Summary: A message looking to help people live a life of holiness without falling into the trap of legalism.
Holiness Without Legalism
May 4, 2003
Have you ever seen a proud legalist? I have. They wouldn’t necessarily call themselves a legalist, but they are.
They live their lives around making sure everything is just right so they don’t mess up with God or make other Christians think they’re not spiritual enough.
Legalism has been around since the time of Moses and before. It was a problem Jesus addressed at length.
Unfortunately, the problem didn’t end when Jesus was around. We still have it in the church, and it continues to be something that needs to be addressed.
What do I mean by legalism? Basically legalism is the imposing of rules and laws that people use to judge your salvation or your level of spirituality.
There’s probably a dictionary definition somewhere (like a dictionary, maybe?), but the bottom line is that legalism is a bunch of rules meant to run your life rather than let you enjoy your life in Christ.
In the Bible we are called to be holy. And that is a serious call. It’s not just a high ideal – it’s a command.
1 Pet. 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
But in the effort to live a holy lifestyle, we can find ourselves becoming legalistic in our outlook and actions.
Today I want to help us look at how to avoid becoming trapped by legalism.
GAL 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
How do we live holy lives without being slaves to legalism?
1. Know the difference.
Legalism is based on human traditions.
Holiness is based on the Word of God.
Jesus really nailed this with the Pharisees. The Pharisees had come up with a gajillion rules designed to help them keep the law.
Pretty soon, however, the rules became the law. The religious leaders became more concerned with obeying the traditions and laws of men than they were with obeying the Law of God.
Jesus asked them, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your traditions?” The traditions of men had overtaken the commands of God.
The problem lies in the fact that the standards of men can change like the wind.
So the standard has to be something that doesn’t change with time. The standard has to be not the words of men, but the Word of God.
Holiness looks to the Bible. Next,…
Legalism seeks to gain acceptance by God.
Holiness is an outgrowth of our acceptance by God.
Legalism says, “if I just pray enough, or if I just read the Bible enough, or if I just go to church enough, or if I give enough money to church or charity, or if I buy tickets for the preacher to catch a Twins game, I’ll be accepted by God.”
Holiness says, “Because I’m already accepted by God, not because of anything I’ve done, I choose to allow God to work in me to live for Him.”
See the difference?
We can’t do anything to be accepted by God. We can only accept what He already did for us.
Our acceptance of what He did for us is the only criteria of His acceptance for us. The Bible says that the best we have to offer God is like filthy rags.
So give it up! Understand that your acceptance by God is not based on your performance. It’s based on His love for you.
And as you grow in Him, you will see His working in you, which is a sign, if you will, of His acceptance. You’ll see answered prayer, and you’ll have a sense of relationship with God that you just can’t get by trying to live up to someone else’s expectations of you.
Another way to tell the difference between legalism and holiness is that…
Legalism is an outward performance.
Holiness is an inward change, which manifests outward.
Legalism says, “If I do such and such, or avoid such and such, I’ll be accepted by other Christians, because they’ll think I’m doing what it takes to be accepted by God.”
Sometimes this is avoiding things that others you’re trying to impress think you should avoid.
Sometimes it’s doing more of something for the same reason. For instance, I believe you should have daily time in the Bible and prayer. But your salvation doesn’t hinge on it. And the length of time you spend in devotions is not something I can dictate to you.
There are some who will tell you that unless you spend an hour, or read x amount of chapters, or use their reading program, or whatever, then you’re not having real devotions.