Legalism in a Nutshell

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Legalism- just what is it? Many Christians have, for centuries, been taught that it means people who follow the Torah and the Jewish lifestyle are not really saved because they don’t have faith in Jesus. To a Jewish person, following the Torah is the ultimate indication of faith.

So, what legalism is, in a nutshell, is a belief that one can achieve eternal glory and be welcomed into the presence of God (i.e., be “saved”) through the performance of activities, specifically those which God gave in the Torah. I call it performance-based salvation.

Faith is not a necessary element of legalism, but it is not absent in those who are legalistic. In other words, one can have faith in God and still be legalistic. The main issue is whether or not salvation is considered to be the result of faith, which inspires obedience, or if obedience is how we attain salvation, which also requires having faith in God.

Legalism is a form of putting the cart before the horse.

We need to have the right type of faith: is our faith in God to “save” us based only on obedience, or is it because we believe God knows what is best for us so we do as he says? Isn’t that the type of faith Abraham had? Trusting in God so much that he obeyed without question.

Here is what I see as the foundation of wrong teaching in all religions- Abraham trusted without needing to know why, but “religion” tells us why we should trust, why we should obey and that we need to do what our religion tells us is the proper thing to do. God has no religion, but men have created “religion” in order to have power over other men by pretending to know best how to do what God said to do.

I believe that organized religion is the ultimate form of legalism.

For me, salvation is the result of faith, which inspires obedience, and together they result in salvation…but that is too simplistic a definition. What I should say is that proper faith will lead us to the desire to obey God, and when we are obedient for that reason it will strengthen our faith even more; ultimately, just as iron sharpens iron, our faith will strengthen our desire to obey which will enhance our faith. It is a win-win situation.

There are more than a few times in the Bible that God has told his people, through the Prophets, that lip-service to him is unacceptable. It is clear from the Bible that just doing what God says, just to do it, is not true worship- it is nothing more than being an automaton. God doesn’t want automatons, he wants worshipful, thinking human beings who love him and show that love through faithful and unquestioning obedience.

I am not saying we cannot ask God for explanations- he is always there and always listening to us. But (I believe) with the proper faith you will ask God without demanding an answer, and be thankful if he decides to give you one. Usually, this is done through prayer, and we all know (or should) that prayers are always answered, but God’s answer may be “No”, or it could be “Maybe later, but not now”, or “Yes, but it isn’t going to be what you expect and it won’t come when you expect it.”  And sometimes we get an immediate answer that is just what we asked for- but if it should happen to you, don’t get used to it!

Legalism is still around today- not the same kind that Shaul (Paul) argued against, but from (mainly) Gentile Believers who are getting back to their Jewish roots. However, their form of legalism is so exacting that they forget faith is more important. They argue over how God’s name is pronounced, and stating that if you use what they consider to be the wrong name or pronunciation you are praying to idols. They are “anal” about when the moon sets and what calendar is the absolutely correct one. They universally reject all Jewish tradition, yet follow many traditional Christian teachings, such as Yeshua said all food is clean so we don’t have to be Kosher (Mark 7 or Acts 10), or Christians really only have to obey the 4 commands given by the Elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and other teachings like these. Their desire to be obedient is so strong that the pendulum has swung from one far side to the other, and their attempts to be correctly worshipful has caused them to stray off the path of true worship.

It is really simple: trust that God knows best, and believe that what he says is what we should do. Without question, without rationalization, without needing to know why- we should just do as God says because we trust in him and because…well, he’s God and we’re not!

Anything more than that is walking down a path that may lead us away from salvation.

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