Monday, February 12, 2018

The Problem of Legalism

If you love Me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).

There are two errors into which a Christian can fall when it comes to ethics. One is legalism, and the other is antinomianism. Today we will consider the first of these two forms of error. Often Christians are accused of being legalists because they are trying to live in obedience to God’s holy law. This is an unfair and false charge.

What is the error of legalism? Basically, it is a misuse of God’s law, but this can take several forms. The first is to abstract the law of God from its original context. We are supposed to obey God because we love Him because He is the one who has given these laws. It is possible, however, to turn God’s law into nothing but a series of rules, and forget the Person who lies behind them. A second kind of legalism happens when we add legislation to God’s law and treat the addition as if it were divine law. This is a perilous danger that has afflicted the church from the time of Cain and Abel. Jesus was in constant conflict with the Pharisees over just this issue because they were teaching human traditions as if they were the Word of God (Mark 7:1–13). When this happens, men presumptuously and arrogantly usurp the authority of God Himself.

Obviously, the church has the right to set up policies, but when man-made rules are set up on the same level as God’s law and are made the test of Christianity, then a serious distortion has come upon the Gospel of Christ. Because of this sinful legalism, many unbelievers think that we define a Christian as someone who doesn’t dance, smoke, drink, wear lipstick, go to movies, or play cards.

We come perilously close to blasphemy when we project this distorted view of Christianity because it draws our eyes to a set of rules and away from Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross.

Where in your life do you see the effects of legalism? Has the legalism been imposed from other authorities or from within your own conscience? List two areas where your freedom in Christ has been wrongly curtailed because of a legalistic approach.