Ask someone to really define legalism and you are likely to get a dozen different approaches to the term. As one who previously lived in the suffocating world of legalism and has been wonderfully evacuated from its graceless and arrogant grip, I love to read the thoughts of someone who really “gets it” when it comes to a topic that has the potential to really set people off when we handle it carelessly.
Many offer a knee-jerk reaction to even the term legalismand would deny that it is ever appropriate to use the term to describe a system of rules other than when appliedto the issue of salvation. Indeed, one definition of legalism does involve a system whereby salvation is earned by adherence to some concocted list of “do’s” and “don’t’s“. But like many words, it is possible to have more than one definition for the term. And one, very valid definition, involves an effort to achieve God’s favor or spiritual status byone’s adherence to a list of rules or regulations. Whereby, one definition damns the soul, the other definition diminishes grace and creates bondage (not to mention createsa high-likelihood of pride, arrogance and pharisaicism in the life of the legalist).
Some try to accuse those who oppose a rules-driven system of Christian living as being against personal holiness, Biblical separation and/or standards of conduct. Such an accusation is often the first defense of the intellectually lazy. Few who are alert enough to recognize the devastating affects of legalism are sotheologically shallowand spiritually libertine to justify an absence of Godliness in the life of the truly converted. By using the false dichotomy of “rules — you are either for’em or against’em” they are simply refusing to acknowledge a position that proposesthat the problem is not with rules in general or per se.
Those who oppose legalism have myriad problems with what it produces in the life of the adherent.They have problemswith systems that make rules the standard by which godliness is evaluation.They oppose the arrogance that goes hand-in-hand with any of our efforts to live in self-attained righteousness.They have issueswith the hyper-critical and controlling nature that frequently corresponds with those who are externally oriented toward those who believe in the Believer’s Liberty (not to be confused with “License”.)The have problems with the hypocritical attitude of those who would elevate external compliance to what are often extra-Biblical standards to near-doctrinal levels of importance while ignoring the clearly Biblical admonitions of Scripture against such practices that are of a more internal (not to mention eternal) nature such as pride, disharmony, disunity, contentiousness, critical spirits, competitiveness and personal self-control.They rejectan atmosphere thatlegalism creates when institutionalized that leads to pervasive assumptions of distrust,an eagerness to assume theworst in others anda willingness tobelieve the negativereports of others without firstgoing through aBiblical process.The strugglewith a harshness that is often demonstrated wherein it is more convenient to “separate” than dialogue or even agree to disagree agreeably over non-essentials.They resenta spirit that squelches individual soul-automony/liberty and often elevates those who are in positions of authority to unBiblical levels of controland influence on matters of questionable significance.They rejectthe oft-used tactic of manipulation by guilt or misuse of Scripture.They oppose anytendency to try to make the Bible say things that it simply does not say. THESE are the real matters which drive many of us who oppose the presence of legalism in so many corners of historic fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. (And perhaps I should note here that I did not exhaust my personal list ofproblems with legalism in the paragraph above.)
Many who would oppose legalism are as conservative followers of Christ as you would ever find. It’s not that they reject Biblical standards of holiness. It’s not that they are theological liberals. It’s not that they are committed to a journey or even a drift toward Christian libertarianism in regards to holiness. Such accusations are bogus and the tired and cliche’d tactics of those who lack the intellectual stamina to truly debate the fundamental issue at stake. Holiness is a product of devotion, not duty and not discipline. When we love God first, best and most, when we allow Him Lordship in our life, when we yield to His Holy Spirit, when we inculcate His Word into our hearts, character and minds — holiness is produced. And it’s not artificial, superficial or temporary. It is a work of the Holy Spirit — not of man.
So with that introduction, might I invite the readers of “Whirled Views” to visit an article that was posted at SharperIron.org with the permission of the author, Martha Peace (who is a blessed and gifted author that has influenced many ladies to godly living) entitled “I Just Love Rules, Don’t You?”. You may find the article by clicking HERE.