Seven Signs that You Might Be Living Under Law

religion_is_powerThis week I finally got to see the movie, The Book of Eli. If you like stories where a lone man has to stand up to the wicked while trying to distribute the word of God in a post-apocalyptic world, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t show it at your youth group. It is extremely violent. Still, it made me think about how people attempt to use God’s word for nefarious purposes.

In the movie Eli carries the last known copy of the Bible. He comes to a town where Carnegie, the local strong man, is looking for a Bible to control people. Eli’s not about to give up the world’s last copy of the KJV to a control-freak, so conflict ensues. Mid-way through the story, one of Carnegie’s thugs asks why they are being pushed so hard just to get a book. In an explosion of rage, Carnegie reveals his diabolical motive:

“It’s not a book! It’s a weapon. A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they’ll do exactly what I tell ‘em if the words are from the book. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. All we need is that book.”

There’s a world of truth in that statement. The Bible is universally known as “the Good Book” and rightly so. Its words are inspired and it will point you to Jesus. If you read the whole Bible through the lens of the cross, you will find redemption and life. If you read the written word to discover the Living Word, it will set you free.

But when handled incorrectly the Bible is utterly lethal. Buried within lies the law which, the Bible fairly warns, ministers death (2 Cor 3:7). For thousands of years, men like Carnegie have been using the law-bits of the Bible to control and manipulate others. Their goal is to enslave and dominate and their tools are fear and condemnation.

People have been living under self-imposed law ever since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jesus died to set us free from the curse of the law, yet some of us keep returning to the forbidden tree for another bite. Paul warned that we become “estranged from Christ” to the degree that we are under law (Gal 5:4). What makes the grace of God ineffectual in our lives? It is getting entangled again in religious notions about what it means to do the right thing.

I’d like to think that if I’d been Adam, the first thing I would’ve built was a fence around that tree. Then I would’ve put warning signs all over that fence. It’s too late for that now, but it’s not too late to put warning signs all around the law. Below is the beginnings of a list of signs that reveal whether you are living under the enslaving yoke of law or walking free in His divine grace. My purpose is posting this list is not to judge you, but to see you standing firm and free in Christ!

Seven signs that you may be under law

1.   You’re not 100% sure if you’re 100% forgiven

God doesn’t do forgiveness in installments. All your sins were forgiven at the cross (Col 2:13) when God the Son abolished sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb 9:26). Neither God the Father (Heb 8:12) nor God the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:17) remembers your sin any more. Still not convinced? Then read this.

2.   You believe Christians have a duty or responsibility to serve the Lord

Duty and responsibility are synonyms for obligation so this is a mind-set that says we are obliged, or indebted, to God. I’ve heard it said that “Jesus has done so much for you, what will you do for Him?” Indeed, God has given us everything. Ever wondered why? He did it “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). He is not just rich in grace, but exceedingly rich. You cheapen His grace by thinking you have a duty or responsibility to pay Him back. Your responsibility is to believe that He is good and true! It is not our obligation to serve the Lord, it is our royal privilege. It is not our duty, but our great delight.

3.   You suffer from performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety is a rational response to the uncertainty of life under the old covenant. But anxiety has no place in the new. We are to draw water from the wells of salvation with joy (Is 12:3). We walk under law in anxiety and fear, but we walk under grace with joy and thanksgiving! “Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned! Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!” (Rms 4:7-8, GNB) God has made us His Sons, and with such a Father we need not be worried about anything (Mt 6:32). He is our Provider who delights to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Mt 7:11). Those who serve under the law are insecure, but sons are secure.

4.   You think, “God will bless me as I do my part”

The essence of a life enslaved by law is the mindset that says, “I must do something for God.” The motivation may be to earn salvation or some other blessing. But this mindset is anti-Christ and anti-cross. Contrary to what you may think, we are not justified by what we do but grace alone (Rms 3:24). Grace and works don’t mix (Rms 11:6). (And if you’re thinking of James 2:24, read this.) Grace, peace, and every spiritual blessing have been given to us by God our Father through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3). We are not called to work for God, but to do the work of God. (Click the link to learn more about mixing grace with works.)

