Illegal Action

By Tom Roberts

I once saw a news report about a young football player who, while confined to the bench during a series of plays, got so excited about the opposing team’s interception and possible touchdown, that he leaped off the bench onto the field and tackled the runner! Needless to say, the young man’s action was illegal and whistles blew all over the field. Zeal and ill-conceived desire to stop another team’s easy touchdown will not justify an illegal intrusion by a twelfth man into a football game. While we may chuckle at the young man’s folly, we all would agree that a yellow flag should be thrown: the action was not legal and a penalty was justified. Those team mates on the field must do the job or their opponents will win. Such is the nature of football – and of other matters of transcending importance.

Our Contending Must Be Lawful

“And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5).

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully . . .” (1 Tim. 1:8).

There is an illustrative figure of the Christian and athletic contention used in the Scriptures that vividly teaches some truths. While we must not extend these figures beyond their proper use, they do make a valid point that we often overlook, as did the young football player, in his zeal and desire to “save the play.” To properly “contend in the games,” “contend for the faith,” or, in other words, to be a faithful disciple, we must be lawful in our service. I fear that many, for what they conceive as noble purposes, are often ready to suspend the rules of God and want to “play ball” only on their own terms. Why is this fallacy so easy to see among athletes and so difficult to see among brethren?

God Has Established Rules

Some brethren seem to be unwilling to accept the fact that God has spoken through Christ (Heb. 1:1ff) to establish authority (Matt. 28:18-20) in the kingdom. Christ is King and He reigns on His throne (Acts 2:29-36) and will continue to rule until the end (1 Cor. 15:24-26). The rule of Christ is expressed through the words of Christ (Jn. 8:31; 1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; 2 Jn. 9-11; et al). These words of Christ constitute a body of truth which may be referred to variously as “the faith” (Jude 3), “gospel” (Rom. 1:16), “truth” (Jn. 16:13), “doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10, 11), etc. Yes, this body of truth also constitutes a law. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2). “But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth. . . ” (Jas. 1:25). So far as the definition and essence of law is concerned, there is no difference between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ. Both laws emanated from the same source: God. They carry His authority. Rules are expressed. Obedience is required. Punishments are noted and rewards are offered.

However reluctant some are to state it, Christians are as much under a law of God today as man has ever been. True, there are important differences between the laws of Moses and Christ. And understanding these differences helps one to explain the grace of God and to understand the plan of redemption. But we must not lose sight that man is now, has been in the past, and will ever be, under law.

The Laws Of Moses and of Christ I say again, for emphasis, there is no difference in definition and essence between any expressions of the law of God, whether through Moses or Christ. Some mistaken concepts of grace would pit all law against grace. But this is ridiculous on the surface. Must we remind that the “grace of God . . . instructs us” (Tit. 2:11,12)? Hence, the principles that govern grace are a part of God’s sovereign will . . . rule . . . law. That part of the Law of Moses that is inconsistent with grace was intended to be so in order to magnify man’s need of grace: it taught that man was unable to save himself. That part of law required perfect works for justification from sin (Gal. 3:11,12). The Law of Moses defined sin (Rom. 8:7ff) but had no provision for forgiveness (Heb. 9:11-28). The Law of Moses constantly reminded one that he was a sinner (Heb. 10:3). Man was unable to save himself under this law and, understanding this (as the law intended), he was ready to be introduced to God’s grace. This was all in the mind of God (Eph. 3:8-10) from the beginning and the Law of Christ is but the logical extension (the end, purpose: Rom. 10:4) of the Law of Moses. Now that we are under the Law of Christ, we no longer attempt justification by perfect law-keeping but through forgiveness based on the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s blood. Whereas God spoke through Moses and it was called a law of condemnation (2 Cor. 3:9ff), He has now spoken through Christ and it is called the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:3). One law convicted us; the other delivers. One law enumerated our sins; the other forgives us. One law showed our faults; the other restores our soul. One law condemned to death; the other introduces eternal life.

Both Require Obedience

But both are laws, by definition, and require obedience. Some have indicated a lack of concern for obedience to the will of Christ because 4twe are not under the law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). But they beg the question. Which law are we not under? Why, the law that required perfect works for justification from sin, of course. We are not under that law. But are we not under law at all? Does God treat disobedience any less severely today than before? Perhaps we need to refresh our memory with the words of Hebrews 10:26-31, and it being a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The very letter of Paul that is so often misused and abused with reference to the teachings of grace reminds us that the Romans understood the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Salvation, though free, is conditional and until these terms are met cannot be obtained. Man’s faith is the proper response to God’s grace and, James notes, “show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith” (2:18). One cannot, by disobedience, proclaim his obedience to the will of Christ. “And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5).

What Conclusions Must We Draw?

Brethren, our actions must be legal (lawful). Let us not, as many seem to be doing, stretch the grace of God to cover disobedience. Has God spoken? Then let us respect His will. King Saul attempted to disguise his disobedience as obedience when he said, “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of Jehovah” (1 Sam. 15:20). But Samuel was not fooled asking, “What meaneth then. . . ” these acts of disobedience if you claim obedience? This is a revealing question. “What meaneth” the many acts of disobedience, if we are doing what God commanded? Isaiah put it succinctly: “Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil. . . ” (Isa. 5:20). Just whom do we think we are fooling? Brethren, if you want to cast yourselves loose from God’s law, that is your right under free will until the Judgment. But please don’t protest that you are doing God’s will, lawfully contending, when the “bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen” are heard in the land and among the churches. If a practice or belief is lawful, it will be revealed in the law. If one cannot substantiate a belief or practice by Scripture it is unlawful. Try your hand on the following things:

Action Lawful Unlawful
Instrumental Music    
Church-sponsored Entertainment    
Centralized Control    
Sponsoring Churches    
Divorce for any cause    
Social Drinking    
Churches charging tuition    
Unity with Doctrinal Error    
Church support of colleges    

How I long for the day when brethren all across the land will once again rise up and produce Scriptures for their practices. We have become a people without law, head-strong and rebellious. Many no longer make an attempt to contend lawfully, but like their religious forefathers, look to the denominations around about. But God has never been fooled and the crown is promised to those who contend lawfully. Many will be surprised to hear, “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you” (Lk. 13:27). Such people, we are told, will claim to have done 4 ‘many mighty works.” But they are called “works of iniquity” by Jesus works without law.

I can well imagine the chagrin on the face of the young football player when he heard the referee’s whistle. He had entered the playing field; he had tackled the opponent; he had stopped a touchdown by the enemy. But he had not done it lawfully and he was ejected from the game.

Of how much sorer tragedy will be those of us at the Judgment who claim to have done such wondrous things only to hear Jesus reject us. Brethren, come back to the law and the testimony. “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him; and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him; but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. . . ” (1 Jn. 2:3-5).

Guardian of Truth XXX: 17, pp. 528-539, 535
September 4, 1986