What is the difference between keeping the commandments of God and legalism?


Clarify Share Report Asked June 20 2023 Open uri20131210 31869 1ujcffl John Smith

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Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
To me, the Bible indicates that, although the commandments of God were (and are) given as a valid standard of goodness for which to strive, their practical purpose was to show to humanity the impossibility of perfect obedience to them (that is, mankind's universal innate sinfulness), and the consequent need for faith in Christ, who (as both true God and true man) was (and is) the only individual who was able both to achieve perfect obedience, and then vicariously pay the penalty imposed by God for sin owed by all the rest of humanity.

This allows those who place their faith in Him, rather then strictly their own efforts, to receive eternal life in God's presence. The redeemed can then perform good works in gratitude to God for the salvation they they have already received, rather than out of a futile desire to achieve salvation through them. 

Legalism, by contrast, holds that it is indeed possible to please God solely by works. (Paul refutes this in multiple passages in his writings, including Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16-21, and Ephesians 2:8-9.)

As a by-product of this emphasis on works, legalism also leads to giving the weight of God-given laws to purely human rules and traditions (Mark 7:1-23).

June 21 2023 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Profile pic Mark Vestal Proud of nothing of myself. Freed by Christ who did it all!
Webster defines legalism as a "strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code". 'Keeping the commandments' can be a form of legalism, but actually has two connotations depending on which biblical administration you are in.

While Christ lived on earth and prior to His death, burial, resurrection, and revealing of His Ephesians 3:2 "dispensation of grace", 'keeping the commandments' (and all 613 points of Mosaic law) were required of Israel by God for righteousness. Paul however was told by Christ ascended that currently no one is under Mosaic law. We are now living under God's grace, where we are not punished for not 'keeping the law', and are "MADE the righteousness of God" upon faith in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Romans 10:4
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."

Romans 6:14
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace."

1 Corinthians 6:12
"All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."

The key difference is that prior to Christ's death on the cross, Israel strived to 'keep the commandments' to establish their own self-righteousness as the result (Rom 10:3). Every believer today strives to 'keep the commandments' out of love. We see God's grace and understand that He has imputed HIS righteousness to us as a gift (Rom 4:22-24). As the result of His grace, we in return then desire to live more righteously for Him (not ourselves), as that is our reasonable service (Rom 12:1). God's grace is therefore not a license to sin, but a license to serve.

June 21 2023 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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