Summary: We have seen how legalism in Paul’s day added works to salvation, but that is largely not what modern-day legalism is in the church now. Legalism for us applies in the area of how we perceive our sanctification and how we portray our spirituality to others.
INTRO: I need to explain what is going on with the next couple of messages. We have dipped our toe in the water of legalism as it has been addressed in the book of Galatians so far. I am going to take a couple messages and jump into the entire pool of what legalism looks like for us today. We will divert slightly from the verse-by-verse study and explore a brief topical mini-series to comprehensively cover this subject. We have seen how legalism in Paul’s day added works to salvation, but that is largely not what modern-day legalism is in the church now. Legalism for us applies in the area of how we perceive our sanctification and how we portray our spirituality to others.
I. The Statements of Legalism
– You remember that game show called the $25,000 Pyramid? People gave clues and the contestant had to guess what category it was. This one would be “Things a Legalist Might Say.” To help us clarify what legalism looks like, here is a list of statements that a legalist might say or think.
1. God's love for me depends on what I do.
2. Meeting the expectations of others, especially those in my congregation or in positions of authority, is very important.
3. I try hard to obey God and it irritates me that others think they can get away with avoiding the same level of dedication.
4. My main goal in life is to try to gain God's favor by doing things that will impress him.
5. My sense of spiritual well-being is linked to a Christian leader or membership in my church rather than a personal relationship with God.
6. I tell my children not to do something in church or around other Christian families that I allow in my home.
7. I believe my way is the best way and that most other Christians may be sincere, but are sincerely wrong.
8. I sometimes worry that people might take advantage of grace if it's preached too much – people might think they can do anything they want.
9. After being around Christians for a while I feel drained – weary of putting up a false front.
10. It’s not possible that someone with lower standards than me could love God as much as me.
– I hope that after hearing those statements, you can immediately recognize they are full of pride, very shallow, and they miss the mark of the gospel.
II. The Specifics of Legalism
– Like the term Trinity, the word legalism is not used in the Bible, but instead describes principles clearly outlined in the Bible. Let me offer you a myriad of definitions and descriptions of legalism so we can all be on the same page. We need to know what we are talking out. The better we know the problem, the better we can avoid the problem.
A. Focusing on God’s laws more than a relationship with God. Legalism wrongly stresses rules over relationship. Rules over relationship – I like this definition because it not only tells you what the Christian life isn’t all about, it tells you what it needs to be all about. I can keep all the rules of being a good husband, but if I don’t have a relationship with my wife, I am not a good husband. The goal is not to be a stellar Christian on paper, but in practice. The standard of victory in the Christian life is found in how much your heart conforms to Christ, not how much your backside conforms to the church chair.
– It’s all form and no power. Beware of a religion that is all form and no godliness. Beware of a religion that is all works and no gospel. Beware of a religion that is all law and no grace. Avoid that religion, that is not of Christ.
B. Keeping external standards without a truly submitted heart. I love this next sentence: Legalism is a lifestyle of repeated attempts to constrain the flesh without changing the heart. This is the fundamental tenet of legalism today. There is a legalistic system which accepts salvation by faith, but makes spirituality a system of adhering to certain rules and regulations. There is a major de-emphasis on the Word of God and a major disregard for the grace of God.
– The problem is that many of us were brought up to love our standards, but not our Savior. We grew up in church, but not in Christ. We look the part, sing the part, dress the part, act the part, but our heart is far from God. We attached our spirituality to man-made rules to get the Christian police off our backs. It says, “I don't do the filthy five or the dirty dozen, so I am better than you and more spiritual. Or I do the big three, so I am spiritual.” It says, "I help God make me spiritual by keeping lists."