Profiles In Legalism —– The Tattered Suit
The following are excellent illustrations and highlights to summarize “law and grace.” You will find them very helpful.
The Tattered Suit
There were two men who were neighbors – Joseph was Jewish, Greg was an atheist. Joseph is required to obey the law of Moses. Greg is not because the law of Moses was only given to the nation of Israel.
Both men go about their normal lives. Joseph faithfully observes the commandments of the law. He observes the Sabbath and is faithful in his tithes and keeping many of the specific parts of the law. Greg, on the other hand, goes about his daily business completely oblivious to the requirements of the law. Basically, Greg could care less about the law.
Greg frequently observes Joseph, his Jewish neighbor, trying his best to keep the law. Joseph leads his family in prayer and leads them to the synagogue faithfully every Sabbath. Greg notices, however, that lately Joseph looks worn down and physically ill. So Greg decides to talk to his friend to ensure he is fine.
Joseph explains that he is burnt out and run down with life. He explains that he has done his best to keep all parts of the law, but has realized he just cannot. He explains how he redoubles his efforts every week to ensure keeping the law, but he always winds up failing. He frequently becomes ill as a result. He promises Yahweh God that he will always do better, but he can never seem to keep his promises. Joseph feels enormous guilt and condemnation for failing. He believes that Yahweh God is not pleased with him. Yahweh must be very disappointed with him. Therefore, the only practical result is that Joseph feels guilt and condemnation everyday for his consistent failures.
Greg thinks the Jewish faith is much too stringent – since he sees his neighbor Joseph frequently worn down and uptight. Greg thinks to himself: “I sure am glad I am not Jewish. Who would want to serve a god who requires such hard laws to be kept?”
About a month later, a Christian evangelist happened to be preaching in a nearby church. Both Greg and Joseph went separately to hear him preach. The preaching was a very moving and penetrating message about God’s personal love. At the end of the service, the evangelist invited, to come forward, anyone interested to ask Jesus in his or her heart and become a born-again Christian. Quite a few people went forward; among them were both Greg and Joseph. The evangelist led everyone in prayer – to ask God forgiveness of all their sins and inviting Jesus to come live in their hearts.
After the prayer concluded, both Greg and Joseph sensed a very deep peace and joy they had never experienced before. Then they noticed one another in the crowd that came forward. They ran towards each other and embraced – for there was the deep joy of Jesus flowing from their hearts. They realized they had become one – brothers in Jesus Christ.
I use this illustration to highlight the major differences between “law and grace” and to show how one easily slides back into legalism to keep God’s laws through self-effort.
For Joseph, the Jew, and Greg, the atheist, became Christians by faith. They are now one in Christ. However, they each had a different way that God used to draw them. Being Jewish, Joseph was required to keep the law; Greg was not.
Look at it from the view of putting on brand new, clean clothes (Christ). Ephesians 4:24 “And that ye put on the new man (Christ), which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Joseph and Greg have both put on Christ. However, remember our distinction between “law and grace.” Galatians 3:24-25 “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” The law is given only to the Jew to follow. The law shows the Jew that he cannot keep it – as we see in our example of Joseph trying his best to keep it and failing. Joseph is left feeling miserable, burnt out, and feeling guilty. The law’s purpose is to convict and condemn so the Jew can turn to Christ. If the law convicts and condemns, then it has done its job. In our example, we see the law has precisely done to Joseph what it was supposed to do. Joseph feels like a total failure. All he can do is cry out to God for help and grace and he sees God’s answer in Jesus Christ. He accepts Jesus’ sacrifice and becomes born again.
Therefore, Joseph realizes that Jesus did fulfill the law – the law he always failed to keep. So Joseph now puts aside the law (trying to keep it) and puts on Christ. Joseph has died to the law and has accepted God’s grace. Joseph now lives under the grace of God, no longer “under the law.” It’s like he is wearing a “tattered, worn out” suit. The “tattered, worn out” suit represents the law. Now Jesus comes with grace to put a new suit on Joseph. But, first, Joseph must take off the old suit and then put on the new one. So he takes off his old “tattered, worn out” suit (the law) and lays it on the backyard fence separating his house from Greg’s. Then Joseph takes the new suit (grace) and puts it on. So the Jew must take off the old (law) and put on the new (grace).
On the other hand, Greg is not required to keep the law of Moses. Being an atheist, he is not wearing a “tattered, worn out” suit. Greg is not even aware of sin in his life because there is no law to show him. So when he does become convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:6-11), all he must do is put on the new suit (grace) that Jesus gives him.
