Legalism is alive and well in churches today, and none of us are immune from its ways.

At the root of legalism is selfishness and pride.  Legalism feeds the selfish nature.  The legalist relies on willpower to do rightly, believing this pleases God and earns His favor.  This makes sense to our mind, but it is not the way God measures value.  We all need to be very thankful for that!

Legalism is appealing.  We like it because it appeals to our self-reliant nature, but self-reliance is antithetical to all that Christianity stands for.  The Gospel condemns our acts of righteousness.  Our righteousness leaves a stench to God.

It is not because we cannot do anything that is good.  It is because anything we do that is good is tainted by a wicked, glory-hungry, heart.  All our attempts at goodness are tainted by sin.

This gets to the heart of legalism.  The problem is motive; our actions are not enough.  Motive is essential.  Even Jesus said follow what the Pharisees teach, but do not live like they do (Matt 23:3).  The Pharisees did good works by following the law, but their motives were impure.

Everything the legalist does in the name of God, feeds their hunger to gain value.  And that is the problem.  It is impossible for man to earn enough value to be found worthy of God’s standard (Rom 3:23).

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being clean on the outside but rotten on the inside.  It’s all about the heart, the motive behind what we do.  When Christ has transformed our lives by the Gospel, we have a new heart, a new motive, that looks to honor God.  Christ becomes the motivating factor of our actions.  The Christian desires to give glory to God through his actions.  The legalist desires to give glory to self by their actions.

Legalism is alive and well today and takes many forms.  From style of music to versions of the Bible to facial hair to dress. It’s vital that churches preach the importance of relationship and not rules, that Jesus is exalted and not man, that grace abounds and not works-righteousness.  It is the call of the Church to safeguard the Gospel from anything that lessens the centrality of Jesus.

6 thoughts on “SIN OF LEGALISM

  1. Legalistic views of serving God can be confusing when one is exposeed to a steady diet of it as a child. It focuses more on “doing the right things” than having a close, personal, loving relationship with our Lord. Thanks, Dax.

  2. Excellent, Dax.

    Dont go here, please, but I was on Topix last night and hit a Heartland thread. Legalism at its most outrageous moment. Small people in a big world. Most of all, Im hoping that some of the anonymous comments made by some pretending to be Heartlanders were fakes. For even one of those people to represent Heartland would be the pits.

    I grew up trained well in legalism. At my age I still struggle with some things, including music. But I view it not from a legalistic position that it is the right way or the wrong way; its just a matter of personal preference. Do I need tolerance or grace? Ive got to relisten to that part of Nathans message Sunday to figure out which it is.

  3. It is important to not confuse discernment with legalism. Legalism seeks to justify one’s self before our Holy God. Legalism focuses on one’s self-righteousness and discounts the work that Christ has done for us. Those who are self-righteous think that what they do gives them merit before God, they don’t realize that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags before our thrice Holy God.
    Discernment is concerned with honoring God by preserving the truth of God’s Word, holding fast to the doctrine that the Bible teaches us about Jesus Christ and our need of salvation. Discernment leads those who exercise it to understand the error that is rampant within the church today and to turn away from that error no matter its source. God bless you:)

    1. That is good! Remember that Jesus warned against the Pharisees and Sadducees because they overthrew the Word of God with man made doctrine. However, there are many who call discernment legalism or unloving or being contentious because an inclusive mentality is the majority stance within the church today in one form or another, and many are not careful to compare everything with the Word of God. They don’t study the Scriptures and rightly divide God’s Word. Many also find the discernment ministries of those who are committed to being faithful to God and His Word are divisive or full of legalism. Jesus did say that His truth would divide, even to the point of dividing family members. There is a genuine need to remind the brethren that legalism is not equivalent with discernment. God bless you:)

  4. Eliza – Legalism is not discernment nor vice versa! Calling legalism discernment does not change what it is. I use the God’s Word for my basis in telling the difference. With that said, I’m closing further comments. God bless you.

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