Today I want to talk about how Legalism is being resurrected within the current body of Gentile Believers.
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For the purpose of this discussion, let us define legalism as the proposition that for a Gentile to be fully incorporated into salvation through Messiah Yeshua, he or she must follow every Torah commandment (as if anyone could, right?) just as any natural-born Jewish person would be required to do, which includes (only for the men, of course), circumcision.
In the Book of Galatians, we read how Shaul (Paul) warned the Gentile Believers that trying to obey the Torah in order to achieve salvation was wrong and that it was their faith that mattered more than their strict observance of every, single Mosaic commandment. He never said the Torah was invalid for Gentile Believers, just that to obey (and this is VERY important to understand) as the means to gain salvation was not correct. To obey as the means to gain salvation is what I call performance-based salvation, which is not how we are saved (because no one can perfectly obey the Torah- the Bible is clear on that point); we are saved through faith-based salvation, and that faith is demonstrated by our desire and actions with regard to obeying the Torah.
In other words, if we faithfully accept that God exists, is who he says he is, that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised to send, and we accept that without facts or proof, that faith (as James says in his letter) will motivate us to want to obey what God says in the Torah.
I believe that legalistic, i.e., performance-based salvation, in the long run, is counter-productive.
Why? Because no one can be sinless, no one can be completely obedient to the Torah all the time, and when humans constantly fail to do something, eventually they tend to give up trying. And when you are raised as a Gentile, being taught that Yeshua did away with the Torah and you don’t have to do any of that “Jewish” stuff, when you try to do it and fail you go back to the incorrect teachings of Constantinian Christianity, which is “just be a good person and believe in Jesus (whatever that means) and you go to heaven.”
Gentiles are raised to pray to graven images of saints, ignore God’s commanded Holy Days, and instead follow man-made traditions which include holidays and religious ceremonies and rites, all the time telling Jews that Jesus said following man-made traditions is wrong! They ignore the Torah and act superior to Jews because Jews rejected Jesus and they didn’t, so they are really God’s chosen people now (this is called Replacement Theology), completely forgetting that Shaul warned his Gentile Believers not to brag or think they are better than the Jews.
So, now that we have gotten that straightened out, with me going just a wee bit off-topic, the legalism I see being proliferated today is no different than what the new Believers had to deal with in the First Century, except for one major difference: it is now the Gentiles who are demanding performance in order to be truly saved!
I have seen postings about how it is essential to use God’s name, and that there is only one correct name, yet there are many different ideas on what that name is. I see people posting about how there is only one correct calendar to use, or how only the Bible-defined Holy Days are to be celebrated, any other celebration is sinful.
In fact, they say that using any name for God other than the one they think is correct is praying to idols and pagan gods. Celebrating man-made holidays, even the Jewish ones, is a sin. Celebrating any Sabbath, even if the person is celebrating it in a way that God said to, i.e. resting and not doing their normal labor, is a sin if it isn’t Friday night to Saturday night.
None of these things have anything to do with faith. They are, clearly, legalistic because they demand performance in order to be able to have salvation.
If I do not celebrate a Holy Day as commanded in the Book of Leviticus, then I am disobeying God, and that is a sin. No question about it. But if I celebrate Christmas as the means for me to give thanks for the birth of the Messiah, that is not a sin. There is nothing at all anywhere in the Torah that says man-made traditions or celebrations are wrong just because God didn’t say we have to. If the celebration is a heartfelt desire to worship and glorify God, how can that be wrong?
But these legalistic ideas of needing to be exactly on the right day, using the exact name for God when praying, not doing anything that isn’t specifically commanded in the Torah, are all performance-based salvation teachings, and as such, are wrong!
Abraham was not considered righteous because he knew how to pronounce God’s name, or because he celebrated the proper holy days (they weren’t even invented yet), or because he was circumcised (he wasn’t at that time), or for any other performance-related activity.
Yes, he performed as God asked him to when he went from his father’s house into a strange land, but he didn’t do that because he was told he had to in order to be saved; he did it because he believed God when God said he would take him to a land which God will give him where his descendants could live, forever.
It was Abraham’s faith that motivated him to act; legalism doesn’t need faith or even care about it, and that is how you tell the difference between doing faithfully, and doing legalistically.
If you try to do what the Torah says to do because you want to obey God that is fine. If you try to do what the Torah says to do because you want to earn blessings that is fine, too; in truth, God tells us that when we do as he says he will bless us.
But…if you try to do anything that is considered obedient to the Torah because you want to ensure your salvation by not doing anything wrong, then you are being legalistic. You will ALWAYS do something wrong, that is why from the very beginning God knew he would have to send us a Messiah to provide the means to overcome our own inability to be holy.
If you got circumcised because you felt it was important to you to obey that commandment, that is OK; but, if you got circumcised because you knew it was a commandment and you wanted to be obedient so that you get points with God, then your circumcision is useless to you.
Doing something in order to be worthy of salvation or to be “right” is legalism: doing something because your faith in God motivates you to please him means you are on the right track, even if what you do is not specified in the Torah or you don’t do something exactly as it is specified in the Torah.
The key difference between performance-based and faith-based obedience is your motivation. If you do something to be “right” you are being legalistic, and if you do something to please God, you are demonstrating your faith.
Faith-based actions are things we do because we want to please the Lord, and legalistic actions are what we do to be “right.”
I know this is a difficult thing to comprehend, and I hope I have explained what I believe in a way that you can understand; ultimately, obedience in order just to be obedient is not faith.
Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages with everyone, buy my books, and check out my website. And I always welcome your comments, especially today- if you understand what I am saying and agree, and think you can express it in a better way, please do so.
That’s it for now, so L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!