So now we have two new Christians in new clean suits with the love and light of Christ coming from them. Imagine the two in their backyards talking over the fence about their new life in Christ. Off to the side, still hanging on the fence, is Joseph’s “tattered, worn out” suit. Joseph shares that it is now such a joy to not wear that burden any longer. Greg agrees. They share emphatically this new life in Christ – a life of grace and love with Jesus living in them. They experience a deep love between each other as brothers in Christ. They begin to meet everyday to fellowship, pray, read the Bible, and worship God. You can say that God truly exists between them. They both passionately love Jesus first and grow in His grace and love. This goes on for almost an entire year. God is growing in them individually and together.
So far in my illustration, this is exactly how the Christian life is supposed to be lived. I am sure you can easily see that. Only the pureness of God’s intimate love is to motivate them. They experience a life “under grace.”
After growing in grace for about a year, one day, Greg, the former atheist, happens to go out into his backyard. Joseph is not there. Greg notices Joseph’s old “tattered, worn out” suit still hanging on the fence. Immediately he thinks: “Joseph couldn’t keep the law because Jesus was not living in him. However, since Jesus did fulfill the law and since Jesus does live in me, then I know that I can and will be able to keep the law.” Greg quotes: “After all, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So he takes Joseph’s old “tattered, worn out” suit (the law) and puts it on over his new suit (grace). “Not bad! Not a bad fit,” he exclaims. “Watch out world!” At that moment, Joseph steps out of his house into the backyard. There before his eyes in amazement, he sees Greg wearing his old, tattered suit. Joseph thinks Greg looks “stupid” and tells him so. Greg replies that all is well; he has only tried on the “tattered, worn out” suit to see how it fits over the new suit Christ gave him. Greg believes it fits perfectly; Joseph knows otherwise from experience. But Greg insists to keep it on, while Joseph chooses to keep his new suit (Christ) showing. And unknowing, Greg has stepped into legalism.
Need I say more? Just imagine seeing a man with a new, beautiful suit on. Imagine seeing him then put on an old, dirty, torn suit over the new one. Then he goes about his business living. That is legalism – attempting to live the Christian life wearing the law. That is what occurred to Greg. Don’t fall into its trap. That is why it is invaluable and necessary for you to know and understand the difference between “law and grace.” Legalism is a very serious threat to the grace of God. So only let grace live through you. Only let the love of Jesus motivate your every part of life. Just know the purpose of the law and drop it, so that only grace is left. Praise His Marvelous Name!
Beware of the subtle, legalistic mindset in Christianity that emphasizes what you have to do for God, instead of what God wants to do through you. Legalism stresses works done for Jesus more than the works Jesus does through you. These works could be anything from Bible reading, Bible memorization, prayer, witnessing, spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, tithing, etc. Whatever takes you away from your intimate walk with Jesus will draw you into legalism. 2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your mind should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Yes, keep your walk with Jesus simple and pure. Read the letter to the Galatians frequently so the Holy Spirit can teach you the dangers of legalism. Don’t wind up like Greg and cover Christ with the law. Then the world will only see you living the Christian life by keeping the law. They certainly will not see Christ and His love living through you. They will see your old “tattered, worn out” suit.
Wearing an old, torn suit over the shining one is how law covers grace. That is what one looks like when he gets back “under the law.” That is what legalism does to the Christian – it hides Christ so His love and light cannot flow out from the Christian. Instead, all you see is the Christian puffed up in his ego flesh – all puffed up about his works done for Jesus. And he will begin boasting about it thinking it is God’s will. But, it’s not.
The real problem with the law is not the law itself. The real problem is you and I. We can never keep the law because of indwelling sin. No matter how hard we try, we will always fail. The law requires total perfection and sin actually gets its power from the law. Therefore, we are in a no-win situation when we try to keep the law. We simply cannot and, as a result, easily fall into sin’s power. So why don’t we stop trying to keep it?
Our only way out to escape the law and sin is THE CROSS. The road of Calvary is a narrow road “of death.” So our escape is through death. After all, that is what the cross represents – death. It is not a physical death – but a death “in our spirit” to sin and the law. It is a death to the things that have power over us. It is a death to those things in life that keep us from God. At the cross, we cry out to Jesus and give ourselves in total surrender. Magnificent!
Jesus is the door/way for our escape. And the road He leads us through is the road to death. It is our daily death of Calvary. Yes, we must die (in our minds) to what keeps us in bondage. In other words, Jesus wants to “desensitize” us to the temptations of sin that Satan throws our way. Jesus also wants us to focus on Him and His grace when the law arises to challenge us. This is why there is His life in the resurrection to experience after we die daily to sin and the law.
No wonder so many Christians remain in bondage to sin and the law. Who wants to experience death – especially daily? So no matter how much a Christian tries to free himself from the bondage of sin and the law, he simply cannot. (This is not a complicated Scriptural principle to understand.) He struggles and will continue to try as hard as he can, but he just cannot free himself. This is because he is trying to keep the law in his self-effort. He may appear to succeed in some areas, but we know he will fall flat on his face just like Joseph. That is why he needs grace, not the law. Once he realizes he cannot keep the law, he should turn to Jesus who did keep/fulfill the law. This is his (and our) escape – through the cross (death to sin and the law) and into the resurrection (alive in Christ and His grace). Romans 7:24-25 “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
This is God’s simple plan for our salvation in Christ. The law condemns us, shows us as failures. God provides our escape through Christ – His cross and His resurrection. “Under the law,” we attempt to live the Christian life and miserably fail. “Under grace,” Jesus lives the Christian life through us and always succeeds as long as we let Him live His life through us.
