Last week I had a conversation with a man who reminded me of the dangers of legalism. In our conversation, this man, who grew up in the Church shared what his experience was like growing up in a church where you needed to “keep yourself saved.” Since the age nineteen, this man, who is now in his mid-fifties decided to walk away from the Church all together and since then has not returned. Thirty plus years later, he still remembers why he left the church, and honestly I can sympathize with his reasoning.
With no shame in his eyes this man looked me and continued to explain his excitement of what life is like outside of church life. Unfortunately, this mans story is not just isolated to him, but there are many others with the same background; these people have left the church because they experienced what they thought was biblical Christianity in exchange for the poisonous counterfeit of Legalism, dressed in the gospel.
Since that conversation, I have shared the liberating gospel message with this man several times and on one occasion, with his head low, as to regret all the years he wasted not living for Christ, he agreed he needed to change his life, but his words and tone showed me he was still living in legalism land.
It angers me when I hear that there are people who have been deceived by the message of legalism. Yes, from a biblical perspective I completely understand the scriptures teaching on the depravity of man. I know that man’s propensity is to rebel against God and in actuality he does not want anything to do with the Lord other than using Him as a genie to get all his personal needs met. I also understand that unless the Holy Spirit draws a person to himself a person will never come to know Christ in a life changing way.
All that being true, I am still angered by the effects of legalism, which simply states that there are certain things a person must do and continue to maintain if they are going to be made right with God. It isn’t enough for a person to repent of their sin and trust in Christ sacrificial death on their behalf to save them; this person must also go to church four times a week; wear a skirt at all times; throw out all their “ungodly” music; and pray five times a day; along with reading their bible at least two times a year; while making sure they fast often and witness to everyone they encounter. I hope you see that I am being hyperbolic. I don’t think any of those convictions in and of themselves are wrong or even sinful, however I do think that if someone is telling you that partaking in those actions will make you right with God then they have crossed over into legalism and in turn have substituted the liberating gospel message with a counterfeit that cannot save, and that is sinful. If legalism dames a person and only the gospel can set them free its vital that we explain what the gospel is; so let me briefly explain the only message that can free the sinner from the bondage of sin (including legalism).
Simply put, the Gospel is, “Good News.” In a world filled with bad news the gospel invades all other messages and injects true life and real hope. This true life can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the good news. Moreover, Jesus alone is the sin bearer. In other words, on the cross Jesus took on Himself what we in turn deserved; He who knew no sin became sin, so that those who trust in Him would receive His righteousness. The bible depicts this truth as Jesus becoming our sacrificial lamb who substituted His life for ours. In theological terms this is called the Doctrine of Justification. Only those who trust in Christ ALONE receive this free gift from God. If there is anything anyone contributes to this work that Jesus accomplished on the sinners behalf then it is no longer grace.
The bible is extremely clear on how a person is saved (made right with God). We are told the following in Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Salvation is a gift from God. There is nothing you can do to earn it, and if there was it would no longer be a gift but rather something that was earned. If you earn something then you get the credit for it, but if something is given to you then it is a gift, which would exclude you boasting (bragging) about how you got it in the first place. In the work of salvation God is the one who takes the initiative in the sinners life, therefore, God is the only one who has the right to boast in Himself for saving and keeping that person in right relationship with Himself. Grace is a gift, faith is a gift and the fact that the person coming to christ does not fall away (lose their salvation) from the faith is also a gift that comes from the loving hand of God, who, in the person of Christ lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death on the sinners behalf so that they would be set free from the grips of lifeless, duty minded, legalism that has never saved anyone and will never save anyone from their sin.
As a result of reading this article it is my prayer that today would be the day that you renounce the sin of legalism and embrace the liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that today would be the day that you stop working to be made right with God and in exchange thrust yourself on Christ, believing, by faith that His life and death served as a substitute for wretched sinners like yourself, who are in desperate need of a Savior who saves the sinner to the uttermost. And only then will you receive the promise given to those who call on the name of Christ ALONE to save them from their sin.
Matthew 11:28-30—“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Romans 10:13—“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”