Grace is God’s part; faith is our part (Eph 2:8). Faith is a positive response to what God has done. Faith is saying, “thank you Jesus!” Faith is healing the sick and casting out demons, because Jesus made provision for our healing and deliverance at the cross.

5.   You think we need more preaching on repentance.

Repentance saves lives, but preaching on repentance doesn’t lead to repentance! A law mind-set emphasizes what people must do (repent!), but grace proclaims what God has already done (everything!). A law mindset uses inferior incentives (fear, judgment) that lead to temporary changes in behavior, but grace (God is good and He loves you!) changes the hardest heart. If you want people to genuinely repent, preach the goodness of God (Rms 2:4).

6.   You think you have to overcome life’s trials or Jesus will blot out your name.

It really isn’t about you. Jesus is our overcomer and our victory (Jn 16:33). Everyone who believes Jesus is the Son of God has already overcome the world, because The Overcomer lives in them (1 Jn 5:4-5). Jesus promised the overcomers at Sardis that He would never blot out their name. Ever since then insecure performance-oriented believers have feared He might change His mind and do exactly that. For more on overcoming, read this.

7.   You mainly think of following Jesus in terms of giving up things.

Christianity is a divine exchange, our life for his. No doubt you’ve heard people say that following Jesus costs you everything. And it does. You cannot call him Lord without renouncing the right to your own life. But see what you get in exchange! If salvation means nothing more to you than self-denial and personal sacrifice, you’ve missed the whole point. Christ offers us an unfair exchange; our life for His. God favors us with this exchange. We give him our sinful little selves and get everything in return. A law mindset looks at what we give up, but a grace mindset rejoices at what He offers in return! Stop thinking about what you gave up (nothing you could keep) and start enjoying what He has given you (everything!).


enjoy_signup

Comments

  1. This was a great post! So blessed to be standing free and firm in Christ, certain that His grace is all I need. Peace, Linda

  2. Love it, love it, love it! That quote in “The book of Eli” is really insightful, loved that part of it but the gore isn’t quite my cup of tea.

  3. victor sen says:

    Hi Paul, Thanks for ur’inspiring text. Need permission to share on FB. JBUs

  4. Paul,

    Good post! Been thinking about freedom a lot as of late. I think what you are saying is key. Jesus died to free us from laws and rule and obligations we could never keep and yet he says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). I think a lot of folks get hung up thinking that keeping the Jesus’ commandments is a dutiful “have to do” and miss the fact that love and the Spirit birth conformity to Jesus not human will power or effort.

  5. Hi Paul,
    Agree with you on some points in the above posts, but from what you’re stating both Peter and Paul were under the Law:

    “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20)
    “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)
    “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21)
    “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'” (Acts 2:37-40)

    • Hi Gum,
      Thanks for the comment. As I say in the post, repentance saves lives. Of course we must repent – both sinners and saints. Repentance is our lifestyle as we renew our minds and start living out our identity in Christ. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in what I wrote, but the point of difference is how we come to a place of repentance. A law mindset will always emphasize things we must do (eg: “you must repent!”), while grace emphasizes things God has done (eg: “He died and rose again”). Faith responds, it never initiates. Faith-filled repentance is a response to what God has done. How can people respond if they don’t first have a revelation of what God has done?

      Peter and Paul demonstrate these grace priorities perfectly. In Acts 2:14-36, Peter preaches on the goodness of God – the outpouring of His Spirit (17-19), the hope of salvation (21), the cross (22-23), the resurrection and exaltation of Christ foretold (24-31) and fulfilled (32-35). Not once does Peter mention repentance, yet his listeners are so convicted of their unbelief that they ask, “what shall we do?” (37). Then, and only after they have already come to the place of repentance through a revelation of God’s goodness, does Peter tell them to repent.

      Look at what Paul preached in the various cities and in every one of his letters, and you will see the same pattern. His general pattern was to preach “Christ crucified” (1 Co 1:23) and the “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38). In only one of the three verses you picked was Paul preaching to the lost. The context (Athens) was men who had long been reaching out for an “unknown God”, a God they already knew to be good – as Don Richardson has explained in his book, Eternity in their Hearts. Paul clearly understood that it is a revelation of God’s goodness that leads men to repentance (Rms 2:4).

