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Freedom, Not Legalism November 1, 2010

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Colossians 2:6-23
When we are saved, a miraculous thing happens. We are saved from our sins and the penalty of sin which is death. We are saved from the judgment. We are saved from God’s wrath. We are saved from the condemnation that comes from the Law. We are saved “from” all this. But, we are also saved “to” something. We are saved to a relationship with God through Jesus. We are saved to a life of freedom. Jesus said of Himself that He did not come to condemn people of their sins. Rather, He came to seek and to save that which was lost. We were lost. We were afflicted. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. There are many out there however, that put restrictions and limitations on exactly what this means. Their religion is based upon a set of rules and restrictions, laws and limitations. This should not be. Their religion is based upon comparisons of righteous acts and not on Biblical president. They are Pharisees making rules they themselves will not lift a finger to fulfill and whose expectations are not in line with scripture. They are disconnected from the Head. They attempt to impose conviction on others with their legalism. But, that is not their role. Conviction comes only from God, inspired by the Spirit unto the heart of the believer. Conviction does not come from some legalistic Pharisee that has interpreted the truth for himself but tries to impose it upon everyone. Rules and regulations that come from these people are shallow. They do not measure up against the weight and authority of scripture. Only the commands that come from scripture which were inspired by God, communicated by the Spirit have the authority and the ‘weight’ to convict of sin. True conviction is God inspired. It is intended that you or I stop doing some sinful thing that separates us from
God or dilutes our relationship with Him. Or, it is to begin a new thing that will strengthen our relationship with Him. This is true righteousness. It is not based on self declared righteousness nor false pretenses of holiness based upon the appearance of the action only. It is not a person’s responsibility to impose conviction on others. That is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit.
There are those out there, and our churches are full of them, that would call the freedom that we are saved into when we accept Christ, sinful. People will only do (or not do) what they are told for so long before they begin to question it. Newly converted people and those who are seeking do not always want to know what they cannot do, or what is no longer permissible. Rather, they are more interested in what they can do. Legalism does not reveal the freedom that we have in Christ. It is a series of self imposed laws designed to govern. But, where did these laws and restrictions come from? Who says this is bad? Who told this person never to do thus? Who was it that had so much influence over another person’s life that they chose not to think for themselves and instead went along with whatever this person said? How were they so convinced that they chose not to think for themselves? How were they so convinced that they chose to listen to a person rather than to God?
The ultra fundamental among us impose rules and restrictions against others that they themselves will not lift a finger to up hold. The ultra religious among us would have us believe that the only way to enjoy our salvation is in church attendance and following a set of restrictions and guidelines. But, this is not freedom. This is tyranny. This is pharisaism at its height. It is legalism. It is fundamentalism, and it is ruining us. The ultra religious among us have sapped our joy by putting demands upon us all. Sounds like another group I heard of once. The problem with such legalistic restrictions is that they are based upon nothing more than comparisons and feelings. Jesus pointed out the flaws of the Pharisees. They had Him crucified.
As Christians, we are supposed to be different. We are supposed to be different from the world. But, I believe we should also be different from those who claim to be all religious and spiritual yet who do not seem to live up to their own demands, let alone the righteousness of Christ. Yet, these people have all the answers. They say, “Now I’m not a preacher but…” Or, “Now I don’t know everything but…” Then they list all the things that you are doing wrong in your walk. They list all the ways you could improve your religious practices. They set parameters on what is preached, where you go for entertainment, what you eat and drink, how you celebrate and so on. They make lists of, “thou shalt nots.” As long as they do this or not do that like so and so does, then they believe themselves to be better than another and therefore more righteous and more deserving of God’s favor. But, I am not living a life of comparison. I am not judged by these people. I am held to an impossible standard that in and of myself I cannot obtain. I need a Savior. And, in my Savior there is freedom from the Law because He fulfilled the Law. True spirituality is not based upon comparisons. We do not obtain heaven by being better than someone else. We obtain heaven by having a relationship with Jesus.

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1. David Geminden - December 30, 2011

Some of my thoughts on the modern theological definitions of legalism.

