Legalistic Bondage

Alrighty people, here’s the biggie I’ve been working on! Enjoy 🙂

I wasn’t raised in a very legalistic home, but I knew many who were. I found that, (opposite to what the parents were expecting and hoping), through their control and rules, the children usually ended up going in the complete opposite direction of what was originally taught to them. Interesting….

I’m going to focus on just a few areas of legalism. It’s a ginormous subject that would require more than just one blog post to cover, but it’s a subject that weighs very heavily on my heart. I’m going to cover these specific questions according to my personal experience and observation:

  • What exactly is legalism?
  • What is the point of legalism?
  • Why do so many Christians feel the need to enforce it?

Legalism, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code”. Ok. Great. So basically….rules. What exactly is the point of rules? Again, to go to a professional resource, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says “a prescribed guide for conduct or action”. The second definition for Rules is “the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members”. Hmmm…I find it really interesting that a religious definition is the second definition. Maybe that’s because most people view being ‘religious’ as a list of “do’s” and “dont’s”. So, in a nutshell, legalism is a set of rules placed by religious people to keep themselves more comfortable, less swayed towards temptation (or so they hope), and basically a way to control themselves and others.

Legalism, as stiff-necked as it sounds, provides a lot of comfort. It helps a person know exactly what he/she can and cannot do. It can be a security blanket. It puts things in black and white with no gray areas. But life is full of gray. Some things are black and white, for sure, but some aren’t so easy. I think legalism can also be protection. Some parents ground their household in it to protect their family. So, out of love and care. But that also isn’t right. It’s not allowing the children to grow up learning how to make decisions on their own. I can justify rules when children are small, but there comes a time when you have to let go and trust that you have done your best. I know that I’m not a parent yet, so I’m sure when I become one my view might change…..but…..I don’t know. Maybe it won’t. ANYWHO! There I go, off on a rabbit trail ;p……

When you talk to a non-believer about Christianity, most of the time, their fear is how much they’re going to ‘have to’ give up. Ditch the alcohol, swearing, clubbing, etc. Why is that one of their first responses? The example many Christians give is that when you accept the Lord as your Savior, you have to give up everything of this world and all your desires, to follow Him. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. I agree. We, as believers, die to ourselves daily. But, the issue is in the root and follow-through of this belief. When you set yourself a rule, such as, ‘because I am a Christian, I will no longer drink alcohol’ you become a slave to that rule, which is really being a slave to yourself and your flesh, because you are the one who set that rule. Many Christians set rules such as this because it is comfortable, not because it is biblical. They place themselves in bondage to legalism. I’m not saying to throw the towel in and go get drunk. Hear me out. Making rules for ourselves will only lead to bondage and misery and it will end in failure. It is self-focused, not Christ-focused.

Many believer’s even focus on laws of the old covenant. But Romans 7 is filled with reasons why those rules, now that Christ has fulfilled the law, are putting us in bondage. Paul, in Romans 7:4-6 clearly states this by saying:

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of theSpirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

So, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we are dead to the Law. In fact, it even says sinful passion were aroused by the Law! Telling someone “no” automatically makes them says “YES!”.

Ok now, let’s back up a bit. What was the point of the Law? To show us our inability and inadequacy without Christ. In Romans 10:4, Paul says:

“For Christ is the end of the Law [the limit at which it ceases to be, for the Law leads up to Him Who is the fulfillment of its types, and in Him the purpose which it was designed to accomplish is fulfilled. That is, the purpose of the Law is fulfilled in Him] as the means of righteousness (right relationship to God) for everyone who trusts in and adheres to and relies on Him.”

(This is out of the Amplified Bible. It gives a bit more detailed of an explanation, which I appreciate).

