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What is Christian legalism? Looking around the web you will find examples of legalism in Christianity. Usually they deal with some extraneous rule imposed on a Christian fellowship. One example is the Southern Baptist rule for leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention, which forbids drinking alcohol for six months before taking office. Dress codes or restrictions on the movies a Christian can watch come to mind. We all know some example or another like these.

If we look a little deeper at our various doctrines, we will find some who will maintain the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount as a basis for living out our lives in a Christian way. They will enforce a behavioral code of conduct based on God’s moral law. Paul in Galatians rebukes this approach to Christian living. Paul emphasizes that we walk by the Spirit and not by the law. We are dead to the moral law.

Dig a little deeper and we find a Christian theme of works. We are saved by grace, sanctified by our good works, our obedience. We are to emulate Christ and walk in this world like him as best we can. Paul says grace and not works save us. Our works are but filthy rags. God says that He needs nothing from man.

Legalism began in the Garden of Eden when man ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Man chose to judge what is good and what is evil for himself. Man took on himself what only belonged to God. We weigh what is right and wrong for ourselves and for others. We are the judge and jury. We carry a set of internal rules and measures and apply them to our lives and then we lift the results of those measurements up to God or our fellow man hoping that they measure up. Legalism is the way of fallen man that we carry with us in our flesh. We deal with the world around us and with our expectations of ourselves with this fleshly pattern. We want to measure up. We want to excel. We want to look good.

At the fall, Adam and Eve looked at one another and for the first time they were aware of themselves. They covered up and felt shame. They had become self-conscious. They had lost their God-consciousness. They judged themselves wrongly and man has been covering up ever since. Legalism is our way of looking good in our own eyes. It is so ingrained in us that only God by his grace can free us from it.

At the fall man said to God that he could live independently from Him. It is a lie we continue to tell ourselves. We cannot live by our own self-efforts and according to our self-made measurements. We only fool ourselves when we try. We certainly will not fool God.

The only antidote to legalism is God’s pure grace. The Spirit of God vies against the flesh and He will win. We need to stop eating of the forbidden fruit and return to the Tree of Life. That tree is none other than Jesus. By God’s grace we can rely on Him. God is pleased with His Son and He is pleased with us because His Son dwells in us. We are God’s adopted Sons and Daughters, set apart for His glory. We meet God’s measure through the work of His Son in and through us. Doesn’t that make our feeble self-efforts meaningless in comparison?

Christ is our everything.

Categories: Law, Legalism
  1. June 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Excellent, groundhunter! 🙂 Christ is our everything.


    • June 20, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks Jim.
      The Lord has used you to open my eyes to a wonderful way of walking with the Lord.

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