What is legalism?

Relating to God by law

lawWhat is legalism? It is when we believe our performance affects God’s favour towards us. In other words, when we do something good say attend church, give to the poor, don’t sin ( or at least keep a clean slate), read our Bibles, pray, or witness to the lost – that somehow God in turn rewards us. Contrary to this, if we maybe do something bad then we believe that we are out of favour with God and even are being punished by God. This is relating to God on the principle of law rather than grace.

Are you responsible?

Even more subtle than this though, is a lie that we are solely responsible to maintain our relationship with God and this is somehow dependent on our continual confession of sin. In other words, if we don’t confess sin then we are not forgiven and our relationship with God is broken – He now has a frown on his face and maybe he’s even a little angry and won’t answer our prayers or return our phone calls!

Can you lose this relationship?

Some believers even honestly believe, that its possible to lose that relationship all together if the backlog of unconfessed sins mounts up beyond a certain threshold of grace where God throws his hand in the air and at last gives up on us and walks away.

Let me ask you this question: when you didn’t know God and were an ungodly sinner who was it that initiated the relationship? Was it your seeking God that attracted his favour and forgiveness or was it his grace that found you and caused you to repent?

Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 2:4 “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

What is the nature of our relationship?

The truth is that a legalistic and distorted view of our relationship with the Father misunderstands the nature of the relationship. Under the Old Covenant God physically related to his people. The disciples had a relationship with Jesus where they handled him, sat down with him for a meal and even watched him asleep in a boat.

1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;”

That is not the kind of relationship with God that as believers we now have.  As Jesus revealed, we now worship the Father in spirit because God is a spirit. (John 4:24). Paul says it in another way: he says even if we have known Christ after the flesh thus we know him no longer.

2 Cor 5:16 “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

This means that God doesn’t see your sin, He doesn’t see you flesh He only relates to you by and in the spirit. He sees the old you as dead and only the new Christ in you. All that matters is new creation.

Galatians 6:15 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”

That is why God can say He remembers your sins no more and that He doesn’t reckon sin to your account. It’s like you look in a mirror and you see yourself imperfect but when God looks He only sees perfection and Jesus. Consequently, when He relates to you and you are conscious of all you sin and faults, just know that God isn’t conscious of them at all! You are accepted in the beloved not in your own worthiness and righteousness.

Does sin matter?

Does sin matter then? As a believer, your sin is not stressing God out because Jesus has dealt with every last stain of it.  If this statement makes you nervous then examine HOW you are relating to God. Is it dependant on your performance or the performance of Jesus? We now relate to God by faith and in the spirit.

That is why He declared you dead to sin and alive to God. The cross completely closed the book. There is no future punishment for sin – for those in Christ. Romans 8:1 You have been transferred from death to life.

Now, the fact is we still have to live in a physical world and relate to physical people in the flesh – even in church. God may have forgiven all your sins but people may not have! Therefore, if you continue to sin you are not going to inherit the kingdom of God, you are not going to experience life in abundance as Jesus promised.

Galatians 5:21 “Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

So, tying all this stuff up. The important thing is that God wants you to enjoy a relationship with him not based on rules but the leading of his Spirit –  this was his original intention for Adam and Eve  in the Garden of Eden. He wants you to walk in the spirit not the flesh. If you are indulging your flesh then you are going to find it hard to relate to God by the spirit and sin itself – not the Holy Spirit’s big stick of conviction – will make you feel unhappy because you are living unnaturally as far as your new nature is concerned!

There are only two states for anyone: you are either living under Law and living in the flesh or you are living under Grace and by the spirit. There is no middle ground.

Galatians 5:18 “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law”

More related articles:

What do you do when you sin?

Awake to righteousness

True holiness

What is holiness?

What is the kingdom of God?

Repentance is not what you think

Awake to righteousness

My Kindle book “Christ in You”  For the UK it can be found here…

For the US …

Elsewhere …. just find the relevant amazon site to your country and search for: Christ in You.

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