Make it happen, grab the promise—or not

Legalism

In the kingdom of God, we are tempted to make things happen. Common sense tells us to take matters into our own hands, because it won’t fall out of the sky into our laps.

The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise.
Galatians 4.23 NLT

Hagar’s son was born because Sarah arranged for her husband Abraham to sleep with the servant girl. Paul’s phrase is literally, “according to the flesh,” which Paul uses in several different senses, depending on the context. Most translations take it here to mean the normal human means of conception and birth. The NLT, however, understands Paul’s phrase to refer to the “human attempt” to make God’s promise come to pass. The Message paraphrases it as “by human connivance.”

The NLT rendering fits the direction that Paul takes with the introduction of Hagar and Sarah. Whoever tries to win God’s approval by human attempts, such as conformity to the law, winds up a slave and, eventually, is cast out (verses 30-31). This is the approach today called legalism, a term not found in the Bible.

So it is interesting that Protestants especially love to condemn legalism, often confusing it with the necessary obedience to the commands of Christ, while at the same time, along with other groups, creating entire religious systems out of whole cloth. Denominations, clergy systems and hierarchies, systematic theologies, worship rituals, special days of observance, food requirements, religious orders and associations, huge, ornate temples all attest to “human attempts” to realize the promise of God on earth. All condemned to failure.

It turns out that those most obsessed with legalism may well be those most guilty of it.

Father, thank you for the freedom we have because Christ has brought us forgiveness. May we stand ever in the simplicity of the gospel, faithful to his Word, sure of your promise.

Hold this thought: Freedom is given freely in Christ, at great cost, and can be surrendered by grandiose human attempts at religion.

What do you think?