Thursday, November 03, 2005

Legalism & its Antidotes


In the November issue of The Briefing, Marty Sweeney reveals that he's been reading
"Legalism is a terrible aberration of true Christianity. It leads more to religiosity than a relationship with the true and living God. I was heavily influenced by legalistic teachings as a young Christian, and as a result constantly doubted my salvation. By the grace of God, however, I have since been brought under more faithful biblical teaching.

However, one of the hangovers from my legalistic past hasbeen my response to sin. I was always taught that sin is best dealt with by setting up guidelines, rules and structures in order to purge sin from one's life.

One of the most popular examples of this is to seek out an accountability partner. I oftened wondered, though, if this was really adding another dose of legalism into my life. Surely, if God's law can't bring about obedience of faith (2 Cor 3), how could Bill, John or Ted.

I have recently been greatly helped by Dominic Smart's little article on the matter (Legalism and its Antidotes at In it he discusses how legalism still rears its head even in those of us who are thoroughly evangelical. He discusses how our normal responses to sin may actually be a cover-up for the real issue - our passionate love for Christ.

I am not suggesting that accountability partners should be abandoned. If they are structured correctly and given proper attention, they foster wonderful partnerships in living out the Christian life and are the furtherst things from legalism (as Smart implies). But where is it that we put our hope, trust and confidence when it comes to our batle with sin? Human structures are never the final answer.

The real answer seems cliched but is nonetheless true. Waging war on sin comes from being truly ensconced in living for the glory of God. There can be no false-piety in that lifestyle. No-one can motivate us quite like our loving Lord and Saviour.
Smart concludes: "There is nothing like th upwardly-mobile life (a life mobvbing heavenward) to make the legalism of church life clearly apparent and transparently fulse. It's not real holiness; it never produces the largeness of heart that Christ produces; it has no glory; it gives no delight to the soul it is so obviously not what you were made for; no-one would have died to save you into that. Live for the glory of God. Therein lies your point and purpose in life; therein lies your true freedom and therein lies your own true glory"


GraceHead said...

The antidote to legalism is more legalism!

Check THIS out!

Anonymous said...

The gracehead site has some good stuff on it. There could be a point where people misunderstand that we are still to struggle (with God's strength - Col 1:29) with sin. Knowing that it has already been overcome for us is not only the start of this process but also how we are to continue in walking in manner worthy of the gospel (Col 2:6-7). David Peterson's book on sanctification is a good read on this subject

Rob Wilkerson said...

Just found this post. Great stuff. I too was heavily influenced with legalism by parents who hated it. Yet it still seemed to pervade our home.

Now, we still have rules and regulations in our home. The difference now? The motivation. It's easy to do the pendulum swing thing here and dump manmade rules and regulations. We can't altogether fault the Pharisees for inventing the system. After all, it was designed to help maintain the very holiness God required in the Law.

Manmade rules may not necessarily be legalistic as much as they may also be fences to keep out sin. When that's the motivation, then they are good. But when the motivation is to somehow maintain a good standing with God or to keep favor in His sight, then it's bad.

Again, great post.