Sunday, 02 September 2001 00:00

The Kiss of Legalism

Luke 15:25-32 (KJV)

Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Jesus responds in Luke 15 to the accusation of the Pharisees that he "loves sinners and eats with them" (v.2) with three parables. Jesus says, in effect, "when I receive sinners and eat with them, it is like a shepherd seeking and finding a lost sheep and rejoicing; it is like a woman seeking and finding a lost coin and rejoicing; and it is like a Father running out to welcome home a rebellious son who is humbled and repentant." In v.25 the parable takes a turn. Instead of answering the question why He eats with sinners, Jesus answers the question why the Pharisees are NOT eating with Him. A Pharisee is one who sees himself as "more spiritual" than others. How do I know if I am a Pharisee?

  1. A legalist is full of arrogance...
    The elder brother is a picture of a person who is very prideful of his daily "obedience."
    1. The legalist prides himself in his service... "these many years do I serve thee."
      Look at what I have done! Look at how faithful I have been! Compared to me, my brother is washed up and washed out! Some see God as a Master in need of help. However, John Piper said: "Jesus did not come and hang out a help-wanted sign. He came and hung out a help-available sign." He is interested in sons, not slaves.
    2. The legalist exaggerates his performance... not once... have I transgressed."
      Whereas a son continually speaks of the goodness of his father because he's born into the family and has earned nothing, a 'perfect' slave has to point to his years of service, because in his mind he receives a reward based upon how good he is.
  2. A leglaist is full of anger...
    The elder brother is a picture of a person who gets angry with God and with others.
    1. He's angry with people because"they get off the hook too easy."
      Whereas grace demands a celebration, legalism demands accountability. The legalist will always feel that the penitent is "not sincere" or "too flippant."
    2. He's angry with God because"God is not fair."
      The elder brother says, "You have never given me a fatted calf!" In other words, I deserve more than my brother gets, and you haven't given it to me. Anytime a legalist has things go opposite of his desire, he blames God for the problems.
  3. A legalist is full of abandonment...
    The elder brother is a picture of a person who abandons people and ultimately God:
    1. Because people will never be like him...
      A legalist by nature will eventually have to isolate himself from the world. The legalist stays "outside" of the party. It is "Thy son," not "my brother."
    2. Because God will never reward him fully...
      In a world where God rewards service and inherent goodness, the legalist is happy. But when sinners receive the free grace of God and God's people, or when the legalist received the free grace of God and God's people, or when the legalist receives "trouble" then the legalist abandons his Father.
      The only solution for the legalist is breaking of his pride. He must come to the place where he either fails, and feels God's grace, or is humbled by God.

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