A famous Apostolic preacher once stated:
“Standards are designed to be your guard rails – to be your barriers”
Legalism is: Imposed or implied extra biblical rules – the commandments of men, mandated in an attempt to earn: salvation, anointing and/or favor with GOD. To attain higher levels of holiness by the adherence conditions/ ordinances and/or standards not biblically based, and the disdain or disfavor of those who do not follow said conditions, ordinances, and standards.
In a nutshell these definitions are definitive of legalism….
Legalism, definition number one: "2 Theology. The doctrine that salvation is gained through good works
Legalism, definition number two: "2. The doctrine of salvation by works, as distinguished from that by grace"
(New Illustrated Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, pg. 559).
Legalism is a killer. Legalism seeks to destroy joy, love, peace and the righteousness of CHRIST. Legalism is the dagger of death in the body of life, and it is truly loathsome: scripturally and the LORD JESUS. It seeks to instill a sense of righteousness or the appearance of righteousness, without really being righteous. In this manner: legalism is very dangerous.
With great veracity legalism seeks and destroys. It shows no mercy (for legalism knows no mercy) on its victims. It gains its stranglehold on its prey and squeezes till all life is gone….
In defining Legalism and what it is or to further illustrate legalism. The shining example of Legalism is the Pharisees.
The Pharisee’s existed in the days of JESUS CHRIST. They were or at least considered themselves the elite in the spiritual horizon of that day. They were the original hard liners, and rule keepers. They remain the picture of legalism.
They were known for insisting that the law of GOD be observed as the scribes interpreted it, and more or at least equally important was their additions to the law, the keeping of their own traditions and time honored customs. They equated these customs and traditions to be as sacred and as powerful as the WORDS OF GOD…
This is one form of legalism
Legalism is imposed or implied extra biblical rules – the commandments of men, mandated in an attempt to earn: salvation, anointing and/or favor with GOD.
To attain higher levels of holiness by the adherence of conditions/ordinances/standards that are not biblically based, and the disdain or disfavor of those who do not follow said conditions, ordinances, and standards.
The Pharisee’s had made the traditions surrounding the law as important as the law itself
(Matthew 15:8) This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
(Matthew 15:9) But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
What the Pharisee’s decided to do was to construct a protective wall around the law, the commandments. To degree greater separation.This wall consisted of many, many additional man made laws. This thinking was that by applying these “guard rails” as they were. They formed a protective covering or “guardrails”, a help that would prevent one from falling into real sin, or breaking the law.
The problem was that as time went on these “guard rails” became just as sacred and pure, and sometimes of more esteem than the actual commandments of GOD.
The warning of Jesus Christ about the tradition of men that makes the WORD OF GOD of none effect (Mark 7:1-13), is in fact, a direct reference to these “guard rails” They are know as the Talmud, or more specifically, the earliest rendition, and the short version was called the Mishnah, which existed in Christ’s time.
These traditions, these thoughts of men became as sacred as the law themselves, and they in essence made the cross of non effect.
. Josephus (famed historian of the time of JESUS CHRIST)tells us that the Pharisees had an obsession with "regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses" (Josephus, Antiq. XIII. x. 6)
Jesus continually referred to the Mishnah as the "tradition of the elders" or the "tradition of men" (Matt 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-23; also see Josephus, Antiq. XIII. xvi. 2). And he condemned the practice strongly…. Perhaps this was the strongest admonition and rebuke that JESUS CHRIST made.
Nelson Illustrated Bible Dictionary states:
At some points during Jewish history traditions and the Talmud had been considered equal to or better than the scripture itself. Jesus encountered such an attitude among the Pharisees. Christians must be careful not to make the same mistake in refard to our own traditions(end quote)
Truer words have not been uttered in regards to Legalism, and the mandate of extra biblical rules for the work of righteousness. It is a false assumption that the WORD OF GOD is not complete and capable for instruction in righteousness.
In fact the bible records these words
(2 Timothy 3:16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
(2 Timothy 3:17) That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Legalism Thinks It Can Earn It’s Own righteousness
Luk 18:9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Nelson Illustrated Bible Dictionary states:
The Pharisee’s thought they could match GOD’s standards by keeping all the outward rules….. This can easily happen when people think GOD’S will is the same thing as their list of what they can and can’t do…
People who are ensnared in the deception of legalism have the false concept that righteousness is something that is earned. That they can trust in their good works to solidify their relationship with GOD, to become more right in the sight of GOD.
Legalism attests favor with GOD, power with GOD on the basis of personal sacrifices and dead works. One such assumption is “If obedience to the WORD is good, extra sacrifices must be better.”
This however is not true, and it is the same concept held by the Pharisee’s, and we know how JESUS felt about them.
“Why is legalism so dangerous? I mean isn’t it better to be, more, safe? Isn’t it better to be more conservative?” You know “to steer as far away from the line as possible.”
These questions and comments are often asked when discussing legalism, and dead works. They seem harmless enough, almost sensible, but let’s look at why these thought processes are dangerous …..
One translation records Galations in this manner
Galatians 5:4 When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace.
(Romans 10:3) For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
Herein lies the snare – Those who hold a works mentality or a legalistic approach to GOD, have failed to submit themselves, to the righteousness of GOD. To trust in the saving and transforming power of HIS spirit. That is an important statement. I’d like to say it again:
“Those who hold to a works mentality or a legalistic approach to GOD, have failed to submit themselves to the righteousness of GOD.”
This literally means that those in legalism have sought to establish their own kind of righteousness, despite the clear and present teachings of salvation, and the righteousness of GOD in CHRIST JESUS. They have discarded the righteousness of CHRIST, in exchange for the righteousness they can attain by their own performance. At the very least they have in a non-verbal manner assumed the righteousness and instruction of the bible not quite sufficient, thereby in their mind reasonably adding as they assume and see fit.
That is to say, they have not submitted to the righteousness of GOD, and have sought to pursue and maintain their own version of righteousness, which in truth is not righteousness at all!
They have sought their own means of anointing. In some manners it has been said “standards are not a salvation issue, but a power issue.” This again is the creation of façade, an illusion, of righteousness.
(Isaiah 64:6) all our righteous nesses are as filthy rags……
Anointing, salvation and other blessings of GOD are soley based on faith in the gospel and the giver of that Gospel. The WORD OF GOD clearly defines true salvation, anointing and the entrance into God’s presence, favor and salvation, we must therefore pursue it HIS way, through HIS WORD.