Summary: Legalism hinders the work of the true gospel of Jesus Christ and wreaks havoc with the spiritual lives of those affected by it.
We continue on in our series of messages through the New Testament book of Titus. It’s written by the apostle Paul to his protégé whose name is (anyone?). Paul has left Titus on the isle of Crete for a reason. Titus 1:5a – The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished.
Take your Bibles and turn to Titus 1:10-16. One of the issues facing the churches on Crete was false teaching. This false teaching was hindering the work of the true gospel of Jesus Christ and was wreaking havoc with the spiritual lives of those affected by it. This false teaching was steeped in legalism. We should “Guard Against Legalism.”
Laws, regulations, and rules are good things. They define important parameters for behavior within a society. However, some laws seem to be a bit overdone. Almost every state in our nation still has laws on their books that would surprise most people.
For instance, in Florida, a woman may be fined for falling asleep under a hair dryer. In Nicholas County, West Virginia, no member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit. (I ought to be safe if ever asked to preach a revival there. My wife often tells me, “You’re not funny.”) In Indiana, citizens are not allowed to attend a movie house or ride in a public streetcar within four hours after eating garlic. That seems like a good law. Closer to home, in Eureka, IL, it’s illegal to make a face at a dog. The city of Moline banned ice-skating at Riverside Pond during the months of June and August.
We may laugh, or even groan, at these laws, because many of them seem absurd and ridiculous. But, if we were to list all the rules, expectations, and laws that are on the books in many churches today, chances are we’d stop laughing pretty quickly. Most of these religious regulations are not written down anywhere, but many of us either attempt to keep them, or expect others to do so.
Titus 1:10-16 – For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are
corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
The Problem of Legalism
Legalism happens when people impose human traditions or opinions on themselves or others. The foundation of legalism is human achievement. Instead of relying on God’s grace, legalism seeks ways to earn God’s favor.
We have trouble sometimes understanding that Christianity isn’t a religion. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ. A religion is an attempt to reach God by obeying a certain system of moral values. Christianity is accepting God’s forgiveness for our sins and relying on His grace. Christianity is the worship of Jesus Christ. Ignoring what the Bible teaches, the legalists still believe that we receive God’s favor if we obey a set of rules.
Jesus encountered both the liberals and the legalists. The Sadducees were the liberals. They doubted much of the Old Testament. They did not believe in life after death or many of the miracles.
The Pharisees were the legalists. They were demanding, insensitive, selfish people. Jesus hardly had a good word to say about the Pharisees. Jesus called them “blind leaders of the blind,” “vipers,” and “hypocrites.” The Pharisees were a group of legalists determined to reduce religion down to a list of do’s and don’ts.
Where the Sadducees doubted the validity of much of the Old Testament, the Pharisees didn’t believe that the Old Testament went far enough. They had to elaborate and give details as to what the Old Testament really meant.
For example, the Old Testament said that they were to remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy, and do not do any work on that day. But that wasn’t enough for the Pharisees. They had to narrow it down to the details about what was work and what wasn’t considered work.
If a hen laid an egg on the Sabbath, it was not right to eat that egg because the hen was working on the Sabbath. If a man had a sore throat on the Sabbath, he couldn’t take any medicine because he would be practicing medicine.