Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians Part VIII: The Paralysis of Legalism -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 120:478 (Apr 1963)
Article: Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians Part VIII: The Paralysis of Legalism
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians
Part VIII:
The Paralysis of Legalism

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

One of the most serious problems facing the orthodox Christian church today is the problem of legalism. One of the most serious problems facing the church in Paul’s day was the problem of legalism. In every day it is the same. Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes his power for vital worship and vibrant service. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing. Ignatius was right when he said to the Magnesians, “It is absurd to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.”1

At the heart of the problem of legalism is pride, a pride that refuses to admit spiritual bankruptcy. That is why the doctrines of grace stir up so much animosity. Donald Grey Barnhouse, a giant of a man in free grace, wrote: “It was a tragic hour when the Reformation churches wrote the Ten Commandments into their creeds and catechisms and sought to bring Gentile believers into bondage to Jewish law, which was never intended either for the Gentile nations or for the church.”2 He was right, too.

Of course, there is another side to this matter. It is not enough to be free of law. There must also be that which Thomas Chalmers called, “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Paul knew this for he not only wrote, “Ye are not under law,” but quickly he added that the Romans were “under grace” (Rom 6:14). Gratitude, the product of a Savior’s indescribable love, is the spiritual force that leads to

fruitful contact with the outsiders. “Ah, Mr. Spurgeon,” said an old woman whom the great-hearted preacher was visiting, “if Jesus Christ does save me, He shall never hear the last of it!” That is the spirit produced by grace.

“I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!
He loved me ere I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him:
And round my heart still closely twine
Those ties which nought can sever;
For I am His, and He is mine,
Forever and forever.”

The two sides are set forth by Paul in Colossians 2:163:4, the section to which we have come in our studies. The apostle, having so beaut...

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