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Never Prioritize Rules over Goodness and Grace

Legalism is preoccupation with form at the expense of substance. Biblical legalism appears to have had a theological origin in the seventeenth century, when Edward Fisher used it to designate “one who bringeth the Law into the case of Justification.” This comes from The Marrow of Modern Divinity which was published in 1645. While biblical laws distinguish right and wrong, never prioritize rules over goodness and grace. The passage below illustrates this point.

And [the Pharisees] kept watching Jesus [closely] to see whether He would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might get a charge to bring against Him [[b]formally]. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, Get up [and stand here] in the midst. And He said to them, Is it lawful and right on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to take it? But they kept silence, Mark 3:2-4.

Jesus is at a local synagogue with other Jews celebrating the Sabbath. Perhaps, there were rumors that Jesus didn’t follow all of the religious interpretations of what it meant to keep the 4th Commandment. The Pharisees present on this Saturday were so consumed by religious traditions, that the substance of their worship was greatly hindered. Meanwhile, as Jesus approached a man with a shriveled hand, compassion and grace filled His heart. This is why Jesus responds with a question about the Sabbath.

So when he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them to give him a gift. And Peter directed his gaze intently at him, and so did John, and said, Look at us! And [the man] paid attention to them, expecting that he was going to get something from them. But Peter said, Silver and gold (money) I do not have; but what I do have, that I give to you: in [the [a]use of] the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk! Then he took hold of the man’s right hand with a firm grip and raised him up. And at once his feet and ankle bones became strong and steady, Acts 3:3-7.

Two disciples find themselves in a similar situation following Jesus’ ascension into heaven. A beggar who was an invalid was hoping the sight of his condition would result in pity and some spare change. Peter and John didn’t care about what any religious leaders in the temple thought. Rather, Peter seizes this opportunity to perform a miracle. Another way of viewing legalism is Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:34-39. The Ten Commandments serve as a guide to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the Golden Rule where goodness and grace trump the legalistic adherence to a set of rules.

by Jay Mankus

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