Understanding LEGALISM (general)
This topic hits home with me as it’s one of the main reasons I am no longer involved with organised churchianity. It is a fairly long read but I think it is a good teaching on the subject. I’m sure it’s not for all but if anyone is experiencing a stirring in their heart in regards to legalistical authoritarian leadership robbing ones freedom in Christ, my recommendation is “Come out of her My people”
”Those who rule the churches are typically legalistic. Technically, legalism is the literal, strict, and excessive conformity to a law or religious order. "Legalism is the system by which we do things to try to get to God." It is putting confidence in the flesh in an attempt to find acceptance with God. Paul wrote the Philippian believers regarding this and told them to beware of the circumcision party [also called Judaizers] who taught that "unless you are circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1. They made circumcision a precondition to being a Christian. Paul clarified the issue with the Galatians saying, "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Phil. 3:2-3. The circumcision party was putting confidence in the flesh to find acceptance with God. We can be thankful for this controversy Paul had with the Judaizers because it inspired him to draw a clear line of difference between grace and legalism. Unfortunately, though, those who put confidence in the flesh are still very much among us. For the most part they rule the churches. Thus, this line between grace and legalism still needs to be drawn. Of all the deceptions perpetuated in the church system, legalism is the most frightening because it looks so right, but is so terribly wrong. The works of the law--or in present-day terms, church laws and church work--are presented as "the way" to salvation rather than the work of God's grace through Christ Jesus. These works become substitutes for Jesus.
LEGALISM REQUIRES SOMETHING MORE
Legalistic people require more of us than God has required. We live near some Mennonites. Though their houses are scattered throughout the larger community, they are a community to themselves. They wear distinctive clothes, live by certain codes, and worship together in a church building they have named after themselves. I greatly respect these people. The simplicity and modesty of their lifestyle is something to be desired. Yet I must ask, "Do I have to be a Mennonite in order to be a Christian?" If not, then why would I want to become one? Isn't being a baptized believer in Jesus Christ enough? Peter said to those present on the day of Pentecost, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Acts 2:38. No other requirement was put upon them to have what the twelve had. If I cannot be a Christian without being a Mennonite, then what must I do to be a Mennonite? Do I have to wear the clothes, behave the code, attend every meeting? At what point am I considered a full-fledged Mennonite? From observation, it would appear that I would have to do more to be a Mennonite than to be a Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, charismatic, member of the Church of Christ, or some independent church. Yet, in each of these groups, I still have to "do" something in addition to believing in Jesus in order to be one of these--at the very least, I would have to join their church. I would be expected to join something Jesus never required me to join, something that did not even exist in New Testament days--church. So, what is it they want me to join? Is this not the circumcision party in disguise?
LEGALISM IS THE OUTWARD DOING OF THINGS
Legalistic people are those who concentrate on the outward doing of things to attain favor with God. Any attempt to earn our salvation is called works-righteousness. However, Paul wrote the Roman believers asserting that no flesh can be justified by the deeds [works] of the law. Rather, we are justified
freely by the grace of Jesus Christ through the redemption that is in Him. Therefore, Paul concluded that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Rom. 3:20, 24, 28. Legalism is based on performance. It implies that we are rewarded for what we do and are chastised for what we do not do. It is based on works. This is precisely why the churches are dead. Paul wrote, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace." Gal. 5:4. Whenever we go back under law, whether it is Old Testament law or modern day church law, we fall from grace. Law is doing. Grace is being. Law has to do with what we "should" do, but cannot. Grace has to do with what God has already done for us. (We call a people to be like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus, but we love to have the Marthas around. Most of the activities in the churches depend upon the Marthas. Luke 10:38-42.) If I try to legislate what you must do to act like a good Christian, then I am under the law and putting you under the law. If, on the other hand, I introduce you to Jesus, who is the perfect law of God, and He legislates His law from within you by changing your nature, then I bring you to the grace of God. Grace is the power of God at work within you to perform His word within you. Faith actively pursues the grace of God. Faith will never pursue law. The writer of Hebrews told how the Israelites failed to enter into God's promised rest. If God promised it, then there must be a people who will enter into it. His promised rest is rest from dead works. "For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His." Heb 4:10.