      Simply telling people they need to turn will not lead them to a place of lasting repentance. Repentance doesn’t lead to repentance. You have to give them a good reason to turn. The goodness of God – and the utter folly of continuing in sin in light of His goodness – is the best reason there is.

      • Mdm. Nalinimatilda says:

        Dear Paul,
        I am very new to you. I enjoy reading your on Grace and I do believe in the finished work of our Lord. I am not very clear on the way you talk abot repentance. Please explain the repentance our Lord Jesus demand from the 7 churches in the book of Revelation. Thank you. May the Lord bless you

      • If you enter the words “repentance” or “Laodicea,” or “Rev 3:17″ for example, in the search box at the top of this website, you will find all relevant posts on those subjects.

      • mary rose sad-ayan badol says:

        repentance on my point of view cant saves live..but Jesus saves lives through repentance..

  6. Thanks Paul,
    Get your thinking and mostly agree but just two quick things.
    1) Be careful not to take Rms 2:4 out of context. As you know lifting a verse out of it’s context and using it as a proof text can be very misleading and in the same manner adding to it.
    2)Galatians tells me it’s the law that leads people to the realization they need Christ, a saviour.

    • Two quick responses:
      1) If Paul isn’t saying “God’s goodness leads to repentance,” was is he saying? What is the context that changes the meaning of this passage?
      2) Galatians 3:24 tells me the same thing too. What does this have to do with the current post?

  7. “When the mind dwells upon self, it is turned away from Christ, the source of strength and life. Hence it is satan’s constant effort to keep the attention diverted from the Saviour and thus prevent the union and communion of the soul with Christ. The pleasures of the world, life’s care and perplexities and sorrows, the faults of others, or your own faults and imperfections – to any or all of these he will seek to divert the mind. Do not be misled by his devices.

    Many who are really consciencious and who desire to live for God, he too often leads to dwell on their own faults and weaknesses and thus by separating them from Christ, he hopes to gain the victory. We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt, dismiss your fears.” – Ellen White, Steps to Christ.

  8. typo 4. – we but do grace alone (Rms 3:24) Correction – “We are not justified by what we do but by grace alone. (Rms 3:24) “

    • Thanks Roshan. More than 2000 people have read this particular post but you were the first to spot the typo (now fixed). That makes you E2R’s “Reader of the Week”! Congratulations!

  9. Excellent!!!! I just came across your blog today and this was an excellent read. Thank you!

  10. Wow what a powerful message. Thanks for your message continue more to grow in Grace. Thanks Paul Elli

  11. Patty Weber says:

    This is awesome…..I wish there was a way to print it out!

    • Hi Patty,
      If you look at the sharing buttons under the post (above the comments) and you will see one button labeled “More.” Hold your cursor over this button and you will see several sharing options one of which is “Print.” Print away!

  12. Surely the Lord brought me today to discover your blog. It’s such a blessing to me! This is a “setting free” post, because of the truth.

  13. Thanks so much Paul – you are doing such a great work in Him. Thanks for being so fully persuaded in His finished work and boldly proclaiming that persuasion!

  14. Hi Paul,

    I thank God for leading me to your blog. I thank God for another person like you boldly proclaiming the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ with such clarity!!!

  15. truely enlightened.

  16. Lianda Cruywagen says:

    Beautiful glorious stuff. One positively inhales freedom as you read it. Please keep me posted (I’m from Cape Town). Many blessings

  17. I have waited for an individual who understands grace seriously online… Its one thing to know the truth and another to explain it to others in such an awesome manner.. This is what I’m talking about!!! Go Paul

  18. Roshan Easo says:

    Paul, I go to a church that claims grace – the most famous church on television. Lakewood church. It’s almost liberating, except for one thing – Joel always says, “God will bless you as you do your part.” And like a sucker I quack the same line, selling out on the gospel. It’s a lot of heat, to defend the purity of grace.

