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Legalism is the idea that we can be saved by keeping Gods laws. Galatians 2:21 refutes the whole idea. The Pharisees were the legalists of their day, and trusted in their own righteousness that by keeping the law they would be saved. But they had no faith toward God. It is the idea that a person can be righteous in themselves before a Holy God by keeping the commandments. The problem with it is that no one is righteous before God. We can only be made righteous by faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross. When we accept Him as our only savior, He gives us His righteousness, which is the only righteousness God will accept. Romans 4:5 We are accounted righteous before God by faith alone in what Jesus did for us on the cross. It is through the Holy Spirit given to us when we accept Jesus payment for all our sin. Ephesians 1:13 We are not righteous, but we have His righteousness. It was the only way we could be saved. In the old testament salvation was by keeping the law, and when someone sinned, an animal blood sacrifice was made for the sin. In the new testament we are under grace, and Jesus is our blood sacrifice for all sin. We are no longer under the law works, but under grace. When Jesus went to the cross, He paid for the sins of the whole world so that any one could be saved from hell by just believing that He did it for them. Since our sins have all been paid for we can not go to hell to pay for them. Romans 11:6 says we are saved by grace, not by works, what we do, but what Jesus did for us. It says if it was by works, then it is no more grace, and if it is grace, it is no more works. It can not be both. So we are not saved by keeping the law and doing good works. We are saved by what Jesus did for us plus nothing from us. It is a free gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 After we are saved we keep from sin and do good works to earn rewards in heaven, but not salvation, because that was all paid for by Christ blood sacrifice for all sin. The law was given to show us we are sinners and could not keep the law, to bring us to Christ for salvation by grace. Because no one could keep the law perfectly Jesus did it for us and gave us the benefit. We are saved by His life, death, and resurrection, not by any works we do. We do not have to do anything to be saved but to trust in Jesus blood sacrifice for all our sin. He paid the debt we owe but could do nothing to pay. When we trusted Him to save us we were given the Holy Spirit of promise. Ephesians 1:13 Galatians 2:16 We are Justified before God by faith alone when we first believed. Romans 4:5 Praise God we are saved by grace and not by our obedience to the law. Every believer needs to read the book of Galatians over and over. It keeps us from self righteousness. It keeps us humble. It keeps us from spiritual pride which God hates. We are to keep our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross and then we will only worship Him and not our selves or other men. Only Jesus is to be praised for what He has done for us. We should love Him for what He has done. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I have no righteousness of my own. Legalism is probably the greatest lie that keeps people form being saved than any other. It is the greatest apostasy in the organized churches today. They are deceived that if they do good works, and keep from sin, they will be saved. If we could have been saved any other way than through Jesus blood sacrifice for all our sin, Jesus died in vain. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. All of the good works we could ever do could not save us. Keeping Gods laws can not save us because we can't keep them all. It is so deceiving because it sounds right that if we turn from our sin we can be saved. But it is a lie. It is the way that sound right to men, but in the end it is spiritual death, because we have not trusted in Jesus to save us.