So there, Paul clearly explains that the Law was there to lead up to Christ. To lead up to the glory and miracle of His death and resurrection. I think so many people focus on the miracle of the resurrection, but forget that more went on there than just Him coming back from the dead. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t a miraculous happening. It is. Without a doubt. But we can’t ignore what also happened. It fulfilled the Law, which means, we are no longer slaves to the law. We entered into a completely new covenant. A covenant of freedom.

So, now back to legalism. When we place legalism on ourselves, we are placing ourselves back under the law. That same law that Christ died to free us from. No, we may not make for ourselves the same rules that He did, but it’s still for the same reason. To work harder towards righteousness, to please Him more, to become more like Christ, etc. But again, that’s the old covenant. He dwells inside of us. It’s not so much about being like Him as it is allowing Him to live through you.

When a person is placed under so much bondage, they grow weary and can’t help but break free! We long for freedom. Why put ourselves under such tiring bondage when we can be free? Christ came so that we might have freedom.

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11 thoughts on “Legalistic Bondage

  1. After looking at this more fully, I have a few of what I hope would be intelligent thoughts.

    1) I agree completely with the premise of being under grace and not the Law.

    2) The gospel frees us from the requirement to completely obey the law, because Christ fulfilled it, insomuch as it frees us from the punishment due for not obeying it. Not necessarily freeing us from the requirement itself, because Christ fulfilled that requirement for us, so we, by proxy, obey it by being imputed His righteousness.

    3) Indeed, when someone becomes a Christian they do give up a lot. But we must remember that it is the gospel which fuels and propels us toward the giving up of that which does not glorify God, through God’s work of sanctifying us and our response to that work of actually giving up what God presses on us to give up. So, we as Christians need to extend grace to one another and preach the gospel to each other (and ourselves) because that is the power to live as “children of Light” (Eph. 5:8).

    4) Overall, I think what you wrote was very good, as this is such a difficult topic to address. I think there is a necessary distinction between placing rules over “ourselves” and rules over “others.” For example, the man with an addictive personality would be wise to set a rule for himself of never drinking, to avoid the possibility of drunkenness or alcoholism. This is a good example of wisdom and temperance being applied to a situation that could cause harm to one’s self or others and damage to one’s witness. Where it becomes legalism is when we try to impose the rules we have made for ourselves onto others, and judge them as less of a Christian (or whatever) because they don’t follow our rules.

    Love the topic, really made me rethink some things I’ve been working through lately. Thanks!

    • Right. And I agree. Through developing a relationship with Christ, we naturally keep the law. It’s no longer through the attempt at gaining salvation, but through our love and relationship with our Lord.

  2. As I read your post, I understood the general problem that you were trying to address and your explanation of possible solutions, but when you talked about the law and grace, I could not help feeling that the following verses, also present in Paul’s argument in Romans, could not be ignored: 7:7 – ” Is the law sinful? Certainly not!” And “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy,righteous, and good.”

    If you feel passionately about this issue, maybe you could write another post expounding on the issue including the verses I mentioned and other aspects about legalism. I think it is also important to talk about necessary\unnecessary rules, e.g. girls only wearing dresses, not dating, only listening to classical music, prohibition of pre-marital sex (which, according to some people, may be very legalistic). Great post though, it was very coherent.

    • Exactly. It is a holy, righteous, and good. But see, it’s place now and it’s place then were different. Then, people followed it to gain salvation. Now, we are free to not follow it. Our salvation is faith-based, not work-based. But, the catch is, when we develop a relationship with our Lord, it comes naturally. We aren’t following a list of rules, but instead are doing the right thing out of our love for Him.

      I didn’t necessarily want to get into specifics, just make it more general. Each person has their own legalism in their life, myself included. I don’t want this to be an attack post where people feel their beliefs, such as the ones you mentioned, are being attacked. At that point it becomes my beliefs vs. yours. Not so much about digging deeper into our own hearts and allowing the Lord to reveal what legalism we are binding ourselves to. Does that make sense?

  3. Pingback: Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus Controversy « Mere Ponderizations

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