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Legalism (2)

Legalism  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The dogma of salvation by works, the heresy* that man must earn a place in heaven by his personal righteousness.

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This talk is based on the GraceNotes Article regarding “Legalism”. J.V. McGee states clearly what Legalism is not:

There are two areas of Christian conduct. In one area the Bible is very clear, as we saw in the preceding chapter. The duty of the Christian to the state is submission. He is to obey the laws of the land, he is to pay his taxes, and he is to show respect to those in authority. Also chapter 13 was specific on a believer’s relationship to his neighbor. He is to pay his bills; he is not to commit adultery, kill, steal, bear false witness, or covet what another has. In fact, he is to love his neighbor as himself. The believer is to be honest, and he is to avoid reveling and drunkenness, strife, and jealousy. The Bible is very clear on these things.

I think that Legalism has to do more with customs and/or norms developed over time which may in fact be good practice, but not Biblical. Then things get codified and we are back to the days of the Pharisees trying to use rules to enforce “purity”. McGee tells a funny story regarding his wife and the culture shock of moving to California:

However, there is another area of Christian conduct on which the Bible has no clear word. Let me mention only two things: the use of tobacco and mixed bathing (that is, both sexes swimming together). If you don’t think these are questionable, let me give you an illustration out of my own experience. My wife was reared in Texas in a Southern Baptist church. She was brought up by a mother and father and pastor who believed that mixed bathing was sinful. Then when she came to California, you can’t imagine the shock she had the first time she went down to the beach with the young people from our church—even in those days they weren’t wearing much. My wife was in a state of shock for twenty–four hours after that! She had never seen anything like it. However, in the area from which she came the use of tobacco was not frowned upon. The officers of her church smoked; in fact, her pastor smoked. When she came to California, she found that using tobacco was taboo. If you were a Christian, you did not smoke.

Legalism finds its way into all facets of life including Christianity. For instance, I was told not to wear a linen jacket after September 1. This can cause excessive murmuring in some circles, imposes codes that prevent a person from wearing linen because they just really like a particular garment. So your garment hangs in the closet until its legal to wear it again. Awhile back, a friend call me and asked what I thought of a deacon/elder holding a Halloween party (I guess that’s what this person called it). So members of the congregation wanted the this person “talked” to, or strongly encouraged to cancel the party. The reason is because of what actual group it celebrates and how it “looks” to the congregation and outsiders.


Doctrine 100 Legalism

A stricter general definition of legalism is found in the Oxford English Dictionary: The principles of those who hold a theological position of adhering to the Law as opposed to the Gospel; the doctrine of Justification by Works, or teaching which savors of that doctrine.

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