By Michael Wilson
I fall into the trap of thinking that if I just follow the rules, I will be seen as good in the eyes of God. That is a big error. My journey with Jesus must start with faith in Him. From there on, I must follow the commands of my Master to love but I must start with faith.
Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in the Messiah Jesus, even we have believed in the Messiah Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in the Messiah and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. | Galatians 2:16 (NASB)
Here are some key ideas to consider:
Here is a paradox: the Jews sought for righteousness but did not find it, while the Gentiles, who were not searching for it, found it! The reason? Israel tried to be saved by works and not by faith. They rejected “grace righteousness” and tried to please God with “Law righteousness.”
The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible. It is a term we use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. Legalists believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to the Messiah.
Even true believers can be legalistic. We are instructed, rather, to be gracious to one another: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). Sadly, there are those who feel so strongly about non-essential doctrines that they will run others out of their fellowship, not even allowing the expression of another viewpoint.
Many legalistic believers today make the error of demanding unqualified adherence to their own biblical interpretations and even to their own traditions. For example, there are those who feel that to be spiritual one must simply avoid tobacco, alcoholic beverages, dancing, movies, etc. The truth is that avoiding these things is no guarantee of spirituality.