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Boaz Baptist Chronicles

Boaz Baptist Chronicles

When Liberty Becomes Legalism

Posted on 12 January, 2012 at 9:25

As Children of God know all too well, what one believer may consider “good bible,” another might call "foul." Undoubtedly, convictions between believers don't always match up. Since Christian liberty is in play, there is not always a clear solution to every issue. Sometimes, subjects that are crystal clear to one believer is simply a foggy blurr to another.  That’s why the Lord gave us liberty—liberty to weigh in at His leading. Where the Scripture is silent or unclear, it’s our liberty to believe one side, as much as it is for someone else to believe the other.  


Even though liberty is associated with the subjects of Salvation and Christian growth, to refer to someone as legalistic, who, in the subject of Christian Growth, has a different opinion than you, is not proper use of that term.


If someone chooses to believe something different than someone else, it doesn’t mean that the first person is a legalist. It simply means that that person has taken more or less liberty than the second person has chosen to do on that subject.


“For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.” (Romans 14:2)


Imagine, here, how silly it would be to say that “so and so is a legalist, because he ate herbs.”  (Romans 14:2)  Paul said in the same passage “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” (Romans 14:3) Put any subject in Romans 14:2, you will always come up with the same answer: Romans 14:3. Paul said, “…for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?” (I Corinthians 10:29) It shouldn’t be; “…to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4) 


The BIBLICAL idea of legalism…


Legalism refers to any doctrine which states salvation comes strictly from adherence to the law. It can be thought of as a works-based religion. Groups in the New Testament said to be falling into this category include the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Judaizers, and Nicolaitans. Paul said, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen [moved away] from grace." (Galatians 5:4) They are legalists because they emphasized obeying the Law of Moses, in the case of the Pharisees and Scribes, to the letter without understanding the concept of grace. Jesus condemned their legalism in Matthew 23. He, also, said unto them, "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Mark 7:9) The Pharisees love of the praises of men for their strict adherence is said to be a prime example of legalism. (John 12:43)

Another common misunderstanding of legalism is the word law. Law in many places in the Bible refers to the Law of Moses. In Galatians, the Judaizers were trying to insist that salvation required that a person be circumcised prior to obeying the Law of Christ. Galatians 2:16 says, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." The faith here is the Law of Christ and the law here is the Law of Moses. The legalism of the Judaizers was that obedience to the Law of Moses was necessary to be saved. Paul taught just the opposite... "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:2)

(Please, study Acts 15:1-11, here.)

LIBERTY, another misconception...


“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (Galatians 2:4-5)

The liberty that Paul is talking about (above) is not a license, as a Christian, to do anything you want. The liberty he is speaking about is freedom from the Old Testament law—the yoke of bondage. Notice the important word “again,” in Galatians 5:1. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Paul was talking to JEWS who were saved by grace who were now trying to incorporate Old Testament laws and rites into salvation. “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.” (Acts 15:1) This has nothing to do with Christian liberty that Paul talks about in Romans Fourteen.

To conclude…


When the subject of SALVATION comes up, the opposite of liberty is legalism.



When the subject of LIBERTY in Christ comes up, being that “…all things are lawful for…” every believer (I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23), the opposite is NOT legalism.  The opposite is liberty.


“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

Pastor Bob


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