Monday, January 21, 2008

What is Legalism?

Postmodernists and progressives have for some time now worked hard at redefining legalism. They quickly label anything they don't want or don't like as legalism. Out of one of their mouths they talk obedience as necessary to salvation; but out of the other side of their mouths they depict anyone who would actually require obedience as a fanatic Pharisee.

A Pharisee legalist is not a person who obeys the laws of Jesus but a person who tries to enforce man-made laws. He is the one who develops his own standard and requires everyone else to live up to it. Do not confuse obedience with legalism.

Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for keeping the Law scrupulously. He condemned them for binding their oral traditions on others (Matt. 15:1-14; Mark 7:1-23). For instance, the progressive calls one who correctly restricts the meaning of baptism to immersion a legalist and Pharisee for expecting people to do what the word means. It does not occur to them they ought to hear and obey what the Lord teaches (the word baptism, after all, refers to immersion and is a burial), they can only call names at the person who will not give in to their side-stepping the truth by adding the human practice of sprinkling. It is easier to try to make the obedient into the bad guy than it is to admit their self-made religion.

So when you can't win the debate on the issue, make the argument ad hominem, argue against the man. Label him as unkind and ignorant of the grace of Christ. (Such arguments stain whether they are true or not--the main thing is to make the obedient look bad.)

The fact is, obedient people value the grace of Christ. They love God enough to simply do what He says to do. They realize hearing and obeying the commandments is how we love God (John 14:15). They have learned righteousness and godliness from grace (Titus 2:11-14). They do not presume upon the grace of Christ by inventing their own doctrines and practices. They do not make laws but simply obey the laws God has given. They believe in loving lawfulness. Love for God is shown listening to God, not presuming one can do what one pleases and relying on the grace of God will bail him out.

The progressive by his very nature is wanting to move beyond obedience into the realm of popular religion, so that he doesn't have to face censure from those who do not practice the truth. He has to find a way to embrace those in error, so he does it by slapping the person who values obedience. He thinks he has a better handle on grace than anyone. His grace is not a valued gift but his presumed excuse for license. Anyone who objects to the progressive agenda just doesn't understand grace, so they say. What nonsense!

Faithful Christians obey the Lord from the heart; they do so genuinely and are not dominated in their thinking with how they appear to their religious neighbors. They don't have to blow the trumpet when they do something religious. They don't have to please the mainline denominational community; they are more interested in pleasing God.

Faithful Christians love sinners and work hard to lead them to love the Lord. They follow the Great Commission by teaching them to "observe all things" the Lord commands. They work so hard because they understand and value the grace of Christ.

for the Truth of the matter,


Anonymous said...


Are you too late? Have things progressed to a point of no return? I'm afraid this movement is going to happen no matter what you do or say. I guess I have just given up fighting it.

Bob in Huntsville

Phil Sanders said...

Dear Bob,

I have studied this movement for several years, and you are right. Nothing will stop the devil's pull on people to compromise their faith. But I speak out again and again, because there is always some who won't give in to such nonsense. I won't bring back the ringleaders, but some of the folks will be persuaded.

When the first, great digression happened (1870-1906), there were only 159,000 non-instrumentalists and 800,000 instrumentalists. They said we couldn't grow and we couldn't keep our children. In spite of it all, we grew nearly eight times larger within a century while the most liberal of them has shrunk more than 60 percent since 1960.

You cannot bury the Truth. It will not return to the Lord void. I will not give up fighting this battle--not as long as there is breath in my body. And yes, we are making strides.

I see several sound and loving congregations throughout middle Tennessee, who have not bowed the knee to the Baal of compromise. They are growing well and flourishing.

I see some "progressive" groups in the area that aren't growing. One shrunk from 2300 to 1400; another shrunk from 850 to less than 500. Those progressives who think they have all the answers are finding that once they had made their presence known, they aren't so smart after all.

Don't give up!


Anonymous said...

obedience, self-control, sin, etc. have all been sacrificed to the god of Grace.

Anonymous said...

Here is my question, is there anything you believe which wont be bound on others? If you cant answer sure there is, you may be a legalist......

Phil Sanders said...

Legalism deals with the binding of human laws beyond what God has written. You talk about what I believe. I have no right to bind anything on anyone. I have the responsibility of calling to the attention of everyone the things GOD has bound on them. It is bound on others, because God binds it. Legalism is not saying GOD INSTRUCTS..., but in saying "our tradition says you must..."

I think before you paint my wagon, you need to know what wagon I'm driving.

Jesus is the source of all authority; I have never had any.


Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say, God is the one who binds his law. Of course that is the argument for all kind of disputable things. Just because someone believes its God's does not make it so. (eating meat offered to idols, circumsicion, praise teams etc.)Many say since i have concluded
God says so he does. There are matters that are of MY conscience, i will not bind them on others. wpeace

Phil Sanders said...

Dear Phil,
I certainly agree with you that there are some matters of the conscience, and we cannot and should not bind them on others (Rom. 14). Nor should we act to violate another's conscience or our own.

On the other hand, not every doctrinal or practical problem ought to be shoved into Romans 14. Some things are matters of listening to God's instructions. Now if I am listening and someone else is not, I should point to what God says. The same is true for the other person. If I am not listening to God and he is, I should expect and not be offended by his pointing to God's instructions.

I think this is where we must take the time to see what God says before anyone acts.

thanks for your input,