Monday, June 15, 2015


We now come to the conclusion of Paul’s argument against legalism.

He points out that it is incumbent upon the believer to personally maintain his or her freedom that they have in Christ
(Gal. 5:1)

In his epistles, Paul refers to the concept of circumcision to present the embodiment of the entire Law. He makes this plain in Gal. 5:3.

His reference here is not to those already circumcised, but to those who would allow themselves to become such after receiving Christ as their savior.

This idea is fundamental to any concept of salvation as presented in the Bible, but seems to be lost to the minds and hearts of believers who have not the opportunity to be a part of a fellowship that exalts the Lord and His Word. They soon fall into the trap of trying to do whatever is necessary to “fit in” with the group they have joined.

That little bit of leaven (Gal. 5:9) soon transforms them into the legalists against whom Paul was writing.

I have had numerous encounters with this malevolent practice over the years. I have fallen victim to legalism on many occasions—always out of my desire to be right with God, to be pleasing in His sight. I understand the propensity to please God that tends toward the rigors and bondage of self effort.

Thankfully, the Lord rescued me each time, but not until after learning some valuable lessons about my own heart and the devastation of soul caused by legalism.

Paul says that we have a choice between legalism and liberty. We cannot have both (Gal. 5:4).

This reminds me of Jesus’ statement that one cannot serve God and money (Matt. 6:24).

The word ‘cannot’ is not about whether it is legal, as in “you cannot do 100mph in a 50mph zone.”

Of course, you can—until you get stopped by the police.

The word translated ‘cannot’ is the word for ability or power. Jesus said, “It is Impossible to serve God and money. You are absolutely incapable of doing so.”

Paul is using the same concept here. You will either follow the law, or you will follow Christ. Doing both is not an option.

In his day, Paul was referring to the ceremonial law of the Jews, the keeping of which they felt was necessary in order to maintain a right relationship with God.

In our day, it refers to ANY idea that there is something we can DO to earn God’s favor.

However, it is only by faith that we will ever be pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6).

Paul makes it very plain that it is not about what we Do or Don’t do, “…but faith which works by love.” (Gal. 5:6)

He also devotes the entire 14th chapter of Romans to this idea, but he adds the idea that it is not for us to decide how others must live.

He says it is fine for you, as an individual, to do things that you feel you must do. But, telling others that they must do as you do is entirely wrong and far removed from the gospel.

And that, my friend, is the main detriment of legalism. (Gal. 5:2, 4)

Legalism wants to make sure that we find approval for our own acts by having others follow the same rigors (Gal. 6:12).

In that place, we take away the individual liberty to which we have been called in Christ (Gal. 5:1)

Personal liberty was then, and is now, the essential concept that goes quite contrary to our human nature, which wants to put most everything into a clearly delineated box.

We find it much easier to follow a set list of rules and regulations than to be permitted to follow our own conscience. We may loudly proclaim our personal rights to do what we want, but, in the end, we want to ‘know’ what is acceptable.

It is this tendency toward authoritarianism that keeps the people of God from moving into their rightful place as the sons of God setting creation free.
(see Rom. 8:14, 19-23)

Breaking free from legalism is a tough call, because it is mainly an issue of the heart. It is within your own heart where you will eventually find the ties to the bondage of legalism.

Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you are surrounded by those who promote performance as a means to acceptance, then you must extricate yourself as quickly and radically as possible (Gal. 5:1). For, as long as you continue to feed on that type of living, you will never be able to find the latent legalism hidden within the recesses of your own heart.

Editor’s NOTE: The fifth chapter of Galatians contains so many salient points that it was quite difficult to write an article on just a single thought. Choosing which one to write about for this blog series was no small task. (I believe my fellow blogger, Jonathan had the same difficulty when first starting this series. He had three articles for Chapter One from which to choose.)

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  1. Religious legalism leaves no room for personal integrity - religious liberty does.

    1. I like the contrast you present here. Neat thought.

  2. "Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you are surrounded by those who promote performance as a means to acceptance, then you must extricate yourself as quickly and radically as possible" ... oh so true! It is subliminally contagious.

    1. Wow!! Had never considered the subliminal aspect; but you are absolutely correct. We learn from that which is modeled before us. THAT is the subliminal aspect that we don't ever recognize. That's why so much of what is done "in church" today doesn't bother anyone--they have no idea it could be better and more powerful.


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