God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.




How does legalism affect the Christian believer?

So pervasive and subtle is legalism that we are all threatened by its seductive power. We need to be alert for its deceptions. We have been seduced by legalism when, for example:

We consider that we are more acceptable to God than other Christians are.

We fear that, because of today's failures, we are less acceptable to God than we were yesterday.

We believe that God will love us more and reward us if we go to church twice a week instead of once, or meet some similar arbitary condition or expectation.

We feel guilty in the presence of other Christians because we have not the same passion for the lost as they have.

We believe we will have a bad day because we didn't have a ‘quiet time'.

This list could continue forever. Irrespective of the length of the list the results of legalism are the same:

[1] Legalistic Christians who are aware of their sinfulness are burdened with guilt and fear. They have little or no assurance of their ultimate salvation; they have little or no sense of their daily acceptance with God. While knowing that Jesus died to take the punishment for their sins, they live as though their present relationship with God depends solely on their effort. Condemning themselves for their failure to obey God's laws, the laws of their church or their own moral code, these Christians effectively short-circuit Christ's work on the cross, living without peace, without joy, and without freedom from the curse of the law. For all the good it does them in their own perception of their daily relationship with God, Christ's death need not have occurred (Galatians 5:1-12). We must realise that the Christians feeling guilty and condemned in this way are not more sinful than others; rather they are people of sensitive consciences burdened and entrapped by a legalistic mindset.

[2] Legalistic Christians who are not aware of their sinfulness avoid this despair but tend to the opposite error of pride. Here we find the boasting outlawed by the gospel, a spiritual elitism, a hardness of heart alien to the mind of Christ. Inevitably we also find a reduction of the sinfulness of sin, a reduction of the holiness of God, and a parallel reduction of the significance of Christ's death. Again, the grace of Christ is denied as these people think they can stand in the presence of God on their own merit. Instead of rejoicing in the Lord, they boast in their own performance (Philippians 2:1-11; 3:1-11; Colossians 2:18-19).

[3] Although the right words are spoken and the name of Christ proclaimed, legalism effectively denies, opposes and undermines the Gospel. Legalistic Christianity, in respect to its legalistic perceptions and expectations, is no more Biblical than any pagan religion or pseudo-Christian cult.  Making our day-to-day relationship with God depend on our own work (not the work of Jesus Christ) is not true to Christ and his grace. Telling people they must stand in the presence of the holy God with their own righteousness in their hands (rather than standing in his presence clothed with the righteousness of Jesus) is not the message of the New Testament. In such a perverted faith, I see myself as no better off than if I were trembling at the altar of some pagan god, uncertain of the acceptability of my pitiful offering.

Reclaim the Gospel

The Gospel of Jesus Christ promises us peace, joy and satisfaction (Luke 2:10,14; John 6:35). To gain these for us, the Son of God bore our sin in his body on the cross (1Peter 2:24). Let us each break off the shackles of legalism; let us refuse to be seduced by those who corrupt the Gospel in this way (Colossians 2:8,16,18,20). Let us reclaim the Gospel and take our stand solely and securely in the Lord Jesus Christ, rooted and grounded in him, complete in him, looking not at our own spirituality, but at Christ alone (Colossians 2:6,7,10).

For your study:
Carefully read Galatians and Colossians. Make a list of the verses warning us against relating to God on the basis of our ability to obey laws, rules and regulations.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012