Summary: Compassion trumps man-made commandments.

Liberty or Legalism

Mark 2:23-28

Rev. Brian Bill

November 28-29, 2015

Almost every state has surprising laws on their books.

• In Florida, a woman may be fined for falling asleep under a hair dryer.

• In Indiana, citizens are not allowed to attend a movie within four hours after eating garlic. That seems like a good law to me.

• In Iowa, a man with a moustache is forbidden from kissing a woman in public.

• In Moline, ice-skating at the Riverside pond during the months of June and August is strictly prohibited.

• In Normal, Illinois, it’s against the law to make a face at a dog.

• In Wisconsin, it’s against the law to serve apple pie in restaurants unless there is cheese on top of it. Makes perfect sense to me.

And, it’s probably a good thing that I’m not a pastor in Nicholas County, West Virginia because no member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit. Or, maybe that wouldn’t apply to the humor I use…

We may laugh, or groan, at these out-of-date laws, because many of them seem absurd and ridiculous.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 some churches today, chances are we’d stop laughing pretty quickly. Most of these religious regulations are not written down but some of us attempt to keep them, or expect others to do so.

Spiritual growth can be stunted, or even choked to death by the weeds of legalism. Legalism can be defined as a strict adherence to the law. Specifically, as it relates to faith, a legalist is one who believes that performance is the way to gain favor with God. Legalism is the human attempt to gain salvation or prove our spirituality by outward conformity to a list of religious “do’s” and “don’ts.”


Before we jump into our text, here are some observations about legalism.

1. We tend to think others are legalistic, but that we’re not. The fact is that we’re all legalistic by nature. We tend to judge others by our own standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t. In essence, we think our sins smell better than other people’s. We have very little tolerance for people who sin differently than we do.

2. Legalism is highly contagious. While it’s usually less conscious and systematized in our minds than it was among the Pharisees, legalism can spread like a bad virus through an entire congregation.

3. Legalism can take a vibrant faith and make it dull and lifeless. It can evaporate enthusiasm, jettison joy, and stifle spirituality. Instead of finding freedom through Christ, many believers are living with great burdens.

4. Legalism produces self-righteousness and judgment. Majoring in guilt and misguided sacrifice, legalism urges its followers to evaluate their relationship with God on the basis of standards and scores – and expects others to do the same. Superficial spirituality short-circuits the work of grace.

5. Legalism makes us narrow and divisive. The legalist insists that everyone live up to the standard they have adopted. In other words, everyone needs to be like me. When we think this way, we miss the delight of diversity in the church.

6. Legalism makes it impossible for people to see Jesus. There is nothing that pushes a non-Christian away faster than a list of rules and regulations. Some of us inadvertently portray Jesus as a drill sergeant instead of a delightful Savior.

The Sabbath (our Saturday) was a big deal in the Old Testament. Did you know that at the time of Jesus, Jewish leaders had established 39 Sabbath clarifications, with each having multiple subdivisions, making for over 1500 prohibitions? Here are some of them.

• It was unlawful to kill a flea that lands on your arm because that would make you guilty of hunting on the Sabbath.

• If a man’s ox fell into the ditch, he could pull it out but if a man fell in, he had to stay there.

• You could dip your radish in salt but if you left it there too long you were pickling it, and thus working. The Pharisees actually had discussions on how long it took to pickle a radish.

• You could only eat an egg that had been laid on the Sabbath if you killed the chicken for working on the Sabbath.

• It was OK to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, but you couldn’t spit on the ground, because that made mud, and mud was mortar, and that was work.

The Jewish Talmud, which is like a commentary that codifies and explains the intricacies of acceptable behavior, has 24 chapters of Sabbath laws. One rabbi said he spent two and a half years studying just one chapter to figure out the minutia of what could be picked up and carried on the Sabbath.

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