C.S. Lewis said, “Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.” The reason this is true is because religious bad men “hold to a form of godliness, but deny the power there of ”. The evil of religious men is worse than the non-religious because the lost, religious man thinks he is doing God a service and yet all the while is actually God’s enemy. It is an evil especially hated by God because its deeds are done in the name of God.
The Pharisees were arguably the worst religious men that have ever lived. Jesus hated the teaching of the Pharisees and so did Paul. Their hatred was founded on the basic biblical principle of loving what is good and hating what is evil. Plain and simple, Jesus hates what is evil. All Christ’s followers, by new nature, also hate what is evil.
The legalism of the Pharisees was a powerful catalyst for evil in many ways. The legalistic theology they believed and impressed upon many people served as a rationale for them to commit and justify all manners of abuse. The theological reason for this is simple. The focus of their faulty belief system and false gospel was the Law. Sure, they mentioned the messiah and even gave an obligatory head nod to salvation by grace alone. However, the end result of their life’s teaching brought their disciples under the guilt, condemnation and slavery of the Law. They preached “another gospel” which was really no gospel at all.
The New Testament refers to these Law teachers as “savage wolves”, “hidden reefs” and “those who sneak in unaware”. Notice, they were not standing up in front of their congregations holding a flashing neon sign that says, “Legalism taught here”. Rather, they craftily, subtly and methodically brought their hearers under a “bewitching” message that sounded like the gospel, but that was really not the gospel at all. They made “confident assertions about things they know nothing about”. They promised freedom without the power of freedom.
It is hard to imagine that such men even exist today, but they do. They do not parade around with lengthened phylacteries or with stone-calloused hands, but they are alive and well in our age. These men, among other places exist in the leadership of Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA) and as “pastors” in its associated churches. The message taught by these “Law men” hasn’t changed from Jesus’ or Paul’s day. There is nothing new under the sun. I would like to give you a modern day example of such men and their subtle, legalistic teaching.
On May 3rd, 2018 Tom Hicks Jr., (who works at First Baptist Church in Clinton, Louisiana and writes for the Founder’s Ministries blog) posted an article entitled “How the Gospel Enables Us to Keep God’s Good Law”. This article can be found in its entirety on the Founders Ministries website. The blog post opens with this paragraph:
“The Bible teaches that Christians are not under the law as a way of salvation. Christ has set us free from the guilt and condemnation of sin by His bloody death and resurrection. But that does not mean believers are free to live licentious lives. In fact, the grace of God in the gospel enables us to keep His good law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, as an expression of love to God and others. Reformed confessions of faith teach that the law and the gospel “do sweetly comply” (WCF 19.7, SD 19.7, 2LCF 19.7).”
This paragraph sets the tone of the whole article, so let’s take a look at it in depth.
At first glance, (and at the high speed of the undiscerning social media finger scroll) this statement may seem biblical and even get a few “likes”. However, let’s take a look at how this statement compares to the gospel of the bible.
In the first sentence Tom Hicks writes, “The Bible teaches that Christians are not under the law as a way of salvation”.
Let’s investigate to see if the bible does in fact teach this? Tom Hicks wants you to think this is a gospel-centered statement. And as Christians we can even say, “Amen, the Law was never meant to save anyone”(Romans 8:3, Galatians 2:16). The error of omission in Hicks statement is that he believes Christians are “under the Law” as a rule of life, but just not “as a way of salvation”. In other words, he believes and teaches sanctification by the Law. Notice he cannot simply make the biblical statement that “Christians are not under the Law”, but has to qualify the statement with “as a way of salvation”. The bible never speaks this way.