LEGALISM ATTEMPTS TO PERFECT BY THE FLESH
Legalistic people are those who attempt to perfect themselves and one another by the flesh. Paul wrote, "O foolish Galatians. This only would I learn of you, did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?" Gal. 3:1-3. We think we know what God expects of us mentally, physically, spiritually, and morally, and we try to legislate that in our own and one another's lives. We invent codes of dress and behavior that we think exemplify holiness. Unless a change of nature has taken place on the inside of us, however, the changes on the outside are in vain. We are phony. The inside of us always has a way of shining through that thin, transparent, gilded exterior we exhibit to others. God is the only one who can change us on the inside. Ezek. 36:25-27. He made a promise to Israel through Jeremiah: "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people." Jer. 31:33. This was accomplished by Jesus Christ who was and is the "word made flesh." John 1:14. That word of God is engrafted in all who believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Receive with meekness the engrafted [implanted] word, which is able to save your souls." James 1:21. The law of God has been deposited within our human spirits and we have been transformed by it. Therefore, we no longer live according to the outward working of the law, but by the inward working of God's law. That's grace!
LEGALISM IS DIVISIVE
Legalistic people tend to be divisive. They may not intend to be divisive, but their legalistic ways cause division. The more legalistic they are, the more they tend to splinter over little, non-essential things.
I was told the story of two sectarian Christian groups, living in distant communities from each other, who tried to work out a plan for their young people to marry outside of their home communities. The leaders of these two groups were unable to come into agreement with such a plan because of a religious issue. One group believed that the men should have five pins on their coats and the other group believed in only four. Two Churches of Christ exist in a small Tennessee town where, according to their own doctrine, only one should have existed. One group believed it was okay to have a kitchen in their church building and the other did not. So they split. Silly and petty rules in the churches often cause divisions and deep hurts which sometimes lead to rejection of individuals by their own families. Churches of every kind have divided over non-essential issues. Churches by their very nature are programmed to splinter. Paul explained to the Corinthians, "We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." 1 Cor. 10:17. Later he wrote, "For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit..But now are they many members, yet one body..That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another." 1 Cor. 12:12-13, 20, 25. Paul appealed to the Ephesians to forebear one another in all lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace because of one inescapable truth: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Eph. 4: 2-6. There is only one body. This one body of Christ is not and cannot be many bodies. Therefore, if that which you are in can be divided, it is not the real thing.
LEGALISM LEADS TO ISOLATIONISM
Legalistic leaders in extreme situations tend to isolate themselves and those who follow after them. Fear controls their behavior. These leaders fear that those under their influence might leave them. The more protective they feel they have to be, the more restrictive they become. They restrict the questions their followers are allowed to ask, the people they are allowed to know, the literature they are allowed to read, and the things they are allowed to listen to. They must protect those under their thumb from outside influences that would cause them to doubt--or worse yet, leave the fold. Violators are made to feel blasphemous. We are to be holy, sanctified. Holiness and sanctification are from the same Greek word that means separation. Hebrews 12:14 reads, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." We are to separate ourselves from sin and the world unto God, but this kind of separation is not isolation. We are to be in the world as light and salt, but not of the world. We cannot be the body of Christ in isolation. We are a body, His body, sent to accomplish His work in the world. We cannot accomplish His work as His body if we isolate one from the other. In spite of modern ecumenism (churches attempting cooperation while maintaining their differences), churches by their very nature cut themselves off one from the other.
LEGALISM IS EMPTY, MECHANICAL RITUAL
Legalistic people do works out of a joyless sense of duty, thinking that God will be pleased with their performance or that He might grant them "merited" favor. It is empty ritual.
So it is with foot washing. Some traditions believe that foot washing is an ordinance like water baptism and the Lord's supper. They may set aside arbitrary times once a month, every three months, or once a year to wash one another's feet. When the Holy Spirit leads someone to wash another's feet, it can prove to be powerful and meaningful and usually conveys a message of spiritual significance; but to impose foot washing as a requirement for being saved, for being right, or for being spiritual is to turn it into legalistic dead works. The same can be said for any act of worship or service. When things are done mechanically, they are generally meaningless works of the flesh. The scribes and Pharisees were quite given to mechanical, ritualistic observation of days, and seasons, and laws--most of which were outgrowths of their own traditions. In one of His many scathing remarks to them, Jesus quoted Isaiah saying, "This people draws near unto Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips; but their hearts are far from Me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matt. 15:8-9.
