Legalism by definition is..... the attempt of self-atonement for the purpose of self-glorification and ends up in self-worship. A legalist is anyone who behaves as if he can win favor with God through his own personal performance. Basically legalism in a nut shell is..... an attempt to earn your salvation by contributing your works to the work accomplished by Jesus on the cross. In others works, it's a "Christ-plus" message. This is something that has plagued the church for centuries........Why do I say that? We can see throughout the New Testament this happening all over the place; especially in the church! A prime example of this found in scripture is in Acts 15:1. "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." There is hree things legalism leads a life to........First, legalism ultimately is a joyless life....because you live by this critical lifestyle that is so demanding because you need to win God’s favour all the time. Second, legalism demands uniformity......when you find legalism you will find people who dress the same way and use the same speech, posture, and manners......sometimes even the same facial expressions......it’s almost cultish. Third, legalism produces a surface faith.......because its adherents emphasize the things which are not really important....which leaves one to a shallow self righteousness, which has damnable consequences. Charles Swindoll said these words about legalism.....“You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here's how - guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do's and don'ts publicly but hypocritically practice them privately... yet never own up to the fact that its hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it - emotional and spiritual damage will occur.” Paul Tripp said “Human legalism leads to human self-righteousness. Human self-righteousness denies the need for the saving, enabling grace of Christ. Human righteousness embraces the cruelest of Satan's lies, that a person can be righteous by keeping the law. If that were true, there would have been no need for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.” The Pharisee’s were prime examples of a legalism and it has continued to permeate throughout church history!
• How dare you heal this man on the Sabbath?
• How dare you eat with unclean people?
• How dare you sit with sinners?
• How dare you?
We still see this happening around us today in different ways! Especially in the Roman Catholic circles......works based salvation...their Worship of Mary. In the United Church of Canada, The Salvation Army....with their works based salvation. Seventh Day Adventist with their special dietary foods and their Saturday worship. Even in some Baptist circles...especially down in the East Coast with their KJV only churches. But! It comes down to this underlining truth! A wrong view of God and a twisted understanding of scripture. A major unawareness or ignorance to the truth of the Gospel message. I don’t say these things to make myself feel big......but until my last breath I will warn and expose anyone who does not hold to the true Gospel. Why? Remember what Paul said to the church of Galatia? “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Gal 1:8-9.......And as we have seen over the past few weeks! We know that Christ is the only way to find freedom over life and death. [The supremacy of Christ found in the Gospel]. Paul reminds the church and us that we are free and complete in Christ alone! (2:6-15)......This is the Gospel promise! We have been freed from the bondage of sin, legalism, regulations made by the traditions of men which is empty and worthless. Look at what Paul writes next........ (2:v16-v23) Paul mentions things like.......
• Food & drink......as seen in (Leviticus 11)
• Special feasts....... as seen in (Leviticus 25)
• New moon celebrations....... found in (Num 28:11-14)
• The Sabbath...... as told in (Exodus 20:9-11)
What is Paul saying? These Jewish religious festivals are not important or never where important? No......These laws were given to mark Israel as God’s distinct people and to discourage them from intermingling with surrounding nations. What Paul is saying is......For example! We no longer celebrate the Sabbath, because we worship on the Lord’s Day! This is the first day of the week. (Rev 1:10). In Luke 24:1-3 it says “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Sunday is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ! (John 20). Another example of why these are not central anymore! Jesus [Himself] specifically said when it came to the matter of food or drink “thus he declared all food is clean!” (Mark 7).
