A short disclaimer is in order here. The following remarks are in no way reflective of extensive scientific research or professional diagnosis and study. They are simply my own humble observations. There, that should do it.
Whenever we talk about living the Christian life, there are two groups of people that tend to fall off one side of the gospel horse or the other. We all have the potential to find ourselves leaning a little too far from time to time, but probably not in the direction we would expect.
The first group of people are the legalists. You would think that these fine folk would be characterized by their love of the Law. But the legalist is not one who defines his or her life by an active obedience to the standard of the Law. Rather, they are defined by what they don’t do. The righteousness of the legalist is built upon the negative. They don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t curse, don’t watch R-rated movies, don’t wear short skirts, don’t listen to rock-n-roll, don’t miss church, and don’t hang around with anyone in the above categories. Get the picture? Notice the absence of anything in the list of don’ts that has anything to do with a Law that comes from and reflects the nature of the Triune God. The legalists are good because of what they are NOT. They look in the mirror and don’t really care what they are wearing as long as they aren’t wearing those clothes.
The second group are the antinomians. Again, you would expect that these free spirits would be known by their utter distaste for anything that smells of obedience to a standard. But the soft grace crowd are more than happy to define their lives by what they do. They read their Bibles, they feed the poor, they volunteer their time, they care about those around them, they pray, they sing, they laugh, they eat and drink in merriment. Their goodness is found in how often their feelings stumble into a puddle of obedience. They look in the mirror and find satisfaction in wearing the right clothes but in a hipper, cooler sort of way.
So how do we make sure we stay firmly on the horse? How do we avoid cheap obedience on the one hand and cheap grace on the other? First, we have to remember that grace precedes obedience. We have to be given eyes to see our true condition apart from Christ and our true identity when united to Him in faith. Without Christ, it doesn’t really matter what kind of clothes you put on or take off. Second, we have to remember that obedience is a grace. The same grace that saved us from the futility of self-righteousness is the same grace that now leads us to love what God loves and hate what God hates. We begin to grow in our fashion sense.
As the Spirit and the Word grows us in wisdom, we start to put on the right works that adorn the gospel and take off the attitudes, desires, and actions that diminish it’s glory and our joy. The grace that saved us from the condemnation of the Law has actually saved us to the delight of the Law. King David delighted in God’s Law and meditated on it day and night because in it he saw the One at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.