    • Roshan Easo says:

      Everyday when I go to work, I walk under law in anxiety and fear, instead of walking under grace with joy and thanksgiving! There was a time I did walk with joy and thanksgiving, but somehow, performance-reviews cut me short. Thanks for pointing out the problem, so that I can be aware of this very scary set of mind-sets.

    • Roshan Easo says:

      By the way Paul, have you had a change of mind about this recently (I ask based on a wonderful quote on gracequotes.com)?

    • I like joel, and i think what he is saying is [living it out] means as you get more of a revelation of grace you will live it out, he is the author and finisher of our faith.

  19. Derick Manilong says:

    I`m truly blessed with this message I LOVE YOU MORE JESUS!!!

  20. Poderoso esto de las “7 señales”. Lo mas grave de todo es que las personas están siendo (mal) enseñadas a que tienen que hacer cosas para agradar a Dios. Gracias. Bendiciones
    Powerful these “7 signs”. The most serious is that people are being (mis) taught to have to do things to please God. Thank you. Blessings

  21. Hi, I have spent the last few weeks reading as much as I can from this website. I’m a pretty new Christian, so all of this is pretty new to me. However, before becoming a Christian, I spent my life trying to be ‘a good person’ and it didn’t work, so I already know that trying in your own strength to be better doesn’t work. I understand the concept of grace in theory and when I read the wonderful stuff on here, I feel excited by this way of relating to God, but, in reality, I have no idea how to live it out. I read and I pray about it and I read more and pray more and acknowledge fully that I can’t do anything in my own strength, but then continue to try, try, try and then beat myself up for failing!!! I feel like I’m stuck and I don’t know how to get ‘unstuck’. I read the ‘7 signs’ above and sadly think I’m still very caught up in the first three. Any ideas from anyone for moving forward, or am I expecting too much too soon???

    • I have no idea how to live it out. I read and I pray about it and I read more and pray more and acknowledge fully that I can’t do anything in my own strength, but then continue to try, try, try and then beat myself up for failing!!!” You just answered your own question!

      Like Paul in Romans 7, your focus is on your self. You may be saved but you are walking after the old ways of the flesh. Instead of allowing Christ to live his life through you, you are trying to be Christ. Bad idea. Stop trying. Start trusting. Stop transmitting and start receiving. Instead of asking God to help you do stuff, thank him for what he’s done. Fix your eyes on Jesus and keep them there.

      • Amanda Salley says:

        Love this reply. I too have allowed myself to be tossed like a wave. Now, when I feel myself start to ask God what does he want me to do, do, do…I redirect and thank him for the good works He has already Graced me for today. Even if it’s dishes, laundry and playing with my daughter.

    • You can never expect too much from God, but you can most definitely expect too much from yourself. And what is it you’re expecting from you anyway? This isn’t a performance, this is you and God in relationship thanks to the new birth. Try to think of it as you would a relationship within a new marriage. You’d never go on in that way, “I read about marriage, I pray about it, I read more and pray more and then I try, try, try…”. Meanwhile, your new spouse is sitting there wondering when you’re actually going to talk to them, love them and enjoy your new relationship!

  22. Thanks for the comments. Yep, what you both said makes total sense and I know my focus is wrong, and that the answer lies in fixing my eyes on Jesus, stopping trying, starting to trust and enjoying the relationship – I just don’t know how to do that in practice! And I do thank God for everything he’s done (although I don’t claim to understand fully all he’s done) – I just don’t think I live according to that. It’s frustrating, as I really can see that I’m ‘walking after the old ways of the flesh’ and I want to change that, but I don’t seem to be able to, which I realise sounds pathetic, but that’s how it is!!! Anyway, thanks for the comments. I appreciate them.

