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.

Legalism and God – 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Everything God Created Is Good

1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Demonic Deception

The devil has been at it since the beginning.  He has some direct responsibility with the fall of man, and continues to lash out at God in the only way he knows how – by interfering in the lives of the very beings that God created to bear His image.  Not every spirit is of God, and many have fallen prey to the teachings of evil spiritual beings.  Even now, people struggle with spiritual strongholds in their lives because they have believed something that is not true, and hold to those teachings as truth.

For instance, baptism is an ordinance of the faith.  This is something that disciples should very much desire to do.  However, baptism as an act is not required for the salvation.  Even Abraham, the first patriarch of God’s people, was shown to be saved by believing God which was credited to him as righteousness.

Heretical Hypocrites

Many who are misled are now misleading others, convinced that they alone have the true interpretation of scripture (because it is at odds with what others are saying, therefore everyone else is wrong…).  While we are all sinners, and each of us has a sin nature that impedes our ability to properly and completely follow God (rather than our sinful desires),  this can lead to a life of hypocrisy.  It is very dangerous to lecture people to do something, and then do the exact opposite in private (or worse, publicly!).  And while each of us struggle with the sinful weakness that is within each of us, we must be honest with ourselves and others lest we pass ourselves off as someone who has overcome when we have not.

Many areas of life are affected, and many deceptions are being taught even today.  Cults have arisen around people who say that marriage is evil, and that everyone should stay celibate.  Others – in Paul’s day – were Jews who were still adhering to the Levitical practices of abstaining from eating food that was deemed unclean.  Even Peter was called on this when he had a vision from God in preparation for accepting the Gentiles as being called by God.

But there is the other end of the spectrum where people believe that they are now free to do anything that they want because grace will cover any wrongdoing.  This does not take into account that we are responsible for what we do in the flesh.  We are given grace to give us time to learn the ways of God, not as an excuse to gratify our sinful nature with its desires and the resulting serious consequences.

Thoughtfully Thankful

Paul understood that we are to receive all things with thankfulness, rather than to impose the ceremonial law on them.  Elijah was a prime example.  When sequestered during the great drought that he had announced, God provided him with bread and meat from ravens (unclean creatures under the ceremonial law) to eat every day as he bid his time at the brook in the Kerith Ravine.  We are to have hearts of contentment and thanksgiving, for it is God who provides for all of our needs.  Regardless of the size and type of bounty, we can be assured that God is the one who has provided for our needs.

Created and Consecrated

Paul tells us that we should do all things in thanksgiving to God who created all things as good.  We can enjoy what God provided to us in thanksgiving, not concerning ourselves with ceremonial law.  We need to keep in mind that we are still responsible for what we do.  Paul elsewhere has said:

I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”-but I will not be mastered by anything.

It is important to realize that although we have freedom in Christ, we are not to abuse this freedom.  We are still to conduct ourselves in a righteous manner, for we are image-bearers of God.  Paul also has said:

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.

If in doubt, ask yourself “Is what I am about to do/say/think going to honor and glorify God?”  If you cannot answer “yes” to that question, then why should you do it?

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I doing all things with thanksgiving to God, for His glory, in light of His mercy and grace?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have provided all things for us to enjoy.  But even as You instructed Adam to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, keep me now from anything that would cause me to stumble.  Help me to accept that all things were created by You are good, and that while some things may not cause others to stumble, they may cause me to trip and fall.  Give me wisdom and discernment to abstain from anything that would cause me to stumble, and to accept their use by others.  Provide me with the strength and character to ensure that I am not mastered by anything, but rather that through self-control in submission to the Holy Spirit all things that I do, with thanksgiving to You, would be to Your glory.  And if I find that after a period of abstinence that something still has too great a hold in my life, help me to remove it or seek Godly council for help to stay away from whatever may cause me to fall.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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