The Difference Between Legalism and Obedience

If someone was to ask me which New Covenant epistle talks about ignoring the Torah, I would have to say the letter to the Galatians.

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The reason I say this is because in that letter, more than any other letter, the main topic is obedience for the sake of obeying, specifically dealing with circumcision. The Believing Jews were trying to get the Believing Gentiles to undergo b’rit milah (ritual circumcision) in order to be considered “righteous” in God’s eyes.

Shaul (Paul) is adamant that undergoing b’rit milah is useless to anyone, and makes it even harder to be righteous, because if you try to do just one thing the Torah requires, you are then expected to do everything the Torah requires, and no one can do everything.

Now, if that doesn’t sound like Shaul saying it is better to ignore the Torah than try to obey it, I don’t know what else it could possibly mean.

BUT…that is not what he meant.

Shaul, in his usual roundabout fashion, was telling the Gentiles that doing what is in the Torah only in order to earn righteousness was impossible.

He said that if anyone gets circumcised just to be obedient to the Torah, by wanting to obey one mitzvot (law) they are required to obey every mitzvot. James confirms this in his letter: James 2:10 says that a person who obeys every law in the Torah, but at some point breaks just one law, becomes guilty of breaking them all.

They are both saying the same thing, but coming at it from different sides. What they are sayin is that the Torah is an All or Nothing thing.

So, what Shaul is saying is that when someone tries to obey every law in the Torah TO EARN SALVATION, they will fail, so it is best for them to not even try.

Does that mean we can ignore the Torah? No way! What it means is that we must be obedient but not in order to earn salvation.

Obedience to the Torah because we faithfully believe God gave us the Torah to help us is different from just going through the motions so we aren’t in trouble.

Legalism is a works-based salvation, and that will never work. Why? Because no one can be totally obedient to the Torah.

But…obeying the Torah as a child obeys- trustingly doing what will please God just as a child wants to please its parents- is the kind of obedience that God wants.

God gave the world the Torah so that his children could save themselves from self-destruction, and even when we continually fail to do what God wants, if we repent from our failure and try again, I believe God is pleased.

God tells us in Ezekiel 18:23 that he wants everyone to be saved, and gets no pleasure from seeing the sinful punished.

Legalism is a perversion of the Torah, teaching that we must perform the actions the Torah requires in order to gain God’s acceptance.

Obedience to the Torah comes from wanting to please God and faithfully trusting that when we do as God says, we will be blessed as he promised (Deuteronomy 28).

The Torah is the ultimate User Manual for salvation. It is what God wants from us with regards to worshiping him and treating each other. Yes, “love thy neighbor as thyself” is the foundation which the Torah is built on, but it doesn’t replace “love the Lord, thy God with all thy strength, heart, and soul.” Yeshua said these two commandments are the most important.

Doing what the Torah requires in order to gain acceptance is legalism; doing what the Torah requires to please God is faithful obedience.

God is clear throughout the Tanakh that going through the motions is not what he wants, and even though he made the rules that say not doing what the Torah says is a sin, he provided us the ultimate “Get Out of Jail” card, which is the Messiah, Yeshua.

Not that we can ignore the Torah because we have Yeshua- that is not why God sent him.

The bottom line is God expects everyone who worships him to obey the Torah- he gave it to the Jews to learn, then as God’s nation of priests (Exodus 19:6) to teach it to the Goyim (nations), so they could learn it.

God knows that as hard as we may try, no one will ever be totally obedient to the Torah, which is why he created the sacrificial system (which he explains in the first 7 chapters of Leviticus) so we could avoid the eternal consequences of our sins.

When Solomon completed building the Temple in Jerusalem, that was the only place we could bring our sacrifices. After the destruction of the Temple, Yeshua became the only means for receiving forgiveness of sin.

That is why he says the only way to the father is through him (John 14:6).

Do you now understand the difference between legalism and obedience?

Legalism is just going through the motions, whereas obedience is the result of faithfully trusting that God gave us these laws for our benefit, and we try to do them as best as we can in order to please God.

God, Yeshua, James, and every original Apostle never ever said that we can disobey the Torah, and even though Shaul seems to say that, he never meant it that way.

I believe if Shaul was alive today, and could see how people have so misinterpreted and misused his letters, he would be furious.

Here’s today’s message in a nutshell: if you know the difference between doing something just to stay out of trouble, and doing something as a labor of love, then you know the difference between legalism and obedience.

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That’s it for today, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!