Legalism

Legalism

Legalism is the belief that we can earn favor with God by keeping the law. Legalism, or living under law, is one of three ways we can relate to God. The other two are living under grace and living under a mixture of grace and law. The scriptures plainly state that we are to live solely under grace (Rom. 6:14–15), while warning about the dangers of living under law (Rom. 7:8–9). Yet many people believe they can earn God’s blessings – his acceptance, forgiveness, salvation, and so forth – by keeping the law.

Every Christian comes to salvation by way of grace, but often the new believer finds themselves put under law. “I have to obey the commandments. I have to read my Bible and pray every day. I have to confess my sins and maintain short accounts with God.” However you define the law, your reliance on it is a recipe for disaster. The Galatians relied on the law of circumcision and cut themselves off from Christ.

Someone who lives by the law is called a legalist. They are relying on the flesh instead of walking in the spirit. But the Bible calls such people hypocrites (for those who think they can keep the law are fooling themselves) and unrighteous sinners (because the law is not of faith and anything that is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23, Gal. 3:11–12)).

We died to the law so that we might be joined to Jesus (Rom. 7:3–4). Running back to the law is committing spiritual adultery. What is our proper relationship with the law? We are to have no relationship with the law at all. It is not that we have been made lawless. Rather, we have been given something better. Instead of walking in the old way of the law, we are to walk in the new way of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6, 8:4, Gal. 5:18).

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