What is surer evidence that the legalists are lost than the fact that they do all that is within their power to deny that justification is by grace alone through faith alone when the Scriptures clearly state it everywhere? Unfortunately, there are many who think themselves Christians who yet hope not in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, His all-sufficient blood, His boundless grace, but in their works, their self-scrutiny, their navel-gazing, and their quality of repentance. These men are lost, yet unaware of their true condition. Therefore, I thought it befitting to produce a short refutation of their errors, so that the Christian who is tempted to despair over their thoughts would be quickly brought back to his senses.
Since the legalists are fond of imperatives and refuse to believe the indicative statements of Scripture, I will refute their own blasphemous swill by means of the Law. For the Holy Spirit gives the following command through Paul, saying:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. [Col 3:12-13]
This one imperative destroys legalism of all sorts – whether it be the Pope’s form or the Federal Visionists’ – for the command is addressed to (a.)God’s chosen ones who are (b.)holy and (c.)beloved, and of whom Paul says (d.)the Lord has forgiven them. They are, therefore, already known to be elect, holy, loved of God, and forgiven in Christ and because of Christ. How then can the legalists claim that one is saved by his adherence to the Law? How can they claim that one is made holy by his deeds and not by the Spirit of God sanctifying him within? For Paul commands to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and to be longsuffering and forgiving as God’s chosen ones, holy, beloved, and forgiven!
With these words, the argument is settled: Legalism of any kind is refuted, for this one command can only be followed by those who already are saved, who have been forgiven, and who are the objects of God’s eternal loving grace and mercy. But in order to further underscore the depth of their wicked teaching, I will bring one more Scripture to bear in mind. Considering that God does not count the wicked as His children but as children of the devil, as Christ says in John 8:42-44 and which Paul repeats in Ephesians 2:1-3, I wonder who it is whom our Lord commands when He says:
“Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven…’”[Matt 6:9]
For if one is not sure of his status before God as God’s child or His enemy, then how can he identify God as his father? Prayer, therefore, cannot even be made if one is to be saved by his works, for prayer must be made in this way. God’s Fatherhood, therefore, must first be in place in order for one to fulfill this command. Yet if men are saved by their works, if their eternal destination depends upon their self-wrought righteousness, then this command cannot be fulfilled.
Therefore, if legalism is true, then by dint of these two commands legalism is also false. For if the unsaved person must fulfill God’s law, then he must also fulfill laws addressed to Christians; and yet if he cannot be saved apart from obedience to God’s Law, then he is not a Christian and cannot fulfill those laws which are addressed to Christians. Therefore, again, I can conclude simply: If legalism is true, then legalism is false.