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Section IID

Danger 3 – Legalism
Answer: Christ the reality


Study D2

Law upon Law

Study D2 Legalism (1)

Law upon Law

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.


We now come to the third Danger, Legalism, particularly allowing others to judge you. Paul starts with the warning: let no man therefore…., meaning that the thought continues from the previous section.

D2.1 What is sufficient?

Paul has made it abundantly clear that since we are complete in Christ, and that He is sufficient for our salvation and everyday living (II Pet.1:3-4) living, we are not to allow anyone to judge us with respect to the demands of the law. There would be those who impose what they think what is right and acceptable to God on themselves and others. Thus bringing believers back to either a bondage from which they had been freed or to a fresh bondage.

It is a principle of legalistic codes that the more law you lay down the more is required. These extra rules are seen to be insufficient, for they do not give the power to keep them, so new rules are imposed. Nothing is ever good enough to satisfy such demands.

For example as a hypothetical case: the rule is not to work on Sundays. Seems straight forward, but what does working on the Sabbath mean? Does it mean not travelling, if so then what about meeting with God’s people? So in order to clarify this more rules are introduced. How far is it legitimate to travel to church? 1 mile, 5 miles or what? And is that one way or return journey? What about giving people lifts etc.?

One begins to see the bondage such regulations can bring upon people. Legalism brings about condemnation, it robs believers of their assurance in Christ. It replaces Christ from His rightful place in a person’s life with an idealism which is impossible to achieve. It was this approach that the Pharisees were renown for.

D2.2 The Pharisees

The Pharisee were one of the biggest religious groups we come across in the NT. They were a very legalistic group indeed. Paul was once a Pharisee, this is what he had to say:

Though I might have confidence in the flesh. If any other [man] thinketh that he hath [whereof he might] trust in the flesh I more: circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel of the [tribe] of Benjamin a Hebrew of [the ] Hebrews; a touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law [having been ] blameless.

From this description of his life before knowing Christ we see Paul’s attitude as a Pharisee: great zeal for the law and opposition to anything that was seen as a threat, even if that meant persecuting God’s people! Paul said that he lived in such as way that he was blameless concerning the righteousness of the law

In Romans Paul said this about the Jews and the law;

…Israel … they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves tot eh righteousness of God For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes to everyone that believeth. For Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man that doeth those things shall live by them.

By doing them we note that Israel had to live in them and they were trying to establish their own righteousness. In other words, trying to obtain salvation, favour with God by self-effort – the works of the flesh. Hence Paul’s testimony of having confidence in the flesh.

Whilst the ten commandments were the basis of the Mosaic law, together with another 613 commandments that follows Exodus 20, the Pharisees added extra rules and regulations. The idea for these extra laws was that, in order to ensure that people kept the ten commandments, they added extra ones that ‘surrounded them’.

The Pharisees prided themselves on not only keeping Moses’ law but also this vast body of Pharisaic law. These [external] laws they saw as making them distinct from other nations.

Jesus was quite scathing about the Pharisees. He told His disciples

…beware of the of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees…. not… of the leaven of bread but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees

Matthew Ch. 23 covers a wide range of topics for which the Lord censures the religious leaders. For our purposes there is one in particular that needs our attention.

..they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne and lay them on men’s shoulders but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Carrying something on the shoulder means carrying a burden. And it is significant that Jesus relates these legalistic burdens as to putting them on the shoulders. The shoulders are meant for a yoke, the Pharisees’ yoke was  one of legalistic codes.

In contrast tot his Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. Therefore we should come to Him and learn of Him, Mtt.11:28-30.

D2.3 Helpers not lords

Not that we have dominion (=lordship) over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
II Cor.1:24

One important principle of the Christian life, that we shall come back to time and again, is that Christ is our head alone. Those who seek to impose legalistic codes, in whatever form, are simply attempting to rule one’s life according to their ideas. These people could be individuals we know or admire, church groups, cult groups (religious or not) or an individual person themselves, because they want to be in sole control of how they live.

The apostle Paul refused to lord it over anyone. Peter gives a similar warning to elders about this in his first epistle. I Pet.5:2-3. There is also the responsibility of the believer. We can not stop some attempting to lord it over us, but we do have the ability not to let them do so.

Christ is Lord and no one else. So we are not to let anyone judge us in these matters.