Steering Clear of Legalism

Romans 7
I purchased my first 4×4 truck when I was eighteen. On the weekends, especially after a good rain, I would head to the Rocky Mountains above the Treasure Valley in Boise, Idaho for some intense exploring on forgotten logging roads. The sandy soil tended to produce huge ruts from rain and snow melt and once my truck fell into a rut it was all I could do to steer clear of it. Most of the time, after muscling my way out of one, I would find myself buried in another.


In Romans 6, Apostle Paul opens with the incredulous question, “What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”


He then begins hammering away at licentious living. Just because we are saved by grace through faith alone does not mean we are to return to the bondage of sin. The pattern for steering clear of a life of lustful corruption is: 1) knowing we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, 2) reckoning (or accounting) our flesh dead, but our spirit alive unto God, and 3) yielding daily to our new life in Christ.

But, just as we lurch free of the rut of lustful corruption, many Christians dive right into the rut of legalistic compulsion. The Jewish believers of Rome struggled hard with the rut of legalism. “Perhaps Jesus Christ saved by grace,” they reasoned, “but we certainly must have some rules in order to produce righteousness and holiness.”


For this reason, Paul wrote Romans 7. In his opening illustration, Paul used marriage to underscore the Law’s Dominion. As long as the husband is alive, the law has power over the wife. However, death brings freedom from the jurisdiction of the law. So when the husband dies, the wife is free to remarry.


In Paul’s illustration, the Law is the first husband. It is not that the law is evil and causes us to sin, it simply exposes Sin’s Deception. The law is good and holy, but it has no power to save. Furthermore, once we know what we can or cannot do, our sinful nature rebels and we sin anyway, regardless of what the law says. Therefore, sin continuously uses the law to confound us.


Herein lies the battle between the new man and the old man. The new man desires to follow God’s law, the old man desires lustful corruption. To restrain the old man we make a set of rules.


Yet we must understand, the battle is not won by restraint, but by submission. My Decision ultimately determines my destiny. If I submit to the old man, I will fall into lust. If I fight the old man, I fall into legalism.


My only hope for liberty is death to the old man and submission to the new man. As Warren Wiersbe said, “The old man cannot be constrained and the new man needs no restraint.”


This is where the Spirit’s Deliverance enters: He is the new man living within! I join with Paul in the last verse of the chapter, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I declare death to the old man by submitting to the new man. Submission to Him brings forth fruit unto holiness….and the end? Everlasting life!