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How would you define "Legalism"?

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Legalism is a word that gets thrown around a bit in theological discussions and debates and when on the topic of discipleship. I thought I would toss this out there for discussion among the board: what is your definition of legalism? How did you reach this conclusion? What scriptural passages supports the conclusion? Can you provide an example of legalism you've seen? Conversely, can you give an example of something labeled legalism that really wasn't?


Thanks for sharing. :)

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Legalism refers to an improper fixation on law or codes of conduct for a person to merit or obtain salvation, blessing from God, or fellowship with God, with an attendant misunderstanding of the grace of God. Legalist believe that obedience to the law or a set of rules is the pre-eminent principle of redemption and/or favor with God. The opposite of legalism would be antinomianism which claims that moral laws are not binding on Christian believers.


To answer your questions, an example of legalism that I have seen came in the form of works/righteousness. Also, one holding another to their own personal man-made standard rather than God's. An example might be me quitting smoking, and me lacking grace towards another that struggles with quitting. Suggesting that I am saved and they are not based on my performance.... Another words I am holier than thou in the example. Can I give something labeled legalism that really wasn't? Sure, following the commandments of God. I think that some people do not have a heart after God and they consider all obedience to the Law as hard work and unnecessary. On the other hand there are those that believe they are redeemed by works/performance so... they have no problem holding others up to their own standard of performance.


Legalism is an attempt to gain favor with God or to impress our fellow man by doing certain things (or avoiding other things), without regard to the condition of our hearts before God. Religion apart from God is always trying to fix the outer man to look good to other men, but it neglects the fact that the Lord looks on the heart. At the root of legalism is the sin of pride, because the legalist thinks that he is able to commend himself to God by his own good deeds. Invariably, he is only looking at externals, not at his heart. Also, the legalist’s pride motivates him to exalt himself in the sight of others by his outward behavior, again neglecting to see the corruption of his own heart. Thus legalism denies human depravity and exalts human ability. As such, it is opposed to the gospel of God’s grace. That’s why both Jesus and Paul clashed with the legalists. - bible.org


As far as verses, one can refer to biblical references towards the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, the reason for Jesus' condemnation towards the Pharisees which ostensibly made an attempt to keep God’s Law, having devised and added hundreds of manmade laws. But in so doing, they had shifted the focus from the heart to the outward man. This included elaborate rituals for washing themselves before meals and for cleansing their dishes and utensils. While there was a basis for these practices in the Book of Leviticus 11:33-34; 15:12, the Pharisees had taken them far beyond what God intended.


God bless,


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I believe legalism is extreme allegiance to the law over grace. Legalists are devoted to rules and regulations that they believe will lead to one’s salvation.


According to Colossians 2: 20-23, “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”


I know of a denomination that teaches its followers that if you do not follow the Sabbath, you will burn in hell. But Colossians 2:17 says, “So don't let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.”


Someone who lives a consecrated life, is fully devoted to God and has a genuine personal relationship with God, but does not force their views on anyone may be looked upon as a legalist. However, this is not legalism. Everyone should have their own personal relationship with God and it’s okay if it looks “different” to some people.


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