Who in this room would consider themselves a legalist? This is the topic that I would like to briefly talk to you about tonight: Legalism, or “The Lie of Legalism.” Since the beginning of the Lord’s church, the devil has held nothing back; He has created so many schemes to try to ensnare God’s people. One of his most successful, especially in recent times has been the so-called sin of legalism.
I think that it’s pretty obvious if you have not heard the term “legalism” or “legalist” before, you probably have not spoken to many people about the authority of the Lord and the scriptures. You probably have not been as diligent as you have needed to be in teaching the requirements of the gospel; such as repentance, being holy as God is holy, or any kind of strict obedience to the scriptures. If you have taught these things in the past at any time like you should, I’m sure someone has said to you, “Oh, you’re a legalist,’ or “You’re just like one of those Pharisees that Jesus condemned in the scriptures!”
You may have been asked, “So that’s the only way you can do this, this is the only way to heaven, this is the only way that God desires to be worshipped? You’re a legalist.”
It seems to me as I have listened to most religious broadcasting that it is believed that legalism is a sin just as much as the sky is blue. Most people think that if someone is a legalist, that they are by default going to be a people that are going to be condemned by the Lord because of their desire to be strict commandment keepers trying to earn their way to heaven. That’s how I would say most of us are erroneously viewed.
It seems like those that who have labeled me as a legalist, some that I have cared deeply about, when you hear what they believe about what it means to be a legalist, or what it means to love the Lord, it seems like their final conclusion is; if I may put it in my own words, “it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love the Lord.” This is simply not the perspective that the Lord teaches.
But, let’s define what it means to be a legalist. According to Webster’s dictionary, Legalism is defined as “a strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code… that restricts free choice.” Dictionary.com adds that legalism is also “the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works,” which is hopefully not what any of us believe, because it can’t happen.
But to just put the first definition into my own words, “A legalist is one who follows the rules.”
It is just so amazing to me that Satan has gotten people to believe that obeying the laws of God is sinful. Just think about that for a moment. Obeying God’s word is sinful! I think it’s true to say that for Satan this was a brilliant idea, but for God’s people, a disastrous scheme. I just can hardly believe that Satan has led even those who are in the church to believe that being diligent in your life to not sin against the Lord is sinful.
Satan must have noticed that the disciples were commanded to go out into all the world to make disciples of all nations by baptizing, and by teaching them to do ALL THINGS THAT ARE COMMANDED by the Lord to do. He was there when Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 that only those who do the will of the Father shall enter the kingdom of heaven, or in 7:24 where the Lord says that those who obey His words are likened to a house that is built upon a rock. Satan was there, seeing the early church in acts 2 continuing steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, being earnest towards God’s word that was being spoken by the Apostles. They were focused on God’s word and followed it, bearing fruit in service to the Lord.
So it shouldn’t surprise us that Satan would create such a scheme as the “Lie of Legalism.” He saw very well what kind of results there was when the truth was being followed. So why wouldn’t he try to create some kind of scheme to try to get the Lord’s people to neglect commands given by the Lord?
There are probably hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, that believe that the strict keeping of the commands of Christ is the sin of legalism. We will be denounced if we claim that one must adhere to the commands of Christ and not go beyond the commands of Christ.
Many will use a text in 2 Corinthians 3 to say that any form of commandment is sinful, and a hindrance to being a faithful Christian.
What is Paul talking about in this passage as the letter that kills and the Spirit that gives life? I’ve heard this text used in saying that the letter being spoken about is any kind of law. If we try to keep law strictly in any form, it kills. But is this the case? Is that what Paul is talking about? I don’t believe so when you consider the context.
Paul tells us plainly in this text what this letter that kills is. Look at verse 7.
Read 2 Corinthians 3:7
Paul is talking about the Law of Moses being the letter that kills. In this text Paul is comparing the glorious covenant of Christ to the not as glorious covenant given by God through Moses.
The Apostles in many places teach that the strict adherence to the Law of Moses to gain salvation is not possible. Galatians 3 is a prime example of this.
Galatians 3:10-11 - "For as many as are of the works of the law (OF MOSES) are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith."
But another point that needs made is that the Law of Moses never condemned strict obedience to God. Yes, we see that the Old Testament teaches that one was cursed because of their inability to perfectly keep it, but that didn’t mean that the Lord didn’t want those who were under that covenant to try to keep the law fully.
From what I have seen, the scriptures nowhere condemn the strict keeping of God’s word, either in the Old or New Testaments. Not only that, but the scriptures always commends it! You will be hard pressed to find a place in the scriptures that teaches against a desire to keep God’s laws.
When Jesus dealt with the commonly noted “Legalists” of His day, the Pharisees, what did He condemn them for? Strict commandment keeping? No, not at all. He encouraged commandment keeping! Jesus did not tell the Pharisees that they were going too far in keeping God’s law, but that they were neglecting too much of it!
The Pharisees were focusing greatly on following parts of the law, such as making sure they perfectly measure out their tithes to make sure the Lord receives 10%, but they were neglecting the far weightier parts of the law.
Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
They needed to have faith, mercy, and justice; but also needed to continue doing what they already were, making sure that they neglected nothing! Jesus’ instruction to the Pharisees was not, you are too strict, but you are not strict enough!
The so called legalists of the day were not following the law enough. They truthfully speaking were not legalists at all according to the definition, but were hypocrites that were condemned for teaching their own traditions as God’s law, which of course are things that we always need to guard against.
But also, has anyone here ever heard the statement that “all that matters is love for God and man. The Lord is not concerned with commandment keeping”? This was one I heard a lot at a congregation that I was formerly a member of. All the Lord is concerned about is love. Often quoted wrongly is the verse “Love covers a multitude of sins,” used to try to say that love makes it ok not to be a commandment-keeper. But from what I see in the scriptures, love and commandment keeping are not mutually exclusive. Do the scriptures teach that you cannot love and keep commandments at the same time. It teaches the complete opposite.
John 14:15 "If you love Me, keep My commandments.
1 John 5:2-3 2 "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome."
I think it is safe to say by looking at the scriptures that if we don’t keep His commandments, not only do we not love the Lord, but also we can’t even claim to know Him!
1 John 2:3-6 3 - "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked."
I can test you and you can test me on whether or not we know God by our obedience to God’s law!
Just like the text we used at the beginning of this lesson, You know a tree by it’s fruits.”
Knowing these things, how can we honestly say that the scriptures teach that keeping God’s commands is sinful?
Deuteronomy 5:32 - "Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left."
I don’t believe for a second that the words obey or obedience are mentioned nearly 100 times in the scriptures if obedience is not important. Not only is obedience important, it is necessary if we want to spend an eternity with the Lord.
Hebrews 5:9 - "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him
With this being the case, I would much rather be termed as a “legalist”, rather than being called the opposite, an “illegalist,” a law-breaker, or ONE WHO DOES THINGS THAT ARE ILLEGAL!
All I can say is that if my saying that you need to be part of the Lord’s church to be saved, you need to follow the conditions that the Lord gives to be saved, you need to worship the Lord in the way that He commands gets me labeled as a legalist, I will gladly wear that title to the glory of God. I will proudly wear the title along with all who have a love for the Lord and His word, such as my Lord Jesus, Paul, and hopefully all who are in this room.
Is that the case for you? Will you be a legalist with me?