I got saved in late 1963. In early 1964, I enlisted for a four year hitch in the Army Security Agency. At Fort Devens, Massachusetts I finally got started studying the Bible in earnest and attended a Bible study group of soldiers that met at one of the chapels on post. All the folk in that Bible study group held to a definition of legalism and a legalist that only covered those who taught a false gospel of reliance on works to earn or help earn salvation. After my four year hitch, I started attending civilian churches and continued studying the Bible with other Christians in those churches. To my amazement I found that a high percentage of Christians were calling other Christians legalists if they were abstaining from some doubtful things that they did not abstain from. After a few years, it became obvious to me that the theological definitions of a legalist and legalism held by the majority of modern Christians, including fundamentalists and evangelicals, seemed to me to be very broad and relative because they include all the characteristics of and/or both the common characteristics of the Pharisees, of the false gospel teachers described in Galatians (Galatianists), of the false gospel teachers described in Colossians (Colossianists), of the weak conscience Christians described in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, and any characteristic in other Christians that to them had the appearance of strictness. In all my years of studying the Bible, I have never found the terms legalism and legalist or equivalent terms in the Bible. Those broad and relative theological definitions were very perplexing to me. Especially, since they included the characteristics of weak conscience Christians in the definitions when they are significantly different from the false gospel teaching Pharisees, Galatianists and Colossianists in the Bible? The Apostle Paul described the characteristics of weak conscience Christians in detail, but he never used an all-inclusive term like the modern imaginary jackelope type theological concepts of legalism and a legalist.

Here is a shortened list of some of the theological definitions for legalism and a legalist that I have encountered over the years since I got out of the Army.
1. “Legalism is the belief that a person must act a certain way so that God will bless, help, and prosper him. Legalism tells why one does or does not do something.” —— By Tod M. Kennedy. The full document can be found at http://associateship/ministry_files/The_Reading_Room/Outlines_1/Legalism.
2. “Legalism is a religious system that teaches that a person can do something to earn or merit salvation or blessing from God. — It is legalism.” —– The full document can be found at http://reapportionment/~would/ice/legalism.
3. “Legalism is the compelling of another believer to practice or not practice something not expressly commanded or forbidden under Grace.” —— By Pastor Pat Forrest. The full document can be found at http://companionway/~Forrest/legalism.
4. “Legalism is a philosophy of religious practice wherein faith is expressed by adherence to a command and obedience infrastructure. The place where legalism finds its most ubiquitous expression is in the evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist community.” —— The full document can be found at http://whatshername/counseling/journl2.ht.
5. “Legalism is the teaching that sinners are saved (justified, sanctified and accepted with God) upon the basis of their own works of legal obedience.” —— These quotes are from a document titled “Damnable Heresies” by Don Fortnight. The full document can be found at http://Graceland-for-today.com/42.ht.
6. “Legalism is that idea that one earns or merits salvation by their obedience.” —— This quote is from a document titled “Keeping The Commandments Of God” and can be found at http://chickenhearted/cont rib/exec_outlines/NT/NT_05.ht.
7. “Legalism is conforming to a code or system of deeds and observances in the energy of the flesh, hoping to gain the blessing and favor of God by such acts. Legalism invariably denies the principle of grace and exalts the pride of man. The book of Galatians was written as a ‘magna Carta’ against such practices”. ——- This definition was given by Charles R. Swindall in the year of 1967 in a document called “Friday Bible Class 759” while he was Pastor at the Waltham Evangelical Free Church at Waltham, Massachusetts.
8. “Legalism is the belief that keeping the law and its requirements is essential for salvation and Christian growth (Gal. 3:1-3).” —— By David L. Hocking over a radio broadcast program.
9. “Legalism is an attitude, a mentality based on pride. It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself. A legalist assumes the place of authority and pushes it to unwarranted extremes.” “— In so many words, legalism says, ‘I do this or I don’t do that, and therefore I am pleasing God.'” “Or ‘If only I could do this or not do that, I would be pleasing to God.'” “Or perhaps, ‘These things that I’m doing or not doing are the things I perform to win God’s favor.'” —— by (Charles R. Swindoll, “The Grace Awakening”, pages 81and 82, published in 1990).
10. “The great weapon of authoritarianism, secular or religious, is legalism: the manufacturing and manipulation of rules for the purpose of illegitimate control”.—— By Daniel Taylor, “The Myth of Certainty” (Waco, TX: Word, 1986), pages 34-36.
11. “Legalism may be defined as a fleshly attitude which conforms to a code for the purpose of exalting self. The code is whatever objective standard is applicable to the time; the motive is to exalt self and gain merit rather than to glorify God because of what He has done, and the power is the flesh, not the Holy Spirit” —– by (Charles Ryrie, “The Grace of God”, page 117).
12. “It cannot be emphasized too strongly that having to do something is not legalism, but the wrong attitude is —– Israelites had to bring their sacrifices, otherwise they would have suffered certain penalties. It was the attitude toward doing what they had to do that determined whether or not their action was legalistic —— Having to conform to a law is not of itself legalism” —– by (Charles Ryrie, “The Grace of God”, pages 117-118).
13. “The slide over two generations of time, from lordship (where biblical principles were understood and external standards were implemented) to legalism (where biblical principles were ignored and external standards were exalted) to libertinism (where biblical principles are forgotten and external standards are despised) has produced a scandalous variety of Christianity.” (page 114) —— “The effect was the development of a classical form of legalism (conformity to an outward code as a sign of spirituality), which corrupted true spirituality by shifting the focus from the internal to the external.” (pages 138-139) ——- By Douglas R. McLachlan, “Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism”, American Association of Christian Schools, 1993.
14. “Legalism an insistence upon the observation of human regulations, as if one’s fellowship with God were dependent upon that observation. In N. T. times, another form of legalism insisted upon the observation of O. T. rules and ceremony, which had been fulfilled in Christ and thus were no longer binding upon the Christian. The letter to the Galatians was written to attack legalism and assert Christian freedom.” —— From the glossary in “The Believers Study Bible” by Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.
15. “The term legalism commonly denotes preoccupation with form at the expense of substance. While it is now used metaphorically in all areas of human life, it appears to have had a theological origin in the seventeenth century, when Edward Fisher used it to designate ‘one who bringeth the Law into the case of Justification’ (The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 1645). No equivalent term existed in the biblical languages. However, the idea is found in both Testaments.” —— From “Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology” Edited by Walter A. Elwell — Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
Only two of the above definitions confined the definition to a type of false salvation plan, where works are involved in earning salvation. Note, that in the “Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology” they admit that the original concept was confined to a false method of salvation,“one who bringeth the Law into the case of Justification”. Many of the above definitions are very broad and relativity.

