I think it’s interesting that Legalism and Gnosticism are really one and the same. A great lesson for me last year was learning how all the false religions and the false doctrines are drawing closer to one another. Those which seem like polar opposites are really the exact same thing, just a different flavor. Here is another example of how two opposing doctrines are really one and the same: Antinomianism and Legalism.
In the wonderful series, “Drive By Discernment“, short lectures on the topic of discernment edited by Todd Friel, Pastor RW Glenn is speaking of this exact thing. He is talking about how Antinomianism and Legalism are the same, and clearly shows how.
First, CARM.org defines Antinomianism:
“The word antinomianism comes from the Greek anti, against, and nomos, law. It is the unbiblical practice of living without regard to the righteousness of God, using God’s grace as a license to sin, and trusting grace to cleanse of sin.”
And CARM.org defines Legalism:
“In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law (10 commandments, holiness laws, etc). This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed.”
So how can living in excessive license and living in excessive restriction…be the same? Here is Pastor RW Glenn: [excerpts]
There are people who embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and people who avoid Jesus as Lord and Savior. And what’s interesting is that you can avoid Jesus as Lord and Savior either by being bad, OR by being good. Religious moralists avoid Jesus as Lord and Savior by developing a system of moral righteousness to put God in their debt. In other words, my obedience and religious devotion is going to beef up my spiritual resume such that I don’t need Jesus to rescue me anymore. And where there are gaps in my resume I use Jesus to fill them in. By and large I don’t need rescue, all I need is a boost. They avoid Jesus as Lord and Savior by relying on their own righteousness. They avoid him by being “good”. … [Thus] Rule keepers and rule breakers are all identical because they avoid Jesus as Lord and Savior and are on the broad road to destruction.
See, Pastor Glenn explains that there is a demand of the Gospel, and there is a comfort of the Gospel. Legalism over-emphasizes its demand, while Antinomianism over-emphasizes its comfort. Over-emphasizing one or the other dilutes the Gospel. Paul said He had not hesitated to preach the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27). Of that important balance in keeping the Gospel whole, Barnes’ Notes says:
“I have not shunned – I have not kept back; I have not been deterred by fear, by the desire of popularity, by the fact that the doctrines of the gospel are unpalatable to people, from declaring them fully. The proper meaning of the word translated here, “I have not shunned”, is “to disguise any important truth; to withdraw it from public view; to decline publishing it from fear, or an apprehension of the consequences.” Paul means that he had not disguised any truth; he had not withdrawn or kept it from open view, by any apprehension of the effect which it might have on their minds. Truth may be disguised or kept back:
(1) By avoiding the subject altogether from timidity, or from an apprehension of giving offence if it is openly proclaimed; or,
(2) By giving it too little prominency, so that it shall be lost in the multitude of other truths; or,
(3) By presenting it amidst a web of metaphysical speculations, and entangling it with other subjects; or,
(4) By making use of other terms than the Bible does, for the purpose of involving it in a mist, so that it cannot be understood.”
How does one keep back one part of the Gospel at the expense of the other? Pastor Glenn finishes:
Legalism over-emphasizes the demand of the Gospel. Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. That is a gospel demand that legalism overemphasizes. Antinomianism overemphasizes the very real comfort of the Gospel. Matthew 6:26- You are more valuable than many sparrows. The challenge of the Gospel is that there needs to be an equal emphasis on both the demand of the Gospel and the comfort of the Gospel. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Equal emphasis. I do not condemn you, go and sin no more. If you don’t eventually emphasize both of those you lose the Gospel.
Glenn said that there are three tests to determine if a teacher is false. The character and conduct of the teacher (Colossians 1:28, Titus 2:2, Matthew 5:1-12) the complexion of their followers (Luke 6:40, 2 Timothy 4:3), and the content of their teaching (Matthew 12:33, 2 Timothy 4:2-3).
With this information in mind, now think of pastors who preach one at the expense of another. Or perhaps, do you preach or teach one at the expense of the other?
Remember two things. First, all other doctrines except the Gospel are false, and thus are the same, no matter how different they look on the outside. And second, satan is the most subtle creature in the Garden (Genesis 3:1). It is not hard for him to come up with different flavors of the Gospel and lots of false doctrines. I mean, if Baskin Robbins can come up with 31 flavors of ice cream… the most crafty creature in all the garden can certainly come up with enough false doctrines!
This week the Christian Post (which increasingly should be called the Post-Christian) reported on Joel Osteen’s Night of Hope in Las Vegas. It is reported,
“Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen, who along with wife, Victoria Osteen, will be leading “A Night of Hope” in Las Vegas, Friday night, has said that he avoids speaking on controversial issues because he doesn’t want anyone to feel excluded from his messages.”
However, Osteen’s definition of ‘controversial issue’ is really code for “sin.” Sin is always controversial. Preaching the whole counsel includes passages such as 1 Timothy 1:10. Yet Osteen declares that he avoids it. Avoid 1 Corinthians 6:9. Revelation 21:8? Avoid. Titus 1:16, Galatians 6:20, 2 Peter 2:6…the list is endless of ‘things to avoid’ so that ‘all will feel included.’ But we’re all sinners. If Osteen wants to preach so that all will feel comfortable, he either needs to preach to no one, because the flavors of sin are endless and odds are someone will feel ‘excluded’ (i.e. convicted), or Osteen needs to preach only the comfort of the Gospel, which is not the whole counsel. You see how devastating the imbalance is?
Osteen maintains that his style of preaching is consistent with the bible. Christian Post says, “His messages of hope and encouragement, as well as his trademark smile, also draw criticism among Christians who feel he fails to address sin and suffering, but Osteen shakes off such criticism. “I believe there needs to be more joy in the world…” But it is not true that this style is consistent with the bible.
Jesus spoke hard sayings. Not everyone felt included! On the contrary. However, Jesus did not alter the Father’s message in order to make it easier for fleshly ears to hear. In John 6:60-62, 66 we read,
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?” … After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
So we see that false teachers are not true ambassadors (Ephesians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:20). In both those verses, the word ambassador means one who is authorized to speak as God’s emissary, representing His kingdom. Osteen takes it upon himself to alter the message of God. He cannot be a true ambassador, because he brings an unauthorized message. This is what all false teachers do. Jesus knew the hearts of men and He still preached a message that fell on hard hearts, in obedience to the Father. Osteen, and all false teachers, dare to disobey delivering the Father’s message and the example of Jesus in preaching it. This ‘daring’ will have terrible consequences:
Tim Challies dealt with this issue in his essay “Smilingly leading you to hell.”
In Drive By Discernment, Pastor Glenn did a good job of explaining how false teachers subvert the Gospel by preaching only half. As always, the most important thing is to check ourselves, first.
Do we preach all demand and no comfort? “Do more, be better, try harder”? Or maybe our Gospel is all comfort and no demand. “My sin isn’t a big deal…I’m forgiven anyway.” Or is your Gospel, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more?!” If you want to be an expert on false teachers, you need to be an expert in the Gospel. The more familiarity you have in the Gospel, the more familiarity you will have with the genuine article. When those counterfeits come your way – and they will – you will be able to say, ‘counterfeit!’ Why? because you’re resting in the Christ who says “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” (John 8:11).
The Lord is Great, isn’t He?!?!
More on Osteen:
A true knowledge of the true God
Apostasy in the church: Angels of light
Can Christians live their best life now?
And here is an essay on the opposite problem,
Legalism, Cults, and abuse of authority