SGBC Modesto

Legalism Spirit

March 28, 2024 by

William Heinrich

Legalism is that evil teaching that man can be acceptable to God by his own merit.   Legalism is a self-righteous spirit that pervades the thinking  of sinner and saint alike. It invaded the doctrine of justification, disqualifying a man from salvation. It invades the doctrine of sanctification disqualifying a man from holiness.

Legalism is best seen in the spirit of the Pharisee of Jesus’ day.  In Luke 18:9-14 a Pharisee displays for us the spirit of legalism. He prays “God,  I thank thee that I am not as other men.”  Here he has erred by comparing himself with men instead of God’s glory. Therefore, he came to a seriously erroneous conclusion. Then he expands on his virtues;  “I fast twice in a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”   Again he focuses on himself thinking God has accepted him on his merit. The parable ended by the proud Pharisee being rejected but the humble repentant tax collector being accepted.

Legalism is not rules or standards by themselves. All of us have rules and standards for our lives. Not all of these rules and standards are found in precept or principle from Scripture. For example, we have rules at the table, rules about our friendship, rules about respect, dating, chores, diet, etc. These are not found in scripture and are not of themselves Legalism. Yet the Legalism spirit can prevail even here.   It is not the fault of the rule or standard, but the spirit that accomplishes it.

Any time we see ourselves accepted by God through personal righteousness, we have a Pharisaical legalistic spirit.   “We are what we are by the grace of God.”   “What hast thou that thou didst not receive Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if Thou hads’t not received it?”   Any time we compare ourselves with others and go away believing God has done the same, we deceive ourselves.  God accepts us at salvation and always through Jesus Christ.  It is His forgiveness and His imputed righteousness that make us accepted into the beloved and never ours.