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Left, Right, Or Right On? PDF Print E-mail

“Ye shall observe to do therefore as the Lord your God has commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways that the Lord your God has commanded you that ye may live and that it may be well with you...” (Deut. 5:32,33)

Watch out! Don't turn aside, for your own good! Could we but see it, our enemy the devil has set a snare to our left and dug a pit to our right. Deviate from the narrow way of God's word and commandment and we must surely fall into one or the other! The only safe way is to pass between - in the ways of the Lord.

When Christians consider how they should live, and what things they may or may not do, they find themselves called to walk a very narrow way between licentiousness and legalism - two cunning devices of the Devil.

On the left, a very small step off the pathway and very cunningly hidden, is the snare of licentiousness. That is the abuse of Christian liberty to use our freedom as an excuse to ignore God's law as the rule of thankful obedience. Licentiousness turns liberty into the servant of the strong fleshly desires of our remaining corruption (Galatians 5:13). A person who is snared by this lie will be progressively conforming himself to the sins of the age in which he lives, in order to satisfies his/her desires. The Devil lures souls into this snare in several ways. Sometimes he harps on one truth in order to rob them of another. He argues that being justified by faith alone they need have no concern for God's law as the rule of love and thankfulness. He whispers to them: “You are no longer under law, but under grace” therefore, as free from the law you may “sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1). Others who are not susceptible to this lie, he lures into a practical licentiousness over time, by holding before them the example of the fallen world, or worldly professors of religion. Then he says: “Why should you be different? They can do it without troubling their conscience, why not you?” To entice other kinds of people he has to mix both lies together. And he is patient, working away at us over years, and even over generations. He gets parents to press their liberty to the very limit so that he push their children one step further into the snare of licentiousness! How often does a parent's intemperate use of Christian liberty become the children's licence to sin.

On the right hand, yawns the pit of legalism. In conservative churches licentiousness snares its hundreds, but legalism swallows its thousands. Legalism is a lie of the devil that appeals to the “conservative” Christian and Church; but it is equally as dangerous and soul destroying as licentiousness. Full blown doctrinal legalism is the belief that a Christian must conform himself to certain outward standards and laws in order either to be, or remain, justified. Legalism is works righteousness that adds the believer's works of the law to Christ's righteousness (Gal. 2:16,3:21). In its milder and much more common form, practical legalism presents itself as “conservative Christianity and concern for godliness;” arguing that the only safe way for the Christian to relate to the world is to “disapprove and touch not, taste not, handle not.” “Keep yourself from ... then you will be safe and God will be pleased with you” is the working principle of practical legalism. Legalism is not a private tenderness and concern personally to keep far from sin, but a desire to enforce certain rules and conduct upon other that will ensure their separation from many things that are not forbidden by God, but are viewed as wrong, or as possibly leading to sin. This device of the devil turns all the attention away from Christ to the law; it entices souls into a mind-set of self-righteousness by externalising true piety and godliness as a system of dos and don'ts; and it fosters a censorious and judgmental spirit toward any who do not comform. In short, legalism produces hypocrites! How many children of legalistic parents go through the motions of striving to “be a good Christian” in their own strength, and when they can keep it up no longer, and the occasion presents itself, they reject the faith and are shot off into the sins of the age?

Satan is a deceitful enemy. Notice, that legalism boasts that it guards against licentiousness; and in response licentiousness presents itself as an antidote to legalism. Both, however, are lies of the devil; but in certain circumstances, when we are confronted and shocked by one or the other, they can appear to be the way the Lord calls us to walk! We must be keenly aware, that both are devices of the devil to ensnare and separate our souls from living union with Christ. Both must carefully be avoided.

But notice also, that the devil doesn't mind if you hate licentious worldliness like the plague - just so long as you are tending toward legalism! He will wait his chance to scare you over the edge! If not you, then he will give those you influence or your children the little shove they need. What is more, he doesn't mind a bit if you hate legalism and decry it as “the doctrine of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1) - just as long as you are tending toward worldly licentiousness! Either way, you see, you are out of the way having turned either to the left of to the right!

And finally remember, the enemy of our soul studies our character and predisposition to one or the other of these errors; and works to use what we might view as our strength against us to bring us undone. If you were a legalistic person and have been delivered from it with loathing - then beware of licentiousness. If you were once snared in the grip of the sins of this age and have been delivered - then beware of rushing headlong into legalism. And in this age where we see others, even in Reformed Churches, plunging into licentiousness under the guise of Christian liberty - we must beware of following them, and be equally wary of the enticement of Satan to resort to legalism in reaction.

Brethren, toward which of these two devices of the devil would you say you are inclined - at the present?

Our calling is to walk at liberty in Christ, and this means we walk by faith in the comfort of sins forgiven, and in willing, delightful, and sincere obedience to God's revealed will - out of thankfulness for the so great salvation we have in Christ Jesus.

Chris Connors
The Evangelical Presbyterian

Volume 13, January 1999

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