“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7.21-23, NLT).
Strong words! What did Jesus mean? How can we know that we won’t hear those terrible words, “I never knew you”? Continue reading →
Could you be guilty of parental legalism? Parental legalists often focus on behavior as opposed to the heart. If we make Christianity all about “the law,” we may fail to help our children understand their need for genuine heart change and a personal relationship with Christ.
Also read about:
How and how not to communicate with a person who is acting like a fool.
And the foolishness of idolatry, even the kind you could be practicing.
I’ve been talking about legalism for several days now. Remember the Judaizers or legalists had come in trying to impose their brand of religion on the Galatians. As human beings we love having a set of rules to follow instead of allowing God to make a change in our hearts or the hearts of others.
Lou Priolo in his book The Heart of Anger talks about how we do this with our children. We make our rules (be in bed at 8.30; you can’t watch that TV show; no dating until you are 16; don’t talk with food in your mouth) on the same par with God’s commands (love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself; do not lie; do not steal, etc.).
It’s not that children shouldn’t obey the rules their parents lay down for them (one of God’s commands is “children obey your parents in the Lord …” Eph. 6.1-3), but we must help our children understand that those are temporary rules for the household and not God’s law. Otherwise we run the risk of either making little Pharisees of our children or causing them to view Christianity as a legalistic religion instead of a relationship with Christ. Without that personal relationship with God, many of our kids will turn away from the things of God once they’re out of our homes.
Instead we need to lovingly teach our children to obey us as God’s temporary authority in their lives, while teaching them the truths and freedoms and principles of a genuine relationship with God and helping them see their need for the Savior. He is the only One who can ultimately change their hearts.
Have you ever spoken the truth to someone concerning some area of sin, only to have them say, “You’re being legalistic!”? Perhaps you’ve even said those words yourself. But is a call to obey God’s clear commands legalism?
Millard Erickson says:
Scripture does not give us any basis for disregarding God’s revealed commands. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (Jn. 14.15), and “You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jn. 15.14). We are not at liberty to reject such commands; to do so would be an abuse of Christian freedom. Therefore, we must seek to guide our lives by these precepts. Such behavior is not legalism. Legalism is a slavish following of the law in the belief that one thereby earns merit; it also entails a refusal to go beyond the formal or literal requirements of the law. It is ineffectual because it ignores the facts that we never outgrow the need for divine grace and that the essence of the law is love.
The words legalist and legalism don’t appear in the Bible, but Jesus painted us a portrait of a one in Luke 18:
9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Legalists are opposed to grace. Like this Pharisee, legalists often have a strict set of rules and regulations that must be kept. They often add to the Bible’s commands or apply them in harsh, judgmental ways. They fail to understand that the law was our schoolmaster to show us our need for Christ (Gal. 3.24-25) and that none of us can keep it perfectly (Rom. 3.10-12).
Legalism doesn’t change the heart. Paul said:
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Col. 2.20-23).
In today’s reading, the Galatians, who had received the Gospel of salvation by grace, had been infiltrated by Judaizers, men who wanted to impose their own legalistic requirements on them. It’s as if someone came into your church or mine and began to hold his own Bible study telling people they are not really saved unless they’ve been baptized, become vegetarians, get circumcised, take communion every week, worship on a certain day, or some other list of requirements. It may sound foolish, but if you don’t know the truth and have it firmly fixed in your mind, you will fall for anything!
A Subtle Trap
Legalism can show up in other, more subtle ways. Many people who sit in church every week, when asked if they’re sure they’ll get to heaven will say “yes,” but when asked why, will say “because I’m a pretty good person.”
What is that? It’s salvation by works. It’s one form of legalism! They may have received the gospel on an intellectual level, but in their hearts believe they must add something to it, and certainly must do something to keep themselves saved.
Another subtle sign of legalism is the expectation that if I keep my set of rules, I can expect God to keep what I see as His end of the bargain. I do “A,” God somehow owes me “B.”
We find ourselves thinking:
“I can’t believe God is allowing this to happen to me, I go to church every Sunday.” Or …
“I homeschool my kids, take them to church, raise them right so, how could my son say he doesn’t believe?” Or … Continue reading →