I believe that it is important that I now make some comments about the definitions that are found in some English dictionaries. Those definitions are as follows.
1. In the (Webster’s New Collegiate), (Webster’s Clear Type Dictionary) the definition is: Legalism (n) — strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral Code.
2. In the English dictionary (American Heritage Dictionary) the definition is: Legalism (n) — strict and literal adherence to the law.
3. In the (Oxford English Dictionary) definition is: Legalism (n) — 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 savours of that doctrine.
4. In the 1994 (The Merriam Webster Dictionary) the definitions are: Legalism (n) — 1) strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral Code. 2) a legal term.
5. In the 1972 (Second College Edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American language) the definitions are: Legalism (n) — 1) strict, often too strict and literal, adherence to law or to a code. 2) Theol. The doctrine of salvation by good works.
6. In the 1828 Noah Webster’s First Edition of An American Dictionary Of The English Language the word “legalism” is not listed, but the words “legal” and “legality” are listed and do have theological definitions as follows:
Legal (adj)— 1) According to law; as a legal standard or test; a legal procedure. 2) Lawful; permitted by law; as a legal trade. Anything is legal which the laws do not forbid. 3) According to the law of works, as distinguished from free grace; or resting on works for salvation. Scott. Milton. 4) Pertaining to law; created by law.
Legality (n) — 1) Lawfulness; conformity to law. 2) In theology, a reliance on works for salvation.
7. In the 2001 (Webster’s New World College Dictionary) the definitions are as follows:
Legal (adj)— 1) of, created by, based upon, or authorized by law. 2) in conformity with the positive rules of law; permitted by law[a legal act]. 3) that can be enforced in a court of law [legal rights]. 4) of or applicable to lawyers [legal ethics]. 5) in terms of the law [a legal offense]. 6) Theology a) of the Mosaic law. b) of the doctrine of salvation by good works rather than free grace.
Legalism (n) — 1) strict, often to strict and literal, adherence to law or to a code. 2) Theology – the doctrine of salvation by good works. — legalist (n) – legalistic (adj) – legalistically (adv)
Legality (n) — 1) quality, condition, or instance of being legal or lawful 2) legal aspects.
In the past, many English dictionaries usually gave two or more definitions for the word legalism (See definitions 5, 6 and 7 above). Note, in the 1828 Noah Webster’s First Edition of An American Dictionary Of The English Language the word “legalism” is not listed, but the words “legal” and “legality” are listed. One definition is a non-theological definition that defines legalism as “strict, often too strict and literal, adherence to law or to a code.” Another is a theological definition that defines legalism as “the doctrine of salvation by good works – a reliance on works for salvation.” Note: this theological definition is defined as a type of false gospel plan of obtaining salvation. It has always intrigued me as why they give two definitions, one a theological definition and the other a non-theological definition. The first definition “strict, often too strict and literal, adherence to law or to a code”, being a non-theological definition, is a very interesting one, since it does not give any detailed explanation (interpretation) of what the phrase “strict, often too strict and literal, adherence” means. By not giving a detailed explanation of the phrase “strict, often too strict and literal, adherence”, they have left the determination of the exact meaning of that phrase up the whim of each individual person who is judging someone else as to whether or not that person is a legalist guilty of legalism. Because of this very broad and relative definition, some folk actually judge everyone else, except themselves, to be legalists since everyone else is stricter than themselves. This is often the case for many hardened criminals. Non-Christians, especially atheists, agnostics and irreligious people usually with much despite apply this first non-theological definition to true faithful Christians (even strong conscience Christians), which in their eyes are always strict and too strict compared to themselves, and call them legalists. Modern day Christians have followed their example and combined the same broad and relative idea of “strict and often too strict and literal, adherence” to the defining of the theological definitions of a legalist and legalism. Some of the modern authors of modern English dictionaries have been so heavily influenced by this wholesale redefinition of the theological definition of a legalist and legalism by modern Christians that they no longer have two definitions of legalism (that is, a theological and a non-theological), but have actually replaced the two definitions in their dictionaries with one very broad and relative definition of a legalist and legalism (See definitions 1 and 4). This combined definition usually is as follows: “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral Code” (See definitions 1 and 4). Modern Christians lap up this definition from modern English dictionaries “like flies to cow manure”, and use it in a circular reasoning fashion to help justify their illogical, broad and relative theological definitions of a legalist and legalism, which they originally developed using illogical reasoning, of the variety that is used to develop the imaginary critter called a jackelope.

