The farther away from God you get, the more rules and regulations you’ll come up with in an effort to maintain what you once had. And what was once living will soon become mechanical and artificial. (Take the machinery out of the church.)
Beware of the yoke of men. Man’s yoke looks good, but it will only slow you down in the climb, and will make you less fruitful. The Lord’s yoke is light, it lifts you up, but man’s will weigh you down.
Zealous Christians can sometimes fall into the deception that they can earn God’s Love, and that His love is based on their performance. (I personally fell to this deception.) Be sure to love God for who He Is, not for what He can give you. The Love of God is not so cheap that it can be earned by the work of your hand or the sweat of your brow.
The above quotes are by Robert Brownell (of divinerevelations.info) and exhort us to follow God freely in spirit. Sometimes people act legalistic while they may not be aware of their behavior. However, these people are aware of how others follow God freely and so don’t have an excuse. God wants his people to love him with all of their heart, mind and strength. Acting like a machine won’t help you at all. Machines don’t have have a heart nor a mind.
You need to receive the Lord Jesus who gives true grace and truth. So hold Jesus close to your heart. Love Jesus not out of compulsion but out of free will. God knows the thoughts of your heart, so don’t do good works to get a certificate of right conduct from a preacher. Maybe you need that certificate for church formalities etc. However, be true to the will of God. The will of God is not something clouded by intellectual smoke. God’s will is that you believe in the Lord Jesus and live a holy life unto God.
Do works of charity not for fame but for the glory of God. Good works don’t get you salvation as you can never earn your way into heaven. Salvation is given freely by Jesus Christ to those believe in him and the Gospel of Christ. Salvation is not a ‘one-time-prayer-and-forget-about-it’, it’s about continuing in your relation with Jesus. For salvation outside of Jesus Christ does not exist, so keep within Jesus always.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
Legalism is a fake version of righteousness. It affects men, women and children in various forms from the cradle to the grave. Even preachers entertain this without realizing the dangers of it.
First things first, legalism is not the same thing as righteous living, praying methods, living by faith, obedience to God’s will, desire for purity and genuineness in one’s relationship with God. The Bible doesn’t promote legalism. Legalism is not be confused with following the teachings of the Gospel. At this point its imperative to get a clear idea of what is legalism. Let’s start with the dictionary meaning:
Legalism : strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code ( Merriam-Webster online dictionary)
Now in Christianity legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law. By excessive, it means overzealous following of the laws of God while not giving glory to God. It can also promote self-righteousness as it makes a person focus more on self than the Lord.
By improper usage, it means that it stealthily becomes a ‘earn your salvation‘ technique instead of getting your salvation truly and freely from Jesus our Lord. This can make you very unsure of your salvation and thereby keep you dependent on the church authority structure to say whether are you saved or not. It’s good to obey church leaders but you must keep it balanced in the light of the Gospel.
During the course of my life I was unwittingly taught legalism though I didn’t understand it at that time. However, after a few years I realized that is an energy drainer. This affected my relationship with God and I was not sure of my salvation. So decided to re-learn the teachings of the Bible directly by myself and praying to the Holy Spirit to lead me. It’s a big relief to be out of it and be sure of one’s salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.
Legalism can happen in non religious settings such as work or college. Since, I’m speaking of legalism in a spiritual context, I will give you a few examples of how things can go legalistic in the religious world. Here we go:
- Lydia is trying to make ends meet for her little child. Her husband is working but is not getting enough due to the bad economy. So she decides to do part-time work as a nurse to supplement their income due to which she misses on a few church services. She is worried that her actions have jeopardized her salvation and keeps crying out. This continues until a preacher convinces her of true salvation and helps her with the timings of a church that has worship services all through the week.
- James is taught to always wear a tie to any church service as every man in church who doesn’t wear it is seen as not sincere about salvation. He keeps doing this regularly. One day he forgets to wear a tie and enters the church. He is then denounced by everyone in the church and eventually leaves it. He then enters another church where there is no requirement to wear a tie (to his pleasant surprise) and continues to go there regularly. (the first 2 examples are just indicative examples, the next one is a real one)
- I would attend a place of prayer where people got healed by the power of Christ. However, the preachers in the due course of time started acting legalistic and would say the following statements, “If you have AIDS or HIV its God’s Gift to you for sinning and God will NOT heal you” and would also say “I sense God is healing some person of this and this disease but I say to this person, come up and testify on the stage right now or you will LOSE your healing”. I was totally horrified at this legalism and started avoiding them lest I too learn their ways. As time passed by, many people stopped going to this place and started going to other places to get prayed over. However, the preachers over there are still adamant on their ‘God hates people with AIDS’ stance. (I mentioned this example in my earlier post; Learn to understand what comes from God and what comes from man)
A very sure way to realize legalism is at work is when things are added or removed from the actual wisdom and practices mentioned in the Bible. Basically these are rules of men and not of God.
