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.
29:13 - (Quoted in Matt. 15:8,9; Mk. 7:6,7
II. Defining some terms
A. Nomism - law based structure and
standards..., enforced by threat of penalty or promise of
- ...to determine spiritual condition or destiny.
- ...to control human behavior
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
thereof, as the basis of...
determination of spiritual condition or destiny
control of human behavior
D. Gospel of grace - the good news of
the availability of a spiritual exchange whereby the
of the Spirit of God indwells the spirit of a man, allowing for
the character of
to be expressed in the behavior of a man by the dynamic empowering
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";
must do it, keep it, practice it, perform it."
benefits therefrom; achieve the goal
C. false security needs for defined parameters,
D. work-ethic concept of strict reciprocity
- "get what you work for"
E. punitive concept of getting what one
F. traditionalism of maintaining status
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
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
J. a favorite of sadomasochistic personalities;
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,
how-tos, shoulds, oughts, "thou-shalts"
C. Negativism, abstinence, "Thou
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
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.
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
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
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
F. Minimalization. What do I have to
do to get by, to side-step the rules? G. Impersonalization;
personal relationships because they relate to law rather that
to Person of Jesus Christ
VI. The Christian gospel vs. legalism
A. Contrariety of legalism to Christian
is contrary to the Grace dynamic of God in Jesus Christ
is contrary to faith, our receptivity of God's activity; a satanic
is contrary to the Lordship of Christ, wherein He directs and
guides our lives.
is contrary to Christian obedience, which is "listening
under" the direction of the
Lord Jesus Christ.
is contrary to the Spirit-led Christian life, wherein the Spirit
of Christ enables and
is contrary to freedom in Christ, and the liberty that is to
be realized in present
living. (John 8:31,32,36; II Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1,17)
B. Reaction and response to legalism
is not a legal, judicial, law-based religion
not assume that legalism is the only alternative to antinomianism,
(II Tim. 3:5)
not assume that legalism is just another innocuous approach to
Legalism is the basis of religion that binds people up, and ties
them back, to rules,
and rituals, thus enslaving them to the sin of self-effort.
Legalism is a radically opposite counterfeit of Christianity
is sin. (Gal. 3:3; 5:4)
is idolatrous, setting up an independent standard of law as the
basis of rightness, rather
than God's righteousness.
is not to be tolerated or condoned, but to be exposed and eschewed.