Legalism and God – Galatians 2:4-5

Do Not Allow Anyone To Enslave You And Take Away Your Freedom In Christ

4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Fake Followers

Do not be deceived:  not everyone who calls themselves a “Christian” is a disciple of Christ.  Many people labor under the false moniker of Christianity and in doing so, lead people astray or into bondage.

I was one of them.

I came out of the Mormon church.  Not understanding that being a disciple of Christ involved relationship with our Creator, I believed I was a Christian because I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.   So do the demons, and they shudder at the thought.  I thought that was all that was required to be a Christian.  It wasn’t until God confronted me with a final warning to turn to Him and follow His Son that I actually became a Christian.  I did not just need to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was His Son, I needed to become a disciple of Christ to be a Christian.  I had to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was LORD – and accept the relationship and the responsibilities that accompany that profession.

I did great damage to the cause and name of Christ, living a life that was not only indistinguishable from the rest of the world, but in many respects, even worst that than most people.  Anyone who looked at my life as I “proudly” declared myself to be a “Christian” would have immediately rejected Christ out of hand because my example was so bad.  I didn’t understand that when I claimed the name of Christ, and then lived a terrible life, I was bringing shame upon the One whose name – His character – I was made to show to the world as an image-bearer.

There are many false followers of Christ.  Every one of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and each one of us will continue to struggle in one way or another with sin.  We must remember that we will never be perfect image-bearers of Christ in this life.  But let us not dishonor God intentionally, and if you are watching us, please be aware that we are flawed because of the curse of sin, and will not ever perfectly follow Christ [in this life].  That being said, be wary of those who don’t even have the appearance of discipleship in their lives.  And extend grace to those who are earnestly following the One True God, even and especially as we stumble in our failures while we seek to walk righteously before our God.

Subversive Spies

Those who are steeped in legalism become spies for the enemy.  They seek out those who don’t follow the same onerous, “You must do this exactly right or you aren’t a Christian” man-made rules that place a burden upon the shoulders of men and women.  They seek to impose their pious righteousness upon others to make sure they are doing everything exactly right.  They hate the freedom that God has granted the disciples of Christ, and spy them out in the hopes of winning them over to “their side”.  But remember this:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Encroaching Enslavement

When we begin to believe the lies that surround legalism, we become sucked into believing a lie, and we become enslaved in bondage.  Bondage in this sense is the feeling of oppression that comes over us as we desperately attempt to do whatever we need to do in order to ensure that we are fulfilling a specific aspect of the law so that we don’t sin against God.

The following is a worldly example that is meant to show the danger of this.  Some people believe the myth that if they step on a crack in pavement, it will somehow bring them bad luck.  People who accept this as truth will go to great lengths to avoid stepping on cracks and so avoid the pain and suffering that “bad luck” brings them.  As disciples of Christ know, God is sovereign, and there is no such thing as “luck”.  However, once we submit to this “rule”, our lives become burdened with an unnecessary rule that is supposed to help us, but rather complicates our life, makes us miserable and fearful, and generally causes us to miss out on the freedom and joy of walking freely where we would like to walk.

Foundational Freedom

Christ died to set the prisoners free.  We were once slaves (prisoners) to sin. The interesting part is that human beings have been, and always will be, slaves to someone or something.  Sin has enslaved us to do the will of Satan.  When we are free, we then choose who or what will then be our target of worship.

The act of worship is what makes us slaves.  Whether we worship God as His bond-slaves, worship our jobs, worship our “idols” (sports stars, TV stars, film stars, leaders of the world, etc.), worship the created things (sun, moon, stars, Gaia, animals, insects, birds, fish, rocks, trees, etc.), even worship ourselves, we will worship something or someone.  And when we worship, we will follow the rules that we believe are given to us by the very person(s) or thing(s) who/that we worship, thus putting us into a form of bondage if we do not worship God.

