Followers of Christ can easily get caught up in legalism, but this can be avoided, resulting in freedom.


The “Doing” of Legalism

Christ and the rich young ruler
       The Bible tells the account of a rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. It seems like a ridiculous question since you inherit something because of who you’re related to, not by doing anything. The Jews were so steeped in legalistic thinking that a belief had spread that there were some things a person could do that were so important that they would lead to eternal life. The only thing with eternal consequences that they could do was to believe in Jesus, but they had convinced themselves that they could attain righteousness through their obedience to the Law. How did they do? Terrible. They failed miserably in their attempts to live according to God’s righteous standards. When they did fulfill the letter of some law, they nearly always missed the spirit (God’s intended consequence) of that law and they became prideful of their imagined obedience.
      God’s purpose in putting the children of Israel under the Law was to show how incapable they were of keeping it. It was to show that they could never attain righteousness through their own efforts to obey. They failed so miserably that they were taken captive by the Babylonians for seventy years. While they were cured of their idolatry, their belief in their own righteousness persisted. Despite God’s pronouncement that their righteousness had always been and would always be like filthy rags in God’s eyes, they held tenaciously to their belief in their own righteousness.



While we may thank God that we’re not like them, perhaps we should take a closer look at our own lives. Whether we admit it or not, we’re actually a lot like the rich young ruler. Our default setting is legalism. We’re drawn to the “doing” of legalism instead of the “resting” of grace because it’s easier to follow a list of rules than it is to develop a relationship (with God). The more we do, the more we feel like we’ve earned something through our obedience. In this mode, it’s all about the blessing we hope to receive. We won’t admit it, but, deep down we think our perceived obedience to the things we know we should do brings us satisfaction and causes us to believe that we are becoming more righteous.
      This is what the flesh does. It will do anything to justify itself and to prove that the Bible has it all wrong when it says that nothing good dwells in the flesh, only sin. The flesh tries to convince us that our own efforts will earn God’s favor and result in the blessings we desire. In the end, all our efforts are attempts to attain some blessing we are convinced will make us happy. Despite the clear fact that it never seems to work, we keep trying because we still haven’t learned that all our efforts are in vain. We are stuck in the Old Covenant: obey to be blessed.


      It is a glorious day when we see the light which reminds us that we’re now under the New Covenant-a covenant in which the order is reversed. Instead of obeying to be blessed, now it’s be blessed, and then obey (out of gratitude for what God has done for us). The Old Covenant (and the Law) was given to show that man was incapable of living up to God’s righteous standards. God knew it, by man didn’t. God’s only remedy was to provide His own righteousness.
      He accomplished this by first removing everything in man that clung to its own righteousness and replaced it with the life of His own Son through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This great exchange would take place at the moment any sinner realized the truth about himself and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. At that moment, God, in His infinite mercy, love, and grace, poured into the “new creation” everything the person would ever need to live a godly life ( 2 Peter 1:3), fulfilling the promises from the Old Covenant (2 Peter 1:4) as well as every spiritual blessing humans could ever desire (Eph 1:3).
      God did it all for us. Consequently, out of gratitude for all the blessings God has already provided, we gladly obey. The result-no more striving “to become.” Now we rejoice that “we already are.” The “doing of legalism has become a thing of the past. Hallelujah!



An old tired-looking dog wanders into a guy’s yard. He examines the dog’s collar and feels his well-fed belly and knows the dog has a home.
       The dog follows him into the house, goes down the hall, jumps on the couch, gets comfortable and falls asleep. The man thinks its rather odd, but lets him sleep. After about an hour the dog wakes up, walks to the door and the guy lets him out. The dog wags his tale and leaves.
       The next day the dog comes back and scratches at the door. The guy opens the door, the dog comes in, goes down the hall, jumps on the couch, gets comfortable and falls asleep again. The man lets him sleep. After about an hour the dog wakes up, walks to the door and the guy lets him out. The dog wags his tale and leaves.
       This goes on for days. The guy grows really curious, so he pins a note on the dog’s collar: “Your dog has been taking a nap at my house every day.”
       The next day the dog arrives with another note pinned to his collar: “He lives in a home with four children — he’s trying to catch up on his sleep. Can I come with him tomorrow?’



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