Over the years, the term legalism or being legalistic has been widely used to describe strict guidance and practices in the name of Christ. Hence, to understand what is meant by the term legalism we should begin with a basic definition. Legalism: Strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious moral code. Therefore, Legalists are people who add personal preference to accepted doctrinal teaching, accept these additions as having equal weight with doctrinal teaching, and apply these additions in the judging of others. Another definition is that legalism is the reduction of life to mere technicalities substituting code for conscience, ritual for worship, rectitude for holiness, and morality for purity.
Legalistic mindsets truly exemplify human nature and should be expected with those who are ruled by their intellect as this is the way of mankind. However, the true followers of Christ are no longer citizens of this world and should behave as citizens of heaven. Thus, disciples of Christ are free from the bonds of legalistic thinking, that is unless they make a personal choice to hold onto worldly practices associated with legalism. As we all know, the ways of this world are based on principles of conformity through the establishment of norms that guide our daily lives. These norms or traditions dictate with whom, what, when, where, why, and how of our lives here in this world.
However, those in Christ are freed of these earthly practices once surrendering their lives and become members of the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, there are those who have, or will, make the choice to place themselves in bondage to the many manmade traditions and doctrines found in legalistic practices in today's so-called Christian establishments. Hence, this number includes misguided born-again believers who blindly follow a system based on worldly thinking that runs counter to a life based on faith alone. Thus, these believers have substituted a Spirit-led life filled with power from above for a life that conforms to manmade doctrines and practices based on tradition and religious principles. No wonder there are so many manmade divisions today who claim to be Christian and yet do not follow Jesus on the narrow path that leads to eternal life. This is heresy!
However, this is not some new notion that has come about in recent times. The Apostle Paul wrote about this same issue. "I am amazed how quickly you are deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is not even a gospel. Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a curse! Am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I certify to you, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not according to man. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:6-12).
Therefore, we must realize that as born-again Christians we are no longer of this world, but just in it. "So, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). Thus, as Christians we must turn away from trying to live our lives as the world lives. The true Church is made up of One Body and is here on earth for one purpose, to serve the kingdom of heaven. Thus, for those who find themselves blindly following manmade traditions and doctrines, you should question if you were ever spiritually reborn and now abide in Christ. Without this transformation no one can gain a personal relationship with the Lord.
Hence, how can we know if we have a true personal relationship with Jesus? "By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments. If anyone says, "I know Him," but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone keeps His word, the love of God has been truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him: Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked. Beloved, I am not writing you a new commandment, but an old one, which you have had from the beginning. This commandment is the message you have heard. Then again, I am also writing you a new commandment, which is true in Him and also in you. For the darkness is fading and the true light is already shining. If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause of stumbling in him. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness. He does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:3-11).
Thus, as mentioned earlier, the scriptures clearly tell us to separate ourselves from the ways of this world. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever." (1 John 2:15-17). This is how true citizens of heaven are called to live. Thus, we must not be deceived by a misplaced trust in mankind's false doctrines and traditions. These practices will only cause division and pull us away from the very commandments Jesus told us to follow.
"You, however, have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I have not written to you because you lack knowledge of the truth, but because you have it, and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar, if it is not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. As for you, let what you have heard from the beginning remain in you. If it does, you will also remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. And as for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But just as His true and genuine anointing teaches you about all things, so remain in Him as you have been taught. And now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears, we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:20-29).
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