What is Legalism and Why is it Evil?

by E.L. Anglin

Legalism's Three Most Destructive Lies:

1. God won't love you unless you do this.
2. Faith is not believing trust, it's works.
3. Those who've left this church have left God, too.

Legalism is the attempt to make it to heaven based upon one's goodness. It's requiring believers to climb "steps" of different obediences in order to earn forgiveness. Legalism is exhausting. It's the "never enough" gospel. Its message is "try harder."

Legalists focus on self more than Jesus. They are forever talking about old paths and standards and elders but rarely examine the Word of God. Legalists love the words "submission" and "authority." Legalists think unfiltered Bible study is dangerous. Instead they point you to books written by their movement which mangle scripture, repackaging it to suit the movement's narrative.

Legalists are deceptive because they talk about the cross and the blood, but the longer you listen the more you realize that they do not believe the work of the cross is ever complete...not when Jesus said "It is finished!," not when you BELIEVE it's finished, not when you're baptized, not when you speak in tongues and not when you obey the never-ending and always-changing list of pastoral edicts.

Legalism thrives in uneducated ignorance and fear. Egotistical authoritarians are drawn to leadership roles in that environment. Weak minds submitted to power-hungry men are like a spark to dynamite. Someone always gets hurt.

Legalists redefine simple terms like grace and faith. To them grace is license to sin. They view it as a cop out for those unwilling to follow their rules. Grace is mocked in their circle. In their minds faith is not belief, it's a lifestyle which is only validated through obedience to church rules.

Legalists see things in scripture that aren't there. The word "pants" is not in the Bible, but they will tell a woman it's a sin to wear a pair. The words "baptism" and "tongues" aren't in John 3:5, but they will swear to the contrary. There is no Bible prohibition against jewelry, but they will tell you that you will go to hell for wearing earrings, rings, necklaces, etc...

Legalists say things like, "I would rather follow this rule and make it in (to heaven)than to ignore it and be lost." They will testify that they "just want to make it in somehow." They sing songs like "Above all else, I must be saved," which includes the line "Lord, whatever you have to do to me, don't let me be lost for eternity." Never mind the fact that they have believed, been baptized, talked in tongues, and follow standards....they are STILL worried that they haven't done enough!

Legalism is chains. Its pushers are prison guards. In this case you have the power to escape. The chains and guards may only hold you with your permission. Freedom is a choice.

Run!

Read Parts Two, Three and Four.


This writing is the copyright of E.L. Anglin and is reprinted on this site by permission. View all of his available articles here.


Page added February 9, 2015

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