Legalism Acts 15:1-5; Romans 14:1-23
Sin can manifest itself in a myriad of ways within the local church. When we think of sinfulness within the body of Christ, we normally think about such sins as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, drug abuse, etc. These sins are certainly “No-no’s” in the church, but one of the most prevalent sins of the believer is often either over looked or justified.
The sin of Legalism! On occasion, I preach on the subject that I will preach on today because it is an area of sin that remains problematic in our fundamental churches. Liberal churches have little or no problem with it because there is no strict adherence to the Scripture and every one does that which is “right in his own eyes.” Though it does show occasionally in other churches, legalism—as a rule—is a fundamentalism problem!
I have said often and will reiterate again that knowledge without compassion is a dangerous thing! With great knowledge come great responsibility and that responsibility encompasses our relationship with not only the world but with each other.
The key verse of Romans 14 is verse 12. God requires a personal accounting at the Judgment Seat of Christ and that should be our concern. I am all for standards and holy living. I believe that it is the obligation of the believer to be non-conformist when it comes to the standards set by the world. We will give an account for the knowledge that we have and our testimony of the grace of God in this world, but THIS WILL BE A PERSONAL ACCOUNTING TO GOD—NOT TO MAN!
I want to call your attention to verse 10. The verse actually speaks of judgments being made by both the pharisaical brother and the brother that claims liberty in grace. The more “liberal” brother can look down on the pharisaical brother and be just as wrong in his judgments. Such words as “legalists, etc., become “straw men” that the liberal uses to vindicate his loose standard of living. Chapter 15:1 says, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” This verse speaks of the “brother at liberty” as the strong.
When studying chapter 14, it immediately becomes obvious that the “weak” brother is the one who “eateth herbs.” I am not against a vegetarian who does so simply by personal preference. In the American Indian vocabulary, a vegetarian is one who does not know how to hunt! By “eateth herbs,” the Holy Ghost is speaking of one who abstains from meats because of “religious conviction.” You can live on a “Hallelujah Diet” as far as I am concerned and be right with God. You can live on a “Hog Diet” as far as I am concerned and still be right with God. You may see God a little sooner though!
Colossians 2:20-23 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
The “Eye of the Pharisee” is found in verse 10. He is characterized by the judgment of others. The Bible teaches self-judgment! I can preach on not judging one another until I am blue in the face and the problem continues to persist because the Pharisee can only see through the “eye of the Pharisee!”
1 Corinthians 11:31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
Matthew 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men’s shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers.
John 9:39 -41 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
H. Our Lord condemned legalism!
- Legalism Violates The Fellowship Of Believers – vs. 3-4 – When believers stand argue their “convictions” and “preferences,” it is just that: an argument! What I stand for is between the Lord and I! What you stand for is between the Lord and you! When what we stand for becomes an issue between you and me, it divides the fellowship of the church. Despise – to look down on with contempt or aversion.
- Legalism Withstands The Man Of God – Acts 15:1-2, 5 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question… 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses. (The enemy of Christ was the Pharisee! Even God’s man cannot withstand the scrutiny of the “letter of the law,” as can no one else. They will hold him to a holy standard that no man can attain to or they will hold him to “their” standard that even cannot live up to. Pharisees are not “followers,” they are “leaders.” They must have “followers” in order to lead! Pharisees are not “students,” they are “teachers.” They must have “students” in order to teach! Pharisees are not “edifiers,” they are “destroyers!”)
- Legalism Is Detrimental To Evangelism – Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (The Lord called the Pharisees “hypocrites.” Have you ever heard the lost say that they would not come to church and sit on the pews with all of those hypocrites? Most of the time, their claims are unjust but, on occasion, they are right! The lost hear what the Pharisee says and then see how the Pharisee both acts and reacts! How many times have I heard of people who have said, “I will never come to your church as long as “so-in-so” is there!” Or, “If he (or she) is a Christian, I do not want to be one!” Or, “If they are going to Heaven, I do not want to go there!” Or, “If that is the way their God is, then I do not want their God!”)
- Legalism Drives Away The New Families And New Believers – Matthew 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. (Pharisees automatically “migrate” to new “blood.” They are proselyters! Grace teaches the new converts while vchastises them! It is not that they do not want to get right with God. God is merciful, compassionate, longsuffering, and gentle with the new believer. They leave because they cannot live up to the standards and expectations of the Pharisee. I am still glad that, when I was newly saved, people let God work in my heart as I heard the Word of God preached. God “grew” me at His pace and His way was perfect!)
2 Corinthians 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
- Legalism Eventually Destroys the Pharisee! – Luke 11:52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. (A key is made to unlock a door. Grace is the key that unlocks the door to the believer. Grace brings both love and liberty to the believer and is the key to holy living.)
Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (I am so glad that I was saved by GRACE! I am so glad that I have been taught by GRACE!)
Conclusion: Beware of becoming legalistic. All of us have that potential! Pharisees not only destroy those around them, but eventually destroy themselves because—even they cannot live up to the letter of the law! We want to have a good, separated church. We want to have a loving, kind church. I believe that God can reconcile these two positions. The key to holy living is not standards set but seeing God’s people fall in love with Him!