Legalism Leads to Egotism
Posted on June 26, 2015 by wdunaway
When religious people think we “have it all together” we always insist that others do the same–at least the parts of scripture that we think we get right. The Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 is a case in point. He thought he had it all together and therefore thought others (like the publican) did not…since they were not as “righteous” as he thought he was. He was “self-righteous” and he condemned others who did not conform to his standard. Therefore he was proud. Legalism leads to egotism. Self righteousness causes us to be/act proud, boastful and arrogant. When the Pharisee looked “in” to his “own righteousness” rather than “up” to God’s righteousness it caused him to look “down” on others and their unrighteous.
One problem with “legalism” is that some of us who teach/have taught it don’t always realize it. (I know that I’m guilty.) It is/was not our intention, but the result is the same. One form of “legalism” is teaching that we must “keep all of the commandments” in the New Testament in order to “know” Him. “We” then list the commands that must be kept—leaving out some, explaining away others, and changing some according to what we have been taught and believe to be the “salvation issues.” In other words, we teach that we must “live right to be right”…meaning that we must “do the very best we can” to live exactly the way the Bible teaches in all areas of our lives at all times. This may sound good and is the “ideal” way to live and a great “goal,” but it is unreachable, unattainable and undoable for sinful humanity. And this conclusion is undeniable, unavoidable and un-debatable. The following is an excerpt from a Church Bulletin I received which makes it clear that we still believe and teach this to some degree:
How Can I Make It To Heaven?
I can’t make it to services regularly;
I can’t make it to Bible study to learn more about Jesus;
I can’t make it to a Gospel meeting to support the way to Heaven;
I can’t make it to my neighbor’s so I can show him the truth;
I can’t make it to the sick room so I can help those who need me;
I can’t make it to the place of grief to help lift the heavy heart;
I can’t make it to those overtaken in a fault in order to help restore them;
I can’t make it to my knees so that I can obtain forgiveness, grace and help. SO, HOW CAN I MAKE IT TO HEAVEN???
Notice first that, for the most part, these are things that “we preachers normally do” as part of our “calling” and livelihood. These are things we preachers usually enjoy doing, get paid to do, are “gifted” to do and have done for most/part of our lives.
But the obvious implication from this bulletin article, as well as with some of our preaching, is that if other members (workplace believers, homemakers, those not gifted to lift heavy hearts, those not as dedicated as we are) who do not do these things listed are not going to Heaven.
In my judgment this is actually a concealed brand (or at least a modified version) of “legalism.” And legalism fuels egotism—“an exaggerated opinion of your own importance” or righteousness (Lk. 18:9-14). Legalism is strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code, (http://www.merriam-ebster.com/dictionary/legalism) or “strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit” (http://www.rhymezone.com/r/rhyme.cgi?Word=legalism&typeofrhyme=def&org1=syl&org2=l&org). If we are saved by “strict conformity to the letter of the law” then all Christians are wasting their time. If it takes “strict conformity to the letter of the law” to be a faithful Christian then Christianity is a “waste of time,” is not “worth a dime,” and it is actually a “spiritual crime” to try to convert people to it. It is obvious that “strict conformity to the letter of the law” at all times and in all cases is not possible for any mere human being. If it takes “strict conformity to the letter of the law” then no one is going Heaven. Not one! No not one! Not you! Not me! Not those of us who write the articles! Not we preachers who preach it! No person living can live up to the “letter of the law” whether it is the Old Testament law or New Testament law. That is exactly why Jesus came to die for us. But let’s pursue this line of reasoning (?) a little further. For example, try this:
“How Can I Make It To Heaven?”
I do not always do unto others as I would have them do unto me (Matt. 7:12).
I am not perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
I have not completely stopped all of my complaining (Phil. 2:14).
I have not completely stopped all worrying (Phil. 4:6).
I do not always bring every thought into obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
I have not quit all sinning (1 Jn. 1:8; 2:1).
I do not always control the desires of my body (eating etc.) (1 Cor. 6:12).
