Now, this leads us, I think, to a sense derived from legalism that is perhaps even more common: it is the spirit and life that come from the failure to be humiliated, broken, astonished and satisfied by God`s grace in Christ. There are all kinds of attitudes, righteous—pride, demand, lack of mercy, lack of compassion, malice, impatience—and these have their root, don`t they, in a heart that is not numb by grace, not broken and humiliated by grace, not joyfully filled with grace? This creates a legal spirit. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States defines legalism as a pejorative description of “the direct or indirect attachment of behaviors, disciplines, and practices to faith in order to attain salvation and right before God,” emphasizing the need “to perform certain acts to obtain salvation” (Works).  Furthermore, legalism refers pejoratively to the view that Christians should not engage in social practices considered contrary to Christian witness, such as gambling, dancing, drinking, worldly entertainment, or wearing immodest clothing; Abstinence from these things is found among the fundamental Baptist, conservative Anabaptist, and conservative denominations of holiness.    Workers thought they earned more because they worked more. It was simple in math and economics for them. This is how legalism works. If you are a legalist, everything must be the same. To avoid legalism, there must be a balance.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Do not look at his appearance or stature, for I have rejected him. People do not see what the Lord sees, for men see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart. James 2:18 tells us that faith died without works. Our works should reflect the desire of our hearts to worship Christ. Without balance, we can create a vain state of mind. Legalism is the belief that keeping the law now, after the Fall, is the reason for our acceptance with God. I say it again: legalism is the belief that keeping the law is the reason for our acceptance with God, the reason why God is for us and not against us. As I pondered, I was thinking about a topic that wasn`t really talked about in any church I`ve been to.
Legalism and how it can be applied to Christianity. A foundation for people like me. A quick glance at the internet, of course, brought up many topics about why legalism is bad, but nothing about what I was looking for. In short, legalism is a multidimensional phenomenon. And understanding the nuances of the term can help guide conversations and theological discussions. The next time a person says, “This is legalism,” you can start by asking them what definition they use. And yet, many Christian churches today are riddled with legalism, but pastors are too “nice” to stand up to the legalists and say, “You won`t do that in this church!” Today`s evangelical church is plagued by “kindness.” Somehow, we came up with the idea that being like Jesus always means being kind, not offending anyone, never confronting anyone. But if we want to be like Jesus, we have to face sin. And legalism is a sin! Why would a person do that? Why are people so sensitive to the legalism of the rule? Because it gives us a way to feel better. Notice that whenever we add a rule to the Christian faith, it happens to be the rule we prefer and the rule we keep. And this allows us to be part of the “in” group and to consider others as part of the “out” group. You`re talking about me, aren`t you? Yes, you got me there and I need God`s grace to escape the tentacles of legalism.
Instead of accepting Christ`s message of “fact,” I often struggle with many religious and doctrinal “backs.” God bless your writings! The application is that the sin of legalism infects unsuspecting people. This deters unbelievers and prevents them from knowing the truth of the gospel because they can see the hypocrisy of the legalists. This pollutes young believers who are falsely taught that if they do certain things and do not do other things, they will grow in holiness and be pleasing to God. But without exception, the things they should and shouldn`t do are not the important themes of the Bible, such as love for God and neighbor (as summarized in the Ten Commandments). Rather, they are trifles, often things, that Scripture does not command directly. Legalism has been in our churches and in our lives since Satan convinced Eve that there is something other than God`s way. It is a word that no one wants to use. Being called a legalist usually comes with negative stigma. Legalism can tear people and churches apart. What is shocking is that most people do not know what legalism is and how it affects our Christian path almost every hour.
Fundamentally, legalism involves abstracting God`s law from its original context. Some people seem to be busy in the Christian life following rules and regulations, and they see Christianity as a set of do`s and don`ts, cold, deadly moral principles. It is a form of legalism that consists only of keeping God`s law as an end in itself. In summary, Jesus elaborates the theme that legalism emphasizes the exterior and neglect the within. It has been shown to focus on minors, focus on authoritarianism, subtly corrupt others, and weigh people down with peripheral rules. His description of “legalism of tone” reminds me of a comment by Sinclair Ferguson in his lectures (40 years ago?) on the controversy of the market: “It is possible to have an evangelical head, but a juridical heart.” Of course, this is exactly the kind of legalism that defined the ministry of the Pharisees. They were masters in the art of adding the Word of God. So much so that Jesus rebukes them: “Hypocrites.
you leave the commandment of God and cling to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6–8). Needless to say, tone legalism is the most difficult type of legalism to identify. Often, those who engage in this kind of legalism defend their services on the grounds that “I am only pointing out the sin of men.” It is legalism wrapped in orthodoxy. What Sproul calls “the most common and deadly form of legalism” is when we “add our own rules to God`s law and treat them as divine. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees at this very moment, saying, “You teach human traditions as if they were the Word of God.” We have no right to overwhelm people with limitations where He has no explicit restrictions. But what was the telltale sign of the Pharisee`s legalism? He compared himself to the tax collector and despised him. Well, he got angry because he wasn`t prepared for such a reaction. The problem was not the day when he (and other Seventh-day Adventists) celebrated the Sabbath, but demanded that it be only Saturday. Unfortunately, SDAs and others are burdened by this kind of legalism, but for the most part, it is harmless to NOT rely on the practice of good works that deserve salvation or justification. There is no such thing as “good legalism.” Good works spring from a heart that is redeemed by Christ.
The works in which we walk are an act of the Holy Spirit within us (Ephesians 2:10). Faith without works is dead, but everything that is done without faith is also sin. Faith is a gift from God, and true faith will produce good works. Denying our own efforts and turning to Christ for His righteousness is the only way. This is not something to be taken lightly. If I am a legalist, I say that Jesus` sacrifice was not quite enough and that I must pin some of my good works to secure my rightful position with God. God hates legalism because it denigrates His great work of redemption. Like the term Trinity, the word legalism is not used in the Bible, but describes principles that are clearly stated in the Bible. At the heart of the debate about legalism versus grace is the understanding of how we are saved and how we can be certain of our heavenly hope. So what we want, what I want in my life, is not just to be free from principled legalism – you know, a theological legalism that says you go to heaven, or you please God, or you gain His favor by keeping the law. I want to have a spirit of grace, a spirit of the gospel, not a juridical spirit that comes from not being surprised that I have been saved by grace.
What I consider to be the most tragic consequence of legalism is that churches and individuals do not fulfill God`s purpose. There is an outward expression, but no inner change. Our hearts are not turned to God and His will for our lives. Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, says: “Legalism says God will love us if we change. The gospel says that God will change us because He loves us. God will change our hearts and the hearts of others. We cannot impose our rules and expect our hearts to turn to God. But there are other ways to define legalism. Another form of legalism is also common in Scripture, when believers are told that they must follow man-made rules rather than (or incidentally) God`s rules. Not only does our fallen human nature tend to defy God`s law, but we also tend to make our own laws.
The last type of legalism I`m going to mention here (and there are others) is harder to determine, but still very real. It is a legalism of the mind rather than a legalism of the doctrine. After reviewing these three types, we can see that it is not bad to have a personal preference or choose to read a particular version of the Bible. This becomes a problem when one begins to believe that one`s way is the only way to attain salvation. David Wilkerson sums it up nicely with this statement. “At its core, legalism is the desire to appear holy. He tries to be justified before men and not before God. It`s great, I`ve read this article in the past and revisited it. Do you have any books or sermons that have personally helped you draw all these conclusions about legalism and overcome it in God`s grace? Thank you! The gospel calls people to repentance, holiness, and godliness.