Personally I am loath to use the word legalism. My reasoning is simple. The word legalism may conjure different meanings and feelings to different people. I suspect the word “legalism” in Christianity has been made popular as we seek to differentiate Christianity from law keeping Judaism even though we believe in the same God. I don’t know much about Judaism so I will avoid saying much about it. Most Christians believe that as a result of grace ushered in by Jesus Christ we have been freed from the obligation to keep the law (read 10 Commandments). A very small minority still believe in Christianity that blends the law and grace. These Christians fall between Judaism and Christianity. My analysis of the readings of Paul have led me to conclude that keeping the law is neither a requirement or a burden on a Christian. Let me explain quickly. Distilling the arguments of those that say keeping the law is legalism and therefore negating grace one is forced to ask the question: Shall we kill, steal, lie, blaspheme or commit adultery? Obviously not. So which part of the law has been done away with? It’s difficult to find the answer without inviting more argument, but it becomes clear that the issue really is about the Sabbath. The rest of the laws you can keep without appearing to be legalistic. The moment you make them 10 it becomes a problem. On the other hand I can understand the root cause of this feeling. Those that claim to keep all 10 are a replica of the rich young ruler. They “keep” all 10 with so much pride and it’s easy to understand why the rest of Christendom labels them legalists. But what is it that God designed with the law? Did He come up with a different salvation formula for those before the cross and then revised it after the cross? A careful and balanced reading of Paul suggests that the fact that the Hebrews/Judaism failed to understand God’s intent doesn’t mean that God’s intents were poorly conceived. The way those people presented the law of God wasn’t the best but that wasn’t the fault of the law. It simply had poor messengers. My view is that the law shouldn’t even come into the picture. We shouldn’t even be debating it. The ultimate and singular quest of every Christian should be to do God’s will period. In this journey we are all covered by grace. We will also be at different stages of growth and development. As we aim to please God we will seek to know that which makes Him happy. Humans tend to want a simple chart where they can tick and be satisfied that they have done something to make themselves fit for heaven but the Bible makes it clear that there is nothing you can do to earn salvation. No matter how hard you try. It is a gift granted to all who choose to accept it. The challenge remains in how to conduct ourselves between the moment we accept Christ and His second coming. I think this shouldn’t be legislated by any organization but is an individual choice. A genuine Christian will allow the Spirit to reveal God’s will. Grace shouldn’t mean living a licentious life devoid of self control. God created the universe and put laws in place not as a restriction but for our freedom and enjoyment. There are laws governing the universe - any scientists will tell you that. Let us seek God's will and we shall find the answers.
Paul wrote much about legalism by explaining that the New Covenant of Grace replaces the Law of Moses, including the 10 commandments. Romans 7:5-6 says, 'For when we lived according to the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the Law were at work in our bodies, bearing fruit for death. But now, having died to what bound us, we have been released from the Law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.' In writing 'having died' Paul meant our old sinful self died on the Cross with Jesus and as believers we are new creations, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.' Legalism is insidious though and we have to recognize it when we hear or see it and especially when we find ourselves being legalistic in our approach to our beliefs. An example is the subjective feeling that we aren't living up to God's 'standards' or doing enough to make Him pleased with us. That is an emotional attitude and often gets us into trouble. When you hear words like 'should, ought to, what you _need to do', and others like that, you are listening to a legalist who wants to convince you to follow the 10 commandments when their influence on us died at the Cross. Avoid people like that or you'll never have a meaningful life of enjoying the Lord's mercy, His more than abundant love, and His gifts to us of faith and grace, Ephesians 2:8-9. We aren't who our emotions tell us we are, instead we are who the Bible says we are. Righteous, justified,sanctified, and glorified, is what Romans 8:30, 1 Corinthians 6:11, and others say we are. Even though we might not feel like we're any of those things, we live as if they're true until it becomes natural to us. The easiest way to become who we truly are is to stop trying to 'do' things and concentrate on 'being' in Jesus. He loves us and when we understand that and deeply believe it, He will enable us to love others as He loves us. Jesus did _everything for us and by focusing on Him our spiritual life of prayer and Bible study will become 'want to' do those things instead of feeling like we 'have to'. Our Christian lives will be so much more rewarding as we come to understand Jesus didn't just give us life, He _is our life! In John 8:32, before His death and resurrection, Jesus said this, ' You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' He was telling the people what was to come. Knowing Him is knowing the Truth and the Truth really did set us free! If we keep our minds set on Him we will avoid any form of legalism and we'll enjoy an abundant life as He intended when He came to save us from the 'wages of sin'. God isn't sitting in a Heaven that resembles a courtroom with His gavel poised ready to slam it down in conviction of us when we make a mistake. God provided Jesus as the only Person who could die on our behalf, for our sins, so that we might have eternal life in Him. God is sitting on His throne looking down at us with a huge smile on His face because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us like He has with Jesus and His Holy Spirit. Every time a sinner comes to salvation I can see them dancing in their circle of love, laughing, rejoicing,and singing about the newly redeemed. All three of them love us without exception and look forward to the day our spirits join them in their reality of love and joy! We are truly blessed!
Legalism? Why, religion IS legalism. That's why Yeshua came to wipe it out. Anything smack of legalism is against love and freedom. Note 'love' is not 'love' trumpeted by Bob Bell, but self-giving love - the very spirit of God radiating power in creation and care.
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