NEW BOOKLET: Legalism or License Versus The Treasure of Living Water by David Dombrowski is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet. The Booklet is 14 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are available. Our Booklets are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of Legalism or License Versus The Treasure of Living Water, click here.
Legalism or License Versus The Treasure of Living Water
By David Dombrowski
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. (Psalm 42:1)
Since 2002, Lighthouse Trails editors have conversed, either through e-mail, mail, or phone, with thousands of people. A good number of these people have come out of churches whose pastors and leaders have been trained in the seminaries and Christian colleges, which have, in large part, become havens for unbiblical teachings. These ill-equipped, misled pastors have brought their unscriptural teachings with them to the churches. We have heard the stories from so many of our readers of Christians they know who became caught under the bondage of legalism, and then went to the opposite pole of turning grace into a license for sin. Many times when this happened, these confused Christians became involved with a dangerous mystical practice called contemplative prayer and joined emerging churches, thinking esoteric experiences and “new” freedoms were from God, especially when they compared them to their legalist backgrounds.
It is this issue we desire to address in this booklet, with the hopes it may draw some back to the true living water that only Jesus Christ can give. Perhaps these words can alleviate some confusion to those who are held in bondage by either of these extremes.
In previous writings, we have demonstrated how the Gospel is the greatest of all treasures. Throughout the ages, man has been out digging for treasure. From the earth, we have been able to extract many of the things that we prize most highly including silver, gold, diamonds, gems, metal ores for making innumerable things made of iron or steel, copper or brass, and aluminum, while massive amounts of oil and coal have been extracted propelling us into an industrialized world. Yet, the human heart remains empty, and only God can fill that void.
Scripture likens our need for the Gospel to our need for water. Water is actually the most precious commodity on the planet. But most of us, if we have plenty of it, take it for granted. When scarce, it can be a matter of life and death. Water is life-giving, as we could only survive without it for a few days. So, in one sense, it is a priceless treasure; yet, in another sense, it is free. All this makes water a very suitable illustration for the Gospel because the Gospel is priceless in value, though it comes freely from the hand of God. Isaiah spoke of the Gospel and that it is both priceless and free. Consider his plea to his people to receive the gift of salvation:
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)
Already, in previous chapters of the book of Isaiah, he shared details of Jesus’ suffering and consequent death on a cross as an atonement for sin (see especially Isaiah chapter 53). Jesus paid the price for all our sins so that all who believe and put their trust in Him may go free and partake of the “sure mercies of David.”
The psalmist wrote, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1). And just as a deer is driven by thirst to drink of the cool water brooks, so we, like the psalmist, should hunger and thirst after God. But most Christians today, especially those in the Western world, seek to quench that thirst in all the wrong places, and what they attain never really satisfies because it is not the living water that is able to give us life and renew us.
The Gospel has been with us for a very long time, but of the world’s population, relatively few have chosen to dip into that water of life. The Scripture beckons, “the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Though the offer is made to all, there are so few who seem to listen. Consequently, so many choose to live in a perpetual drought, fearing the water of life that is able to save men’s souls.
Now, how long has the Gospel been with us? Paul tells us that Abraham received the Gospel:
And the scripture, forseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. (Galatians 3:8)
God made a covenant with Abraham based on a promise to send a “seed” (namely Christ), and in that seed, the promises would be fulfilled (see Galatians 3:16). It is here that a date is given of four hundred thirty years before God gave the Law to Moses. And while the date is of no real significance, what is significant is that the New Covenant (the Gospel) came before the Old Covenant (the Law). Paul’s letter to the Galatians vividly portrays how the Law was never given to save anyone; rather it was given to lead us to the Savior:
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
The Law, a Way of Salvation?
