Legalism

November 18, 2008

Legalism is self-atonement, for the purpose of self-glorification, ultimately of self-worship.

– CJ Mahaney

What comes to mind when you hear the word legalism? Maybe a better question is “how do you define legalism?” I suspect that many of us think of a fiery old fundamental Independent Baptist preacher railing against the evils of card-playing beer-drinking, R-rated movies, men with long hair and women who wear pants to church on Sunday. For the longest time I understood legalism to be the moral check-list that demonstrated the validity of one’s faith. It was the establishment of moral fences or boundaries that defined what good Christians did and did not do.

These things might be symptomatic of legalism, but they don’t shed light on the heart behind these manifestations of the heart of a legalist. Legalism is more sinister than a moral check-list. Legalism is anything that we do (our performance) that we do in an effort to gain favor (acceptance) with God. In other words, legalism is anything that we do that becomes the basis of our relationship with God.

Now, hopefully, you see the tragedy and horror of legalism and the weightiness of CJ Mahaney’s quote above. The basis of our relationship with God isn’t something that we do; it is something that Christ did. God won’t love you any more or any less based on your performance. Our only merit before a Holy God is not our moral consistency; it is only the substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ on our behalf.

The best obedience of my hands dare not appear before Thy throne, but faith can answer Thy demands by pleading what my Lord has done.

– “I Boast No More”, Caedmon’s Call

Our hope is not built upon our performance. It is built upon nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

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