positive actions rather than negative reactions.
But don’t we need to have negative reactions to some things? Yes. Sexual immorality, for instance, is still wrong, just as it was according to Old Testament law. We are not, however, called upon to punish it by stoning the transgressor to death. We are called upon to confront sin, to plead with the transgressor to repent, and to be restored to a right relationship with God and with His people. That process doesn’t always end well, so instead of lifting that transgressor to God in prayer, we stone him with words, frowns, gossip and cold shoulders. Even when a person must be removed from membership in a church, we should continue to pray, to show the love of God as best we can, and to remember that there, but for the grace of God, goes any one of us.
Still, true Christianity, according to Jesus, is recognized by the way we love one another (John 13:35), not by the way we scrutinize one another.
Too often, the things that are forbidden in this age of grace, are forbidden by the laws of man, and not the commandment of God. This subject has been debated from the beginning of the New Testament church, and probably will be debated until Jesus comes and puts an end to the debate.
If I have certain standards for myself that I believe are based in God’s Word, then I have an obligation to Him to live up to those standards. What I am NOT obligated to do is to impose them on everyone else.
I have seen, more than once, changes in a person’s life when he comes to Christ. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17). This change comes about through the conviction of the Holy Spirit; through examples set by other believers, and by the power of the Word of God.