Most of Paul’s epistles address a variety of issues infiltrating the early church. They addressed false teaching; doctrinal issues; legality; worldliness – another gospel. In Colossae it was Gnosticism. In Corinth it was carnality. In Galatia it was legalism. The issue identified in each letter is as pertinent today as it was in the days of Paul, and the way to avoid any false doctrine is to know the biblical truth of Scripture.
Legalism and Law
The church at Galatia was being pulled back into legalism and the law by Judaizers, and Paul addressed this issue to all who had been bewitched by this bad doctrine. Legalism is a destructive enemy of the Christian life – in opposition to God’s grace. Legalism puts you back under the law and is an enemy of the crucified life in Christ. Legalism makes you comply with manmade rules and regulations that cannot be met. Legalism is the antithesis of grace – placing you back under bondage and slavery.
Enemy of Grace
The voice of legalism is accusational and critical and tramples the gospel of grace. The icy finger of legalism charges believers with failure to abide by unattainable rules. It adds to God’s grace by charging us with its own brand of legalistic justification. Legalism is a false gospel, placing untaught believers back under condemnation – yet there is no condemnation in Christ. We are not under law but under grace. Law, legalism, rules, and regulations are enemies of grace and need to be identified. Law is adding something – ANYTHING to salvation, for we are saved by grace alone.
Legalism is a chameleon that appears in many shapes and sizes – colours and hues. It imposes man-made requirements on the finished work of Christ. It uses personal failure to load believers with guilt, placing them back under law. It can be very slippery and subtle – exuding a false attitude of holiness or purity. But our righteousness is only from Christ, and ALL our richness is of Him alone.
Compliance and Demand
Legalism often comes in denomination requirements that demand some compliance. Pray this way; act that way; attend this way; don’t do this or do – do that. Do eat this but don’t drink that; worship on this day; comply with that ceremony. Follow our rules and participate in our programmes or you cannot be one of us! Comply with our ceremonies and do it our way – in order to please our God….!
Legalism can also be self-imposed by rules we think we should follow to please God. Some have roots in childhood indoctrination – promoting specific ways of behaviour. But the plum-line is Scripture which alone tells us what to do and how to behave. “For we are saved grace…(through faith) and not of yourself so you won’t boast”. Salvation is God’s grace…(by faith) and is not to do with our merit so we can’t brag.
All rules and every restriction to a greater or lesser extent are man-imposed laws. But, we have died to the law in Christ, Who put the power of the law away, forever. When we fall prey to any type of law… that law becomes our accuser. “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God”. Galatians 2:16-17
Power and Penalty of Law
The Law certainly showed that we were sinners in need of Christ’s righteousness. When Christ died on the Cross, we died with Him and were released from the law. We were released from the power and the penalty of the Law. We were made free simply because we believed with NO additional, man-made law.
Crucified with Christ
The old sin nature, which can demonstrate wicked ways, was crucified with Christ. The old sin nature, which can also display religious piety, was crucified with Christ, and the new nature in Christ now lives in us – old ways are done away with. The life of Christ has now become the power and purity in our life. His life is our life simply because we believed – with NO additional man-made laws.
Dead to the Law
The key to Galatians is that because we are ‘in Christ’ we were crucified with Him. Being ‘in Christ’ we are dead to the law and all its power and yet we’re alive to God. So being ‘in Christ’ we are dead to the law, which originally accused us! – so if we are dead to law – why place ourselves under manmade rules?
Christ in Me
We must start to realise that the new life in Christ is complete in itself. There is no need for rules and regulations, rites and rituals or laws that enslave us. When we believed, we were crucified with Christ and took on His life – in us. When we believed, we died to the demands and rules of the law. When we believed, we were freed from the condemnation that is in the law. When we believed, we became a new creation, with Christ as our life-source. “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”.
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.