In this blog post, we will be exploring the topic of legalism in Christianity.
Legalism refers to the tendency to prioritize rules and regulations above other important aspects of spiritual life.
It can involve an overemphasis on outward appearances and behaviors, rather than the inward transformation that occurs through a relationship with Jesus.
It is important for believers to understand what the Bible says about legalism, as it can have serious consequences for our faith and our relationship with God.
What is legalism in Christianity
Legalism in Christianity can be defined as the tendency to prioritize norms and forms above other important aspects of spiritual life, such as seeking a personal relationship with God and inward transformation through a relationship with Jesus.
It can also involve relying on one’s own merits for justification, rather than trusting in the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Legalism can manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as becoming arrogant and critical of others, forgetting to love others unconditionally, and putting oneself at the center of one’s faith experience.
In the Christian context, legalism often involves a focus on following rules and regulations rather than seeking a personal relationship with God.
It can also involve an overemphasis on outward appearances and behaviors, rather than the inward transformation that occurs through a relationship with Jesus.
Legalism can be a tempting mindset for believers, as it can give us a false sense of control and security, but it ultimately falls short of the fullness of life and freedom that God offers through His grace.
What does Paul say about legalism?
The apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 9:30-32 that the Gentiles, or non-Jews, found righteousness and justification through faith in the merits of Jesus, rather than through their own efforts or works.
On the other hand, the Jews, who were trying to attain righteousness through the law, did not attain their goal. This is because they pursued righteousness not through faith, but as if it were by works.
Paul explains that the Jews stumbled over the stumbling stone, which is a reference to Jesus (1 Peter 2:8).
Paul also emphasizes in Galatians 2:16 that justification does not depend on individual actions, but on God who justifies us through faith in Jesus.
Legalism, on the other hand, sets the focus on oneself and one’s own efforts, rather than on Jesus and His finished work on the cross. This is what the Jews did, and as a result, they lost sight of Jesus and rejected Him, thereby rejecting God’s grace and salvation.
In conclusion, Paul’s message is clear: justification is not based on our own efforts or works, but on God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
Legalism, which seeks to attain righteousness through one’s own efforts or adherence to certain rules and regulations, ultimately falls short and leads to missing out on the freedom and joy of God’s grace.
Characteristics of a legalistic church
The Jews in the time of Jesus and the Apostle Paul provide an example of a legalistic church. They placed their focus on the law and their own merits for justification, rather than trusting in the grace of God through faith in Jesus.
This legalistic mindset led to an attitude of arrogance, pride, and criticism towards others, as well as a lack of unconditional love. It also resulted in placing their own self at the center of their faith experience, rather than God.
Like the Jews, Christians can often fall into the temptation of relying on their own efforts to gain salvation and approval from God, rather than recognizing their need for His grace.
This can lead to a similar legalistic mindset, characterized by arrogance, pride, and a lack of love for others.”
Here are some general characteristics:
- A focus on outward appearances, rather than inward transformation: This characteristic of a legalistic church places an emphasis on maintaining a certain appearance or reputation, rather than focusing on personal growth and spiritual transformation.
- An overemphasis on following rules and regulations, rather than seeking a personal relationship with God.
- A judgmental attitude towards those who do not adhere to the same rules and standards.
- A lack of freedom and joy in one’s faith, due to the burden of trying to earn God’s favor through works.
- A focus on legalistic practices over biblical teachings and values. This can lead to a distorted or incomplete understanding of the Bible, as well as a lack of emphasis on important Christian values such as love, compassion, and grace.
- A lack of unity within the church. Legalism often leads to division and segregation within the church, as different individuals or groups may have different interpretations and applications of the rules. This can hinder the church’s ability to work together effectively and be a unified force for good in the world.
- A burden of trying to earn God’s favor through works. Legalism can lead to a feeling of constant inadequacy and a lack of assurance of one’s salvation. This can result in a lack of freedom and joy in one’s faith, as believers may feel they constantly have to prove themselves to God.
- A lack of grace and forgiveness towards others. Legalistic churches may be quick to condemn or ostracize those who do not adhere to their rules or standards, rather than showing grace and extending forgiveness as Jesus did. This can create an unwelcoming atmosphere and hinder the church’s ability to reach out to those in need.
The dangers of legalism
Legalism can be dangerous because it can lead believers away from a focus on their relationship with God and towards an emphasis on external practices and rules.
This can result in a misunderstanding of the purpose of the law, which was meant to point people towards their need for a savior, rather than being a means of earning salvation on their own.
Galatians 3:24-25 says,
“So the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
Legalism can also cause believers to miss out on the freedom and joy that comes from grace.
Romans 6:14 says,
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Legalism can lead to a burden of trying to earn God’s favor through one’s own efforts, rather than trusting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In conclusion, legalism in Christianity involves a focus on external practices and rules, rather than on a personal relationship with God.
It can also lead to a misunderstanding of the purpose of the law and a missing out on the freedom and joy of grace.
Paul’s teachings in Romans, Galatians, and other letters emphasize the importance of seeking justification through faith in Jesus, rather than through works or the law.
Instead of pursuing a legalistic faith, we are encouraged to pursue a grace-filled, relationship-based faith that trusts in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
By focusing on Jesus and his love for us, rather than on our own efforts to earn salvation, we can experience the fullness of life and freedom that he offers.
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.