Apologetics Index

Should We Say “Should”? — The Law and Legalism

By David Kowalski

An old, marginal, view of law and gospel is being popularized today, but it is easily refuted. This view is best referred to by its old name — antinomianism (a term coined by Martin Luther, meaning “against law”) because such people say God’s moral law has been negated through the cross.

One popular antinomian teacher says that any exhortation to holiness or love is a “legalistic ministration of death.” Another antinomian I heard speak said “Anytime you hear the words “should” or “ought” it represents legalism in the church.” Of course, this statement is self-defeating. The speaker said, in effect, that we should not say “should” and ought not to use “ought.”

Furthermore, his statement was completely unscriptural. God’s moral standards are binding on us all apart from Mosaic law. Antinomian insistence that any concept of moral law is equivalent to Mosaic Law is hopelessly outside of reasonable, Bible interpretation.

The precise nature of the relationship between law and gospel is a complex one and is addressed from various perspectives (see, for example, Wayne Strickland ed. Five Views on Law and Gospel [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993]).

There are some points in this debate that all but the most extreme antinomians agree upon, however. I think it is fair to say that the Evangelical view states that God’s moral law exists independently of the Mosaic Law.

The moral commands in the Mosaic law reflect the unchanging, eternal nature of God. The Mosaic Law did not give birth to God’s nature or authority, and the end of the Mosaic Law does not mean the end of God’s nature or authority.

God made moral demands of people before the giving of the Mosaic Law and He subsequently makes moral demands of people who are saved by faith.

God is the king of all from eternity past to eternity future, and His authority to command cannot be broken.

Before giving of the Mosaic law, God exerts His right to reign as He commands his people not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their disobedience to God resulted in the fall.

The rest of Genesis (all of which transpires before Moses) relates many incidents of disobedience and subsequent judgment (see, for example, Cain, the antediluvian world, Ham, the tower of Babel incident, as well as Sodom and Gomorrah). God’s kingdom rule applies to all people of all times. He will judge the world (even those ignorant concerning Moses) for their disobedience to His kingly, moral demands.

“For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28 NASB)

“He rules by His might forever;
His eyes keep watch on the nations;
Let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” (Psalm 66:7 NASB)

“The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19 NASB)

The gospels repeatedly say that following Jesus brings us into the kingdom of God, that what we receive as Christians is God’s kingdom, and that it is in God’s kingdom that we will spend eternity. (See, for example, Mark 10:15, 23; 14:25).

This kingdom is clearly far more than the millennial reign of Christ, as extreme dispensationalists teach (it is no wonder the “free-grace” movement was born from their number).

The rest of the New Testament speaks of our life in God’s kingdom (See 1 Corinthians 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:24; 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:1, 18; Colossians 1:13, 4;11; 2 timothy 4:1, 18; Hebrews 1:8; 11:33; 12:25, 28; James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11). If God’s kingdom refers only to the millennium, we are forced to disregard the entire New Testament as inapplicable to us. Any message which dispenses with the kingdom here and now is a false gospel:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 NASB)

The Mosaic Law points us to faith in Christ but faith is not free from moral law. In Romans 1:5, Paul says the purpose of his ministry was to bring about “the obedience of faith.” Faith is not opposed to obedience, it is expressed through it.

There can be no such concept as obedience, however, without moral law to be obeyed. Without “shoulds” and “oughts,” obedience is a nonsensical word. Violating God’s moral standards is considered  “lawlessness” (see Matthew 7:23, 13:41, 23:28, 24:12, Romans 4:7, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 1 Timothy 1:9, Titus 2:14, Hebrews 1:9, 10:17, 2 Peter 2:8, 1 John 3:4).

It was Paul, the foremost messenger of grace and faith, who pronounced the most commands applicable to New Testament believers. He clearly did not see “oughts,” “shoulds,” and exhortations as legalism (the seeking of salvation through the Mosaic system). Just one short example should suffice to show this:

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:3-5 NASB)

If one wishes to have a religion without moral obligation and which makes no room for “shoulds” and “oughts,” they will have to look outside of Evangelical Christianity. Exhortations such as those given by Paul are a means to life not death. Let no man deceive you. God is still king and He rules through Christ, both in the world at large and the church in particular.

“From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.'” (Revelation 19:15-16 NASB)

If He says to do something we should obey.

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Category: Column: David Kowalski
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First published (or major update) on Sunday, October 7, 2012.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

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One Response

  1. Angel October 8, 2012

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