The danger of legalism
By Joe McKeever
“Then Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus, saying, ‘Why are your disciples breaking the tradition of the elders?’ … And he answered and said to them: ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?’ “ (Matthew 15: 1-3).
Historians tell us that the Pharisees got off to a good start, as revivalists of sorts, calling the nation to loyalty. Eventually, however, their emphasis on righteousness took hold in a code of laws and rules. They went from encouragement to stalkers, from lovers of God to tyrants and legalists.
The legalist is someone who says, “I know the Lord did not say that, but he would have if he had thought about it!”
The legalist is smarter than God. He helps the Lord by completing His Word, filling in the gaps where the Lord clearly forgot to say something, to explain something, or to demand something.
The legalist drives the rest of God’s people mad. He always finds rules we have overlooked, requirements we clearly have voluntarily missed, and laws the rest of us should obey. He insists that his way is the only one and that he can play the card of being fairer than you when we don’t agree with him.
The legalist claims to love the Word more than you. Typically he takes a single word of Scripture and builds an entire system around it, then demands that everyone obey it. If you refuse, you don’t love the Lord, are in rebellion against God, and unworthy to be a leader or teacher of this church.
There is something about legalism that attracts a lot of people. He reduces the Christian Faith to a list of rules. No more of that “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is a hurtful way in me ” (Psalm 139: 23-24). No more of that “The Lord’s sacrifices are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you shall not despise ” (Psalm 51:17). It’s rules. Laws. Regulations. Requirements. Requests
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the gold standard of legalists. But their descendants are numerous, vocal and omnipresent.
In all of its manifestations, legalism violates a dozen principles of righteous discipleship: the sovereignty of Almighty God, the correct interpretation of the Scriptures, obedience to the Holy Spirit, love for people, prominence of the message. of the Gospel, and many others.
Editor’s Note: Some of this devotion was taken From How Legalism Betrays Christ, Violates the Gospel, and Destroys People by Joe McKeever. You can read the full blog post here.
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