And though God has given us freedom to worship Him in truth and righteousness, we need to be careful about what we do with that freedom:

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say-but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”-but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God- 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Standing Strong

When faced with legalism, it is the right and duty of every disciple to stand strong and remember that Christ died for you on the cross so that you could be free from such bondage.  Stand strong against such people, and prayerfully consider your response to them, because they truly believe in their hearts that they are correct, not realizing the bondage they have placed themselves in.  If you are strong and mature, gently guide them through the scriptures and help them to see the freedom that they have in Christ.  If you are younger in your faith, or don’t know the scriptures well enough, find shelter with another body of believers who are not steeped in legalism, or you yourself may find that you have become their prey.

Guarding the Gospel

And in all things, guard the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with fervency steeped in love, grace, and gentleness.  Do not allow others to besmirch the name of Christ who claim to be His followers, but gently guide them to the truth.  And if they refuse, understand that a seed has been planted, and God may want another to come and water it, and another to come to harvest it.  Do your part, and guard the gospel:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Do I live part (or all) of my life in legalism?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have freed us from the bondage of sin so that we can worship and obey You in freedom.  Help me, Father, to walk in the freedom that was purchased with the tortured, shed blood of Christ.  Help me to walk in a way that honors and glorifies Your name.  Grant me the strength to go on when I am weak, and help me to study so that I would be an approved worker, handling the word correctly in truth.  Give me boldness before those who unknowingly oppose You in legalism, and guard my heart when I engage others that I will not be misled by smooth talk or intellectually compelling arguments.  Instead, help me Father that in all things Your word would be the defining word of truth in deciding what is right and what is wrong.  Give me discernment as I encounter these difficulties, and help me to rightly judge them and obey Your word in freedom.  This I ask in the name of Your Most Holy and Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

This post has been edited for clarity and spelling errors.

2 thoughts on “Legalism and God – Galatians 2:4-5

  1. Calvanism is very dangerous. It presupposes that God willfully excludes people from the opportunity to be reconciled with Him. However, the word of the Living God clearly states the exact opposite:

    Jesus said that if He was lifted up, He would draw ALL men (human beings) to Himself (John 12:32)

    The letter to the Romans reiterates from Genesis that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3) Since we have no righteousness of our own, this was in reference to the eventual life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as payment for our sins.

    The book of Joel states that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Joel 2:32) Everyone means EVERYONE.

    There are other references as well. God desires to restore all of creation – including all of us – to Himself:

    1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

    But just because God wants all of us to be saved doesn’t mean that all of us will be saved. God has given mankind the gift of free will. We can choose to do as we please. Because of this, many will choose to reject God the Father, His Son and The Holy Spirit – the triune God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and instead follow someone or something else. This is not the desire of God. God clearly says in His word:

    Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

    God greatly desires that all come to Him.

    The doctrine of election is a difficult thing to comprehend. On the one hand, God wants each of us to come to Him. On the other hand, Paul clearly indicates in the letter to the Ephesians that God has chosen (elected) us (Ephesians 1:4) and predestined us to adoption (Ephesians 1:5). So how do we reconcile these two, apparently, diametrically opposed truths (God wants everyone to come to Him vs. God elects and predestines people)? The answer is threefold: God gives men free will, desires that in that free will we will choose God, and that He has the perspective of knowing all of Eternity (Omnipotence).

    Calvinism tackles this from one end of the spectrum – God predestines only those who will be with Him.

    Universalists tackle this from the other end of the spectrum – all paths lead to God, because God wants everyone to come to Him.

    Both are heresies because they do not take into account the whole counsel of God. God expects that once we have given our lives to Him, we will submit ourselves to Him just as Christ submitted Himself to the Holy Spirit. Christ is our example of God the Father here on Earth. When Philip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, this is how Jesus replied:

    8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:8-14)

    There is an expectation of the application of righteous living in a believer’s life (sanctification) after being saved. Christ’s righteousness was imputed (legally placed upon us so that we are seen through it rather than through our current sin nature by God) to us, so that God could see us through it and be reconciled to Him. Jesus also said this concerning people who claim to be disciples but are not:

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

    This is not to indicate that salvation is works-based. Our works are an expression of gratitude of salvation towards God, not the means upon which we are granted entry into the kingdom of Heaven. (James 2:14-26).

