Posted by Pastor Pat on December 10, 2008
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” Matt. 16:6
The Pharisees started well. Their intentions were noble, but somewhere along the way they lost sight of what truly mattered and in so doing their “traditions” took precedence over the very Word of God (Matt. 15 & Mark 7). What does it mean to live under the laws of legalism? It is tragic, but Paul’s battle with legalism in the Galatian church is not yet finished. If we learn anything from our Lord’s temptation in Matthew 4 and Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 5:8 it is that the devil is a relentless foe. Today’s victories are never sufficient for tomorrow’s battles. We would be foolish to think that legalism has not wormed its way into our own lives and into the life of the church. It is an obstinate antagonist that has absolutely no scruples.
A legalist believes his upbringing makes him a child of heaven (Matt. 2:9). He actually thinks where he was born, to whom he was born and to what he was born makes him better than others. He is more concerned about obedience to rules than about the salvation and deliverance of the hurting (Matt. 9:11, 14, 34; 12:2; Lk. 14:3; Jn. 9:16). Rather than break their “traditions” they would rather see the hurting, despair and the hungry, die (Lk. 7:39). A legalist loves money more than ministry (Lk. 16:14). They have convinced themselves that a price can be put on the human soul.
They become so ensnared by “rules” that they have thrown out the proverbial “baby with the bathwater.” They have rejected the chief corner stone (Matt. 21:42). A legalist in their pursuit of God rejects Christ (Lk. 5:21). He is always concerned about control, power and conformity (Matt. 12:14). They will always endeavor to crush what they cannot control and alienate what they cannot understand (Matt. 21:46; 22:15; Jn. 12:42). They must always attack the character of the non-conformist in order to discredit their ministry (Matt. 12:24).
A legalist places more authority on their man made rules than on the principles of Scripture (Matt. 15:1-9). He believes one can be defiled by contact with non-image bearing elements (Matt. 15:10, 11; Lk. 11:38). He is more troubled with taking in “filth” than talking filth. One is the issue of appearance and the other of essence. A legalist is so concerned with appearance they miss the essence of godliness (Lk. 11:42). A legalist is worried more about their image than reaching the lost (Lk. 15:2).
A legalist is easily offended when confronted with their hypocrisy (Matt. 15:12). Our Lord denounced legalism with some of the strongest words recorded in Holy Write (Matt. 23). Though they are proud to be seen of men in the exercising of religious devotion (Matt. 23:5f), a legalist is incapable of maintaining their own standard (Matt. 23:3). A legalist is more concerned about appearance than ministry (Lk. 5:30; 11:39). They are more concerned about man’s perspective than God’s. A legalist wishes to monitor others more than themselves (Lk. 6:7; 18:11). They will strain at the “gnat” and swallow the “camel.”
A legalist lives for human applause and is offended when no one sees their “service” (Lk. 11:43). Legalism is to be guarded against and warned of (Matt. 16:6). May our courage be such that we will not rest until every residue of legalism has been blotted out of the assembly. Grace living is “riskier” because it means we must take our hands off people and place them into the hands of Almighty God. Yet is such a transfer “risky?” Hardly. I would rather have us live under the watch-care of omnipotence than under the bane-filled eye of impotent man. May grace reign!