O Foolish Evangelicals! Who Has Bewitched You? – The Deceptive Disguises of Legalism Pervasive in the Church Today

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:22-25)

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone is the gospel. It is God’s one way of saving fallen man. We are saved by His grace, apart from our own doings, and we are sustained and kept by that grace as well:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:1-3)

The thesis I present to you in this article is that the evangelical church today, and for many, many years past, is presenting and practicing Christianity as a legalistic system of self-help. Now, you may say “amen!” to that and fancy that you have the ability to spot a legalistic false gospel. But I suggest that the prevailing plague of “Christ plus _____” is far more deceptively subtle in its forms. So much so that it seems the very air we breathe in most local churches and Christian ministries is fouled by it.

Christ is a stumbling block to the natural man. His way of salvation is foolishness to Mr. Worldly Wiseman. The flesh craves doing. But God’s way is believing that the doing has all been done by Someone other than me. Good news! Grace! Indescribable gift! And yet, surely the Spirit in the believer needs, some help?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully confess that justification is entirely the work of God and that sanctification entails something on our part. I am in no way promoting some kind of misguided quietism in which the believer simply “lets go and lets God.” What I am saying is what Paul said:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Php 2:12-13)

What I am saying is that visible Christianity of our day is adding to this formula of God working in me and me working out what he is doing in me. Want to know the secret to the spiritual life? No need to go buy a book by that title. Just look at the two verses above. God is working in you by His Spirit to shape your heart’s desire, your very will, your free will (freed finally in Him) so that you will live and work and do according to His good pleasure. And what I am saying here is that for the most part in the majority of its teaching, standard, normal, typical evangelical Christianity is adding all kinds of trappings to this work of God to the point that most Christians are suffocating in it all. And the counterfeit Christians are using these things to fine tune their disguises even more.  All of this provides fertile soil to evil!

Let me explain by way of example.

Recently I received a catalog from Christian Book Distributors. CBD. They have been around a long time. If it’s trendy, you can bet CBD will be right on top of it – “Everything Christian for Less” – that’s their motto. Bestsellers. Favorite authors. Sunday School curriculum. Holy hardware as I call it. Bibles, study Bibles. Bible studies. Favorites for men and women. Marriage and family. Christian living. You have the bucks, they have the books.

Let’s look for a moment at the Marriage and Family section. (If you have followed the blog A Cry for Justice, you will recognize some of these titles as terrible, terrible books that enable abusers and oppress abuse victims).

  • Sacred Marriage
  • For Men Only
  • For Women Only
  • Parenting
  • The Total Money Makeover
  • Seeking Him: The Joy of Personal Revival
  • 40 Days with Jesus
  • One-minute Inspirations for Women
  • 199 Promises of God
  • The Battle Plan for Prayer
  • The Bait of Satan – how to escape Satan’s grip
  • Praying through Fear
  • Love and Respect (this one is particularly notorious)

And on and on and on and on it goes. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church has his own page so that you too can scarf up all the books and workbooks and DVD’s and finally find the purpose-driven life. CBD, it seems, is not overly concerned with selling books by false teachers. What’s hot right now. That’s the thing.

But here is my main point. I am saying that all of this junk, this stuff, is sheer legalism. It is exactly the same thing that Paul rebuked the Galatians for. Listen to him again:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:1-3)

Are we so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, that we now believe we are being perfected by all of these doings and programs? Yes. Apparently we are that foolish. And let me ask you, Christian? How’s that all working out for you? I know the answer to that question even though I don’t know you.

For my part I went through the buying of books and dvd’s and programs phase. I never consciously said “today I am done with it all.” But I am done with it. Years ago I totally lost interest in it all and have more than once gone through my library and thrown volume after volume in the garbage, leaving only the very valuable few resources and increasingly turning my attention to the Word of God itself.

Do you see what I am saying? Christian, if you are indeed a Christian, God is at work in you to shape you increasingly into Christ’s image. He leads, you follow. He directs, and you go. He thinks His thoughts in you and you embrace them as your own. His Law is written on your very heart, and you love it. By His Spirit and through His Word, you have everything you need to live as the new creation you are.

CBD catalog going in the trash can now.