strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription,
especially to the letter rather than the spirit.
- the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
- the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
Alright, now that we have defined legalism, let me attempt to explain how it may look in the life of professing believers, whether they are false believers or true ones.
One of the ways in which we see legalism today is through the teaching that one must keep the law to be saved. Which is clearly not the biblical view of how a man can be saved, that's not the gospel of Jesus Christ, which says that a man can be saved by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus, teaching that one must keep the law to be saved is a salvation of works.
The scriptures are clear when it comes to how a man is saved.
>>>Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,<<<
>>>Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.<<<
Another way in which we can see legalism is through the keeping of the law after one is saved so that the individual can maintain salvation. In other words...another form of works righteousness, this time in order to stay saved. However, we know that this is also not the case because not only is a man not justified by the keeping of the law but also does not maintain salvation by the keeping of the law. Truth be told, no one in Christ who is being honest would say that they no longer sin and now keep the law perfectly, unless they are a sinless perfectionist who claims they no longer sin, except in the fact that they fail to see their dishonesty by making that claim.
>>>Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”<<<
STOP! HOLD ON! Before you go making the claim that I am saying something I am not let me be sure to make this point. What I am not saying is that because no one can keep the law perfectly and that Christians will still have sin to deal with in their lives does that give us the right to sin because we are covered by God's grace. Paul clearly warns us when he says, "shall we continue in sin that grace may abound....GOD FORBID." So please don't walk away from this thinking that it means we have a license to sin. Because that is not what I am saying.
Already quoted was Ephesians 2:8-9 which speaks of man being saved by grace through faith in Christ alone not of works so that we cannot boast in those works. However, so often is the case that people forget about verse 10.
>>>Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.<<<
So one who is truly born again will do good works but not as a means to earn salvation, nor a means by which to keep it.
Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments", and we who are in Christ know that it is not a burden to follow Christ but out of love for our Savior who gave Himself for us and who changed our hearts and minds towards Him. Therefore we desire to please the Lord, while we may fail, it is Christ who has justified us and it is Christ who sustains us, it is not by our works.
Now that we established the above stated forms of legalism, I now want to focus on another type of legalism for which I will spend the rest of the article dealing with.
Perhaps as we dive into this next form of legalism you may have experienced some of these first hand, either on the receiving end or possibly the one holding to them and expecting others to do so as well.
Here are some examples:
The way you dress, a man should be in a suit and tie and women in a dress or long skirt.
Women are not permitted to wear earrings, make-up or cut their hair.
Alcohol is a sin and smoking will send you straight to hell...I am not kidding I just seen that the other day posted on social media.
I am sure you have heard this before, "You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't chew and you don't run with those who do"
Tattoos......BAD REALLY BAD! The Bible says not to get Tattoos. Does it really say that?
Dancing is sin, going to the movies is sin, playing cards, playing pool(billiards), watching TV, owning a TV, listening to any music that is not hymns, and I am sure we could keep going. But I think you probably get the point.
This form of legalism is nothing new, the pharisees and religious leaders of the day added new laws to the commandments in an attempt to keep themselves from breaking the commandments of God.
Pastors/Elders/Deacons/Teachers/Evangelists are giving by God to the Church as gifts to shepherd the flock and to lead them by teaching them the Word of God and how to apply it to their lives, they are not called to be dictators and require people to adhere to their own personal preferences.
This doesn't only apply to those in leadership positions. Christians at times are guilty of being legalistic in their approach with other Christians attempting to apply a standard upon others because of their own personal convictions.
We must be careful not to impose a standard on another believer who may have a different conviction on an area that is not clearly stated as sinful in the scriptures.
Christian rap music is something I enjoy listening to from time to time, it's not the only type of music I listen to but enjoy it. A few years back I remember posting a few Christian rap songs on social media and had this one guy (who turned out to be KJVO, which is another type of legalism and huge discussion that would be better for another time) who would comment every time that it was the devils music and no Christian should have anything to do with rap music and that rap music cannot be Christian. I was gracious with the man for some time but then had to just use the block button. He was trying to apply his personal preference and convictions about a certain type of music upon myself and others who enjoyed that genre of music.
A genre of music is not in and of itself evil and sinful. In fact, there are many great Christian rap artist who are theologically sound and their music is rich with biblical truth, but this man could not see past his own personal preferences in an attempt to bring everyone to the same views he had.
What about the clothes we wear to Church?
My wife used to attend a Church where the women who worked in the nursery or Sunday School ministry were not allowed to wear pants they had to wear a dress or skirt or they were unable to serve in those areas.
These days we are seeing more and more pastors preach without wearing a suit but rather in jeans and dress shirt. Some people won't even take these pastors serious because they don't wear a suit and tie when preaching. However, to be fair, we do see some hipsters in their skinny jeans and Jesus is my homeboy t-shirts, and the majority of the time they are not really preaching the full counsel of God, but more of what they call a relevant message for today. Nevertheless, you are not more spiritual based on the clothes you wear to Church. Exercise wisdom in that statement though, because that doesn't mean we should just dress however we feel like. The bible does speak about modesty.
Probably one of the most argued over areas of legalism and Christian liberty is alcohol. Some people have some really strong views that if you drink a glass of wine or have a beer you are not a Christian.
Years ago I attended my brothers wedding and they were serving and drinking wine along with other alcoholic beverages (I don't drink alcohol as a personal preference of my own) and I remember my Grandmother saying to me how disappointed she was in another grandchild who professed faith as a Christian, because he was drinking alcohol. She said she even asked him, "as a Christian why are you drinking alcohol?" Which he said, "well Jesus turned water into wine". While I personally would question my cousins faith but not for drinking alcohol but for some other issues concerning the gospel, this is an area where some individuals have some strong convictions.
Honestly we all have our own preferences and personal convictions. These aren't a bad thing to have it's when we attempt to force those convictions and preferences on others who may not have the same stance.
Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Well what do we know for sure from the scriptures. We know that the bible speaks clearly about drunkards and that no drunkard will enter into the kingdom of heaven. So it is clearly a sin to be drunk. But what about just having a glass of wine, or a beer, well for some it may very well be sin and for others it may not be. If a person struggles with alcohol and it has been an idol in their life it could be sin for that person to drink.
When it comes to anything mentioned above, while it may not be inherently sinful, a grey area in scripture, it could be sin for the individual based upon their own personal convictions. However, that doesn't mean that it may then be sinful for everyone.
As Christians we should strive for holiness, to be more Christ like. In that effort lets not confuse desiring to be holy for legalism, but let's not be legalistic and mistake it for holiness.
To God be the Glory!