In the context of the church, Legalism is the elevation and keeping of manmade traditions, laws or rules to be on equal level as the commands of God. Some even put it above the word of God. In short, legalism is Satan’s theology. Legalism says that you are not saved by God’s grace alone, but rather, you are saved by God’s grace plus keeping some external rituals, rules or practises. If we could be saved by rituals or anything else, then Christ died in vain. Someone said that the ultimate effect of legalism is to lower our view of God. But on the other hand, God’s grace which is lavished upon us undeservedly gives us a high and lofty view of God.
Next to the letter of Paul to the Romans, the letter of Paul to the Galatians is perhaps the most important document in the Christians church. In fact, it was at the very heart of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was recalled saying, “The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle, to which I have wedded myself. It is my Katharina Von Bora.” He named the epistle after his wife because reading it freed him up from the bondage of the system of tradition that had trapped him in the ways of man.
“The RIGHTEOUS shall live by faith.” – Galatians 3:11
Apparently, those five words struck Martin Luther like a thunderbolt. In a flash of insight, he realised that this was the truth the church had buried under a suffocation pile of ritual and false dogma. Before the revelation, Martin Luther lived a miserable life. He apparently spent hours in confessional and was known to leave the confessional only to go straight back inside to confess further sins. He was quoted saying, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.” It wasn’t until he came to a clear understanding of God’s grace that he was so liberated and led the whole Reformation movement.
The church in Galatian is modern day Turkey. Paul went there and preached the Gospel of Grace – salvation through Christ alone, Faith alone and Grace alone. In fact, from Galatians 3:1-14, Paul is insisting that in the Old and the New Testament, Salvation has always been, and will always be a gift of God’s grace received by faith and sealed and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.
When Paul left the Galatian church after they had grown and believed, a group of people called the Judaizers invaded the church. Their primary motive was to destroy the truth. The Judaizers taught that it was not enough to have faith alone in Jesus Christ, but that they must also keep the ceremonial law to be really saved. Anytime someone says to you, that you are saved through Christ, but…. Run! Don’t listen, just run! In Christ alone, Salvation can be found for either the Jews or the Gentiles. Jesus + Nothing = Salvation.
We live in the most important time in history because there has never been a time in history before where the church is leading the apostasy. The problem of the believing church today is that most people are either on the extreme side of legalism or on the extreme side of turning Grace into license. The most destructive thing about effective legalism or turning of Grace into license is that it undermines the power of the cross.
“The Grace that does not change my life will not save my soul” – Charles Spurgeon.
God’s Grace is all at Christ’s expense, and that is why only the righteousness that Jesus Christ inputs in us is the only righteousness that is acceptable to God the Father. Under Grace, we have the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, convicts us, brings us to repentance, changes us, and gives us the power over sin. This is a subject I’ve tackled in a previous post titled, >>>Blessed Assurance<<< Please read it for more…
Legalism and legalistic teaching can devastate a person. Those who have been brought up in legalism would probably struggle with it for a very long time. I was ecstatic when I came across the following quote by a great theologian named Howard Hendricks who said:
“I repudiated legalism intellectually and theologically in 1946, but in 1982 I’m still wrestling with it emotionally.”
There are some people who still think and judge other Christians by the clothes they wear, or the type of music they like to listen too, or the style of worship they prefer, or the length of their dress, hair and all the rest of it. But, it really doesn’t matter:
- Whether a person wears make-up or not
- Whether a person watches television, or you call it hellevision and don’t have one
- Whether you only use KJV translation or you use other translation.
- Whether you are a strong mature Christian, or you are a weak immature Christian.
None of these things matter because ultimately the church belongs to Christ Jesus and we are to love everyone and major on the major, not on the minor. In Romans 14:16-17, Paul said, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve never yet met a person with a critical spirit who is a joyful person. Thomas De Witt Talmage once said, “Without exception, people who have the greatest number of faults are themselves the most merciless in their criticism of others.” In another quote, someone else said, “Christians are so narrow-minded that they can look through a keyhole with both eyes.” I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve been guilty of that sometimes when I major on the minor.
If there is one message that comes loud and clear from Romans 14, it is this. The apostle Paul is saying, “Believers in Jesus Christ, for God sake, major on the majors, focus on what is important to God and to His kingdom. Don’t waste time and energy on things that are not necessary for salvation. Stop your petty argument over things which are not about the gospel. Cease and decease from creating mountains out of molehills from things that have nothing to do with righteousness and holiness. Life is too short to waste on the superficial and the superfluous.”
When you keep your eyes on the big picture – the gospel of Jesus Christ; the salvation of the lost; living a holy and righteous life before God and pleasing to the Lord; the glory of God and His majesty; the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be more concerned about how you are going to give an account to Him on the life that you’re living than being concerned about someone else. I think parent especially should take note of the following words of wisdom by Dr. Michael Youssef:
“My concern has always been to major on the majors. What I wanted my children to do is to love God. Looks and appearance and all these things are not really important. When you teach a child to love and honour God, these things are going to follow. When you teach the children to live holy and righteous lives before God, a life that is pleasing to God, all the other things that are unessential, unimportant thing are going to fall by the wayside.”
To conclude, here’s the key principle: If the Lord convicts me of something (non-essential), then I am to uphold that conviction even if all other Christians do not. Why? Because the Lordship of Jesus Christ over my life is the most important thing for me.
In the essential, unity; in the non-essential, liberty; in all things, charity.
Closing Prayer: Father, the enemy conspires with those who preach a false gospel to hold people captive to all sort of enslavement. But Lord Jesus, I bless your name for setting us free with the truth. Let every chain be broken from me, as I’m bound in Your Grace. For Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. Deliver us from the temptations of what we can do that has trapped us in the bondage of the system of this world. Deliver us O Lord from evil in our hearts. Naked we come to Thee for dress, helpless we look to Thee for Grace. Amen.