Part One: Let’s Not Be Legalistic

July 17, 2008 at 6:00 pm (Articles, Godly Living) (, , , )

Posted by Abigail

Start living in radical obedience to the word of God and, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself slapped with that infamous label: legalist. Because anything beyond Christian Status Quo is unnecessary. Threatening. Convicting. Legalistic.

“We’re free in Christ,” comes the popular complaint. True that. We are free in Christ. Not from Christ. Liberty does not equal lawlessness (check out Romans chapter six). Our Christian liberty boils down to freedom from three things: sin (both penalty and power, see Romans 3-6), the Mosaic Law (Romans 7:1-6) and nonessentials (Colossians 2:16). Does our freedom mean we have no master? Not at all. Sin is no longer master over me, but I’ve become a slave to righteousness. I’m no longer under the Mosaic Law, instead I’m under grace—the law of love. The commands of Christ are given to be obeyed—no longer in a spirit of fear, leading to slavery, but in a spirit of love, springing from our adoption as sons.

It’s that last freedom—those nonessentials—that seem to be troublesome. Where is the line between many commands of scripture and the nonessentials? When have we crossed from modest to immodest? From pure to impure? From sober to drunk?

The overwhelming fear is that we may become “legalistic” in drawing our lines. That we might build a hedge around the commands of Christ, just as the Pharisees built a hedge around the law. That we might come to enshrine and worship obedience instead of Christ. In our fear, we push aside obedience and seek to worship freely—meaning, freestyle. But God seeks for those who will worship in Spirit and truth.

I couldn’t find any “legalism” terms in my Bible, but what I found was the description of something that expresses neither Spirit or truth. Simply stated, legalism is clinging to law. Expand the thought and it looks something like this: the dangerous habit of creating rules that go beyond Scripture—and claiming they have the same (or greater) authority as Scripture, usually for the purpose of forcing them on others. Often these are personal convictions that are healthy, holy and honorable, as long as they are held in secondary importance. We are commanded to flee temptation. Any guidelines we make for ourselves to help us stay out of the way of stumbling are pure and not to be criticized. We are to be holy as God is holy, not to walk as close to sin as possible in order to prove that we are strong enough to resist it.

Issues arise when our personal convictions become laws that bind us—or others. I try to force my personal convictions on others through my words or actions insinuating that, did they love Jesus, they would come to the same personal convictions. I look down on those with differing convictions as “less spiritual”. My convictions hinder fellowship because I am unwilling to lay them aside for another’s sake, or am unaware that I have the freedom to do so. In this, behold the legalist.

Legalism, like most sins, is a disease of the heart. It’s not the fruit of devoted love for Jesus or radical obedience to His commands. Instead it is a devotion to my own religious zeal. Its root is pride and its fruit is division. But the cure is simple: study God’s word—what it actually says—and obey it. Seek to understand God, His commands, His principles and His desires. Plead for His Spirit’s strength to be like Him. And, above all else, exercise love, which is the perfect bond of unity and will cover a multitude of sins.

Disclaimer: Parts of this post have been loosely adapted from teachings by my father, Lane.

Part One / Part Two / Part Three

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  1. Part Two: Getting Specific Without Being Legalistic « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] rather than freedom to enjoy the love and grace of God we’ve received through Christ (see Liberty and the Christian).  I know, I’ve been there—I want nothing to do with legalism […]

  2. von said,

    But Scripture is never silent. It is sufficient for all our needs. As it is written:

    2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

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