    • Well this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? You want to change it, you want to make it happen. I understand where you’re at! Here’s the thing – you are experiencing a process of dying to the old way you’ve known of striving to “do it” in your efforts. The discomfort you are feeling is that you are finding you’re unable to figure out how to “do it”. The more you look to see how you can accomplish your current “To Do” list, the more perplexed you are feeling, but that’s a process you’ve got to go through in order to stop striving in your own ability and enter His rest. You will come to believe fully in His finished work and His promises to you because He has made you totally new. It will become “He did it and will complete it” and less of the “I do it”. (He’s gonna poke your I’s out). :)

      1 Cor. 1:8

  23. Thank you for your help. I take comfort in what you have said – that this is a necessary process to go through, and I’d be happy to have my I’s poked out! :)

  24. Leslie Snell says:

    Awesome post…Thanks Paul

  25. Wonderful post, esp. as I am embracing freedom in Christ’s love and grace after leaving the Catholic Church. Thanks for this, it’s really helpful and reaffirming for me at this time :)

  26. peter powanga says:

    I am so blessed and tranformed thankyou Jesus.

  27. GREAT POST! amen ! i rest in grace!!

  28. Mary Wolfe says:

    Hey Paul,
    I “accidently” came across some of your stuff while doing a google search, and I can’t get enough of what you write. I love how everything is backed up scripturally, and it makes it easy to read, especially for a newcomer to grace, as I am. Can you explain something for me that I keep getting stuck on. It’s Matt 5:17-20, but specifically verses 18 and 19. I get that Jesus was teaching the law, but how to do I explain to others verse 18? How can the sky and earth pass away? Thank you!
    Mary

    • Hi Mary, I believe Jesus is saying the law will endure for as long as the earth does. The cross didn’t abolish the law. After the cross Paul spoke of the law being good if used properly, and so forth. The law is there to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24) that he might be the end of the law for all who put their trust in him (Rom 10:4).

  29. I see it this way, if I go about doing all the right things, walk or drive on the correct side of the road, stop at every stop sign, love neighbour, mother, everyone as myself, eat right, have every dirty spot everywhere removed and just accomplishing all the right things in life, I would just be doing things the required way. I still would be one of the myriads the bible says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…..Rom. 3:23. I still would not have received the gift of God, which is forgiveness of sins and eternal life, through Jesus Christ. Doing the right things is good, but doing things the right way is better. When we are saved from sin, then we will be able to be led by the Spirit of God to do good works, for we are saved unto good works. We have all sinned against God and God whom we sinned against, provide the required perfect sacrifice we could not provide but needed and more.

  30. Amanda Salley says:

    WOW. What a great article. Right off the bat, #1 hit home. I used to be in a mixed grace and law church, but didn’t know it. They taught you had to asked for forgiveness every time you missed it, unless you were perfect and I most certainly didn’t feel that way. We practiced 1-7. Every time I actually felt the presence of God manifested, I would think here is my chance to tell God how sorry I was. I would cry and ask for forgiveness. Until one day I watched a old movie, old to me lol, “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams. Don’t know if you know it or not, but in one scene, Robin’s character is dead and he, in the spirit, is trying to be next to his wife who is grieving him and every time he gets close to her she breaks down and cries and cries. It breaks his heart and so eventually leaves her. Now I know God will never leave me but I could hear God speak to me through that scene. How sad it must make Him feel that every time He wanted to make Himself known to me, I would cry and cry and say I was sorry….

  31. Sounds a lot like a man centered gospel to me.

  32. Abba's Boy says:

    Paul – Good to see this excellent post is still being read. The Holy Spirit is giving so much revelation to so many people – I hope that this message keeps spreading.

    Something I read last night got me to thinking about Martin Luther. He was the reformer of his day, bucking the religious practices of the Roman church. I decided to read, for the first time, his 95 theses. What an eye-opener. As “different” as he was, he was still steeped in the law. Thank God that, in this age of easy media access, people like you are spreading the true Good News.

    One comment on repentance that is so very important: to repent means to change one’s thinking, not change one’s direction. The latter naturally follows the former, but can only be successful when believers truly believe what Jesus has done for us. That’s why it’s so important to implement Romans 12:2.

  33. Paul, just want to thank you, you inspired me to write a blog post “66 indicators of a legalist belief system” There are two types of believers out there. Both are saved. One has peace, the other lives in anxiety and legalism. “Focus on your faith, not your failures, focus on your salvation, not your sins, focus on God’s grace, not your guilt, and REST in his love, grace and mercy. It’s not what you do, but what Christ DID on your behalf. Keep doing the Lord’s work brother, God bless!.

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