By: Jerry S. Maneker

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man
should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)  

It doesn't get much plainer than this.  The Christian is not in bondage to anyone except God.  The expectations and
demands of man are to have no hold on the Christian, unless their thwarting causes a weaker Christian or a
non-Christian to stumble.  We are not to be put in bondage by self-appointed Pharisees who seek to mold us into what
they think a Christian should be or how a Christian should act.

The longer I'm a Christian, the more I'm convinced that the legalists, the self-appointed Pharisees, do more to turn
people away from the Gospel of grace than perhaps any other single factor. Moreover, there is an occasional
mean-spiritedness in their legalism and mind set.  For example, I heard one very well known evangelist say that the
reason some women were lesbians was that they were "too ugly to get a man."  And, of course, the legalism, and even
the mean-spiritedness, is done in the name of Christianity; in the name of "love."  Many people who might be open to
the Gospel, if they really knew what it meant for their lives and the eternal destiny of their souls, might well say after
hearing the perversions of the Gospel, "If this is Christianity, I want no part of it."

Scripture is quite explicit about our need to love and not judge others.  We are also not to be legalists.  Take the case
of Peter.  He was an Apostle and a man on fire for Christ after the resurrection.  Yet he, too, temporarily succumbed to
legalism out of his own training and his own fear of the views of other religious leaders, the Judaizers of the Church.  
The whole story can be told by reading Galatians 2 and Acts 15.

Paul was in Jerusalem and saw that there was pressure to circumcise gentile believers "...because of false brethren
unawares brought in who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us
into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue
with you." (Galatians 2:4-5)  When Peter sought to cave in to the pressure by observing Jewish dietary habits when
people from James' church in Jerusalem came to Antioch, Paul says, "...I withstood him to the face, because he was to
be blamed." (Galatians 2:11)

Paul goes on to say, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ...for by
the works of the law shall no flesh be justified...I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law,
then Christ is dead in vain." (Galatians 2:16,21)  Incidents such as these required a council to be convened in
Jerusalem, the seat of the Judaizers.

At that council, Peter said that there was no difference between Jew and gentile disciples in that their hearts are purified
by faith.  "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor
we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they."
(Acts 15:10-11)  Even James denied requiring circumcision of gentiles and to a great degree eschewed legalism for the
gentiles, though it's doubtful he did so for Jewish Christians, by sending a letter to Antioch through faithful, credible men
saying, "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary
things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication:
from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.  Fare ye well." (Acts 15: 28-29)  Not bad for a died in the wool legalist.
Clearly, we are not to use God's grace as a licence to sin or not pursue holiness.  However, we are not to be put into
bondage by man.  As Paul says, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased
men, I should not be the servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)

There are many well-intentioned Christians who believe they have the answers as to how to lead the Christian life.  
However, there doesn't seem to be a formula where one size fits all.  The only commonality Christians have is that they
have been saved and are being kept by God's unmerited favor to them.  We are no better than anyone else, and we
don't sin less than anyone else, although sin is to not have dominion over us.  However, it's a struggle.

Remember, sins involve not only what we do, but what we fail to do; what we say, and what we think.  What
differentiates us from non-Christians is that we are saved and kept throughout eternity by God; we are acutely aware of
our sins (Paul, though I would dispute him, calls himself the chiefest of sinners in 1Timothy 1:15), pray to God for
forgiveness, and struggle against our sin-nature to do our best to please our Lord and Master.

If Paul was not intimidated by Peter, the rock of faith who walked with Jesus, we are not to be intimidated by
self-appointed Pharisees who seek to put us into bondage to their view of the world.  If we truly trust in the mercy of
God, we will not only feel better about our walk of faith, but encourage non-Christians to partake of God's and our love
in a community of those called by God to be beacons in a very dark world.