WEB Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Yahweh. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: 34 and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Yahweh; for they shall all know me, from their least to their greatest, says Yahweh: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.Many in the church of Christ today believe that God simply traded out one legal system for another, the Law of Christ replacing the Law of Moses. They support this viewpoint by:
- mentioning the "law of Christ" (and yet the only place the phrase is used - Gal 6:4 - it is defined, not as a legal system, but as bearing one another's burdens)
- mentioning the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25, and yet two verses later he writes, not a description of a legal system, but that "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.")
- mentioning the "royal law" (and yet the only place the phrase is used - Jam 2:8 - it is defined, not as a legal system, but as loving your neighbor as yourself)
- pointing out the several uses of the phrase "THE faith" (ex. Gal 1:23), insisting this translates to "the faith legal-system"
WEB Rom 3:28 We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.Many brethren understand the words "works of the law" to refer exclusively to the old legal system of the law of Moses, and feel justified to then conclude that the word "faith" refers to the new legal system.
But Paul doesn't contrast legal system against legal system; he contrasts legal system against faith. He spends much of chapter 2 of Colossians explaining that our new system is not about external legalities such as "don't touch this, don't taste that, keep this holy day, keep that ritual, etc", claiming that these things are "elements of the world". He says elsewhere that he's a minister of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the spirit (2 Cor 3:6).
A "legalist" is someone who finds his righteousness in being right according to how well he keeps the letter of the law. The Pharisees were condemned for their legalism. Jesus did not condemn them for keeping the law; he condemned them for trusting in their own rightness in keeping the legalities.
When we declare ourselves saved (or "right") because we have successfully kept the letter of a legal system (any legal system, including the "Five Step Plan of Salvation"), then we have become legalists.
We are not saved by our own right-ness in keeping the legal system; rather we trust Jesus, who is the only one who ever successfully kept the legal system, to grant to us his right-ness. That right-ness is granted to us, not because we have attained a "passing grade" in keeping the requirements of some legal system, but because we have faith in him.
If you think you're saved because you've attained a passing grade because of what you've done (being scripturally baptized, for example), you're a legalist. Further, you have adopted another gospel than that which the apostles preached. "You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace" (Gal 5:4).
To be sure, if we love Christ, we will keep his commandments. To be sure, some commandments are "required". But we are not saved by keeping the letter of the law; we are saved by faith in Jesus who kept the letter of the law for us. (And the reverse-angle - if we refuse to keep the commandment, this demonstrates that the "faith" we have is not a saving-type faith, like was Abraham's, but is rather a dead faith, like that of the demons - James 2.)
So to the extent we understand the "requirements", we must strive to keep them. But failure to keep the letter of the law, either through ignorance or weakness or even occasional outright rebellion, will not invalidate our salvation (do your occasionally rebellious teens get disowned? no? because it's about relationship, not the letter of the law); what matters is not trusting in our own right-ness in keeping the law, but in trusting Jesus to be faithful in applying his right-ness to us. It's not about keeping the letter of the law, but the spirit.
If you believe that someone is lost who has the right spirit but has completely missed the letter of the law, then you are a legalist. God does not look at how well you keep the externals of keeping the letter of the law; he looks at what is going on in the heart. When God poured out his Spirit on the Gentiles in Cornelius' group, he testified that he did so because he had already seen into their hearts, that he had been successful in cleansing their hearts by faith, not by their keeping of the letter of any law:
ESV Acts 15:8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. (It was only after this demonstration that Peter commanded they be baptized - Acts 10:44-48.)"Legally", we are not saved until we have been properly and scripturally converted, including immersion in water in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins, and we, having only human eyes with which to see, have no business claiming otherwise, or especially substituting a non-Biblical, man-made legal system of salvation such as the so-called "Sinner's Prayer". But in God's eyes, salvation is not a matter of works, of keeping the letter of the law; it's about faith/commitment/decision - it's a matter of the heart/spirit.
The old covenant was like a business arrangement, wherein each party was committed to keeping the required obligations specified in the covenant. The new covenant is like a marriage, or an adoption, in which each party is committed to each other, regardless of the failures in keeping the "required obligations" of marriage/parenthood/childhood.
Are you in a business relationship with Jesus, or in a family relationship with him?