I don’t think I can actually count the amount of times I have been labeled a “legalist” in the last 30 years. So I have had to do a little soul-searching through the years. Am I a legalist? Is that label appropriate for me and my family because we stand for what the Bible teaches? The following is what I discovered.
First and foremost, legalism is the belief that you have to do something in order to be reconciled to God.
Dictionary.com gives this definition officially:
Legalism– the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
This goes completely against scripture where it clearly states in Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Clearly, we are not saved by our own works and if I believed that we were, then I would be a heretic officially. So do I adhere to the doctrine of legalism? Certainly not!
But if Christianity is made up of just saying a prayer asking the Lord to “come into your heart”, then what is the cost? Why wouldn’t everyone take this “fire insurance” from hell?
It is because Christianity is more than a prayer. With true belief comes sacrifice. With true belief comes a desire to grow in holiness and purity. And this is where we get confused.
You see, I don’t think I should have high standards and keep myself separate from the world to be saved. I believe I should have high standards and keep myself separate from the world because I am saved.
All Christians agree that we should love each other and help the poor. There is no argument there, so let’s talk about this separation from the world thing a bit more.
If scripture clearly teaches that we are to be separate from the world, that we are to desire to grow in holiness and purity, the question becomes not: “what am I allowed to do?” but, instead, “why would I want to?”
The more mature we grow in Christ, the less we should actually desire to see two people fornicating on a movie screen, or listen to a song about the ecstasy of drug use, or hear the crude language of our friends. It is not “Can I?”… It becomes “I don’t desire to.”
It is true that all believers are at a different point in their Christian growth. I remember a friend who had no problem wearing a bikini as a college student. I have no doubt that she was saved but, in the area of immodesty, she was blind. However, as she has grown as a believer, she has seen that immodesty does not please the Lord, and has since changed not only how she dresses personally but how she and her husband allow their daughters to dress, as well. We all have blind spots in our walks with God. This is not about pointing fingers.
And while it is not our job to place rules on others, it is our place to stand for what is right and wrong. Here in America, there seems to be a race going on as to who can call themselves Christians and still be the most worldly. Holding to absolutes is frowned upon, not only in the world, but even in our churches. Everything has become wishy-washy and up for grabs. But I want you to know that we serve a God of absolutes! Yes, He is loving and He has shown us grace and mercy. But He is also just and He hates sin. He stands for what is right and wrong and I am to do no less.
If God makes it clear in His Word that He hates adultery, fornication, strife, orgies, drinking parties, drunkenness, crude and profane language, lewdness, taking His name in vain, sorcery, and immodesty then why in the world would we even desire to make any of that a part of our life- whether by actually doing those things, or by wasting our precious time watching movies, listening to music, playing video games, or reading things filled with these things God hates?
You see, being a Christian is a sacrifice. It is not some fun journey we are on to find our personal purpose in life and live however we want with the promise of heaven. Christianity is hard. We are going to be hated in this world – not loved. Jesus was persecuted and we should expect no less (Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:18-20; 2 Timothy 3:12). Standing for the Truth is not for cowards. It will mean great sacrifice. In America, we are fortunate – it doesn’t mean losing our homes, or prison, or death. But it can possibly cost us jobs, relationships, and our reputations.
I write all of this with a humble heart, knowing I have much growing to do in my own Christian walk…knowing that I am blind, too, in areas that are not pleasing to my heavenly Father. These blind spots are why it is so very important that we regularly confess our sins, study God’s Word, and ask the Lord to help us walk in the Spirit. We need to continually be checking our desires, our thoughts, and our longings (2 Corinthians 13:5). Are they in tune with the works of God or the works of the flesh? May we desire to be in tune with God and keep working towards this goal until the day we die. Not to be saved…but because we are saved.