April 3, 2010

Legalism Is a Dead End

This is one of the better definitions I have read on legalism.

Legalism is the imposition of wrong rules, and particularly more rules than a situation warrants, so that in a maze of minutiae people lose their ability to distinguish the more important from the less important, the principle from the application. Legalism also includes striving for merit in one’s obedience, over against the recognition that obedience is nothing more than one’s duty. The personal dimension of enjoying fellowship with God on the basis of His grace alone is consequently lost.
~Robert Gundry

Inevitably we die physically and spiritually when separated from God so God made laws to get us back to a holy place. He's a Holy God and we are not. We were created to have a dependant relationship with Him but this cannot be done until we are justified. When we accept what Christ did for us at the cross we are justified. To relegate a person to an existence without a relationship with God is to relegate him to Hell. When man trys to make up rules that He thinks will help Him be more holy and get closer to God, he is actually doing just the opposite. He his moving back away from God. The man-made rule kills the man inside until he is totally disconnected from God...and man doesn't even realize it. He thinks he is improving on God's rules (which is impossible). He might as well be dead.

When you get so wrapped up in legalism that you start making your own rules, you've missed the point. When rules are your entire existence it will kill your spirit. God gave us the guidelines in the right measure and frequency, we need not try to improve on them. We'll only end up smothering ourselves in our own stupidity. Elaboration on God's perfect design is a killer. Anything that doesn't impart life will impart death.

Legalism oppresses grace.

Legalism in modern Christian living appears most often in two different ways. First, many Christians try to pursue sanctification (a pursuit of holiness) by trying to keep the Law through their own efforts (works). This avenue openly opposes grace (which is to say it ignores the Holy Spirit). This road usually ends in frustration. Sometimes those that practice this misunderstanding will cause a drift away from the faith in a backsliding condition. The second way it enters a Christian's life in a bogus manner is through "code" or "human-created" criteria of regulation and restriction. The external observance or deeds and vain repetition. A conformity to dead man-made ritual takes the humanity or human out of actions and puts the robotic and near meaninglessness in its place. God wants a relationship with His beloved creation not a distant association with a robot. Paul mentions this is Colossians.

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." ~Colossians 2:20-23

What Paul is saying here is that because of the great liberating truth of Jesus' Resurrection and the promise of eternal life, a believer does not have to live like a spiritually dead man but can now live as one alive in Christ, empowered with His resurrection power. Mindlessly going through the motions in an effort to produce our own salvation through works is not possible. It is only through the work of Christ at the Cross that gets us right with the Father.

Not only are we to stand in God's grace...we are to grow in it.

"Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." ~Romans 5:2

"...But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." ~2 Peter 3:18

In the end these types of ascetic restrictions mean you adhere to a man-made religion which will not sanctify you. Some examples of contrast between legalism and grace in the Bible follow.

*Click on window to enlarge*

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