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The Dangers of Legalism

There’s a question that we each have to ask ourselves:  Do we desire to walk in fellowship with the God who created us?

We have the opportunity to walk with Him because the work of Jesus Christ on the cross has satisfied God’s just demands against our sins.  When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are given new life from God Himself— even eternal life— and thus begins our walk of fellowship with Him.

Consider this very important little verse:

“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (Col. 2:6)

These two clauses communicate a mountain of meaning.  It teaches that our walk in Christ is accomplished by the same means through which we originally received Him as our Savior.

How did we receive Him as our Savior? This salvation is available by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

How then, are we to walk with Him? By faith.  “As you have received Christ Jesus [by faith], so walk in Him.” This point can’t be missed. When we attempt to walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ through our own efforts and works, we are destined to fail.  Just as human works cannot save a person, neither can human works produce a life that is pleasing to God.

When a person or a preacher attempts to follow or preach a gospel that includes human works— even  human religious works that look good on the surface—the result is a false gospel. A dangerous false gospel.  A misleading gospel.  Add even a grain of human works, and precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross is rendered useless.  If we have to add to it, then God did not finish the work that Jesus Christ was assigned to do.  And in the area of sanctification, remember our lesson from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  The Christian life is just what it sounds like it ought to be: a life in Christ.

It is lived by faith, daily depending on Him, growing in Him.  And it is through this fellowship with Him that we are used by God to bear fruit that is pleasing to Him.

But, because we are fleshly creatures wanting to have some of the credit when it instead all belongs to God, we like to inject our own selfish efforts into sanctification.

When we inject works into the gospel, the result is a false gospel that is dangerous.  When we inject works into the Christian life, the result is a kudzu like problem called legalism.

Legalism can be defined as any attempt, however sincere, to live a life that is pleasing and acceptable to God through efforts to conform to an extra biblical set of rules of conduct.

Paul writes about the dangers of legalism Colossians, chapter two, which concludes:

“These things [legalism] indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body., but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:23)

For the enemy, fighting this enemy within that is characterized in the Bible as “the flesh” by our own self efforts may have the “appearance of wisdom,” but it doesn’t have power.

Trying to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God through fleshly efforts is like trying to control kudzu with hedge clippers.  You can clip at it all the live-long day, but it’s going to remain active.  In the same way, trying to live the Christian life through legalistic methods doesn’t even begin to result in a life that produces fruit that is pleasing to God.