A life of obedience is to legitimately follow Jesus in order to fulfill the purpose that He designed us for on this earth. Legalism means that we can follow a set of rules to control God’s favor toward us. It means our behavior makes God obligated to save and bless us. God exposes this legalistic concept as ludicrous in the book of Job.
Job 41:11“Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
This leaves us to answer one of life’s great questions. Are we obeying out of legalism or love? I don’t believe God is trying to get us so preoccupied with analyzing our true motivations that we become paralyzed from making a move in any direction for fear of false motivation. But I do believe it is one of the most challenging questions we constantly have to answer in order to serve our purpose, in peace, before God.
Lets be clear, we are saved by grace apart from any works or merit on our part. We enter our spiritual journey by grace or we cannot be saved. No one has ever earned their way to heaven. Paul could not state this more clearly than in the following passage.
Galatians 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
In other words, if heaven’s attainment is the ultimate do-it-yourself project, then Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection had absolutely no purpose. That’s a shocking statement that should ground us in who does what to provide our salvation.
But Jesus makes equally shocking statements as it relates to discipleship and He wants everyone who followed Him into salvation to follow Him into discipleship.
Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple
Salvation is free but discipleship costs us everything. We can’t confuse discipleship with salvation because that confusion will either end up causing us to work to earn salvation or it will cause us to water down the true cost of discipleship. In other words, to function as an obedient disciple, we have to understand that we are in eternal relationship with God based on His grace and mercy and our failure as a disciple does not cause us to lose our salvation. That understanding will free our souls to lay everything we possess, in this life, on the altar to follow Jesus. We will be able to do this because we will not confuse our obedience to His call to discipleship with earning our way to heaven. We will be free from the arrogance of legalism to lovingly follow Jesus as He leads us to abundant living.
Until we settle this issue we will stay stuck in the pendulum swings from grace to legalism. We will, on the one hand distort grace into living however we want by exploiting our flesh and messing up our lives. Or on the other extreme, we will live in insecurity and terror with every little failure as a disciple. This will cause us to think we have lost our salvation or never had it to begin with. It will doom us to a life of perfectionism, striving to please God without the possibility of peace with Him.
So how do we reconcile the seemingly opposing concepts of grace and obedience? I believe that only the Holy Spirit can merge these two concepts into a life motivated by love to where we are not in a constant tug-of-war between grace and legalism.
We have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead living on the inside of us from the moment we received Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit can cause us to grasp the magnitude of the free gift of salvation and parlay that into a life that lovingly surrenders to Jesus and obeys the Spirit’s leading. An obedient dependence on the Holy Spirit is the only cure to our self-centered tendency to fall into legalism and sin produced by our flesh’s desire to control our own lives. Self-indulgence and strict legalism are simply two sides of the same self-centered coin.
Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.