© 1999 James A. Fowler

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I. Biblical references to "legalism"

    A. The term "legalism" is not used in the Bible
    B. The concept of "legalism" is found extensively throughout the Bible.
         1. Old Testament
              Isa. 29:13 - (Quoted in Matt. 15:8,9; Mk. 7:6,7
         2. New Testament examples
              Matt. 5:20-28
              Matt. 23:1-28
              Gal. 2:11-21
              Gal. 3:1-3
              Col. 2:16-23

II. Defining some terms

    A. Nomism - law based structure and standards..., enforced by threat of penalty or promise of
         meritorious reward.
         1. Theological - ...to determine spiritual condition or destiny.
         2. Sociological - ...to control human behavior
              a. Government
              b. Religion
    B. Moralism - establishing particular rules, regulations, principles or precepts as the standard           ethical values of a social grouping. Legislated morality and ethics.
    C. Legalism - social or self-acceptance of the observance of law, and conformity to the
         requirements thereof, as the basis of...
         1. Theological determination of spiritual condition or destiny
         2. Sociological/religious control of human behavior
    D. Gospel of grace - the good news of the availability of a spiritual exchange whereby the
            presence of the Spirit of God indwells the spirit of a man, allowing for the character of
            God to be expressed in the behavior of a man by the dynamic empowering and enabling
            of the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus .

III. Underlying causes of legalism

    A. humanistic concept of self-control - "I'm in control of how things go."
    B. humanistic concept of self-effort, "works" - trying, striving, "I can do it";
         1. "You must do it, keep it, practice it, perform it."
         2. Meritorious benefits therefrom; achieve the goal
    C. false security needs for defined parameters, limitations, borders
    D. work-ethic concept of strict reciprocity - "get what you work for"
    E. punitive concept of getting what one deserves
    F. traditionalism of maintaining status quo
    G. simplism of dividing life into compartments with instant solutions; fundamentalism.
         Got a handle on it - all figured out. Instant solutions - don't have to think or trust.
    H. fear of freedom, of decision-making responsibility (Rom. 8:15)
    I. security need for something that is fixed and static, concrete and tangible. Inordinate need to
         be safe and right
    J. a favorite of sadomasochistic personalities; perfectionists, Pharisees.

IV. Features of legalism

    A. Law-based codes of conduct; rules and regulations, dos and don'ts.
    B. Performance orientation. Expectations, obligations, duties, observances, routines, procedures,
         formulas, how-tos, shoulds, oughts, "thou-shalts"
    C. Negativism, abstinence, "Thou shalt not..."
    D. Legal sense of obedience, rather than Lordship sense of obedience. Obey rules rather than
    E. Externalization; outward conformity to standards (Matt. 23:5-7; 25-28) F. Inflexible, rigid.          Principle precedes people.
    G. Oppressive, demanding. Burdensome (Lk. 11:46; Matt. 23:1-5)
    H. Authoritarian, manipulative.
    I. Intolerant, violent. Fighting, feuding, hostility, accusations of heresy.
    J. Competitive, comparisons, resentments.
    K. Exclusivism, elitism, bigotry.
    L. Pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, ego-centricity. Badge of honor, status, orthodoxy.
    M. Ostentation, show-off. "How do we look?" (Lk. 15:1,2); approval of men.
    N. Critical, judgmental (Jn. 7:24; Rom. 2:1), suspicious.
    O. Insensitive, unloving, lack of compassion.

V. Consequences of legalism

    A. Keeps people distanced and alienated from God. Afraid of God, the taskmaster. Afraid of
         God's rejection. No assurance or security.
    B. Guilt, condemnation (Rom. 8:1), accusation, disapproval (both objective and subjective).
    C. Defeat, despair, frustration, futility. "It's a losing battle. I can never do enough, be good
         enough, do it right and perfect as expected." Burned out!
    D. Self-destructive behavior; self-belittling, sense of worthlessness, low personal concept of
    E. Hypocrisy. Play-acting; role-playing; lip-service (Matt. 15:8,9). Contrived piety, perfunctory
         performance, pretense, ostentation.
    F. Minimalization. What do I have to do to get by, to side-step the rules? G. Impersonalization;
         shallow personal relationships because they relate to law rather that to Person of Jesus Christ
         and other persons.

VI. The Christian gospel vs. legalism

    A. Contrariety of legalism to Christian gospel
         1. Legalism is contrary to the Grace dynamic of God in Jesus Christ
         2. Legalism is contrary to faith, our receptivity of God's activity; a satanic substitute that
              supplants faith.
         3. Legalism is contrary to the Lordship of Christ, wherein He directs and guides our lives.
         4. Legalism is contrary to Christian obedience, which is "listening under" the direction of the
              living Lord Jesus Christ.
         5. Legalism is contrary to the Spirit-led Christian life, wherein the Spirit of Christ enables and
              empowers. (Eph. 5:18;
         6. Legalism is contrary to freedom in Christ, and the liberty that is to be realized in present
              kingdom living. (John 8:31,32,36; II Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1,17)
    B. Reaction and response to legalism by Christians
         1. Christianity is not a legal, judicial, law-based religion
         2. Must not assume that legalism is the only alternative to antinomianism, license or
              libertarianism. (II Tim. 3:5)
         3. Must not assume that legalism is just another innocuous approach to Christian living.
              a. Legalism is the basis of religion that binds people up, and ties them back, to rules,
                  regulations and rituals, thus enslaving them to the sin of self-effort.
              b. Legalism is a radically opposite counterfeit of Christianity
         4. Legalism is sin. (Gal. 3:3; 5:4)
         5. Legalism is idolatrous, setting up an independent standard of law as the basis of rightness,               rather than God's righteousness.
         6. Legalism is not to be tolerated or condoned, but to be exposed and eschewed. (Gal. 1:6-9)



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