Legalism considered

Last night at my discipleship meeting the question was asked, “Do unbelievers practice legalism, or is what they do just heresy?”  I was vague in my answer, thinking that legalism is just for believers in trying to please God and an unbeliever cannot do anything to please God ever.  Therefore it wouldn’t be legalism and just heresy.  But re-thinking it I considered the four principles for legalism I mentioned on Sunday:      
     ·       Legalism is an attitude normally seen in actions.
      ·         Legalism is related to how a person approaches God.
      ·         Legalism imposes rules on the conscience, which hinders a relationship with God.
      ·         Legalism seeks to earn or deserve God’s favor based on obedience to law or rules.

I realized that that is what the Pharisees were doing and they were unbelievers (except for a few like Nicodemus, who eventually trusted in Jesus).  The Pharisees imposed  rules on the conscience (traditions of the elders) and they sought to earn God’s favor based on their obedience to the rules.  What they did was legalism.

God is never obligated to you or me based on what you or I do.  It is His Sovereign mercy that we’ll see this Sunday by which we experience any blessing in life. God only obligates Himself to His Word and His character.  He does not obligate Himself to us.  He is God.

But doesn’t God bless me when I obey Him? Jesus tells a great account about this in Luke 17:6-10,

6So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree,`Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field,`Come at once and sit down to eat ‘? 8 “But will he not rather say to him,`Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink ‘? 9 “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say,`We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'”

This is so telling of the sovereign holiness of God.  Notice that last line.  When we obey God, we have only done what was our duty to do.  There is no obligation from God.  He only obligates Himself to what He has said (in His Word) and to His character. I’ll post some principles very soon on how to deal with legalism.

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