The value of legalism

I’ve been reading through Colossians lately, and I was reminded of the precise value of legalism when I read this:

Colossians 2:20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21″Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (NAS)

In chapter 2, it appears that Paul is covering both the Mosaic law as well as the addition of rules and regulations by men – but even if he’s only addressing one or the other, we know that it is true of both since legalism of any kind is… so valuable that it can make us stand righteous before a Holy God? Nope… it can’t do that (Eph. 2:8-9, Gal. 3:2, etc., etc.) But if it can’t save us, surely legalism can help us to live better, more Christ-like lives, right? Nope – legalism is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” – no value! So why have I tried so many times over the years to kill sin by my own efforts and not by applying “gospel tools” (as Owen says)? Partly, I think, because I’m such a task-oriented person, who easily sees any problem as a task to be solved. To go along with this natural disposition, I seem to easily forget that this task is not one I can solve! This I have to acknowledge to be due to a lack of appreciation for God’s grace, which is required for both my being declared righteous before God initially, and for my daily sanctification. There is no other way for me to become or live righteously other than by God’s grace, made visible in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

May God grant me the wisdom to discern when I fall into trying to sanctify myself.


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