We need to embrace and realize that when Christ came, He fulfilled them all! The Gospel is complete in Christ. That’s why Paul said “these are the shadow of things to come....” (v17) The word “shadow” is where we get the English word for “photograph” As John MacArthur said “a shadow has no reality; the reality is what makes the shadow. Jesus Christ is the reality to which the shadows pointed.” Which means.......all the rituals of the Law in the Old Testament were like a negative or a picture. They were just pictures of Christ.....Now that Christ has come, we have the reality and we don’t need the picture anymore. So my question is......Why should we go back and look at a picture? This is what the religious where trying to make Gentile Christians do! When we are forced to keep traditions and rituals in order to find favour with God, all its doing is separating us further from His grace found in the complete work of the cross. A prime example is Paul as he pours his heart out in the third chapter of Philippians (Phil 3:1-15).......Legalism only leads to one thing and that is a dead end! Why? Because we are trying to be righteous in our own strength....we are trying to win His favour or His love by our duty! Look at what else Paul warns the church about.......(v18). Asceticism means..... One who retires from the customary business of life, and devotes himself to the duties of piety and devotion; a hermit.......a monk type lifestyle! It’s a self righteous humility that Paul is saying! I deny myself certain things because I’m trying to please God! It’s a self-abasement. Which in reality it’s a false humility or a bogus humility it’s fake! It’s what we would call today “spiritual snobs”.......Sadly this delusion leads them to the worship of angels? .......But the bible is very clear about the worship of angels! Jesus said "'.....You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Matt 4:10. The apostle John was rebuked for this very thing.....by an angel “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." Rev 22:8-9. See, to worship angels is to deny the truth that Jesus is not our mediator between God and man...which is clearly found in (1 Tim 2:5).
Not only did they worship angels! They believed by their self humility that they received special revelation or visions from God which ultimately it brings you into a [so-called] higher level of spirituality. And in order to find true salvation! They needed have those special visions as well! [Jesus plus message]. But the sad reality is that..... it was never real [truthful] (v18c) “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” . A prime example...... Joseph Smith in his visions when he translated the twisted tail found in the Book of Mormon. Oral Roberts when he said Jesus told him to build the City of Faith Medical and Research Center........Which by the way went bankrupt in 8 years after the built was finished in 1981.
Let me ask you! Why do you think people who are void of the Spirit seek after such people or such practices?They fear they are missing something! The glue that holds their salvation together. They need something else to make their salvation seem real! Go to your Heresy Christian book store and see for yourself the books written on a higher power of spiritual living or mystical experiences! This is what the false teachers were spewing out their mouths! We see it all the time in North America! It’s that I have entered into that deeper stage of spirituality [whatever that is] This is a false teaching and should be rebuked right away! Because this form of so-called Gospel truth is a lie from the pit of Hell.....and sadly we have had this warning for the past 2000 years.
2 Peter 2:1-3 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep."
The root problem of all this can be found in (v19) It’s entirely a man centered gospel and not the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because....“he or she has lost their connection to the Head” Who is the Head? The answer can be found back in chapter one (1:v18)........Christ is the head! Our death in Christ has freed us from “elemental spirits” the demonic powers of this world. Paul has sounded a clear warning calling us the true church to look at things as they really are! (v20-v23). There is an article that Royal Robbins [a professional mountain climber] wrote for Sports Illustrated about seeing things as they are! “If we are keenly alert and aware of the rock and what we are doing on it, if we are honest with ourselves and our capabilities and weaknesses, if we avoid committing ourselves beyond what we know is safe, then we will climb safely. For climbing is an exercise in reality. He who sees it clearly is on safe ground, regardless of his experience or skill. But he who sees reality as he would like it to be, may have his illusions rudely stripped from his eyes when the ground comes up fast.”
The reality is this! In Him we have been made full......but we can lose the benefits of that fullness very easily.....but being deceived into..... Legalism.....self righteousness and mysticism. We do not have to follow this path in order to win God to find salvation. This unspiritual and puffed up way of thinking leads a person to believe in themselves over Christ. Which is a false profession leading to God’s pure wrath and judgement for all eternity? As I said in my title.....”Legalism can be lethal” This form of worship or lifestyle is nothing more than broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Remember what Jeremiah wrote....“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jer 2:13.....As Horatius Bonar said “The gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world; nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved - loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness.” The Gospel is complete in Christ and we must hold fast to Christ in whom we have been made complete.