Legalism vs grace: What does the Bible say about legalism?

I am currently studying the book of Romans, and today I came across a fragment that stood out to my mind.

From my perspective, the bible text talks about legalism and why it doesn’t work for believers.

Today I intend to share those verses with you and make a few comments on them.

Let’s read them together:

What then shall we say?

That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.

Why not?

Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.

They stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Romans 9:30-32

What is legalism in Christianity

The first thing I would like to do to start addressing this issue is to define what I mean by using the word legalism.

According to the dictionary a dictionary, legalism is defined as follows:

Tendency to the literal application of laws, without considering other circumstances.

Formality or legal requirement that hinders or impedes the effective functioning of something.

Although we are given a broad definition of the term, and it is up to us to define it in the Christian religious context, I think it is a good starting point.

In the Christian religious context, I would define legalism as considering, whether consciously or unconsciously, that norms or forms are the most important thing in spiritual life, leaving aside things of equal or greater relevance.

Characteristics of a legalistic church

From that perspective, the Jews in the time of Jesus and the Apostle Paul had become legalistic.

They had considered the law (the Ten Commandments and another series of rites and practices of the Pentateuch) to be the ultimate goal of human life.

They believed it was the vehicle by which God had destined man to obtain salvation and redemption.

However, putting their sight and priority on this premise, they had relied on their own merits to be justified.

They had become arrogant, proud, and critical of others.

They had forgotten to love others unconditionally, and their hearts had hardened toward God and neighbor, putting themselves at the center of their experience of faith.

Often Christians can make the same or at least a similar mistake.

Human beings unconsciously want to do something on our part to gain salvation, that’s why we try to be good for God to approve of us.

But in doing so, we may fall into the error of thinking that God’s approval of us is based on our merits.

That we are better than others, when in fact we can only be approved by the merits of Christ.

What does Paul say about legalism?

What the apostle Paul tells us in the text is that the Gentiles (the non-Jews) found justification without seeking it (through works).

That is, they found salvation and justification before God through faith in the merits of Jesus by taking themselves out of the equation.

But that the Jews, having become legalists, sought justification exclusively through the law.

Which led to them to not find it.

For the simple reason, that justification has always been by faith.

What this means is that the justification of the human being depends exclusively on God and not on the actions we do.

That is, being justified does not depend on the individual, it depends on God who justifies us through his son.

Legalism doesn’t work because it sets my sights on myself when I have to look at Jesus.

The Jews should not have thought themselves perfect and deserving of the eternal, but contemplating the law, recognize their weakness and their need for God’s grace.

But because they were thinking that salvation depended on themselves, they lost sight of and rejected the one who was justification made flesh.

Of Jesus.

And rejecting Jesus meant rejecting God’s grace and salvation.

In conclusion, I would like to say that we can often put ourselves in the place of the Jews and think that we have something to offer God to earn salvation.

But I would like to remind you today that this is not the case.

If there is something good in us, if there is anything good we can do, everything is a gift from God for the glory of Christ, not our own merit.

The law of God, the ten commandments, are good and of blessing for our lives because, among other things, they help us to walk the path of grace and build a character in the likeness of the son of God.

A life attached to norms and forms without taking into account that they are not the means to obtain salvation, but are a product of my faith in Jesus, is a life that is focusing on the wrong target.

It is putting our hope in the Self and not in the son of God.

I hope these words have been a blessing to your life.


Are you struggling with legalism? Do you know any legalistic people? What is the circumstance you are going through? Let us know in the comments.

Blessings and a hug.

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