There are two thieves of the working of the gospel in Christian life. One is antinomianism, which abuses Christian freedom given by the gospel by rejecting the obligatory nature of God’s moral law in the name of Grace. The other is legalism which restricts the freedom that the gospel gives by binding the life to practices and rules. Legalism is, by definition, adding anything to the finished work of Christ, trusting in anything other than, or in addition to Christ and His work on the cross for our righteousness. Both are destructive behaviors that block the sanctification of the Christian life.
There are Christians who think that they can do whatever they want to do, and live however they want to live because they are under grace. That is so far from the truth of the gospel. On the other hand, there are other Christians who bind themselves to various unbiblical practices and rules and not being able to exercise the freedom that Christ has obtained for them. The issue here is a personal preference over the Biblical principles. We must stick with Biblical principles.
Both these errors stem from the same fleshy motives, seeking to oppose one error with the other. We do not correct the error of legalism by bringing some forms of antinomianism, and we do not correct the error of antinomianism by bringing some forms of legalism. The cross continues to show us the cure for the legalism and antinomianism. Our motivation for Christian conduct is what Christ has done for us on the cross. Are we then exempted from the Law? No, Christians are commanded in the New Testament to maintain God’s moral law. But you can’t be saved by maintaining His moral law. You do not have the capacity for that. The moral law is a goal to which every believer shoots. God’s moral law is still operative. Christians still obliged to maintain the moral ethics of God in the power of the Spirit out of love for God, but not bounded to man-mad practices and ceremonial routines.
Grace enables us to abide
There is only one way to be saved, that’s by grace, through faith in Christ alone. The cry of our hearts will be, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:20-21). Grace eliminates boasting; it silences all our self-righteousness and our contribution. Grace demolishes legalism. On the other hand, grace enables us to appreciate the law that condemns Christ for our sins.
The more we become aware of this truth, the more we grow in our love of the Gospel and the One who died to deliver us from those errors. The more we understand the gospel truth, the more we pursue the Holiness of God which reveals in His Moral law. The more we abide in the truth, the more we are sanctified. That’s why Psalmist was able to say, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep Your precepts” (Psalms 119:97-104).
Commandments are the railroad tracks on which the life empowered by the love of God poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit runs. Love empowers the engine; law guides the direction. They are mutually interdependent. The notion that love can operate apart from law is a figment of the imagination. It’s not only bad theology; it’s poor psychology. It has to borrow from law to give eyes to love. . . . Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from his gracious person. It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything his Father commanded him. Nor is it for us. – Dr. Sinclair Ferguson