I do not always take care my physical body (exercising, etc) (1 Cor. 6:20).
I do not always refrain from speaking evil of brethren (James 4:11).
I do not always esteem others better than myself (Phil. 2:3).
I do not always look out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
I do not always “make every effort” to add virtue (2 Pet. 1:5a).
I do not always “make every effort” to add knowledge (2 Pet. 1:5b).
I do not always “make every effort” to add self-control (2 Pet. 1:6a)
I do not always “make every effort” to add perseverance (2 Pet. 1:6b).
I do not always “make every effort” to add godliness (2 Pet. 1:6c).
I do not always “make every effort” to add brotherly kindness (2 Pet. 1:7a).
I do not always “make every effort” to add love (2 Pet. 1:7b).
I do not always show impartiality (gays, other races/religions) (Jam 2:1).
I am not always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
I do not always obey every law of man…especially traffic laws (1 Peter 2:13).
I do not always tell the truth, and nothing but the truth (Eph. 4:25).
I do not always lend to others expecting nothing in return (Lk. 6:35a).
I do not always honor all people (1 Peter 2:17a).
I do not always honor the king/ruler/president (1 Peter 1:17b).
I do not always bear with brethren as I should (Eph. 4:2).
I do not always walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I do not always take in strangers (Matt. 25:43a).
I do not always turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39).
I do not always go the second mile (Matt. 5:41).
I do not always visit those in prison (Matt. 25:42b).
I do not always invite strangers and poor people to dinner (Lk. 14:12-13).
I do not always pursue things that make for peace (Rom. 15:19).
I do not always think on things that are true (Phil. 4:8a)
I do not always think on things that are noble (Phil. 4:8b).
I do not always think on things that are just (Phil. 4:8c)
I do not always think on things that are pure (Phil. 4:8d).
I do not always think on things that are lovely (Phil. 4:8e).
I do not always think on things that are of good report (Phil 4:8f).
I do not always visit those who are sick (Matt. 25:43c)
I do not always remember the poor (Gal. 2:10).
I do not always take care of orphans (James 1:27a).
I do not always take care of widows (James 1:27b)
I do not always pray for all men (1 Tim. 2:1).
I do not always pray for all rulers as I should (1Tim. 2:2)
I do not always give to those who ask me (Matt. 5:42).
I do not always pray with understanding (1 Cor. 14:15a).
I do not always sing with understanding (1 Cor. 14:15b).
I do not always rejoice as I should (1 Thess. 5:22).
I do not always do good to them that hate me (Matt. 5:44a).
I do not always bless them that curse me (Matt. 5:44b).
I do not always pray for them that despitefully use me (Matt. 5:44c).
I do not always accept others as Christ does me (Rom. 15:7)
I do not love my neighbor as myself (Matt. 22:39).
I do not love my enemies as I should (Matt. 5:44).
I do not always let the sun go down on my anger (Eph. 4:26).
I do not always rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15a).
I do not always weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15b).
I do not always love without some hypocrisy (Rom. 12:9).
I do not always do what I know is good to do (James 4:17).
I do not always honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7).
I do not always rejoice when I am persecuted (Matt. 5:12).
I do not always agree with my adversary quickly (Matt. 5:25).
I do not always lend to those who want to borrow from me (Matt. 5:42).
I do not love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37).
I do not always count it all joy when I fall into various trials (James 1:2).
I do not always ask God for wisdom without (some) doubt (James 1:6).
I am not always tenderhearted (1 Peter 3:8b).
I am not always kind to others (Eph. 4:32).
I am not always as humble as I should be (James 5:10).
I am not always as patient as I should be (James 5:8).
I am not always as content as I should be (Heb. 13:5).
I am not always as thankful as I should be (1 Thess. 5:18).
I am not always as kind to the evil as I should be (Lk. 6:35b).
I am not always as courteous as I could be (1 Peter 3:8c).
I am not always fervent in spirit (Rom. 12:11).
I am not always as patient in tribulation as I should be (Rom. 12:12).
