Morality/virtues vs legalism


(Chris Sims) #1

Hi everyone, this is my first post to RZIM Connect though I’m not new to Ravi or his teachings. I attend a church that teaches God’s Word and the Gospel every week and while that’s good I wanted to hear more about morals (like what Ravi teaches). I looked at a few churches in town and was seriously considering one when I sat down with the teaching pastor and asked if he or the church would talk about morality. He said (paraphrase) we will never teach on morality or virtues, we don’t teach legalism. I was taken aback. I even mentioned Ravi and his ministry to him (which he was aware of) but he still said no. In my opinion, morality is so fundamental to understanding the Gospel, God’s Word, and Jesus’ teachings.

My question is, should I encounter a similar situation with another person, how can I defend morality and how it’s not legalism?

Thank you and God Bless!


(Tim Behan) #2

Hi Chris,

Great question. It’s unfortunate, I think, and just one aspect that parts of the church are taking on from the world… saying we can’t or don’t feel we can tell other people what they can do with their lives. (I hope I’ve got the right understanding of your question)

Personally, I would say one would have to be extremely picky with your biblical teaching in order to find verses that do NOT give us direction on how we are to live our lives. I’ve heard people say that since Jesus came we don’t have to follow the law any more… and while (without going into too much detail) this may be the case with much of the civil and ceremonial law, the moral law is not only still applicable; Jesus himself raises the bar on it. cf Matt 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”

The entire book of James is dedicated to overriding the premise of “We’re saved by faith so we can do what we like”… James is emphatic that faith without deeds is dead and is not saving faith at all.

I’m assuming the ministers you’re talking to would agree that the Bible at no point says that it is our works that get us into heaven… but on the flip side the Bible is also designed to lay out how we are to live as followers of Christ and as I said before; James says that our faith is nothing without action to back it up. Pick any teacher from the New Testament and they will be teaching on how we are to live.

I think the minister is drastically misunderstanding the difference between morality/virtues and legalism. Maybe you could ask them what they mean by legalism and morality seperately? Maybe you could ask if the Bible has nothing to say about how we are to live?

Is that the kind of thing you were talking about? If not, I may be way off base… but I hope that was helpful.


(Chris Sims) #3

Thank you for your reply, Tim. It is unfortunate that ministers would have this notion. I personally believe those who think that morality and legalism don’t understand the difference between the two. The bigger concern (and why I’m not going to go to that church) is not that they won’t teach on morality, but rather they don’t understand the difference between it and legalism. I truly believe morality is at the heart of God’s Word and Jesus’ teachings and if we understand and apply it properly many will have a better understanding of life’s ethical situations and the two greatest commandments!


(SeanO) #4

@Chris_Sims That is a great question. Even in the New Testament Church people had a tendency to abuse God’s grace or to stray into legalism. So we see in Ephesians Paul emphasizing that we are saved purely by grace.

Ephesians 2:8-10 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Then in Romans we see Paul having to rebuke those trying to take advantage of God’s grace. If we have died with Christ - how can we continue on in sin? God forbid!

Romans 6:1-2 - What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

In Galatians 5 (or Romans 6-8) we see a brilliant exposition of this reality - we are not under the law but under the Spirit. And those who are filled with God’s Spirit do not gratify the desires of the flesh and do not envy / provoke one another. To walk in the Spirit is to walk in love - to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Galatians 5:13-25 - You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

True religion in the Bible always involves being set apart from the world and keeping God’s commandments. Love involves obedience.

James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

John 14:21 - Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

I John 2:15-17 - Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Here are a few articles from Sam Storms comparing the freedom we have in Christ (liberty) to legalism and licentiousness.

https://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/legalism-vs--liberty

https://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/liberty-vs--legalism

Are those helpful ways of categorizing legalism vs morality? The Lord Jesus grant you wisdom as you seek a Church.


(Chris Sims) #5

Thank you, Sean! Those are great verses but I think for me to digest and understand what legalism and morality is and isn’t according to both God’s Word and other thinkers is the best path. If you know any podcasts or articles by Ravi addressing that, please let me know! Thanks!


(SeanO) #6

@Chris_Sims I would recommend the following book by Ferguson if you are wanting to go in depth - the foreword is by Tim Keller. It delves into the Marrow controversy and should contain a very in depth discussion of this issue.


(Chris Sims) #7

Thank you again, Sean, I’ve never heard of the Marrow controversy but I’m definitely going to look further into it! I also liked the 3 Types of Legalism. Thanks!


(SeanO) #8

@Chris_Sims Sure thing - I think you will find the book enriching. Outside of Scripture, you will be hard pressed to find any other texts that probe this question of grace and law so deeply as the apostle Paul in Romans or Galatians. The author of this book also says that what was so profound about the Marrow controversy and the Scottish minister who learned from it is how his struggle led him back to the Scriptures.

“anyone who wrestles theologically and personally with the great themes of gospel grace, legalism, antinomianism, and assurance, and is redirected to the Scriptures”

It is so easy in these days of so much great teaching to be distracted from meditating on and memorizing the Scriptures, but I think we often find that the most profound minds - like Ravi and Tim Keller - are those who have meditated on the Scriptures the most deeply and allowed God’s Word to shape their reflections on the culture.