Non-Christians — especially atheists, agnostics and irreligious people, usually with much despite — apply the dictionary non-theological definition of a legalist and legalism to true faithful Christians because in their eyes true Christians are always strict and too strict compared to themselves, I believe that it may be wise for modern Christianity not have theological definitions for the terms “legalist and legalism”. I believe it may be wise to let the world have their dictionary list only their broad and relative definition of a legalist and legalism. Christians should face up to the fact that in the eyes of non-Christians we (true Christians) are strict and too strict for them. Let the world have the words legalist and legalism for their own special buzz-words to describe us (true Christians) with.

I believe the reason why so many Christians easily fall for illogically broad and relative theological definitions of a legalist and legalism is because they want to justify their despite for Christians that have weak consciences about doubtful-things that they don’t have a weak conscience about, and they want to justify their refusal to bear the burden of these weak conscience Christians.

I have also observed, what seems like about 80 to 90% of the time, when Christians used the terms legalist and legalism when referring to other Christians, they were actually referring to Christians that have weak consciences about something that they don’t have a weak conscience about. All this led me to conclude that the primary motive (reason) for modern Christians creating broad and relative theological definitions of legalism and a legalist was for the purpose of reclassifying weak conscience Christians into another critter to justify their despite for Christians that have weak consciences about doubtful-things that they don’t have a weak conscience about, and they want to justify their refusal to bear the burden of these weak conscience Christians.

David Geminden


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