This is why the Christian life is only Jesus Christ. Everything begins and ends with Jesus. Jesus is why the Christian life is such a joy. If you struggle in your Christian walk trying to keep the law, you will be missing the joy and intimacy of Jesus living through you. You will miss the daily experience of His grace and love for you. This is because you are trying to keep the law when you simply cannot. You struggle and burn out. You redouble your efforts to try your best and you still fail – just like Joseph. Then Satan pounds you with feelings of guilt, condemnation, and frustration. But remember that is the law’s one and only purpose. You must see this if you want to be free and enjoy your life with Christ.
Christ is knocking at the door of your heart. Let the Holy Spirit show and convince you that this is the only purpose of the law – to convict, to condemn, and to convince you that you cannot keep it. Once you are convinced, then, I guarantee all you will see is Jesus. You will be so grateful. You run to Him, rest in His love, and realize only He can do what you never could. So cease striving and rest in His love. Then, the joy of experiencing Jesus daily begins to return. You have now experienced the true meaning of living “under law” and living “under grace.” So, choose daily to live “under grace” – only resting in His love.
The main issue and struggle many Christians face is their failure to understand the difference between “law and grace.” What many do instead is mix the two together. It comes out in this type of mindset: “Because Jesus has saved me by His grace, I now have the ability to keep the law.” (This is exactly what Greg did by putting on Joseph’s tattered suit (the law) over his new clean suit (grace).) And before they know it, they innocently and ignorantly try to keep the law. Failure is inevitable. As we have extensively studied in this book, “law and grace” can never be mixed.
God wants us to be confident in the grace of His Son. We are God’s children and must only focus on Jesus. This guarantees a life “under grace” – for Jesus is the grace of God. We can then be confident that the life Jesus lives through us will be God’s life. This is why it is grace – a life free from fear, guilt, condemnation, and frustration. It is a life only in love with Jesus.
This is why it is critical for you to have a clear understanding between “law and grace.” Otherwise, only confusion will occur. “Under the law,” guilt, fear, and condemnation arise. Also arising will be doubt that God loves you. If you fail to keep the law, God must be disappointed in you. “Under grace,” the joy of the Christian life bursts forth and becomes the most exciting experience to ever encounter – the joy of experiencing the intimate love of Jesus daily. (See Philippians 3:7-11.) And then Jesus gives you a passion to share His love with others.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit has a question for you that you need to answer. After reading this book and understanding the difference between “law and grace,” the Holy Spirit asks you the following: “How prepared are you to put aside the law and be totally dependent on Jesus and His grace?” Only you can faithfully answer. And you must answer. So give yourself a thorough self-examination before you answer. There are only three possible answers.
- NO! “I choose to live ‘under law’ – to obey God’s laws through my self-effort. In that way, God will accept me. I can make it on my own.”
- YES! “I choose to live ‘under grace.’ I accept Jesus’ sacrifice as fulfilling the law. Therefore, I choose to be totally dependent on Him to live His life through me. I know that God accepts me as I am because I accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf.”
- BOTH! “I choose to live a mixture ‘under law’ and ‘under grace.’ By being saved by God’s grace, His grace now makes it possible for me to keep the law.” Under this choice, one feels that he must always do something to make himself acceptable to God. He has mixed “law and grace” and will become double-minded and unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).
The choice you make will chart the entire course of your Christian life. For “law and grace” is at the source of the Christian life. Remember: God already knows we can never keep the law. He only expects failure on our part. That is why He sent Jesus to fulfill the law. Therefore, the law becomes fulfilled in us when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our life. Jesus comes to live in us forever, for He will never die. We do die because of sin and the law, but Jesus never will.
I now realize when I begin to feel condemned, guilty, or frustrated over something in some area of my life, I have not died to the law in that area of my life. Satan will use the law to torment me into believing that God is upset with me and, therefore, does not accept me. Satan whispers to me that God does not love me. Baloney! I now realize that to be totally free, I must do what Paul writes, “Through the law, I died to the law.” Therefore, God does accept me just as I am. God accepts me as His child. He loves me unconditionally. He also does the same for you. You are under God’s grace. You have put on Christ – and choose not to put the law on over Christ – to not mix “law and grace.” So don’t put on “tattered, worn out” clothes and hide Christ in you.
– excerpt from ARE YOU UNDER LAW OR UNDER GRACE
– author Bob Bennett – http://www.LifeUnderGrace.com