A Pitfall of Legalism

Recently our Sunday School class has been studying the book of Galatians. You may recall that much of this book deals with the problem of false teaching in the church. The particular error confronting the Galatians was legalism. A group known as the Judaizers insisted that you could not be a Christian without first becoming a Jew — this included not only circumcision for men but following all the Jewish laws.

As we talked this over, i realized that legalism is not just an error, it also leads us into sin. How? Well, Jesus said that the law could be summed up as follows:

“ Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and most important commandment. 3The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ Luke 22:37-39

Notice that this requires our focus to be outward –toward God and others. Legalism on the other hand, encourages an inward focus. We are concerned about ourselves, and how well we are keeping the commandments. If we’ve messed up, we’re worried about how to fix things, or what to do next. If we’re doing well, we may become self-righteous and boastful. Either way, it doesn’t leave much room for God and the people around us. It’s truly all about me.

This is the very definition of sin: turned in upon ourselves. My husband is fond of calling himself “a recovering pharisee.” We all have to struggle with that mindset. We like to think we can earn God’s approval. It makes more sense. However, the Gospel has set us free from that thinking. Don’t be foolish and fall back into that pitfall.


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