Abraham was justified by faith and faith alone as Paul recounts that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). Paul then emphatically states that no one is justified by the law when he says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11, emphasis added). In fact, the Law was an impossible system for salvation because to break any of it even only once meant to break the whole Law:
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10)
James reiterates the power of the Law when he states: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). It is clear, therefore, that the Law has power, but not the power to save—unless, of course, a person keeps all of the Law, at every point, perfectly; and no one has ever done that (except Jesus Christ). The power of the Law is to show us that because of sin, our righteousness is as filthy rags and consequently we remain under the curse of the Law until we come to Christ. The Law demonstrates that, without question, we are in need of a Redeemer; and that is why in Old Testament law, lambs and bullocks were sacrificed year after year, not because they saved at all but because they served as a continual reminder of the need of a Savior who was to come. Even though the temple sacrifices were done at God’s command, they could never in themselves take away sin because they were only symbols of what was to come (i.e., Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary). Chapter ten of Hebrews expounds on this point, as we look at the following:
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)
And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:11-12)
One teaching that is spread today is that the Jews are exempt from the Gospel because God gave them the Old Testament. But if that were true Paul would not have written “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3:11). On the contrary, it was to the Jews first that the apostles preached the Gospel until later when God showed them that it was to be preached to the Gentiles also. The Gospel is for all people everywhere, Jew or Gentile. This is why the proclamation of the Gospel is so very important because, under God’s plan, the way of salvation comes in only one way.
For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:18)
And when we think about it, the religions of the world believe we can be saved by our own goodness or that we already have God’s divinity within and consequently have no need of a Savior. But God chose to show Abraham a different way, and all who come to God must come to Him in the same way:
As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. (Genesis 17:4)
So, when God made Abraham a father of many nations, He made it clear that this covenant, based on faith in a promise (i.e., Christ the Redeemer), was to be available to all people everywhere. Then came the Law four hundred and thirty years later to direct everyone, like a schoolmaster, to their need of a Redeemer as it exposes our sinfulness. In this sense, the Law can be likened to the test equipment in a doctor’s office. After performing various tests, the doctor is able to identify a particular ailment, but the tests themselves have only exposed the problem and done nothing to render the cure. The doctor can then prescribe the proper medicine or refer the patient to a surgeon. Once that prescription or surgeon’s referral has been made, the patient is bound rather than cured by his doctor’s orders until the proper steps have been taken. Likewise, we remain bound under the curse of the Law until we come to Christ. Then He, as the Great Physician, cleanses us from our sin and imparts new life in us. That is why the Scripture says:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This is also why Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well:
Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)
This woman was acquainted with the problem, but now she had found the cure.
Likewise, Jesus’ offer of “living water” (John 4:10) goes out to all people with the Holy Spirit’s call: “whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). I find it rather puzzling, though, that while countless numbers from all over the world have found that living water, many have the tendency to go back to the Law to find comfort and assurance there. Like the patient who is now cured but feels compelled to stay indefinitely in the doctor’s office or the hospital when all that doctor can really do is to test and prescribe, if the Great Physician has already cured us, why would we want to go back into the Law that was designed to diagnose but not to cure? Furthermore, the Law can never be fulfilled by adherence to a set of rules; that is why Paul said, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Somehow, we get to thinking that mechanically observing a set of rules pleases God, but God is concerned with the condition of our hearts. So, while we can fulfill the Law by love, we cannot do it by merely observing a set of rules. Like the patient holding onto the prescription, the Law is for those bound by sin, directing them to the Savior. The Law is good insomuch as it exposes our sin and brings us to our Savior, but it has no power to save. This is why Paul was so startled in hearing that the Galatians were going back into the Law and why he was compelled to write:
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)
Now, a License to Sin?
As I mentioned in the beginning of this booklet, many Christians who were raised in legalism, at some point, swung like a pendulum to the opposite extreme and began embracing not only a license to sin but also an entirely so-called “progressive” or emergent view of Christianity.1 Instead of clinging to a set of legalistic rules that, they were told, are necessary to “complete” their salvation, they now adhere to a new set of rules that basically say there are no rules. In other words, all will be saved regardless of what they believe; and it doesn’t really matter what a person does or how he lives—as long as he “has a good heart” and loves everyone. And now the Bible becomes an archaic book that might have some nice poetry in it, but it is no longer considered the inerrant word of God that we use as a guide to our spiritual lives.
