And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8 ESV)
Christianity has always had to walk the line between two equally dangerous errors: On the one hand, the are antinomian (against the law) tendencies in some Christian circles, and on the other hand, the are legalistic tendencies in other Christians circles.
Antinomianism is typically defined as the belief that since we’re under grace, we no longer have to follow the law. This view has a generally negative view of the law — rules and regulations that have no chance to save, but only bind people in a hopeless treadmill of obedience that cannot save. Since Christ freed us from the curse of the law, the law is no longer binding on Christians.
The flip side to this belief is legalism, which not only sees the law as still binding to the Christian, but seeks to go beyond the law of God and what it says by adding additional rules (e.g., no smoking, no drinking, no gambling, etc.). Inherent within legalism is an implicit denial of perseverance of the saints; the doctrine that in Christ, the believer will persevere in his faith because God preserves him until the end (Philippians 1:6). This denial of perseverance of the saints is seen in the legalist by the fact that strict obedience to the law is seen as a ‘requirement’ of remaining in the faith.
Both Antinomianism and legalism fear the true gospel because on the one hand, the gospel expects obedience to the law as a necessary response of love, worship and gratitude to Christ who saved us. While on the other hand, the gospel frees us from a slavish obedience to the law as a means of remaining in the faith.
In this passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus is confronting the legalists of his day, the Pharisees. What they had done was to add many more rules and regulations to those that were given in the Torah as means to help obey the Torah. What was actually happening was that the rules and regulations of the Pharisees — the traditions of men — were actually superseding, and even contradicting, the law of God. This is the trouble with legalism; the traditions of the legalists often become more important than God’s law.
We see this legalistic tendency in Christian circles all around us. From fundamentalist Protestants who regulate everything from which bible translation to use to how to dress to Roman Catholics who have added so many human traditions to the worship of Christ that they have fundamentally denied the gospel itself! The simplicity of the gospel frightens many; it’s too easy they say, it leaves man out of the equation they say.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to leave man out of the equation; it’s all of grace so that man cannot boast! It is simple in the sense that for one to be saved, he need only repent of his sin and turn to Christ in faith as his only hope of salvation. However, the gospel is not cheap! It cost the very Son of God his life and demands our walking in newness of life, which to those who have been saved it is seen as our reasonable act of worship!
Soli Deo Gloria!