Subjectivism (IV): Legalism and Grace

C.G. (Colly) Caldwell, III
Temple Terrace, Florida

The subjectivist has much to say on the topic of grace. He has discovered that his former position as a Christian was that of a "legalist" and that now he has been liberated by grace. He is no longer tied to "traditions" and his attitude toward others is one of tolerance. It seems that at this point the only one he condemns is the brother who is still the victim of "Pharisaic legalism" and "orthodoxy."

Subjectivists, in their own words, "will deny Gods grace to no one." By that they mean that they will let no difference in faith or practice separate them from fellowship with others who have been baptized into Christ.

It is a subtle position into which our friend has allowed himself to fall. The principal failure is in clearly and Biblically defining both "grace" and "legalism," words that he uses much in establishing his rationalistic position. Do not misunderstand. We are not here quibbling about semantics. Concepts have caused the confusion. The subjectivist has defined the two words in his own thinking so that they fit his modernistic approach to the Scripture.


He has failed with the concept of "grace" by conceiving of its being applied apart from conformity with Gods word. He has defined "grace" just as the denominationalist does when we discuss the subject of baptism. "Grace" to both is the free gift of God apart from Gospel requirements demanded of the recipient. In the one case it is salvation extended without obedience to Gods command to be baptized. In the other it is salvation extended without compliance with Gods requirements relating to the faith and practice of the Christian. I ask, where is the difference?

Our friend lays himself bare to denominationalism, and even to skepticism. He says he is loyal to the New Testament but he denies it is essential to follow it. He pleads for unity but deplores the thought of insisting upon doctrinal agreement, the only true basis for unity (John 17; Eph. 4). He denies the possibility of doctrinal agreement because we do not have it. That limits Gods grace to the subjective weaknesses of man more than any "legalist" ever limited Gods grace (Titus 2: 11,12). How can we say to the denominationalist, "You must comply with the Gospel," and then say to another, "Dont worry about our differences so long as you have been baptized right. Gods grace will save you in false teaching and vain worship." Jesus never said anything like that (Matt. 15:9), nor did any of the apostles (I Cor. 11 :29).

The point is that grace from God in the matter of salvation in the Gospel age is not extended unconditionally either to the alien sinner in search of forgiveness of past sin or to the sinner who is believing and practicing error while calling himself a Christian.

We are told, however, "You set down the rules whereby God will show His grace." No, the man who would do that is a fool. But he is also a fool who will not respect what God says when God sets down the rules whereby He will show grace. This whole question boils down to this: Will God keep His word or not!!! Our brother who cannot stand the thought of an authoritarian revelation which will justly judge even Christians believes that God will set aside his word when time for that judgment comes. This is not a matter of Gods not loving some Christians who will wind up in hell. It is a question of sin and rebellion to Gods word. It may be a question of not loving God enough to diligently search his word. And it is not a question of our not loving those believing and teaching and practicing error when we assert the fact that we cannot have the close communion with them that we do with those who are practicing the truth.


The other concept the subjectivist misses is that of "legalism." This word is properly identified with ones thinking that he can merit his salvation through the works of law. Such would be absurd in terms of the gospel. God will not owe salvation to anyone in the Day of Judgment. We have shown our denominational friends over and over that surely they cannot believe that we would be so foolish as to think that a five-minute act like baptism would put God in the position of debtor to man. The same is true of those requirements of the Christian. We could not buy salvation in a million years. It is too great a gift.

The subjectivist, however, defines the word "legalism" as the idea that one must observe law to be saved. That is a long way from the proper concept of the term. Our friend is now saying that when one believes he must do what God has given him to do and believe what God has said that he has become a "legalist." If that is true, Jesus and the apostles were blind when they condemned the Pharisees for "legalism" and then turned around and said, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), or ". . . in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him" (Acts 10:34-35), or ". . . not everyone who saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven" (Matt. 1: 2 1).

We had better decide from the beginning that we are not free to excuse sin, error, vain worship, or false teaching for God. We are not free to admit that an issue is not taught in the New Testament and then excuse its teacher and join him in practicing it. That is not "legalistic." It is Biblically "literalistic" but it is not trusting that I can merit my salvation by keeping law. It is thus not denying the grace, which has saved me!

January 4, 1973