LEGALISM IS JUDGMENTAL
Legalistic people tend to make critical judgments against other people. Perhaps you know Bob, or Jane, or Suzy, or Tom. By any other name, they are the same. They are those who have forgotten who they were before they were converted. They have forgotten that they, too, were once lost, rebellious, stubborn, self-centered, and self-willed persons of flesh and sin. Some never knew that they were lost, rebellious, stubborn, self-centered, and self-willed. They who once needed compassion and mercy lack compassion and mercy for others. They "got saved" and for some strange reason hardened their hearts toward others who are not yet saved. In severe cases, they will have nothing to do with "the sinner" or with anyone whose belief system is different from theirs. Judgmental persons make critical evaluations of others and want to impose their idea of righteousness on others. What we judge is different from how we judge. If we judge with malice and contempt in our hearts, we become judgmental and thereby enter into sin. Judgmentalism judges others out of the intolerance of one's flesh. It ministers condemnation to those who are judged. We forget that we shall all be judged by the Lord one day. "But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nought your brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Rom. 14:10. It is one thing to call a brother to repentance out of love and compassion for his soul and quite another to assign him to hell with contempt in our hearts. We must be careful therefore how we judge. This entire book is a judgment against that Thing we call church. We are to discern what God is saying. We then speak those God-given revelations, visions, dreams, and understandings given to us in order, if need be, to call one another to repentance. We call sin, sin. We judge what God judges, but when we bring our own agendas, opinions, or feelings into the situation, we turn righteous judging into critical, legalistic judgmentalism. As for this harlot system of men's traditions we call church, it has already been judged by God. Revelation 17:1 reads, "And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come here; I will show unto you the judgment of the great whore that sits upon many waters." And Revelation 18:10: "Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is your judgment come." I am compelled by the Holy Spirit of God to "show the house to the house." not to sit in judgment of others, but to call to repentance those whose hearts are given to their idolatries rather than to the Lord.
LEGALISM IS BONDAGE
Legalistic people put others in bondage to their works. Paul exhorted the Galatians, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Gal. 5:1.
Legalism puts us in bondage to the law itself. Grace gives us the power of God within to obey the Lawgiver. James Ryle has essentially defined grace as the empowering presence of God that enables us to be what He has called us to be and to do what He has called us to do in Christ. The essence of grace requires that our relationship with God and our works of obedience be based upon what God has done and not upon what we could ever do. Though the bride of Christ has been set free by the grace of God, she is, for the most part, still in the churches and is held captive by church laws. When we are in the flesh, in unbelief, under law, or into doing works that God has not ordained, we will be in bondage to these things--flesh, unbelief, law, and works. When we are in the Spirit, in faith, in grace, and in rest, we will be free of these things--flesh, unbelief, law, and works. The bondage of legalism occurs when our laws, rules, and regulations put God in a box and then we try to fit everyone else into those same boxes. If they do not fit into the box, they are considered outsiders and even infidels.
LEGALISM CONDEMNS US
Legalistic people put others under condemnation. When we are put under man-made laws that we are not able to fulfill, we feel guilty, ashamed, and condemned. The law condemns us. Paul wrote, "For by the law is the knowledge of sin." Rom. 3:20. Grace, on the other hand, acquits us. The law of God tells us what is required of us, but has no power to make us obedient. Grace is that power of God. The law condemns; grace empowers. Romans 8:1 reads, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The Lord dealt with Larry about using doctors. Larry had come to a place of confidence in the Lord that all things were under His control. It was no longer a question of healing with Larry; it was a question of God's will being done. Larry had faith. It was not his faith, but the Lord's faith in him to endure whatever sickness and infirmity that came upon him without subjecting himself to medical treatment. Larry was careful not to make this a rule for everyone. Had He said, "The Lord has shown me it is wrong to go to doctors and therefore it is wrong for anyone to go doctors," he would have moved from grace to legalism. If we make going to doctors or not going to doctors a rule for everyone, we are legalistic. Those laws soon become impossible requirements for salvation.
LEGALISM IS FEAR-BASED
Legalistic people motivate with fear. Terrible consequences are implied if we fail to abide by those laws. "I was born, baptized, and received instruction in the Catholic Church," Lillie said. "All of us were taught to follow the directions of the priests. We received the sacraments frequently, Holy Communion and Confession. At that time the Catholic church did not encourage its members to read the Bible. That was left to the priests. It wasn't until I was married and had five children that I felt a hunger to know God in a more personal way. I couldn't tell you anything about the Old or New Testament. My husband and I started attending a non-denominational church where they taught about the Bible. I truly sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit there. Yet, I could not break away from the hold the Catholic Church had on me. We would go to mass early on Sunday, then slip away to this other church afterwards. We did this for about three years. The fear of not receiving the Eucharist and losing its graces, possibly losing our salvation, kept us tied to the Catholic church. Slowly, we were delivered from that fear as we received more understanding from the scriptures." Paul wrote, "For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Rom. 8:15. "For God has not given us the spirit of
fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Tim. 1:7. We are to fear God; not men nor the made-up religious laws, rules, and regulations imposed by men.
