THE CONSEQUENCES OF LEGALISM
When you came to Jesus Christ, you died to the Law, so that it no longer has any authority over you. But the legalist who casts aside that freedom and puts himself back under the Law suffers the consequences. Paul explained in Galatians 5:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (vv. 1–4)
Legalism puts people under an impossible load. Who could possibly keep the whole Law? One consequence of legalism is the joyless bondage of trying harder, yet continually falling short.
Another consequence is even more serious. What does it mean to be “severed from Christ” and “fallen from grace”? These are two ways of saying the same thing. Legalism cuts us off from the flow of God’s grace.
It’s no coincidence that cult leaders control their people by putting them in bondage to their list of dos and don’ts. Pretty soon the followers are so dependent on the leader that they’re incapable of relating to God or anyone else on their own.
Legalists have the same basic problem. That is, they never know when they’ve done enough to earn God’s favor. Legalism takes you backward in your relationship with God. It is not a way to please God but a problem to be corrected.
THE CORRECTION FOR LEGALISM
Simply stated, the way to correct legalism is to maintain a relationship with God based on grace. Now, let me emphasize that such a relationship does not mean the absence of rules. It means that the rules grow out of the relationship, rather than being the basis of the relationship. It is love that sustains a godly life (see John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
When God saved you, He wrote His Law in your heart and mind (Hebrews 10:16). He wants to relate to you from the inside. What was previously merely an external code is now a matter of the heart, and it comes with the desire to obey and please God.
Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 3:7–13 that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the old covenant, or the Law, his face glowed with God’s glory. But the glory faded, so Moses had to hide his face behind a veil.
But the new covenant of God’s grace isn’t like that. The Bible says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17–18).
In the new covenant, Christ comes to live within us and brings His unfading glory. If we will keep our eyes on Christ, His glory will rub off on us and produce glory within us.