According to GotQuestions.org, legalism is defined as the following: “Legalist’s believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace.” So what exactly does that mean with regard to the church?
Some people say you are fortunate if you are raised in the church. As long as you are not bombarded with church laws, yes, you are. However, if your mind is filled with junk from church laws, no, you are not fortunate.
Seeing man has been known to lead others astray, it is smart to see what God says about church laws. Galatians 3:24-26 (KJV) states, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, the “rules” were made in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ died for our sins. So we no longer have to try and live up to the rules of the Old Testament. Just seek Jesus. Because in reality, there is no way to uphold all the rules. That is why Jesus Christ came.
Every church has their own set of “laws.” Some examples of church laws are: women cannot wear make-up, no dancing unless in the “spirit,” kneel before entering the pew, baptism at birth, baptism when you are ready, confession if you miss a mass, confess your sins to Jesus, confess your sins to man, and do not disrupt a church service by speaking in tongues. If Jesus did not say it, do not do it! Look it up. Every. Single. Time. Live in the New Testament, learn from the Old Testament.
Experience with Legalism
My first real experience with legalism, that I can vividly remember, is when I brought a friend to church with me. Because her dress was cut out a little in the back, we were asked to go home and change. At first, I thought they were joking, so I started laughing. I quickly realized it was not a joke so we did what we were told. However, thoughts were racing in my mind. Due to appearance, we are not allowed in God’s house? Would He agree? Or would He put His arms around her and say welcome? I was in high school and that experience opened a whole new way of thinking for me.
Christians who make others feel inferior to them in any way, not just clothing, should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. That is not what Jesus taught. Romans 14:10-13 (KJV) states, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”
Bottom line: God is the judge, not us.
What Should You Do?
God’s word clearly states in 1 John 4:1 (KJV), “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
Warnings of legalism can be found in Colossians 2:20-23 KJV, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances…after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.” We are saved by grace, not by obeying the rules of men. If following the rules of men was all that needed to be done, there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to die on the cross. John 1:17 (KJV) states, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
This is why I do not trust every word spoken by a proclaimed follower of God. He tells me not to. Instead, He instructs me to check out the facts first before following. No matter what their title is. Not my opinion, but God’s word. If God’s word says it, it is true. If His word is the opposite of what you are telling me, then it is false. And, if you are not going to believe the entire bible front to back, you are lukewarm. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16 (KJV)
What is Grace?
For one to fully understand grace, one must accept the bible. If you do not believe the bible is true from front to back, there is really no sense in you searching to understand. In summary, God created heaven and earth. From the beginning, God gave man the power of freewill. Man chose to disobey God and therefore no longer reigned over the Garden of Eden. He was also no longer fully covered by grace.
There were laws to be obeyed, which were given by Moses. Man could not obey all the laws and therefore the final destination was hell. Because God loves us so much, He found a way for us to have grace because He knew we could not obey all the laws. He knew our flesh would keep us from being perfect. “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten son so that whoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 For a full breakdown of grace in the bible, go here. So, in order to have grace, one must believe in Jesus Christ.
What Does It Mean to Believe?
During a period of my life, I struggled deeply with what it means to believe. Every night, like clockwork, the devil tormented my mind; trying to convince me I did not believe in Jesus and was going to burn in hell. Unfortunately, I could not wrap my head around the fact that I did not have to do anything to get grace. Jesus had already paid the ultimate price, so the work was done. All I had to do was simply accept Him as my Lord and Savior (believe) and my name was written in the Book of Life. See John 10:28-30
To believe is to simply have faith in Jesus Christ. In life, you will make mistakes, which is where Jesus comes in. He has already paid the ultimate price for you so allow Him to help you each and every day through it all. It’s really that simple.
In the end, man makes mistakes. Pastors and priests have told their congregation one thing and then months later said they were wrong. Although you should listen to your pastor or priest, you should always ensure what they are telling you is written in the bible. Ensure God said it. Bottom line, God is the judge, not man.