Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight. -Romans 3:20
Charges of legalism are rampant in parts of the Christian world. Some seem to gain a lot of satisfaction in calling people names for Jesus. Specifically, some seem to delight in calling legalists those who are against the recreational use of mind altering drugs (alcohol, marijuana, etc.).
Some say legalism is believing something is wrong that is not explicitly stated in the Bible. If that is true, however, then those who oppose slavery are legalists. After all, the Bible does not actually say, “Thou shalt not own a slave.”
Some grant that you can have a quiet personal conviction, but if you say that practice is wrong for others, then you are a legalist. So apparently you can be personally opposed to slavery and be acceptable, but if you think slavery is wrong for others, you are now a card-carrying legalist.
With this definition those who oppose pornographic DVDs are legalists. After all, the Bible says nothing about DVDs, DVD players, TV, or Computers. Some people love loopholes.
With the above definition the list of legalists would be long. The biblical loopholes would be vast. The “non-legalists” can then say, “Ah, the Bible doesn’t exactly, specifically, precisely, in so many words, say not to do it, so go for it!” The Bible, however, gives clear teaching and principles that do cover issues like the ones above. (See Gulf Coast Pastor alcohol articles for July, 2009.)
To some, legalism is simply when you are against anything they’re for. Some have called anyone who opposes sex outside of marriage a legalist. One fellow called others legalists because they would not agree with his getting “spiritually married” to someone when he was still legally married to another.
Sure, people can get too picky, too judgmental, and demand that everyone do exactly what they say. But that’s not legalism. We should be able to consider whether biblical teaching applies to a practice without hurling charges of legalism and Pharisaism. And legalism is certainly not trying to live a godly life with biblical convictions.
On the other hand, some have turned the tables on the accusers: “A legalist is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” ”When there is something in the Bible that churches don’t like, they call it ‘legalism.’”
The true definition of biblical legalism.Legalism is a false belief that attempts to merit favor with God by the works of the law, by doing good deeds. Legalism is condemned in Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16. Rather than by the works of the law, we are to obtain favor with God through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus (Romans 3:21-28); then we are to do good works.
A few quotes:“…legalistic, a religion of achievement, giving ground for human pride (cf. Rom. 3:27-28; 9:11, 32; 11:6).” -Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, Intervarsity Press. 1993; p. 843.
“…legalism, the attempt to merit favor with God by good works.” -Ibid; p. 976.
“The Jewish legalists had perverted the divine intention of the law and made it into a way to gain God’s favor based on personal merit.” -Robert H. Mounce, Romans, The New American Commentary, Broadman, Nashville, TN, 1995; p. 208.
Speaking of Romans 3:20, “In this verse ‘law’ both times is without the definite article in the Greek; so it means ‘legalism.’” -Herschel H. Hobbs, Romans, Word Books, Waco, TX, 1977; p. 44.
“Biblically speaking, ‘legalism’ is trusting in the law for salvation. In Galatians (which is a good example of legalism), the Judaizers were saying that without circumcision one could not be saved. Paul blasted that idea to smithereens! ‘Legalism’ is a word greatly misused and maligned by uneducated preachers and Christians today, who refer to standards about holy living as legalism. If someone, shall we say, preaches against booze (or tobacco, or movies, or dancing, or whatever) some immediately shout ‘legalism,’ showing their ignorance.” -Dr. R. L. Sumner; Editor, Biblical Evangelist; author.
“More precisely, legalism is the false belief that keeping certain laws - whether biblical or not - can be used as a condition for meriting God’s grace, whether for justification or sanctification (see Galatians 3:3). But one can legislate wise laws about human behavior without being legalistic in the biblical sense of the concept. Otherwise, laws against drunk driving and illegal immigration - and a host of other things beneficial to society - would be legalistic and, thereby, wrong.” -Dr. Norman L. Geisler; president, Southern Evangelical Seminary; author.
Those who oppose what you are for, are not legalists; unless they maintain their practices are the way to get to Heaven. Argue your case on the merits, but don’t start calling the fellow who may be winning the argument, a legalist.
- by David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, August 24, AD 2009
Charles H. Spurgeon on Alcohol
Alcohol Condemned in the Bible
Deuteronomy 14:26 - Does it Commend Alcohol?
Other articles in lower right hand margin under Gulf Coast Pastor Articles (Labels).