What is Legalism? pt.2

This is the third, and final, post on Legalism in this series. We have already made available a “test” to identify our legalistic tendencies, observed what legalism is not, as well as, defined what legalism is. In this post we will speak to the manifestation of legalism and provide four principles to consider before we pass judgment on another person.*

Legalism focuses on external rules rather than internal thoughts, attitudes, and motives. It concentrates on the letter of the law more than the spirit of the law. Legalism is the manifestation of the sin of pride. (taken from the article: Leading People Away from Legalism by Lou Priolo, Journal of Modern Ministry, vol.8, issue 1)

Someone who is caught up in legalism is often motivated by a desire to “look good” in the eyes of others and as a result will be proactive in pointing out perceived “wrong outward behavior” in others. Most likely they struggle with being a people pleaser, loving the approval of man rather than God. Priolo brings out the very common struggle of those battling legalism: elevating man-made rules to the same level of authority as God given commands. Scripture deals with this struggle in James 4:11-12.

What takes place when we judge others to a higher standard than God has given us?

  • You become the judge over what is right or wrong with the person
  • You judge Scripture which neglects to mention the issue you have with the person
  • You judge the “Lawgiver” (God) as being inadequate and are actually placing yourself in the place of “lawgiver”. You are judging God!

How can we successfully battle legalism?

Four principles to consider before judging another individual:

  • Realize that a mature Christian has the ability to distinguish sin issues from non-sin issues. (Hebrews 5:14; Isaiah 5:20)
  • Realize that a mature Christian understands it is easy to fall into the trap of those who opposed Jesus
    • The Pharisees elevated human tradition to be as binding as Scripture. Jesus addressed this in Matthew 15:8-9
  • Realize that a mature Christian won’t major on minor issues
    • There will be doctrinal differences over “minor” issues. And, even in the most sincere people, there will be those that will be wrong in their interpretation. Many of the things that we find we differ on can be covered in love as we interact with one another. When Christ returns we will be certain of the correct interpretation of these issues. 2 Peter 1:20
  • Realize that a mature Christian will exercise great care in judging others, because you will be judged by the same standard you use for them.

So why should Christians try to keep God’s commandments?

  • We keep God’s commands as an expression of our love for him
  • We keep God’s commands as a show of our loyalty to him
  • We keep God’s commands as an act of devotion to him
  • We keep God’s commands out of gratitude to Him

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