The Gospel vs. Legalism

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No, he sees himself as a notch above these sinners.

Legalism (theology)

He has attained a righteous life by his own hard work and discipline. The legalist is puffed up with pride. Scripture declares that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble Prov. We see that we deserve His judgment because of our pride, selfishness, and rebellion. Rather than comparing ourselves with others and concluding that we are basically good, we compare ourselves with God and conclude that no good thing dwells within us. Thus convicted of our great need, we flee to the cross for mercy. Jesus compares the Pharisees to concealed tombs.

If a Jew came in contact with a tomb or a dead body, he was ceremonially unclean for seven days Num. The picture behind these ceremonial laws was that sin leads to death and that the contamination of sin and death spreads to others if it is not dealt with. The Jew who became contaminated by contact with a dead body had to take responsibility for cleansing through the ashes of a red heifer and ritual washing Num. Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees, who were meticulous about such laws of cleanliness, of defiling the Jewish nation through their own spiritual death!

The charge must have shocked them! The application is that the sin of legalism contaminates unsuspecting people. It turns off unbelievers and keeps them from the truth of the gospel, because they can see the hypocrisy of the legalists. It contaminates young believers, who are mistakenly taught that if they do certain things and do not do other things, they will grow in holiness and be pleasing to God.

But invariably, the things that they are told to do and not do are not the important issues of the Bible, such as the love of God and neighbor as summed up in the Ten Commandments. Rather, they are petty things, often things that Scripture does not directly command. One reason many kids who grow up in Christian homes later reject the faith is that the parents and the church have been shot through with legalism. Instead of the joy of knowing God and of having our sins forgiven through His grace, the focus was on the rules and the outward conformity that had to be maintained so that everyone else would think that the kids and parents were good Christians.

But the emphasis in our homes and church should be on the joy of knowing God. At this point, an expert in the Jewish Law who was at the dinner spoke up. Probably he thought that this young rabbi did not grasp the full implication of His words. He was not only indicting the Pharisees; His scathing words also insulted the lawyers and the entire Jewish religious leadership. But rather than apologizing or backing down, Jesus laid into the lawyers with three more woes:. The lawyers had taken the commands of Scripture and had multiplied them into hundreds of minute adaptations.

But, like lawyers in every age, they had also come up with legal loopholes that enabled them to skirt around their own rules, while the average guy was still burdened with them. For example, on the Sabbath the lawyers determined that you could only travel 1, yards from your home. But if a rope was tied across the end of the street, the end of the street became his residence and he could go 1, yards beyond that.

Or, if before the Sabbath a man left at any given point enough food for two meals, that point technically became his residence and he could go 1, yards beyond that. But a woman could tie a knot in her girdle.


The Sabbath laws were given for our benefit, so that we would set aside one day in seven for worship and rest. I believe that modern Christians err by throwing out the entire Sabbath principle. Most Christians treat Sunday just like every other day. The main issue is our heart before God. We are to honor Him one day each week by ceasing from our normal routine and worshiping Him. Legalism burdens people with peripheral issues and rules. To summarize, Jesus is elaborating on the theme that legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal.

He has shown that it majors on minors, it focuses on self-glory, it subtly corrupts others, and it burdens people with peripheral rules. But Jesus lumps the current leaders with their ancestors who killed the prophets. He is saying that the current leaders are finishing off the job that the earlier generations started. As in all the other woes, the underlying problem is that though outwardly they act as if they honor the prophets, inwardly they do not repent of the very sins which the prophets condemned. Abel was the first man to die because his righteousness convicted his brother of his evil deeds.

How legalistic Christians misread the Bible

In the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew Bible, Zechariah was the last prophet to be killed 2 Chron. The key of knowledge refers to the personal knowledge of the living God through His revealed Word. True religion is a matter of knowing God personally and growing in that relationship with Him.

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In many well-meaning but legalistic Christian homes, parents mistakenly think that the way to keep their teenagers in line is to lay down and enforce a lot of rules. But the way to keep your teenagers in line is to lead them to a personal knowledge of the Holy One. If they truly know Him and know the great love of Christ who gave Himself for their sins, they will want to please Him, beginning on the heart level. As our kids grow in their walk with God, we should be able to ease up on the number of rules, not impose more.

