The Dangers of Legalism in an Age of Grace

The Dangers of Legalism in an Age of Grace

GROWTH AND SUCCESS IN LIFE – Lessons Learned at the Feet of Jesus

Jesus has been teaching about the character of the Kingdom of Heaven and the paths of Disciples – those who have believed in and are now following him.  In the context of selecting his disciples, he explains the value of the Old Testament and the Law, and the way the religious leaders were twisting it for their own benefit.  This addresses the letter and spirit of the Law and of the message of the Kingdom of heaven.

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.  Matthew 12:7-8
1.  Using the Bible to twist the Truth for personal gain.  The critics quickly surface around Jesus and complain that He and the disciples were violating spiritual principles by “working” on the Sabbath; namely, picking and eating grain – when hungry.  The core issue here is the power and influence these proud phony leaders were exerting, applying one element of the law while ignoring other instructions or historical patterns that contradicted their views. Legalism – the strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the Law or to a religious or moral code – essentially a lie –  that ignores the freedoms provided by Truth.

2.  The core issue here is a ritualistic application of rules without recognizing contrary examples or exceptions to the rule.  There are many examples – marriage and divorce, instructions not to steal or kill, but exceptions in times of military conflict (Rahab, David).  And here, a prohibition on working on the Sabbath, but the example of David and his companions eating bread out of the temple, which was consecrated and otherwise prohibited. 

Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’.  Mark 2:27.  In other words, the highest ethical standards are ones which focus on the needs of the people, not the formulistic rituals of religion.

3.  The Distinction is Mercy.  Jesus is now presenting ethical priorities – it is people that are important, not religious ritual.  It is Mercy that triumphs over Judgment.  When confronted with “what should I do.” measure your response in mercy, in love and faith, not in religious ritual or strict or literal black and white analysis of Truth as you see it.

James 2:12-13 12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment
In my early years as a seminarian, we had a select class with a hero of the Christian faith – Dr. Charles Ryrie.  I still remember him reminding us as his students: “Gentlemen, much of the Christian faith is grey, not black and white.”  Well, being steeped in the fundamentals of the faith, we wanted to wave the Calvinistic creed.  But he went on to say, “For sure, there are fundamental truths that will never change – the redemptive work of Jesus, the inerrancy of the Bible, the return of Jesus one day.  But most of our Christian life moves into grey areas – what to do when the answer is not clear, when we need wisdom, when mercy needs to triumph over judgment.” 
I never forgot those words and hope that they mold into you a life of mercy and grace and following in the steps of Jesus, It is the core of the gospel.  16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17.  John 3:16-17.

— John Moore

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