Summary: Legalism is potentially such a damaging, deceitful, and depressing way to view the Christian life.
INTRO: I’ve tried to be very clear and practical at each point in this topic about what legalism is, what it does, and what it looks like. We spent the last message covering the statements a legalist might say, the specifics of legalism as far as the actual fundamental definitions of this way of thinking, and then we considered one powerful verse (Galatians 4:9) that simply condemned legalism as spiritual backsliding, enslaved to works, and motivated by man’s approval.
Legalism is potentially such a damaging, deceitful, and depressing way to view the Christian life. We should all agree that the goal of preaching and teaching the Word of God on this subject is that we all come away with some sound, biblical principles that apply in the broader scheme of things. I say that because I am going to step on some toes today. What better way to commemorate the 1-year anniversary! I will step on toes in order to point to biblical principles – the goal is Bible truth. Across the spectrum of Christianity and within this church in particular, we are all going to arrive at differing standards, viewpoints, preferences, and convictions. By the way, that’s fine. We are not a cult or a gang, we are a church! You may have some standards and rules in your life that someone else does not have in their life, but that’s okay, as long as we are focused on Bible principles.
I. The Steps to Legalism (16, 20)
– I’d like to begin part 2 by painting another picture of what legalism looks like. You don’t want to follow these steps! This a suggestion of what NOT to do.
A. Make rules outside the Bible. (wire-rim glasses, beards, no songs before 1940.) I have a good preacher friend who said last week on social media, “If you still preach against preachers having facial hair...send me your address and I will be happy to send you a Bible.” The common thread of all forms of legalism is a major emphasis on man-made rules and regulations and a major de-emphasis or disregard for the Word of God and the grace of God. In fact, if the Word of God says the opposite of a hard-core legalist, the legalist will not submit to the Word of God, but will adhere to his own system of rules and regulations.
B. Push yourself to try and keep your rules.
C. Reprimand yourself when you don't keep your rules.
D. Become proud when you do keep your rules.
E. Appoint yourself as judge over other people.
F. Get angry with people who break your rules or have different rules.
– This is a sure path to legalistic living. The first part of Colossians 2 talks about how we are complete in Christ. Paul established the same basis in the early chapters of Galatians. Colossians 2:8 - Beware lest any person spoil you or take you away from that foundational truth and put you back into the rudiments of the world and the traditions of men. This is the same language that is used in Galatians 4. In fact, the word “rudiments” in Colossians 2:8 and 20 and the phrase “weak and beggarly elements” found in Galatians 4:3 and 9 are the same Greek word stoicheia. It means to conform to virtue or piety. The point it is making in these two passages is that there is an ever present danger of focusing as a believer on conforming to rules rather than transforming through a relationship.
– Charles Swindoll in his book on grace puts it this way, "You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here's how - guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do's and don'ts publicly but hypocritically practice them privately, yet never own up to the fact that its hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it – emotional and spiritual damage will occur."
II. The Symptoms of Legalism (20-23)
– These verses quote the language of the false teachers who warned, "don't touch that, don't taste that, and stay away from this!" We don't follow false thinking or the world's system to achieve spiritual growth. If you died with Christ to the elements and rules of the law, why do you put so much focus on them still? Look at verse 23 where it emphasizes that they might make you look good (show of wisdom) and promote your self-made religion. They may give off an appearance of spirituality but they really have no value in stopping your flesh or helping you achieve true spirituality and inner victory over the flesh.