Why is Legalism Wrong? …

16 Jan

After all, it’s just some innocent rule-setting, a couple a commandments thrown in here and there and the occasional tongue lashing for failing to do something properly.

We’ve talked a little about this in the first section, but now we’ll go on a little more at length. Now then, the first thing we must realize is that legalism isn’t simply a harmless way to strengthen our relationship to God (I’m speaking to Christians who are mildly legalistic here), but is instead a horrible death trap just waiting to swallow us whole. Legalism is ‘of the heart.’ Meaning that, no matter how external the rules may seem, it affects our personal relationship to God:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

Legalism comes out of a heart which desires to be right with God, and in that, it is good. However, the means by which the person in question decides to be right with God is very wrong. This is simply because in order to be legalist, one must get rid of all the New Testament; which teaches us – or in the case of the Epistles, reminds us continually – of the Gospel of Jesus. A Gospel through which all people can be saved by faith:

but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:31-33)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2:4-9)

In addition to, in order for legalism to be true, the need to rip out the entire New Testament,  there is another problem with it: no one can be good enough to live up to the standards of a legalist, even the legalist can’t live up to his (or her) own standards. This is because, in order to be truly right with God without Jesus, someone would need to live perfectly. This is legalism in its barest essence: people believing they need to live perfectly to be saved. This thinking is of course faulted again in yet another way:

In order to truly live perfect lives, we a person would’ve had to have lived perfectly since conception; before even being born. This is of course impossible, as demonstrated by the simple fact that all babies, from birth, whine, cry, kick and yes, scream, to get their own way (i.e. everyone’s born selfish). Therefore, it doesn’t matter how perfect you ‘are’ (it’s impossible to be completely perfect even in adulthood, of course) as an adult, you still have your babyhood of screams. – In other words, it’s impossible to ever while in adulthood or while still a baby, be perfect:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7-10)

Legalism often ‘creeps up’ on unaware people, slowly turning their personal Bible studies into a chore rather than a pleasure. Converting the once wonderful time you spent with your family, to a time when you continue to set the mark up higher and higher for your children; turning the love you have for your spouse into a cold, hard relationship that could easily fall apart. – And that is perhaps the greatest of all problems legalism causes; yes, it makes your relationship with God grow cold (you’re no longer trusting in Him but yourself, thus you begin to separate from Him), but it also effects everyone around you as well. When someone decides to start thinking they can make it on their own, and then realizes that they can’t do it, they tend to pressure their beliefs onto others. Something which, if not stopped quickly, can lead to a sort of snowball effect.

Now then, why is it legalism is wrong? Because of these reasons:

  1. Because legalism separates us from God by having us wallow in “what we’ve done.”
  2. Because legalism is an impossible doctrine. The sure impossibility of it would be enough in of itself, but it also leads to people getting depressed at their own failure and, again, becoming colder in their relationship to God.
  3. Because people can’t seem to keep it to themselves, and thus others are effected by its harmful influence.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland


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2 responses to “Why is Legalism Wrong? …

  1. Leon Maiolo

    January 23, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    Hi Joshua,

    I could not agree more. Gal.:5.9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Jesus warned his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees. Math.16.6 6Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Math. 16: 12Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. There doctrine was certainly that of legalism. Keep up the good work!

    • Joshua Cleveland

      January 23, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Hey Leon,

      I agree, the Pharisees doctrine was without doubt one of legalism. Of course, legalism was all they had at first, the bad part was when Jesus came and they continued in their legalism. Now that Jesus has already come, we have no excuses for being legalists ;).

      Thank for the encouragement,



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