Faithlife Sermons

Christ the Stumbling Stone to the Self-Righteous

Study of Romans  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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When legalism comes face to face with Jesus, it crumbles under the weight of deception and will either harden hearts or humble them.


I know a man approaching sixty years of age today who is still haunted by the memory of being raised by hypocritical parents. It has taken him most of his adult life to face the full truth that he was emotionally and spiritually abused by their deception. Throughout his childhood his family attended a church where they were taught you shouldn’t go to the movies. This was so firmly enforced that in Sunday church services people would be called to come forward to an altar and confess that they had done that or some other “sins.” The problem is, his family went to movies on Friday or Saturday night, always in secret. But they made it very clear that he shouldn’t say anything about it. They drilled it into him, “Keep your mouth shut.” Here he is, a little boy, being lectured on the way home from the theater, “Don’t tell anybody on Sunday that we did this.” Of course, they went to see the film miles away from the church so church folks wouldn’t know. Not until recently has the man come to realize how damaging that hypocrisy was to his walk with Christ.

Legalism has no pity on people. Legalism makes my opinion your burden, makes my opinion your boundary, makes my opinion your obligation.

—Max Lucado, Up Words, May 1993

One of the most serious problems facing the orthodox Christian church today is the problem of legalism. One of the most serious problems facing the church in Paul’s day was the problem of legalism. In every day it is the same. Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes his power for vital worship and vibrant service. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing.

—S. Lewis Johnson, “The Paralysis of Legalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April–June 1963

Romans 9:22–33 NKJV
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25 As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.” 26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” 27 Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. 28 For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.” 29 And as Isaiah said before: “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah.” 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
“We receive the benefits of the gospel even though we never sought them. It is not in our nature to pursue the things of God. The Gentiles, to whom Paul is writing here in Romans, had no clue about the history of redemption. They were not concerned with studying the Old Testament Scriptures. They did not care about the Law of Moses; they were not pursuing the righteousness of God. In God’s mercy they found what they had not pursued.” Sproul, R. C. (2009). Romans (p. 344). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
There was an acceptance that God could and would call a variety of people; people we would have least expected that God would use.
Legalists have no such expectation. They have it clear in their mind, from generation to generation, how they expect Christians to live and behave.
What is legalism?
legalism. The conception of *ethics that identifies *morality with the strict observance of *laws or that views adherence to moral codes as defining the boundaries of a *community. Religious legalism focuses on *obedience to laws or moral codes based on the assumption that such obedience is a means of gaining divine favor. Pocket Dictionary Ethics
Legalism is man’s attempt to find a direct path to salvation without seeing the need for repentance
Legalism tells someone that if they toe the line in a particular standard not necessarily from God then they are accepted.
Legalism also gives no hope to those who appear as evil and unforgivable in the eyes of their judges.
Legalism says if I am right with my attitude toward godliness. But in their hearts, they are darkened. (Matt 23:27-28).
Legalism says, I am right in my actions because I belong to God. Truth is, their actions show no love for Christ nor others.
Cross References on Legalism Matt 23:27-28; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; Galatians 2:17-21; James 2:8-13

Christ Jesus came to free us from legalism and the false narratives that come with it.

Jesus is the stumbling block to all forms of legalism.
Mark 2:13-17
Have you ever questioned your salvation?
Have you questioned how God could forgive you if you keep making the same mistakes?
Its during these times that people with good intentions feel the need to come to you and drive guilt through you like a knife through butter.
You hear how bad you are enough you begin to believe it.
But what does Jesus say about who you are?
What does Jesus truly think about those caught in legalism?
Jesus calls righteous the wicked and wicked the righteous. (Rom 9:30-31)
Jesus sets straight the crooked, but the ignorant He causes to stumble. (Rom 9:32)
Jesus removes the guilt of the sinner, but will trap the self-righteous. (Rom 9:33)

When I was a boy, I grew up in a small congregation in a little town. There was a somewhat affluent man who belonged to the church. All the rest of us were poor as turkeys, but he was just one notch above the poverty of the rest of us, so he shined. He was the president of our little state bank in the town, a bank that later went bankrupt and defunct. He dressed nattily and spoke like a cultured man.

One day they hailed him before the church and accused him of dancing. The church was called into council. You never saw such a dogfight in your life. This man went up to the preacher and slapped him in the face. There I was, a little boy sitting in the church and looking at all that going on, all that acrimonious castigation. They turned the banker out of the church. It tore the little church to shreds.

Now, I’m not saying here whether they should have turned him out or not, but I can tell you how I felt about it as a little boy. As I sat there in the church and listened to the people of the church bring charges against the banker for dancing and all the things that they said to him about him, and all that went on in that session, then they finally voted him out, I saw the sad repercussion in the hearts of angry people. The tragedy made an indelible impression upon me. When I looked at it as a little boy I wondered about those that turned him out, if they were any better than the one they turned out. Maybe he should have turned them out!

—W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Galatians

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