Wednesday: The Legalism Trap

There’s an English expression that says: “There is no such thing as a free lunch”–the idea that if you receive something free, it really isn’t free because somewhere, somehow, sometime, you will have to pay or repay. The theory that nothing is ever really free has subtly infiltrated Christian thinking to the extent that many try to be deserving of God’s salvation through obedience to His will.

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Legalism in the Christian vocabulary describes the attitude of those who believe that their obedience to God will somehow cause Him to justify them in His sight. Of course, although God’s grace does not negate His expectation of obedience, salvation is based solely on this grace and nothing else, certainly nothing else that we could do.

What do the following texts reveal about the misunderstanding of salvation so prevalent in the minds of many? In what ways can we, ourselves, get caught up in that same kind of thinking? Why is it so easy, in fact, to do so?  

Rom. 10:1–4

Rom. 11:5-6

Gal. 2:16

A legalistic religion causes the individual to focus upon personal performance (and often on the performance of others) rather than on the gospel commission. Legalistic attitudes can lead to pride and arrogance on the part of those who are so blind that they actually deem themselves holy enough to be saved. Or, just as bad, legalistic attitudes can lead to discouragement and despair for those who realize just how far they are from the divine standard. Either way, it’s a trap that needs to be avoided, especially by a church such as ours where obedience to law is so central to our understanding of what the gospel is all about.

Read John 6:28-29. How does Jesus reveal the truth of salvation by faith in these verses? What, though, does it mean to believe in “him whom he hath sent?” How should that belief be manifested in our lives? How well do you manifest that belief, especially when no one is looking?



Wednesday: The Legalism Trap — 4 Comments

  1. Legalism comes in all flavors and types and some of it is very subtle. To me there are several things that a person can remember besides the texts that the Sabbath School lesson uses.

    First, there is the new covenant (Heb 8:10; Heb 10:16-17; Jer 31:31-34) where God takes all the responsibility. There is nothing in it that requires anything from man, however, we must believe in it and the God of grace which is what Jn 6:28-29 and Heb 11:6 is all about.

    Second, there is, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5 NKJV). It says that God has to be in the middle of things for anything righteous to come out of it.

    Then there is a rather overlooked chapter in the Bible that as far as I am concerned points us to the one who is going to revive Israel (Eze 37) which is backed up by, "Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Act 5:31 NKJV). So repentance and revival are also gifts.

    All of these things God gives to His people very graciously and all we have to do is accept it. The problem is that we have been programmed by the devil to think that the responsibility rests on our shoulders to do righteousness. He further has convinced us that when we do wrong that God will never forgive us - that our sins are too great to be forgiven. The truth is that the only sin that can't be forgiven is our refusal to accept what God offers to us which is what the unpardonable sin is.

  2. Galatians 2:16 says we are justified by faith in Christ. Period. I love how God's word makes salvation so plain for all of us who truly seek Him. Of course, God doesn't stop there; He fills us with His love so that we are fulfilling what the Holy Spirit beckons us to do. That gives us joy! and peace! and all the good things He keeps on bestowing, (Galatians 5:22,23) just because that's the awesome kind of God He is!

  3. The problem with most of us Christians is that we think we have a part to contribute towards Salvation. The truth is if we truly accept God's free gift of Salvation, this automatically propels us to live by HIS standards. The Lord says in Heb. 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”. My understanding here is that the Lord himself will give us the Holy Spirit to help us to live (if we accept HIM) according to his statutes.


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