This make me recall the words of a wise preacher, ‘The farther away from God you get, the more rules and regulations you’ll come up with in an effort to maintain what you once had. And what was once living will soon become mechanical and artificial. (Take the machinery out of the church.)’ No wonder, I say that your righteousness must come from Christ. alone. You must have the right attitude of the heart, not just good external actions.
Here are few scriptures on what the Bible speak about Legalism:
Isaiah 1:11 “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 23:1-4 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Some videos on the reality of legalism. These make good sense, so are worth a watch as well.
Beware of what you believe in. There is much talk by many theologians and preachers. Some of them are highly presumptuous of what God actually wants of a person. Therefore learn to understand what comes from God and what comes from man.
Let me make it real to you in the context of healing though there are other contexts like marriage, finances etc. I’ve been to many retreats, seminars and oratories wherein there was a ‘healing service’ in which the healing minister of God as I would call them, held the claim that he/she healed a lot of people through prayer. Though I didn’t have need of any healing I wanted to learn from them as to how they are used by God to heal.
I would be amazed to see so many people cured of various ills and diseases. I would go to such places often. Then for certain years I wasn’t able to be part of any such things. Years later I decide to go again to such healing ministers. Suddenly instead of the Welcome-everyone-attitude came the legalistic-attitude. Obviously I no longer go at their doors. They would say bold and harsh statements like:
- “If you have AIDS or HIV its God’s Gift to you for sinning and God will NOT heal you”.
- “It’s God’s WILL and DESIRE that you keep suffering from your sickness like Paul” and they quote 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
- “I sense God is healing some person of this and this disease but I say to this person, come up and testify on the stage right now or you will LOSE your healing”.
Mostly these were the same orators whom I heard earlier but then later their behavior changed. They started putting such conditions that even Jesus himself would not put. Now I’ll tackle all of the 3 statements. Here we go:
- What if the person got AIDS or HIV due to blood transfusion? Would it be because of sin, no not at all. Even if a person got AIDS or HIV due to a sinful lifestyle but now is willing to follow Christ why should there be an obstacle in that persons restoration by the Lord Jesus. Sickness is NEVER the Lord God’s gift to any one. Last time I read the Bible and please note that I’ve read the whole Bible end to end, I never saw a verse about any one being “gifted” a sickness by God. Such lies are INVENTED in Hell and must rejected by every person who believes in Christ.
- In all the Bible there is only one case in which a person was not getting cured/healed by God. Only 1. At the same time if you read the same verses above (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) the context is completely different as to why was the case. Also these verses are highly disputed by many theologians. The main point here is that Paul had to get a PERSONAL revelation and voice DIRECTLY from God that he wouldn’t be cured. What is strange is that such healing ministers say that is God’s Will that you suffer as such but ask them if they Lord had personally told them each and every detail of the sickness of your sickness which you didn’t tell them and now ask them to mention even that revelation in detail. They will begin giving you UNCLEAR and CONFUSING answers. Now you’ll realize man and not God is speaking.
- Even when Jesus healed the woman who had the issue of blood (Read Mark 5:25-34 in your free time) he NEVER put a condition on her to Testify or she would lose healing. Not a single instance is ever recorded in the Bible both in the Old and New Testament of any healing minister of God back there saying ‘come and testify right now or you will LOSE your healing’. Scripture tells us to imitate Christ (Ephesians 5:1 and 1 Corinthians 11:1) and obviously putting such limits on a person is not at all Christ-like.
Going to the context of vocations; Never take up any vocation just based on a person’s opinion that it comes from God. Check this out with God himself in prayer and reading of the scriptures. There are truly blessed men (and women) of God who told me a lot of things on vocation and gave some types of prophecies but I didn’t jump the gun but instead just noted their words in a book and went on with my life. Then I kept checking with God as to which of these came from HIM and how to go to the next step.
Some decisions like the vow-of-celibacy (not getting married) or doing full time ministry (both lay and religious) for the sake of the Gospel are “life changing decisions” and should not be based on the words of man but only if God is willing for it. And for this you need to discern.
So to summarize: Learn to understand what comes from God and what comes from man. Do this by praying to God and diligent reading of the Bible (Its a great help in this regard to take help of the Holy Spirit on this).