Not all Disagreement about what the Law Says is Legalism
Most commentators on Philippians 3:18-19 focus on the word “belly” and assume that it means greed, not only the desire for too much food but the lust for money and sinful pleasures. They do not connect “belly” to the desire to have one’s own righteousness from the law, even though that has been the topic of paragraphs just before. But the lust of the flesh is subtle.
The trouble with “taste not touch not” is when people think that their tasting not and touching not brings them some blessing which the righteousness of Christ could not bring. There is nothing wrong with tasting not and touching not. Simply because we do not agree with another person about what God’s law teaches is no excuse to call that person a legalist.
But a person is a legalist, even if he has a right interpretation about what God’s law teaches, if that person thinks that his obeying that law brings him a blessing which the righteousness of Christ did not cause.
The law of God should not be blamed for legalism, even though God has predestined the abuse of the law. When a person thinks that his not tasting and his not touching brings him blessing, that person is not only a legalist but also an antinomian, because that person is thinking that God is satisfied with something less than perfect obedience and satisfaction of the law.
The only way that God can be pleased with the good works of a Christian is when the Christian knows that these good works are blessings from Christ’s righteousness, not a supplement to Christ’s righteousness.
And this distinction is not only something that God knows, or only something that smart “Reformed theologians” know. Every Christian knows that Christ’s righteousness is the only reason for every love-gift from God.
The sin which deceives us all by nature is that WE DESIRE WHAT WE PRODUCE TO GIVE US SOMETHING WE OTHERWISE WOULDN’T HAVE. We will give God’s “grace” the credit for helping us produce it. We have no problem saying that “particular election” is the reason we produced it. But, like Cain, we want to take what we produced and offer it to God as some small part of what God will accept it as righteousness.
We don’t mind of God haD to produce some righteousness also to supplement it and “make up the difference”. But the one thing we want, the thing which the people who killed Jesus wanted, is the one thing Cain wanted, and that is to have God accept what we have produced and what we sincerely (even if ignorantly) offered to God.
Frequently people tell me: “you are not going to tell me that I am lost just because I do not believe in definite atonement.” And then they say: I know what I used to be, and I know that I am different now, because now I know it’s all Christ, now I know it’s not works. Now I know it’s grace. And I just don’t even need to get into this question of who Jesus died for.
And then, in contradiction to their claim not to know, they say: I know he died for me because I was a sinner.
And I ask: did Christ die for all sinners? And again they say: I don’t need to get into that. And I ask: how do you know that Christ died for you? Does the grace to believe come from the death of Christ or from some other place?
And they say: I don’t need to know where I got faith because I got it. And then I ask: faith in which Christ, the one whose death saves or the one who died for those who will be lost? And then they start caling me some names.
The motive for that name calling is the same as Cain’s motive for murdering Abel. I John 3:12 explains: “why did he murder him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
Those with a false gospel cannot understand why one person’s work is evil and another person’s work is not evil. They cannot understand that it is evil to condition blessing on works. Indeed, despite talk about election and regeneration and -in many cases- even about definite atonement, those with the false gospel still judge saved and lost by works instead of judging works by saved and lost.