The Perils Of Legalism

“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (Matthew 12:14).

Sometimes neither the most persuasive arguments nor the most convincing deeds will change someone’s hard-hearted opposition. Such was the case for the Pharisees’ challenge to Jesus in considering the proper significance and use of the Sabbath. He had irrefutably connected the divine virtues of benevolence, kindness, mercy, goodness, and compassion with scriptural Sabbath observance. But the Phari-sees stubbornly rejected His exhortations and clung to their legalistic works and self-styled traditions. Not even God’s Word or the powerful demonstration by His Son would change their hard hearts.

Such legalism has always been an implacable enemy of grace. Even the law of Moses, with all its demands, reflected a strong measure of God’s grace in that it pointed men and women toward Christ as the only true hope of salvation. Paul says this about it: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). If the very law of God has this more secondary role, how much less place does human tradition have in pleasing God?

Legalism and man-centered customs are also barriers to faithful, biblical sanctification after we are saved. The apostle again asked the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:3). We must make sure that we, too, can answer this question rightly, bearing in mind Paul’s later admonition to the Galatian believers: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

Ask Yourself

What do you plan to do to any remaining vestiges of legalism in your heart? And how do you intend to encourage others to do the same purifying work?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.