Galatians 2:14 “But when I saw that they are not walking in line according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before all, “If you being a Jew live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, why do you compel the Gentiles to Judaize?”
Legalism is defined as the “dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.”
I have found that many people who profess to be agnostic or atheistic in belief, have a history of some experience within a religious setting. The testimonies I hear have been various in experience but common in principle.
What is a common theme for many who have been turned away from following after God?
*Legalism takes the heart of Christianity and replaces it with a heart of straw. The principle of devotion to a loving Savior is replaced by adherence to law as a means to salvation.
In the early church, the integration of old beliefs were in constant conflict with New Testament grace. The moral law, which was the standard by which men attained righteousness for 4000 years suddenly became the sign post to grace, not the means to salvation.
You would have thought that every practicing Jew would have been thrilled to know that the grace of God had been given through the sacrifice of the Messiah. Every devout Jew had strived for years to unsuccessfully attain righteousness through the law and consequently the need for sacrifice to atone for their failure was their only recourse.
Enter the Lamb of God…..
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
The perfect sacrifice of Christ upon the cross ended the scourge of death (for all who believe). The law administered condemnation to all who violated it’s harsh standard, and still does today.
Satan lost his power over sinners who were condemned to die for their sin, the captives were released and the fulfillment of the law was completed in Jesus.
Galatians 2:11 “When Cephas came to Antioch, however, I opposed him to his face, because he stood to be condemned.”
Peter, in the early years of the church was having a difficult time of letting go of old customs. The pharisaical law required Jews to abstain from eating the food of Gentiles (non-jews), because of the possibility of it being sacrificed to idols and the food not being blessed accordingly. Peter had been dining with the Gentiles until much stricter orthodox Jews arrived and pressured him into conforming once again to old customs.
The pattern of Peter’s impulsivity and timidity had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion and the old nature of Peter was still one he was clearly wrestling with still.
Galatians 2:21 “I do not set aside the grace of God. For if righteousness comes through the law, Christ died for nothing.”
Many still hold to this pattern of following laws as a means to attaining God’s righteousness. The righteousness of God is the Holiness or Perfection of His nature. There is simply no possible way for an ordinary man to carry out the law to perfection. Today, people still follow customs, ceremony, and structure that makes them feel holy but does nothing for their standing before God. Many people still abstain from eating certain foods, others think that if you wear certain clothes or say a particular prayer you are favored by God. Unfortunately, it is not the act that brings favor nor is it the appearance of man but the heart of man that God looks upon.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 “Surely there is no righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”
To those who have been subjected to this standard in religion, it is a dire load to carry, many have tried, all have failed. It is this losing agenda and consequently self-righteousness of others that has driven many from the church and closed their ears to hearing the Truth at all.
When those that claim to aspire to perfection, or at least present the image of perfection then place that standard on others, they subject them to a standard that is impossible to follow and they crush the spirit of those who hunger for righteousness.
The conviction of the law brings death, when people hold that conviction up to others who have not perfected it themselves, they demonstrate a hatred for others by subjecting them to a rule they cant maintain themselves. In essence, the self-righteous are judging unbelievers by a law that is not theirs to administer.
Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge, or you will be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Unredeemed sinners already stand condemned by God, their sin has offended Him personally and they have defiled His name by the way they have lived their lives. It is not up to us to bring further condemnation, the moral law at this point is used to show the inadequacy of mankind and the need for grace.
If we subject believers to further scrutiny of conduct apart from the leading of the Spirit of God’s work in them, we place ourselves in a position that God holds. If I share the moral law with a brother in Christ in a spirit of love, I share God’s standard of holiness and the brother that is living under grace is not condemned but the moral law refines and restores them. Sin in the life of a believer limits their effectiveness in God’s Kingdom, the moral law brings correction, so when I reprove a brother, I do it carefully and only by the leading of the Spirit so as not to bring condemnation.
Romans 8:1-2 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Whether it is by reproof or by example, we have a moral obligation to not only live like Christ, but to encourage others to do the same.