The Danger of Legalism :: by Grant Phillips

The Apostle Paul fought legalism the whole of his Christian life. Paul was going where ever the Holy Spirit led him and following God’s orders in setting up His Church. From town to town the legalists followed him and tried to foil his work for the Lord, but no one can fight against God and win.

Legalism is an ugly tyrant that shows no mercy. Paul would know. Before Jesus introduced Himself to Paul, he (Paul) was tormenting and murdering Christians because of his Pharisaical beliefs. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, but after his meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus his message changed 180 degrees to that of “grace.” From here on his fellow Pharisees hated him.

We may not call them Pharisees today who practice legalism, but they are still plenty in number and in every corner of life. Stronger Christians are normally aware of the dangers of liberalism and its disastrous effects on us all, but we also need to be constantly aware of the legalist.

I have touched upon this subject before, but feel the need to address it once more. Legalism does so much harm to those who need to be saved and to those Christians who need to grow spiritually.

One example that jumps off the page, at least for me, is eternal security (once saved, always saved or OSAS. If you’re thinking with a legalistic mindset, you will not understand eternal security. If you comprehend grace, you will understand eternal security. Consider this.

“He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:8 NIV)

Think of it this way. What is grace? Strong’s definition is, “of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, KEEPS (emphasis mine), strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” Another popular and accurate definition is “all that God does for us on the basis of the cross.” Notice that God is always doing the work, not us. That is important to understand when considering grace vs legalism.

In Paul’s day some of the ‘requirements’ that the legalists required to be kept were; circumcision, no work on the Sabbath, honoring certain holy days, sacrifices, not eating certain foods, etc. These, and others, were requirements of the previous dispensation, but not the Church age which started at Pentecost after Jesus was crucified.

During the Church age, the only requirement of God to be saved is to believe on His Son, Jesus Christ. Putting ones faith in Jesus is believing all that He says of Himself in His Word. God seals us with His Spirit and guarantees our place in Heaven with Him.

As far as legalists today, I’ve heard all kinds of ‘requirements’ to be saved and to keep it. For example:

Must be baptized

Must remember the date you got saved

Must walk the aisle

Must be a member of a local church

Must be _______________ (fill in blank) denomination

Must wear no makeup (females)

Must not cut hair (females)

Must wear long dresses (females)

Must not wear pants (females)

Must repent to be saved again if you sin

Must not cuss, drink, chew or run around with those who do

Must use only the ‘ORIGINAL’ King James Version (KJV) Bible

Must observe the Lord’s Supper (Communion) every Sunday

Must be re-baptized if saved, then lost and saved again

Now that’s just a small sampling. Whether these things are good or bad, none of them are a requirement to be saved and none are a requirement to keep ones salvation if you have been saved.

Legalism is all about “ME,” instead of God. Grace is all about God instead of me. With legalism I want bragging rights. With grace I have no bragging rights. Satan’s downfall started with pride.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (Isaiah 14:12-14)

We may not realize it, but we have the same attitude as Satan when we allow legalistic beliefs to rule our lives, and it’s even worse when we try to push these beliefs off on others. Jesus said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

When we come to Christ to be saved, the only thing we need to bring with us is a heart that will to surrender to Him. He saves us at that point, then helps us grow as a Christian and keeps us for Himself and Heaven.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:26-30)

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:8)

Don’t allow others to place their legalistic burdens upon you. Ignore them and listen to God.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV)

In closing, be sure to read Colossians 2:16-23.

Life is so much sweeter when God gets all the credit (that’s grace). Don’t allow others to steal that from you through legalism.

Grant Phillips


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