Our goal is to get each child to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ, in a growing personal relationship with Him. Legalism takes an external approach; biblical Christianity focuses on the heart relationship.

Some years ago, a church in Portland near a college wanted to develop more of a ministry to the students. One Sunday, the church was packed and the service was already underway when a young man with unkempt hair, blue jeans, a T-shirt, and bare feet walked in. Finally, he just sat down on the carpet at the front of the church. It created an uneasy atmosphere in this crowd of people who were mostly dressed in suits and dresses, seated in their rows of pews.

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  5. Then, every eye noticed an elderly man in a suit walking slowly toward the young man. Is he going to ask him to leave? Finally, he got down to where the young man was sitting. With some difficulty because of his age, he slowly sat down next to the young man and worshiped there on the carpet with him. It was a great example of not looking on the outward person or majoring on the minors, but of accepting the person as God does. Remember, Jesus hates legalism because it does not deal with the condition of our sinful hearts before God.

    But Jesus loves grace, because it is by His grace that He transforms sinners into saints who love God and who love others. The Place Where Everyone is Welcome. The overall theme: Legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal Then Jesus launches into the three woes on the Pharisees: 1. The first woe: Legalism majors on minors and minors on majors The second woe: Legalism focuses on self-glory The third woe: Legalism subtly corrupts others But rather than apologizing or backing down, Jesus laid into the lawyers with three more woes: 4.

    The fourth woe: Legalism burdens people with peripheral commandments The sixth woe: Legalism misses the true knowledge of God and misleads those who seek to know Him Conclusion Some years ago, a church in Portland near a college wanted to develop more of a ministry to the students. Discussion Questions Why do Christians tolerate legalism and even see it as a virtue rather than as a serious sin?


    LEGALISM. An outline study of what the Bible says about legalism.

    Why not? Just what is legalism? Should we imitate Jesus in deliberately provoking and confronting people? Consider Col. Copyright, Steven J. The metaphor of salt implies that we can and should be provocative, but we also must speak in a gracious and sensitive manner. But in every social contact with unbelievers, keep your purpose clear.

    But in so doing, they had shifted the focus from the heart to the outward man. This included elaborate rituals for washing themselves before meals and for cleansing their dishes and utensils. While there was a basis for these practices in the Book of Leviticus ; , the Pharisees had taken them far beyond what God intended.

    Jesus uses this practice to confront the main issue. Religion apart from God is always trying to fix the outer man to look good to other men, but it neglects the fact that the Lord looks on the heart. Jesus confronted the Pharisees with the fact that although they went to great lengths to clean their cups and platters, they neglected to cleanse their hearts, which were full of robbery and wickedness. The Pharisees despised those who were openly sinful, but God looks not only at the outward person, but also on the heart.

    Inwardly, the Pharisees were greedy and wicked. Jesus compares this to washing the outside of a bowl and then eating out of it, even though the inside was filthy! The God who made the outside made the inside as well. Genuine religion is a matter of the heart, not just of external compliance. The meaning of verse 41 is debated, but Jesus seems to be saying that if we deal with our hearts before God, then everything that flows outward is clean.

    The Pharisees were meticulous about giving a tenth to God to the degree that they even tithed their spices! Rue is a strong-scented herb. While Jesus upheld the obligation of tithing Lev. As He elsewhere affirmed, the love of God and the love of neighbor sum up the entire Law Matt. But the Pharisees would cleverly tell even their parents that they could not help them financially because their money had been devoted to God Mark Technically, they were tithing, but practically, they were neglecting to love their own parents!

    Modern day legalists also major on the minors and minor on the majors. Some churches and Christian parents put major attention on rules about petty issues, such as dress codes or certain activities, but they tolerate serious sins, such as gossip, greed, and pride. If we shun people because of how they look, or over certain behaviors that, according to the Bible, are not major, we are guilty of the sin of the Pharisees.

    Lewis all had in common. Yes, they were all godly Christian leaders who were greatly used by God. All except Lewis were gifted Bible expositors and pastors. But also, at least some of the time they were in the ministry, they all smoked!

    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism
    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism
    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism
    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism
    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism
    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism
    The Gospel vs. Legalism The Gospel vs. Legalism

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