LEGALISM KILLS US
Legalistic people deprive others of the life of God with their works. Paul wrote the Corinthians explaining, God "also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life." 2 Cor. 3:6. The Galatians were still observing religious days, months, seasons, and years over which Paul anguished, "I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain." Gal. 4:8-11 NKJV. Most Christians are bound by what their church system says is proper Christian practice. In some traditions, individuals have little to say about how they dress, where they go, what they do, what they believe, and how they are to behave. These things are dictated to them, and they do them by rote. They rarely know why these things are required of them. Church systems have no life to give. Moreover, they quench the Spirit with their carnal meetings, formalities, traditions, rituals, dogmas, rules, programs, and regulations. We tend to make religious laws and systems out of the truths of God and follow them instead of following God. The Kingdom of God has to do with the living reality of Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit who is at work within us to bring about God's ultimate intentions. Jesus could never be squeezed into the systems and formulas we concoct out of our carnal minds. Watch out for them! They are killers. Those who gather only in the name of Jesus as appointed by the Holy Spirit are more likely to express the spontaneous life of Jesus in their midst. When the Spirit of Jesus is present, so will be the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The bride of Christ is characterized by liberty, love, praise, the word, fruit, ministry, gifts of the Holy Spirit, fellowship, blessing, edification, and service.
LEGALISM IS A CURSE
Legalistic people put others under the curse of the law. Paul stated, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gal. 3:10. The law was given to show us the perfect will of God. We are required to keep the whole law of God if we are to be righteous in the sight of God. Since it is impossible for us to keep the whole law, it becomes a curse to us. Rather than giving life, it kills us. Rom. 7:7. Paul argues that the more we try to obey the law outwardly in the flesh, the more we are bound to do the very thing we do not wish to do. Rom. 7:21. At best, the laws that are put on us by religious people in the church systems can only be observed outwardly. No change of nature has taken place. Therefore, any requirement for us to adhere to a belief system, join and regularly attend church, dress a certain way, perform certain rituals, or abide by certain laws, rules, and regulations puts us under a curse. We are trying to make ourselves righteous by laws we cannot keep in our hearts. Those who impose the law upon others not only put a curse upon others, but are themselves accursed. Paul warned the Galatians that if "we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Gal. 1:8. He meant business and repeated himself. "As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed." Gal. 1:9. Thank God "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree." Gal. 3:13. Grace blesses.
LEGALISM IS BEWITCHING
Legalistic people bewitch others by persuasion and intimidation. Paul exhorted, "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?" Gal. 3:1. It was as though a spell had been cast upon the Galatians by the circumcision party as they fell prey to their false teaching. Seducing spirits often accompany false teachings, leading them away from obeying the truth. Our teachings (doctrines) often become the gospel we preach. An acquaintance of mine once said of himself, "I preach faith." Then he declared, "It works." However, the apostle Paul proclaimed that he preached Christ and Him crucified. Jesus is what works and Jesus is not an it. How astonishing that faith, the appropriate solution to the law, could be so skillfully turned back into law. Many well-meaning and God-seeking believers have been mesmerized by that false teaching. Some denominations have made water baptism and membership into their church the way of salvation. Consequently, people are being inadvertently baptized into the name of that church rather than into the name of Jesus. What an affront to Jesus who plainly said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by Me." John 14:6. Any practice, teaching, doctrine, ritual, program, rule, regulation, system, organization, association, or church government that binds and oppresses people rather than setting them free in Christ is not of God. It is legalism. Legalism is fleshly. Flesh is manipulative. Manipulation is the practice of witchcraft-manipulating others to do things against their will. We can be certain that wherever witchcraft is practiced, the demons of witchcraft colonize.”
Charles E. Newbold, Jr is the author of the book “The Harlot Church System”
I know not of the author and I’m yet to read the rest of his book, his book is available free on a pdf file linked below.