In the pursuit of freedom and quest for ultimate meaning and fulfillment, men seek to build their identity on anything other than God. Fallen man seeks to define himself and find his identity apart from God. Yet, true freedom and lasting fulfillment, as Galatians shows, comes from finding one’s identity in union with Christ (cf. 2:20).
Legalism leads a man to define himself apart from Christ. This is in reality the breaking of the 2nd Commandment. As Tim Keller has written, the emphasis is not as much on “doing bad things” but on “making good things into ultimate things.”
“…true freedom…comes from finding one’s identity in union with Christ (cf. 2:20).”
Through the idols of inappropriate romances, human approval, peer admiration, pursuing careers/work, health and fitness, entertainment, the American dream, travel and vacations, fashion, shopping, stock market rallies, etc… men are seeking to gain meaning and fulfillment from things rather than God.
Legalism is man seeking to justify and save himself apart from Christ and His righteousness. A legal heart seeks to get from “things” what it should be looking for from God.
As Jeremiah 2:13 says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Or, as Ecclesiastes describes it, all these things are ultimately “meaningless…a chasing after the wind,” where nothing is to be gained (Eccl. 2:11).
“Legalism leads a man to define himself apart from Christ.”
Instead of peace (Gal. 1:3), false gospels trouble a man’s soul (Gal. 1:7). False gospels lead only to anxiety, doubt, lack of fulfillment, covetousness, envy, resentment, bitterness and ultimately hatred of God (i.e., spiritual disaster).
On the other hand, the gospel of Christ announces to be not only hope for forgiveness of sins, but also man’s only hope for true and lasting freedom (cf. 5:1; see also John 4:13-14; 7:37-38).
The gospel, then, is the antidote to idolatry.
Dan Cruver, commenting on the life-changing implications of adoption, wonderfully captures this truth. He writes,
Since our adoption by God gives us the all-satisfying Triune God and brings us in to participate in the love of the Trinity, deepening in our understanding and experience of the good news of adoption is essential for success in our ongoing battles against idolatry.
Because we are human beings, Cornelius Plantiga writes, we “long for wholeness, for fulfillment, and for the final good that believers call God” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 131). Idolatry, he continues, “taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its energies to objects and processes that drain” us instead of fill us.(emphasis mine).
But God in His grace has given us the good news of adoption which is His power to free us from the insanity of idolatry. God’s provision of adoption gives us the very thing for which we were made—God. As Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The glory of our adoption by God is that it gives us the only object of affection that provides rest for our restless hearts, namely, the all-satisfying love of the Triune God. So in your daily battle with idolatry, feed your soul with the truth of your adoption in Christ,