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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Legalism and Idealism Are Antithetical to the Gospel

Edward F. Lundwall Jr.

Living the Gospel, Part I

The Evangelist emphatically cried out: "If you don't win a soul each week, how are you living the Gospel? Are you sure you're a Christian? Are you sure you're saved?"

In making such a declaration, this evangelist reveals that he is an idealist. An idealist sees things in terms of the greatest expression of a principal, and idealism is simply undefined legalism.

Legalism declares that if one does not keep a set of rules that one is living under condemnation. The condemnation can be either the state being outside of a relationship with Christ as savior, or just failing to live under the approval of God. In the Bible, legalism was keeping the Old Testament Law composed of rules for living, especially the Ten Commandments, but not confined to them, and maintaining a state of forgiveness by offering the sacrifices for sins and worship. Without doing so a person was under the condemnation of “the wages of sin is death.”

Idealism differs from legalism in that the way to obtain an idealistic acceptability is undefined. There are no intermediate steps. The standard is the fullest expression of a good principle. Whatever the principal under consideration, no one can fully attain it. The idealist considers everyone is inadequate or condemned in light of the principal, whatever the principal. When the idealist considers anything some people feel has merit, he asserts that all come short and live in a state of sin and some form of condemnation. He will quote, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Yet God, who is the Ideal, commends believing sinners for what good they have done. Christ's analysis of the seven lead churches in Asia found in Revelation 2 and 3 confirms this.

The idealist usually presents himself as exemplary of the ideal in limited way. In the idealistic statement by the evangelist in the example, the preacher presents himself as living the evangelistic ideal, and in one way or another condemns all others who do not. Even if he softens his words by including himself with the term "we," for after all, "all have sinned and come short" (Rom 3:23), his exhortation condemns those to whom he addresses it. Thereby, there are no steps in spiritual life whereby one can become complete in any level, for the consideration is the ideal, the perfection of that principle.

At this point, it is important to consider the literal meaning in the original Greek manuscripts, rather than any particular translation. In the King James translation, the word "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 in which God commands seeming idealistic perfection: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The Greek word does not indicate a fully achieved representation of an ideal, but instead it indicates progress towards an end or goal. As might be implied from: "The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master" (Luke 6:40) as “perfect” is rendered in the King James translation. But rather: "A student, literally “disciple,” is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40 NIV).

The King James is not clear also in reference to the Lord Jesus: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect , he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;" (Heb 5:8, 9 KJV). This English idea of perfect would imply that before Christ suffered on the cross he was less than perfect. Being God, how could He not be perfect from eternity past? The Greek communicates the understanding that "made perfect" has the idea that until His Gospel work was finished that his prophetic calling was not complete.

Another way that idealism affects the understanding of "Living the Gospel" is accepting casually popular idealisms. Oftentimes, "Living the Gospel" has idea of living out the full wisdom of God. This is too broad an understanding for lifestyle application.

In order to get and live a full scriptural understanding, we must understand the exact meaning of words.

To be exact, what is the Gospel? "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:1-4 KJV).

Recorded in this passage, the Gospel is threefold: First, "Christ died for our sins;" second, "he was buried:" and third, "he rose again." The scriptures make it plain that living the Gospel is applying the basic meaning of each of these phases to our lifestyles. The Scriptures have much more clarity here than is popularly understood; it plainly says that Christians must in one way or another, in spirit or in fulfillment of specific Bible statements, appropriate and apply the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In doing so they will experience the full benefits of the salvation and the sanctification Christ came to give! Applying the Gospel will prove that the individual believer is following Jesus (John 10:27--30) and has experienced a new spiritual birth!

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