For many who were raised in legalism and then made the leap to the opposite side of the spectrum, they have never actually tasted or taken a drink of the living water offered by Christ. In their effort to correct an erroneous system, they missed that which gives life altogether, not realizing that where they landed is just as much a life-killer as that from which they fled.
That Well of Living Water
Contrary to what many might teach, Paul was not offering the Galatians a license to sin but a fundamental truth of Scripture—that the Christian life can only be lived out as that well of living water springs up from our hearts. It is imperative, therefore, that we be found in Christ because Jesus alone is that well from which the springs of life flow. The theologian and preacher Harry Ironside explains that well of living water that we so desperately need like this:
A great many people make the mistake of trying to live the life before they receive the life. The hardest thing I know is to try to live the Christian life when you do not have it to live. There must be a Christian life first before you can exemplify and manifest it. To try to live a Christian life when you have never been born again is just as hopeless as for a chimpanzee to try and live a human life. I have seen some chimpanzees that could copy things people do in a remarkable way. At a zoo in Philadelphia, one of the worker’s once said to me, “Come along and see a couple of your ancestors.” I went along; there were two trained chimpanzees who had learned to mimic human beings to a remarkable degree. They wore clothes, sat at a table, ate, and drank, and in a clumsy way handled a knife and fork. When they got all through, they settled back and put cigarettes in their mouths, and a keeper lit them, and they looked to me exactly like a lot of our own people do when smoking cigarettes. I never was in such difficulty in assuring myself that there is no truth in evolution.
Although those chimps could do all those things, they did not know anything about real human life. They did not know anything of the principles controlling men and women. They were simply imitators. Many people imitate Christians and try to behave like them. They do not know anything of the power of the Christian life. They have never been born again. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Some people are seeking holiness of life when they need to be born again. They have joined the church; they have observed certain ordinances. They hear people talk of a deeper, more wonderful life, and they say, “That is what I want. I must go on and get into this richer, more blessed life.” They try and try, and never get anywhere, because they have never begun right. They did not get in by the wicket gate.
You remember in John Bunyan’s immortal allegory how Christian is going along a road, and a couple of fellows come jumping over the wall. “Who are you, and where do you come from,” he asked.
“We come from the town of Carnal Security,” they say to him. “We are going to the Celestial City.”
“Well, you didn’t get in where I did,” says Christian in surprise, “I got in at the wicket gate.”
“Oh, that is the old-fashioned way,” they reply, “we have a short cut over the wall. After we are over the wall, what difference does it make? You are in the way, and we are in the way, and we are all headed for the same place. You’ll see we will come out just as well as you.”
But they didn’t have the seal on their forehead. They had never been to the Cross; they did not have the robe of righteousness. You remember one fell over the cliff, and the other was lost in the forest. They never made their way to the Celestial City.
A lot of people get over the wall and not in by the wicket gate; never born again, they go striving for holiness, purity, and higher life, but it will be all in vain until they confess their sins in the presence of God and trust the Savior for themselves. They must give up all hope of righteousness in themselves, of being able to do anything to retrieve their condition, casting themselves wholly on Divine mercy. Then they are in the way and can grow in grace.2
Jesus Christ is the well of living water, offered freely to whosoever will invite Him into his life and heart to become his Savior. To the unbeliever, He is the invitation—“let him that is athirst come” (Revelation 22:17). To the new believer, He is that new life where, “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But to those who have known Christ for a while, even a long while, He is the reminder to come back and be refreshed again with the only water that “shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Whether you have been caught in the vast sea of legalism or in the tsunami of “progressive” Christianity and you find your Christian life has become meaningless, tiresome, and without any real direction, why not come to the true living water? When we partake of that water, it does us much good. And when we share that water with others, it does no harm to our neighbor. It is the only water that is clean and pure and flows from the throne of God, and it is free for the taking.
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- To understand more about the emerging church and emergent views, read Roger Oakland’s article, “How to Know When the Emerging Church Shows Signs of Emerging Into Your Church” at: https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=11043.
- Harry Ironside, Changed by Beholding (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2018 edition), pp. 14-16. You can read more by Harry Ironside by visiting www.harryironside.com.
To order copies of Legalism or License Versus The Treasure of Living Water, click here.