I was reading today in Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God and came across some excellent thoughts on legalism from Sam Storms who wrote, “I’m baffled continually at how easily Christian people treat as moral law those things that God has neither forbidden nor required. Some feel an irresistible urge to speak loudly whenever the Bible is silent. They find the ethical stipulations of Scripture inadequate for living the Christian life and feel compelled to supplement the Word of God with countless little do’s and dont’s that they are persuaded are essential to winning God’s favor and blessing.
Legalism itself comes in two forms. On the one hand are those legalists who insist on obedience to the law, especially their law, as a condition for acceptance with God. To be saved one must submit to rules and regulations, sometimes biblical ones, sometimes not. But at the heart of this variety of legalism is the idea that works are a condition for justification… The other kind of legalist may well affirm salvation by grace through faith, but demands that others submit to his image of what constitutes true spirituality. Invariably he or she sets extra-biblical guidelines, identifies morally proscribed activities, and then severely judges those who fail to measure up.”
- Who Are You to Judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism
- Law of Perfect Freedom: Relating to God and Others Through the Ten Commandments
- Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God
Additionally, Bill Baldwin gives us a helpful Definition of Legalism:
- Using the Mosaic covenant as though it is the covenant between you and God.
- Attempting to be justified by one’s own works.
- Attempting to be sanctified by one’s own works.
- Suggesting that our worth or worthlessness, our self-esteem and self-satisfaction or lack thereof, rest on our own works.
- Any attempt to please God judicially, or any supposition that our sin as believers has resulted in his judicial displeasure.
- Teaching that we conform ourselves to our judicial standing in Christ (righteous and perfect) by our own works.
- Attempting to attain godliness by a systematic change of behavior.
- Obedience that does not spring from a renewed heart. As of an unbeliever who has no renewed heart. As of a believer who has a renewed heart but whose righteous behavior does not spring therefrom.
- Any supposition that externally righteous acts have any value on their own, even as conduct that prepares the way for either.
- Suggesting that faith is irrelevant in the accomplishment of some (or all) good works.
- Trying to be justified by works that are created and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- Attempting to gain assurance of salvation solely or primarily on the basis of the sign of outward works.