The Dangers of Legalism

This entry is part 44 of 56 in the series Holiness Matters
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One of the most pervasive attackers in the church today is legalism. Many people don’t even realize that they are falling back into it from freedom in Christ. We’ve been so used to legalism in the past and it can be a comfort to us.

But legalism is one of the most dangerous enemies of the Christian. It gives us comfort because it provides all of the rules we need to follow. But these rules will bind us up and keep us as slaves. After all, there’s not a seven or 10 step process for everything in life.

Planning can be useful. But even our plans are laid bare before the Lord and he decides what we do (Proverbs 16:9). Our best laid plans can easily fall off the tracks. And if all we do is trust in our planners and schedules, we will be lost for at least the rest of the day.

Things come up in life. And many of them become urgent. This is just an example of one of the ways that living by rules alone quickly becomes an undesirable lifestyle. Legalism creates an even bigger problem in the spiritual world.

God provides some rules in his Word. And those rules that are black and white are meant for us to follow. There are many situations in our lives that the Bible doesn’t give hard, steadfast rules to follow. What are we to do then?

The Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day made the laws for Israel so stringent that even they couldn’t follow them. And when they put a fence of rules around the laws so that no one would break God’s laws, some of their rules broke them by accident.

My point is that we can’t follow rules all the time. It is much better to look for the principles God gives that apply to every situation. The Bible doesn’t tell us how to deal with peer pressure, but it does tell us how to take counsel. It explains how to deal with persecution when our friends don’t like what we believe and practice.

But most of all our best way to deal with every situation in life is to take it to the Lord in prayer. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and he wants to guide us in every situation. He is forming our character and behavior to be like Christ (Romans 8:29).

Prayer and Bible reading help us to get an idea of the mind and heart of God. We can understand his will for our lives and for the world. There’s nothing better than listening to the Holy Spirit, being open to whatever he wants you to do.

Of course, this isn’t nearly as easy as having a rule for every situation. Relying on praying and asking the Holy Spirit to give you an answer for the situation may take longer than you expect. God may wait for you to fully commit to him in prayer. Some of us just want God to drop the answer on our laps, but I have found that throughout my ministry sometimes listening to God takes a while.

For many this is an inefficient approach. But God doesn’t provide a rule for every situation so that we come to him and ask him. Part of waiting on the Lord is learning how to hear him. God speaks in different ways and as individuals, we hear him in different ways.

But if we don’t want to hear the Holy Spirit, how can we ever know what God truly wants from us? We need to spend the time and effort to learn how to listen to God. There are books and helps all around on hearing God’s voice. But nothing beats the studied and learned approach of knowing how God speaks to you personally.

He may speak through his Word, through prayer, through situations, through other godly people, and maybe even audibly to you. But if you don’t know how to hear him when he speaks, you can’t follow and obey.

Rules are good to get us started. Principles are even better because they help us to apply our life situation to God’s will. The very best way to know what God wants every time is to hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to you. Just as we study Scripture to understand God better, we study the Spirit and the way he gets our attention and speaks to us.

Legalism keeps us from living in the freedom of Christ completely. We’re so busy trying to figure out exactly what God wants without asking him. But you can let go of your rules, jump off of the cliff, and let the Holy Spirit guide you through the winds.

It’s not a mystical experience. But there’s nothing like hearing from the Holy Spirit and knowing exactly what to do because he guides you. Rules help us, but they also bind us up in a cage. We need to live free in the Spirit. The letter of the law isn’t as helpful as following its spirit.

Leave a comment and tell me how you avoid becoming too legalistic in your walk with Christ.

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