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logic. life. learner.

Give Legalism a Chance

Posted by jbharp on November 24, 2008

A few months ago I was dialoging with a group of men and I found myself verbally wishing Christian would give legalism a chance. I wish Christians would have respect for the Mosaic Law and New Testament Law. I wish Christians would find delight in the detailed specifics of God’s statutes. I wish Christians would appreciate how God reveals Himself in His words. Again, I wish Christians would give legalism a chance.


Legalism is strict conformity to a law or a moral code. With this in mind, I don’t understand why Christians feel the need to battle legalism…inasmuch to say that strictly following a moral code (God’s moral code) is a meaningless pursuit. Jesus did not come to destroy the law or to discourage conforming to the law. Yet many Christians seem eager to degrade and dismiss the law. This I don’t understand.


Generally, I think the “free-thinkers” (that’s what I’ll call them, even though neither word seems to be accurate in most cases) love to proclaim their freedom from the law. But I wonder if they even know the law of which they site they are free from. Here’s my confession…I don’t think I fully know or understand the laws in which I am free from.


Take for example the dietary laws described in the Old Testament. You may find a decent number of Christians who are familiar with them, but for the most part we eat as we please. Or the festival laws…many of which are simple commandments to remember what God has done for His people, but who even knows when these festivals occur?


Then consider the 10 laws, aka the 10 Commandments. Most Christians can recite these from memory and are glad to profess they are still relevant in their lives today. Although we Christian acknowledge that it is good to follow the 10 Commandments, we wouldn’t dare call such an act legalism. We couldn’t afford to make such a claim. I suspect due to the possibility of making such a statement would discourage Christians from following the 10. Yet many other laws are condemned as a proponent to a legalistic lifestyle.  


I hear the “L” word thrown around in the Christian world; bible studies, sermons, radio programs. And because it has been deemed as such an evil word, we all nod our head in agreement to whatever point is made (in my opinion, usually an invalid point).


I wonder if Christians (those living under the Grace of Jesus) would embrace God’s law, would we begin to share the thoughts expressed in Psalm 119? Why do we want to dismiss and run from the law? Shouldn’t we cling to God’s word and apply it to our life? Do we not see any value in conforming to a moral code? Please Christians…give legalism a chance.


5 Responses to “Give Legalism a Chance”

  1. Justin said

    I always find it interesting the number of Christians I’ve heard say, “I’m so glad we’re free from the law, as I couldn’t live without (favorite pork product, usually bacon).” As a result, I’m convinced the lack of Torah appreciation comes from a lack of Torah reading. We read Genesis, Exodus up to Sinai, and hand-pick 5 or 6 stories out of Numbers, but that’s about it. How can you appreciate something you never study?

  2. Suzanne said

    “Give legalism a chance.” Wow. That’s a provocative statement. But you make your point well. In the specific interpretation of legalism you lay out, I agree with you. We should have a proper respect and love for God’s law. Some Christians use an abhorrence to “legalism” as an excuse that allows them to abandon a higher standard that would actually draw them closer to Christ and bring them more in line with God’s will.

    That said, there is a danger in legalism. Paul discusses it in Phil. 3:3-8:

    “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

    What has Paul lost? His pristine record of following the law. So where is our dependence? On our own efforts in obeying the law or in Christ’s sacrifice? If I hold on to my righteousness through the law, am I truly relying on Christ to justify me before God? I believe Paul is saying no. He had to trade in his legalistic perfection to accept salvation through faith.

    And that’s where legalism can go bad. If we believe that God is pleased with us because of our devotion to His law, we essentially slap Him in the face for killing His Son for us. Paul considers his A+++ score card “rubbish” compared to the gain of Christ. So the law, though inherently wonderful in its ability to convict us and draw us to God, must be viewed with the proper perspective.

    Good thoughts here. Can’t wait to discuss them more!

  3. Kelsey said

    This is a good blog. I admit, these are things that I don’t think about often enough. I appreciated what both you and Suz shared. It would be interesting to get a few people together and talk about stuff like this.

    Um…I also noticed you still haven’t linked me. Unacceptable.

  4. doug baskin said


    Some interesting thoughts…reminded me of many nights I sat with your dad and discussed in much detail some of the nuggets found in the word. I agree that keeping the laws of God could be very good for us…however we must be sure that legalism is better defined. I know in my community that many look down on the church I attend because of what people wear, the type of music used in worship, the preaching/teaching methods, etc. I think legalism really pertains to the idea that one knows the mind of God and God would not allow a certain behaviour or belief system…we can all agree that there is only one way to God and that is through Christ Jesus..via grace…but the law contains some pretty harsh punishment if not kept…see Dueteronomy, Leviticus etc….I do agree that if we define the law as the 10 commandments there is absolutely nothing wrong in using them as a guide to better living..though I personally have not ever met anyone who kept them all…only One has done so and He died that we might fulfill the law when we stand before God….keep the thoughts coming…good discussion.

    Doug Baskin
    Cumming, GA (formerly from P.Ridge, Ark.

  5. Pretty sure you don’t blog anymore. Ever. Enter sad face here ( ).

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