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Section IID

Danger 3 – Legalism
Answer: Christ the reality


Study D3

Except ye..

Study D3 Legalism (2)

Except ye…

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.


And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Acts 15:1

D3.1 Crisis point

The early church began in the Jewish nation. Soon the Gentiles were being saved and added to the church. A clash between the two cultures was inevitable, and sure enough it wasn’t long before a Jewish group demanding that Gentiles kept the Mosaic Law.

Unsurprisingly, that group was a sect of Pharisees, Acts 15:15. The Apostles came together in order to thrash the problem out. It would appear that there was a real danger at this point in the Church’s history of a real division between Jewish and Gentile believers.

After much debate and exchange of views we had the following conclusion.

And when there had been much disputing Peter rose up, and said unto them: men and brethren ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us [ie. Acts 10-11], that the Gentiles by mouth should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, Which knoweth the hearts bare them witness giving them the Holy Ghost even as He did unto us, and put no difference [=distinction] between us and them purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why ye tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bare? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they.
Acts 15:6-11

D3.2 Faith not yokes

The reply of Peter, and then by James in the following verses, Acts 15:13-21, settled the matter once and for all. Let us consider Peter’s reply.

Firstly, God had already shown by revelation to Peter, in Acts 10, that then Gentiles are no longer unclean. God did this by showing unclean animals according to the OT law. Peter being convinced went to Cornelius and God brought him into the Kingdom. When Peter reported back to the Jewish community they were unhappy that he had mixed with Gentiles, until, that is, they heard of Cornelius’s salvation.

Secondly, Peter makes it clear that there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile now. Both groups are saved by faith. No mention of the Mosaic law except to say it was an unbearable yoke. Peter argued that if they, the Jews couldn’t bear it they couldn’t expect the Gentiles to do so either.

This together with James’ reply settled the issue, and the threatened division was averted. Salvation was by faith and not dependent on any works of the Law. What became of the sect that attempted to impose the Law of Moses on the Gentiles we are not told.

However we do have a record of one church that fell for this legalism. The churches in question were the Galatians. It happened shortly after Paul’s visit. Some false teachers came and insisted on the keeping of the Mosaic Law. This all happened before the conference of Acts 15, and we shall consider some aspects of this in the next study.

The point being is that salvation and living the life God wants for us are not dependent on keeping a Law no one could keep. It is based on faith in Christ and His complete work at Calvary.

Christ’s work at Calvary was both necessary and all sufficient. Nothing else could have secured our salvation, and no one else could have been sufficiently worthy to accomplish it. By trying to add to that is saying that Christ wasn’t good enough, such blasphemy should be rejected outright without a second thought.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.

D3.3 Christian legalism

This problem has always been around throughout the history of the church. There is something about human nature that says we have to do something for our salvation, or to live a life pleasing to God. By doing so they are saying in effect that Christ and His redeeming work is not sufficient, and we need something extra to live the life.

Legalism in Christian circles is not confined to any Judaisers that might be about today. There is much in the ‘standard evangelical’ set up. Examples include: Christ plus membership of a local church. It said by many believers, no doubt with good intentions but none the less wrong for all that, that if a believer is not a member of a local assembly they are not in the body of Christ! This idea stems from denominationalism, and a desire to bring people under man made control systems.

Then there’s Christ plus tithing, or Christ plus the Bible, or Christ plus keeping the Sabbath, and no doubt one could add as many such things.

Apart from the organised churches, individual believers can be legalistic, either in there own lives or by trying to run other people’s lives. Even though Paul said he would not have dominion over people’s faith (II Cor.1:24).

This can come about by many means For example some might say they have special revelation, visions etc. Other may say they have no confidence in the flesh and everything they say or do, whether it be spiritual or ‘secular’ (for want of a better term) is all directed by God.

Such super-spiritual attitudes are meant to intimidate believers and impose a guilt complex if one does not follow them!

This is the sorry state of affairs indeed amongst many believers; it does not matter who is advocating the legal straight jacket – it is wrong.

The Galatian epistle, throughout the centuries, has been known as the ‘Magna Carter’ of the Christian, for in it we see that Jesus has freed us from all externalisms, and exhorts us to stay in that liberty. And it to that epistle we shall turn to next.