In fact, the bible teaches Christians are not “under the Law”, at all (Romans 6:14, Galatians 5:18). Christians are “not under the Law” as a way of salvation and they are “not under the Law” as a way of sanctification either (2 Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 3:3, Colossians 2:6). Christians are not “under the Law” at all according to Jesus, Paul and the whole of scripture. This does not mean (as modern day Law men like Hicks falsely assume) that Christians are without moral character or an objective moral standard of living. Quite the contrary, the law of Christ and the royal law of love govern every thought (1 Corinthians 9:21, James 2:8), word and deed for the blood bought soul of the true believer. Christ is the exact representation and likeness of the Father and the Christian walks by faith in Him “living not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Let’s go on and look at more of the statement from Tom Hicks.
He goes on to write, “Christ has set us free from the guilt and condemnation of sin by His bloody death and resurrection.”
Again, it is not what is said, but what is implied by what is not said in this carefully crafted statement. It is a half-truth. It sounds like good, gospel teaching and in fact, the bible teaches Christ has set us free from the guilt and condemnation of sin. However, do not let this escape your notice, not only has Christ set us free from the guilt and condemnation of sin, but Christ has set us free from the Law (Romans 7:4, Romans 8:2, Galatians 2:19, Galatians 5:1). Jesus must in fact set us free from the Law because the Law is the very thing that brings the guilt of sin and God’s just condemnation upon us in the first place (Romans 7:7, Romans 4:15, Galatians 3:19). The Law brings about wrath (Romans 4:15). That is the very design of the Law according to Paul in Galatians 3. Listen to his words, “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made – Galatians 3:19
Tom Hicks goes on to say, “But that does not mean believers are free to live licentious lives”.
Hicks dangerous assumption here is that believers want to live licentious lives. May it never be! The bible speaks quite to the contrary. Hicks uses this faulty presupposition to attempt to justify bringing Christians back under the Law and therefore back under the abusive control of the modern day Pharisees.
Hicks faulty presupposition yields a faulty practical, conclusion. He says, “In fact, the grace of God in the gospel enables us to keep His good law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, as an expression of love to God and others”.
In fact, biblically, just the opposite is true. Not only does the grace of God not make us Law keepers, the grace of God makes us dead to the Law and alive to Christ (Galatians 2:19). The grace of God in the true gospel enables the Christian to “walk by faith” and that “faith works through love” (2 Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 5:6).
Christ did not die upon the cross to produce a legalistic people bound to a prohibitory set of rules again. If He did then He died needlessly Paul says (Galatians 2:21). In fact, Christ died to purchase a people for His own possession that would walk by faith and thereby fulfill the law of Christ, His royal law of love. Love fulfills the Law. Love does not equal Law, love fills up the requirement of the Law and far exceeds it. Abuse of any kind cannot survive or be tolerated in the church of God when we truly “bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ”, “the royal law of love”.
Tom Hicks ends his opening paragraph with an appeal to the traditions of men rather then the citing of scripture. He says, “Reformed confessions of faith teach that the law and the gospel “do sweetly comply” (WCF 19.7, SD 19.7, 2LCF 19.7)”.
Notice, he references the traditions of men, but the entire article is bankrupt with regard to scripture references. It has to be, because the scripture plainly does not teach what Tom Hicks, the men of ARBCA or the leaders of the Founders Ministries believe with regard to sanctification by the Law. The Law does not sweetly comply with the Gospel (no matter who tells you and how “reformed” they think they are). Rather, the gospel is “the end of the Law for all those who believe” – Romans 10:4. The Law is not contrary to the promises of God, but make no mistake the Law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12). Now that faith has come we are no longer under the Law (Galatians 3:25). Is the Law sin? Certainly not! (Romans 7:7) The Law is holy, good and just, if one uses it lawfully (Romans 7:12, 1 Timothy 1:8-9). For we know that the Law was not made for a righteous man, but for sinners.
Dear reader, please hear the scripture, do not let the Law teachers of ARBCA or the Founders Ministries take you captive with empty words or the traditions of men.
Listen to the Apostle Paul: For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Does the gospel bring Christians back under the Law? In the words of the great Apostle, “May it never be!”. We walk by faith and that faith works through love. Glory be to God and His Christ forever and ever. Amen.
Author: Anthony Battaglia