Legalism vs grace; the battle rages on and on and on

The battle between legalism and grace has raged in the Church since the First Century. The Jewish Christians wanted to retain elements of The Law while the Gentile Christians desired none of The Law. The apostle Paul pulled his hair out trying to preserve the unity of faith in the bond of peace, but the legalistic influence was so strong it prevailed in most areas in the end.

Paul spends an entire epistle (Galatians) trying to reason with and persuade the Galatians to wake up and understand what Jesus Christ did and accomplished through His death and resurrection. At the counsel in Acts 15 the men involved almost came to blows over the wording of an official proclamation regarding this subject. The arguments were passionate on both sides of the aisle.

Each of the original 12 apostles were Jewish converts to Christianity. Each one of them must have grappled with this subject most of their lives. They were raised under The Law but they knew what Jesus had taught them and thus they had to know something profound was taking place. They had to have known that whatever it was, it would make their old legalistic religion undesirable and unnecessary.

When Jesus Himself personally called Saul on the road to Damascus, He specifically ordained him to be the minister to the Gentiles. Saul, who became Paul, was himself a Jew above all Jews and the idea of preaching to and being a pastor to the Gentiles had to have utterly repulsed him. If it were not for the personal prodding of Jesus along with the time he spent alone in the wilderness, Paul would have rejected the idea as pure heresy and told Jesus to choose someone else.

Paul did indeed become the minister to the Gentiles just as the original apostles were ministers to the Jews who became Christians. Paul’s ministry took him to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Rome among others. Paul’s message (preserved for us in his epistles) is dramatically different than the message of James, Jude and even Peter whose ministry was to Jewish believers.

The Jews hated Paul as much as Paul used to hate Christians. They followed him, mocked him, beat him and thought they had killed him. They believed that if they could kill the messenger of grace they would kill the message. The legalistic tap root runs deep and is not easily modified or destroyed.

Although a miniscule number of Christians believe it, if we would concentrate on the epistles of Paul which are addressed to those with Gentile backgrounds we would see the unmistakable foundation of grace as opposed to a legalistic tap root. Assuming Paul wrote the epistle of Hebrews (no one knows for sure), it represents his final attempt to convince legalistic Jewish born Christians that grace did away with animal sacrifices and all other elements of the law when it comes to remission of sins etc.

There is no question that what is recorded in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians is very different than what is found in Hebrews, James, Jude and to some extent 1 and 2 Peter. Put together all these epistles are the Word of God, but we would spare ourselves much confusion and turmoil if we looked at those sections of the Word of God specifically addressed TO US as being FOR US and the other sections as being FOR OUR LEARNING.


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