    When we submit ourselves to God, and allow the Holy Spirit to have His way with us, we are following in the steps of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and following Him:

    Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) (comments in parentheses added for clarification)

    Do not be deceived: God desires that every person be reconciled to Him. God has eternal perspective, and demonstrates that ability and perspective through prophesy, and the doctrine of election (knowing who will and won’t believe God, and have it credited to them as righteousness). There are some who would say that since God already knows the outcome, it is predetermined, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. That is fatalism, another heresy.

    God the Father’s eternal perspective is what allowed/allows/will allow Him to see us through the righteousness of Christ. God saw Christ on the cross and resurrected before time even began. He is able to see us through that lens, and Christ, being both God and man, can see it the same way. I believe that is part of the reason that Christ, being perfect and just as well as the Father, was able to die on the cross for our sins while we were yet sinners. In God’s eyes, the payment for sin had already taken place. It is similar to those who have direct deposit. You may electronically pay your bills in advance, knowing that at the appropriate time the funds will be transferred by your employer into your bank account on predetermined dates. Otherwise, you would need to wait to schedule the online payment of bills, because you would need to be sure that the money would be there. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit saw Jesus’ successful resurrection before anything was created.

    We are each given free will. Just because you observe something doesn’t mean that you are actively interfering with its course of action, or forcing an outcome. Based on your knowledge and wisdom, you can sometimes accurately predict the outcome of a situation. Additionally, God has the right as Creator to interfere with the course of His creation, and will move Heaven and Earth for anyone who is willing to seek him. And God will use others who don’t seek Him because He IS sovereign and has every right to do with His creation as He desires. God’s very name, YHWH, means, “I am He who exists, and is dynamically involved in your life”.

    We must keep in mind that the very nature of God is that He is Good. We have a limited perspective in all things, because we do not know all things. But God does know all things, and what appears to us to be unjust is merely our inability to see things through an eternal perspective – His perspective. Additionally, when we believe that God is unjust, we are intentionally or inadvertently attempting to impose our own views of justice and righteousness over those of Sovereign God.

    In all things, when wrestling with difficult concepts, take the whole counsel of God into account. Then allow God to show you the truth in His word (James 1:5-8, 2 Timothy 3:16).

    Calvinists believe that no person is saved because of their individual decision to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to repent, to confess Jesus as the Christ, nor to be baptized in water.

    Calvinists believe God selects certain people for salvation and then forces them to believe, to repent, and to confess. They believe water baptism is not essential for salvation, period.

    Calvinist believe all Christians are saved by grace alone.

    ERROR 1: Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.(NASB)

    Calvinists erroneously believe that saving faith is the gift mentioned here. The gift is salvation, not faith.(NOTE: Have been saved.)

    Calvinists mistakenly understand that, not as a result of works, means believing in Jesus is a work forbidden as a term for salvation. Jesus has a different view than John Calvin.

    John 6:28-29 There they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”(NASB)

    How do men come to believe?

    Romans 10:12-17…….So faith comes from hearing, hearing by the word of Christ.(NASB)

    Faith comes by hearing, not by having the gift of a saving faith inherited because God imputed faith at conception for a selected few.

    Works that do not save.

    Romans 3:20 because by works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.)NASB)

    Keeping the Law of Moses cannot save anyone.

    Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.(NASB)

    God does not save because of the good deeds men do.

    Neither, faith, repentance, confession, nor immersion in water are keeping the Law of Moses nor are they good deeds. (John 3:16, Acts 3:19, Romans 10:9, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38)

    ERROR 2: Ephesians 1:1-7…..4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intentions of His will……(NASB)

    Calvinists erroneously contend that a certain few were predestined for salvation and that all others would burn in hell.

    God predestined, that all who become Christians will be saved. God did not pre-select which individuals would become Christians.

    Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared , bringing salvation to all men, (NASB)

    God’s grace in available to all men. God does not force His grace on any man. God grace is only withheld from those who reject His terms for salvation.


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