Legalism

November 26, 2019

Legalism

It makes me cringe every time I hear someone call another Christian a legalist. I ask myself, is he justified in calling him a legalist? Does he believe that salvation comes by keeping the law? Is he a member of a church that teaches that one can’t be a member of the church unless he or she keeps a list of moral laws that they have in their constitution?

To begin this article on legalism, let’s assume that there is a married couple that we will call Fred and Susan. They have two sons and a daughter. They are all married and gone from home. Fred is a farmer. Susan doesn’t work outside the home, but she does take some responsibility in the care of the farm animals. She also plants a big garden every Spring and during the Summer she freezes some of the vegetables for the Winter.

Fred and Susan are both Christians they both grew up in a Christian home and were saved at an early age. Their children have all established Christian homes like their parents. Like their parents, they are faithful church members.

Fred doesn’t hold any office in the church, but he does mow the grass in the Summer on the two acres around the church. In the Winter he clears the snow off the church parking lot. He never takes any pay for it. Susan is a Sunday school teacher. She and another woman from the church clean the church every Saturday. They don’t take any pay for it either.

Fred and Susan have a happy marriage and an ardent love for one another. Susan does all she can to meet her husband’s needs. After each meal Fred helps Susan clear the table. Then he nearly always gives her a hug and a kiss and thanks her for the meal.

They also have an ardent love for the Lord and do their best to honor and please him. When their children were still at home they always had a Bible story time with them after the evening meal. In the morning they both get up early enough to have a personal quiet time with the Lord. Before they go to bed at night they share prayer requests and pray together.

Recently Fred and Susan have been concerned about some changes they have seen in their church. Previously nearly all the men came to church in a suit and tie. Now more and more of them come in slacks and a sport shirt. Some even come in blue jeans and a t shirt. Previously nearly all the women came to church wearing a dress or a skirt and blouse. Now more and more are coming in slacks and a blouse.

Fred and Susan discussed this matter one Sunday on their way home from Church. Fred said, “I don’t see that God has lost any of his majesty. When we go to church to worship Him I think we honor him by coming dressed appropriately.” Susan said, “I do too. I would be ashamed to to to church if I wasn’t dressed for the occasion.” Fred said. “Somewhere in the Psalms it says, Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”

A short time later they heard that someone had referred to them as “legalists.” They discussed the matter over the dinner table. Fred asked, “What do they mean by the word “legalist?” Susan said, “It speaks to me of laws.” Fred said, “Me too, but I’m not aware of any laws we have to keep. I think we just do what we do because we want to honor and Please the Lord.” Susan said, “I hope so.”

A few weeks later, as they were gathering for the adult Sunday school class, Fred heard one of the men say to another man, “Well, I see you came to church this morning without your white shirt and tie.” The other man said, “Yes, I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that it says I have to wear a white shirt and tie when I go to church.” On their way home from church that Sunday Fred told Susan what he heard them say. She thought a little bit and said, “What if he starts coming to church in his pajamas? The Bible doesn’t say anything against that either.” Fred said, “It sounds like that is more of a legalistic attitude than what we have.”

What do you think about Fred and Susan? Would you call them legalists? All of us have standards that we set for ourselves. They aren’t laws that we feel obligated to keep. They are just rules that we set for ourselves. It’s true, there are prohibitions in the Bible that God has set for us like those in the ten commandments. Some are legal laws. “Thou shalt not steal” is one. Others are moral laws. like “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” If it gets so far out of hand that a man takes his neighbor’s wife across a state line he may be in serious trouble.

Normally, in church situations, if you call another Christian a legalist, it’s just a way of spurning him because you think his standards are higher than they need to be. In reality, you are saying, “He has higher standards than I do.”

If someone calls you a legalist don’t take offense to it. Just pray for him or her that they will see the error of their way. Neither should you take it as an indication that you should lower your standards. It’s an indication that others should put their standards back up where they once were.

Heb_6:12 “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

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