Friday, April 18, 2014

Decrying the Charge of Legalism

I'm participating in a free course through Ligonier Connect called The Person and Work of Christ.  On April 1st, I completed Lesson 9 on Christ's crucifixion.  After reading the Scripture references and watching the video, I answered a question on whether or not paintings of Christ's crucifixion where accurate or appropriate.  I left a comment that any depiction of Christ is a sin because it violates Scripture, (Exod. 20:3-4; Deut. 4:15-19; Acts 17:29).

Today, April 18th, JR left a follow-up remark to my comment:
"Your viewpoint is reasonable, though I do not agree. God commanded the making of the ark of the covenant for the purpose of worship. It is true that then the people came to think of this ark as a "magic box" when they trotted it out thinking it would win them a battle against the Philistines. Clearly it is a violation of the letter of the law to make ANY graven image. In this your stance is similar to the strictest interpretations of the Muslims. So, to be consistent, you would have to also be against any statue of any creature anywhere because of the potential danger of idolatry.

Again, this is a reasonable stance, but I think one too close to a legalistic interpretation. You are in some very good company in your viewpoint. This is why traditional Protestant crosses do not have an image of Christ.

God looks on the heart. When a person is kneeling in front of a statue of Christ, or clutches a tiny gold cross hanging from their neck (with or without an image of Christ) they might be indeed committing idolatry. However, their heart may indeed be acting of a pure motive as their mind understands this is but a symbol, and they are indeed worshiping God directly.

There are examples where a statue of Christ has become an idol to many people, and detracts for true worship. More commonly we make idols of other things, like our health, children or money. We do not need a statue to become, in the words of Calvin, idol factories. Yet there is also a danger of substituting mechanical rules and stumbling someone who sincerely worships rightly with the aid of an image.

Two of my children have come to Christ very young with the help of looking and meditating on images of Christ. I will take the danger of idolatry over the danger of legalism, but that is a choice. I respect your choice and it is quite possible that in Heaven Christ will say that your answer is correct and mine is not.

JR, may the Lord bless you for seeking to think clearly on His Word."

Here's my response:

"JR, Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my comment.

However, theologically speaking, legalism is the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works. My response was that any picture or likeness of God (in all 3 persons) is sinful because it violates God's moral law. I did not say or imply that obeying the 2nd commandment merited salvation in any way; therefore, by definition my statement is not legalistic.

In John 14:15, Jesus clearly states that: " If ye love me, keep my commandments." The Apostle John further writes in 1 John 2:3-4: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." God's word says that keeping His commandments is a mark of a true believer.

I think that this is an area where a lot of Christians err. As referenced above, keeping God's commandments is not being legalistic. Adding rules & guidelines to God's word and then requiring obedience for salvation is being legalistic.

Also, I would like to respectfully express my concern with the notion that you can come to Christ or be helped in coming to Christ by meditating on pictures of Him. I don't find this practice in Scripture. I would caution anyone against using this as an aid for children or unbelievers. It sounds very mystical and does not follow Romans 10:17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

Finally, I find no scriptural support that God commanded Israel to worship the ark of the covenant. The ark was created in the wilderness, and it is where God spoke to Moses between the two cherubim. The ark did not contain an image of God. The fact that Israel worshiped the ark later (violating the 3rd Commandment) is just evidence of their sinful and rebellious nature, which is why God judged them by sending Israel and Judah into captivity."
Ironically, JR has become legalistic through his experience of allowing his children to add to God's word by looking and meditating on pictures of Christ to aid in their salvation.  In his comment, he does not cite Scripture, but relies on his personal feelings and incites emotional support for his argument by lumping together Bible believing Christians and Muslims.

He also commits the Fallacy of Composition by stating that to be consistent, I would have to be against all statues of creatures because of the potential for idolatry.  First of all, statues do not cause people to be idolaters.  We sin because we are sinners.  But just because people idolize some statues of creatures does not mean that all statues of creatures will be idolized.  Again, he is adding to God's word.  In addition, there are two distinct and separate actions forbidden within the 2nd Commandment:  (1) making an image and (2) bowing down to it.  Just because someone does not idolize an image of God does not mean that the image is acceptable; both the image and the idolatry are offensive to God.

We are told that God does look upon the heart, (1 Sam. 16:7), but Jeremiah 17:9 also tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  I'm so thankful that God views my heart through the shed blood of Jesus Christ who is my Lord and Savior, (2 Cor. 5:21).  And as I've said before, heart motivation is not enough.

Some Christians rely on experience or private interpretation to guide their Christian walk.  This practice is not scriptural, and its influence is very dangerous to the individual, as well as to fellow believers and the church as a whole.  The Body of Christ is weakened when definitions become relativistic and calling out sin becomes taboo.

[Jesus]:  "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love," (John 15:10).