This is a much often used word that has been defined to try and destroy those that one disagrees with. My desire is to look at this word from a Biblical position and not a personal position. We need to begin in Acts 15:1.
Act 15:1 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. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
We know and believe that according to the Bible, one is saved by grace through faith. We believe that there is not one thing a person can do besides believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation. We happen upon these Pharisees that said it was needful for these to be circumcised and to keep the law of Moses.
Act 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
Here is legalism. It takes living the law to get to heaven. I take this as a Biblical definition of legalism. We have many legalistic Christian religions in the world. Most Baptists are not legalistic. Here is where the rub is taking place today for so many accusations being tossed out calling a brother legalistic. An often heard refrain today is – God will meet you where you are at – certainly this is true. One question: how often have you heard this statement added on – but if you are saved, God will not leave you there? When one is saved, they are changed. Paul made some statements to the Ephesian brethren that we quite possibly gloss over because they are inconvenient truths.
Eph 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
The above passage is simply preparing us for chapter 2 which is a declaration of change in one that is saved. There is a call for a spirit of wisdom instead of emotion. There is a call for revelation and knowledge, not ignorance. My understanding is that from the time we are saved we are learning and our life is changing and conforming to the life of Christ. Chapter 2 really starts to open us up to what we should become. We have been “quickened”, that is made ALIVE whereas before we were DEAD in trespasses and sins.
”Eph 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
These verses truly condemn us when God meets us where we are and we trust and believe in Christ and are gloriously saved and continue to dwell in our sins and live in the same mess and squalor we were in before we were saved. I hear it now, you can’t judge me, GOD knows my heart. Let this scripture judge and condemn you.
Eph 4:18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But ye have not so learned Christ; 21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.
The Bible speaks very eloquently about the type of person we should be. God’s Word lays out a lifelong plan of how those that truly love the LORD are displaying that love to GOD and those around them by continually putting aside each burden of sin and so revealing to others, not by mouth alone, but by our everyday life, we are a child of the King. I rejoice with those pastors that are teaching their people to cast off every weight of sin and truly let the light of Christ shine brighter everyday. This is not legalism. It is salvation by grace.
Eph. 2:10“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
”Now you may quibble that these good works are spreading the gospel to the lost by telling them. That is true, but if your life does not reflect what you are, your mouth has not convinced the lost because your life is a lie. Many years ago we had a young man join our church that had just moved into our community. He was looking for a job and claimed he was a steel worker. He had to get his tools when he went to the union hall. They were his bonafides that he was a steel worker and without those, he would not be selected for a job. We as Christians have bonafides that declare we are Christians, born again and it is the life we lead. Legalists? No! We are just not ashamed of our Savior therefore we do not live like the world. We do as James says, Our life our works our deeds delare us as saved and witnesses of our Savior. Legalists, no, simply living it.