Promises and Secrets
A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.
On the topic of legalism, many people act like a very strong electromagnet hanging on a string between steel two poles - one labled LAW and one labeled FAITH. When the subject of legalism comes up, they flip the switch and attach solidly to one pole or the other. Like the viewpoint on the other side of the page, they will give you the "Biblical" reason why they take their stand.
What they fail to see is that both are required for the born-again child of God.
le gal ism
noun: legalism; plural noun: legalisms
excessive adherence to law or formula.
"this petty legalism encouraged more to flee"
dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.
"stress obedience apart from faith and you produce legalism"
Legalists think that following the law will save them. They don't realize that, since Christ died for us, we are no longer under the law, so we don't have to follow it (Romans 6:14
14For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
What do you think?
A simple explanation
Look at the definition in the FACT box above. It came from the Definitions of Oxford Languages in response to a Google search for "legalism definition" and was the first one on the results page. If you look carefully at the definition, you will see that a legalist is one who depends on the law to save him, or her, rather than on personal religious faith. This is a true statement.
However, if you find yourself in a discussion in a Bible study group, as did my wife and I two Sundays in a row in July and August of 2022, you will find that the definition used by anti-legalists is not the one in the definition above. It is subtle, but very clear, that most "Christians" today feel that if you think that following the law is necessary when you have faith in God and His Son, then you are a legalist. Their definition can be summarized as "If you believe in Jesus, you do not have to follow the law." In the words of the leader of this group, you are "above the law". No matter how hard you look at the definition above, you cannot come to this conclusion through any sort of faith or reason from the Bible.
What's the alternative?
First, we have to determine what is meant by "the law". The law is all of the commandments of God. Well, there are 613 commandments mentioned in the Old Testament. Even if we are more generous than that, the very least we can do is hold up the Ten Commandments as spoken by God at Mt. Sinai. Jesus was more inclusive when He told Satan, "Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " (Matthew 4:4) But, for this analysis, let's stay with just the Ten Commandments.
Do you agree with that statement, "If you believe in Jesus, you do not have to follow the law."? If so, let me ask you a question. The question is very simple, straight-forward, and requires an answer based on your faith.
Can we worship other gods than the God we call the Father of Jesus who resides in the third Heaven - you know, the One who gave us the Ten Commandments?
Now calm down. Seriously, can we do that? If you think we can, then you can go your own way and we will not discuss the matter again. That means that you feel that you do not have to keep the First Commandment, which is fairly important in a discussion about the laws of God. Now, if you feel that we cannot worship other gods, because we have to obey the law, then, by the definition of most self-proclaimed "Christians" today, you are a legalist. That is not the definition of legalism. This may seem silly to you, but there is a point to be made here. This particular question made the answer easy for you, but it also illustrates that important point. If you follow Jesus, you must still obey the Father's will.
Now, if we move through the Ten Commandments, one at a time, we run into the same problem when we answer that question when related to the subject of the commandment. The interesting thing is that we will get the same answer for each question except one. That is when the question is about the fourth commandment (third for the Catholics). Interestingly, that is the one that causes the majority of the accusations of "legalism". And yet, almost no one in the "Christian" community considers the fourth commandment to be a law of God, even though it is one of the Ten that "everyone" says they follow. What's the difference between the first commandment and the fourth one?
Try it. Answer that same question phrased to contradict each commandment.
How did you do? I'll bet that only the fourth one made you look for an excuse to break the Sabbath commandment and still be in the will of God. However, when you look for support from the Bible, it ain't there. Oh, your pastor will give you something that makes you feel better, but it will not be from the Bible. The Sabbath was discarded, and the "holy" day was changed to Sunday, by the early church "fathers" who were anti-semites, and confirmed by the organization that became Catholicism in the fourth century A.D.
For those of you who are bristling with reasons why I am wrong, there is a page on this site on the Main Menu page under Rules and Law called "Sabbath/Sunday" where you can see the Biblical justification and logical reasoning for this stand. However, the subject of this page is "legalism". You should be able to see now why believers in Jesus must also keep the law of God, all of it, or be considered by God to be disobedient (Hebrews 10:26-27
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
). Remember the definition of sin in 1 John 3:4
4Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
To be a real legalist, you would act like the non-Messianic Jews and follow the laws, without faith in Jesus, in order to attain eternal life with Him. To be what the world today calls a Christian, you must have faith in Jesus and not keep the law. However, in order to be a real follower of Christ, you must recognize what He said in Matthew 7:21
21Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
. In case you are wondering, this means that, just because you call Him 'Lord' does not mean that you have given Him lordship of your life and obey His Father's commands. Until you do that, in His own words, you have no chance of spending eternity with Him.
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