L is for Legalism

no heart72He delib­er­ately pro­vokes them. He brazenly heals people on the Sabbath just to hear church lead­er­ship scream about vio­lating Sabbath Laws. There is nothing dis­creet about his actions when it comes to making a point. And, many times, that point is to openly defy the legal­istic reli­gious culture.

And it causes us to stop and ask, What’s the big deal? It’s not like legalism is as bad as murder. Why get so upset about it? After all, aren’t those tra­di­tions and cus­toms there to help people *get holy*?

Jesus makes it a point to spend time with those con­sid­ered unholy and unclean, and he delib­er­ately ignores elab­o­rate reli­gious tra­di­tions and cus­toms. His actions don’t seem to fit with the stereo­typ­ical reli­gious mindset.

And there it is. The mindset.

Traditions, cus­toms and rules are not the cul­prit. There’s nothing wrong with those things in a healthy, spir­i­tual life. Traditions and custom are what enriches our faith and helps us under­stand the divine. And like it or not, some man-made rules within a reli­gion are nec­es­sary just as fed­eral or state laws are there to keep everyone from run­ning amuck.

So what did JC have against the reli­gious leaders of his day? On the sur­face, it appears he’s over­re­acting and needs to just chill and be more tol­erant. After all, isn’t Jesus’ mes­sage that of love and peace and turning the other cheek?

But God is never tol­erant of prideful people. In fact, pride is right up there at the top of his list of no-no’s. Why? Pride dis­places God in the heart and mind of a person and puts them­selves front and center. And the truth is, the root of all legalism is pride. Legalism is trying to impress God or each other by fol­lowing or doing cer­tain behav­iors (or not doing them). Legalism is a direct reflec­tion of the con­di­tion of our hearts before God. From their elab­o­rate rules and rit­uals, Legalists pat them­selves on the back when they follow them and ques­tion those that don’t. A Legalists’ moti­va­tion is how they appear out­wardly, never looking inwardly at the real reason for why they are doing what they do.

Legalism shifts the focus from a heart-centered moti­va­tion to man-centered moti­va­tion. It’s using God’s words to enforce our will. When we’re so con­cerned about keeping up appear­ances and dot­ting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s, it’s hard to focus on what’s really impor­tant to God…which is the con­di­tion of our hearts towards showing and sharing His grace, sal­va­tion and truth. Legalism is only focused on fixing the outer person so we appear better.…to another person.

If we focus on the internal con­di­tion of our hearts before God and ditch the self glory, the external will be exactly what it needs to be in the eyes of God.

Walk with wisdom toward out­siders, making the most of the oppor­tu­nity. Let your speech always be with grace, sea­soned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. ~Col. 4:5, 6

And grace is always what trans­forms sin­ners into saints.

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  1. Actually, I think it’s WORSE than you say. Legalism, in par­tic­ular the temple system, was used to ben­efit the rich and oppress the poor

  2. You nailed it, Lisa…

    Legalism shifts the focus from a heart-centered moti­va­tion to man-centered moti­va­tion. It’s using God’s words to enforce our will.”


    Well expressed post, my friend! Thank you!

  3. People are more impor­tant that rules and laws.Helping people is the most impor­tant rule for humanity.
    Jesus said: Man is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath is made for man.
    Thanks for this excel­lent post, Lisa
    Wil, ABCW Team

  4. With legalism it’s about rules. Not God. Not people. You might as well tear up the whole New Testament. Not a pleasant life!

  5. Legalism can be used to jus­tify a mul­ti­tude of sins. Good post. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  6. Legalism covers a mul­ti­tude of sins in my country. We’ve just had a law passed allowing the mar­riage of Homosexuals, Lesbians, Transgender people and so on.
    Whilst I have no par­tic­ular feel­ings about a person’s sex­u­ality, I don’t know why it should be ‘legalised’, just to suit a cer­tain cat­e­gory,
    So many ideals and life styles are twisted into ‘Legalism’ just to suit the needs of those who deem them­selves ‘dif­ferent’ so there­fore must be accepted in the status quo.
    Sodomy is decried in the Bible, yet in the UK we have priests that are openly Homosexual or Lesbian.
    Notice I don’t use the word ‘Gay’ that word has a dif­ferent con­no­ta­tion for me as in being happy and care­free.
    In the Christian and other God fearing /loving reli­gions the com­monly held belief is that the sanc­tity of Marriage is a cel­e­bra­tion, in the eyes of God, held between a man and a woman, who love each other, with the emphasis upon the pro­cre­ation of chil­dren and of course being faithful to each other.
    The point I make is that how can a Christian Priest endorse the sanc­tity of mar­riage but sin­ning in the eyes of God ?
    I don’t doubt there will be a cam­paign soon to LEGALISE same sex mar­riage in Church.
    When people want their own way, whether it be right or wrong , they push and push until they get it.
    God gave us simple ideals to abide by, for a decent
    and happy lifestyle, they were ‘The Ten Commandments’, a simple but true ethos.
    God’s words were never ‘Legalised’, but a plea to go to him and he would give us ever­lasting peace.
    Best wishes,

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