Are You A Legalist?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
We have reflected upon this passage at least twice this year already, but it is a very powerful passage—despite being only three verses long—and there is much that can be mined from it. Jesus was a Jew. I know it seems strange to think of him as a Jew, but that is what he was. And he was a practicing Jew. Which meant that he went to the Temple and followed Jewish laws and customs like everybody else.
However, the Jewish leaders always found fault with him and he, in turn, found fault with them. They criticized him for not following the law in the manner that they wanted. And he criticized them for living by the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. For them only the external mattered, but the internal—the heart—was far removed from any desire to love or honor God. This is one form of legalism. We will look at two more.
Another form of legalism consists of taking the law of God out of its original context. It is about making faith just about obeying rules and regulations; a series of do’s and don’ts. If any of you have undergone military training—or gone to high school—you would have a sense of what this is like. One is concerned with the keeping of God’s law as an end in itself. What’s the consequence? There’s no love, joy, or passion.
A third form of legalism consists of adding our own set of rules to God’s rules and insisting that everybody else follows them. As an example, consider drinking alcohol. On more than a few occasions I have heard people thunder from the pulpit that it is a sin. Says who? I used to be an alcoholic but I haven’t touched a drop of liquor in fifteen years and I have an extreme aversion to it, but I won’t violate the gospel by declaring that drinking is a sin.
Reflect on these three aspects of legalism and see if you might be a legalist. It is highly probably that you are because it is part of the culture that many of us have been brought up in. How do we change? By getting into a relationship with God, an intimate relationship where the knowledge and the love grow stronger with every day.
I will be starting an online retreat in a few days on how we can perpetually remain in the presence of God and you might want to participate. It will help you build this relationship. Stay tuned.