I do not always bless those who persecute me (Rom. 12:14).
I do not always give preference to others (Rom. 12:10).
I do not always resist the devil (1 Peter 5:9).
I do not always help brethren in need as much as I could (1 John 3:17)
I do not always “rejoice” as I should (1 Thess. 5:16; Phil. 4:4).
I do not always give “no offense” to others (1 Cor. 10:32).
I do not always try to please all men (1 Cor. 10:33).
I do not always discipline my body (1 Cor. 9:27a).
I do not always keep my body in subjection ( 1 Cor. 9:27b).
I do not always observe communion as I should (1 Cor. 11:24-25).
I do not always give as much as I could (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
I do not always test all things (1 Thess. 5:21; Phil. 4:4).
I do not always abstain from every appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
I do not always try to restore those who sin (Eph. 6:1).
I do not always speak grace to others (Eph. 4:29).
I do not always walk in wisdom toward non-Christians (Col. 4:5)
I am not always keeping myself alert in prayer with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2).
I do not always suffer patiently (1 Peter 2:20).
I do not always abstain from all fleshly desires (1 Peter 2:11).
I am not always hastening the coming of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:12).
I do not always do good to all as I have opportunity (Gal. 6:10).
SO, HOW CAN I MAKE IT TO HEAVEN???
The list of course could go on and on and on. None of us do all of the things God has told us to do in His word as we should or even as we could. (Nor do we refrain from doing all He has told us not to do!) All of us could give more, pray more, serve more etc. I know wives who struggle with developing a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). I know older women who do not always teach younger women (Titus 2:4). I know Christian husbands who struggle with seeking to love their wives as Christ loved the church and as their own bodies (Eph. 5:25-29). I know husbands who do not always dwell with their wives “with understanding” and who do not always give “honor to their wives (1 Pet. 3:7). We all know children who do not always and at all times obey their parents in “all things” (Col. 3:20). I know preachers who complain (not me, of course) and who are not “gentle” in dealing with others (2 Tim. 2:24) and are not as “patient” as we could and should be.
None of us “greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Cor. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). The “holy kiss” is commanded at least five times and we have Bible examples of it being practiced (Acts 20:37). Strict conformity to the letter of the law would demand that we continue this practice. Furthermore not many of us practice “fasting” at all. Yet the Bible clearly indicates that Christians should “fast” (Matt. 6:16; 1 Cor. 7:5; NKJV) and the early Christians did (Acts 13:3). One problem with “legalism” (whether modified or full blown), which we learn by reading about the Pharisees in the New Testament and looking at our own lives and the lives of other believers in some cases, is that we do not even attempt to practice all of the commands in the New Testament but usually only those that were passed down to us by those gone before. We resist the “kiss” and pass on the “fast.” In many cases, we simply “pick and choose” on how to win and how to lose.
But we need to realize that there is a world of difference in saying that Jesus is my Lord and therefore I seek to keep His commandments (which Christians do based on their understanding, degree of faith, level of growth, etc.) and in someone else saying, “I am keeping all of His commandments because I want to be saved or stay saved.” There is a big difference in “working” because we have been “created in Christ for good works” (Eph. 2:10), and in believing that we do good works so that we “can be or remain in a relationship with Christ.” In 1 John 3:3 the Bible says: Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. Notice carefully that we “know” because we “keep.” We do not “keep” in order to “know!” It is like saying: “By this I know that a husband loves his wife because of the way he treats her.” It is not that a husband treats his wife good in order to love her, but he treats his wife well because he loves her. In the same way, we know that we know Him (salvation) because we keep His commandments (submission).
Remember, I am not saying that those of us who are/have been caught up in this mind-set intend to teach any form of “legalism.” I do not believe that that was/is our desire or purpose. In fact in most instances we simply do not/did not realize it. But I am saying that this is the result of the way we sometimes teach others and have been taught ourselves. We are simply getting the “cart before the horse.” People (rightly) interpret the way some of us teach or have taught concerning “obedience” to mean that we must “keep the law/rules” in order stay saved, rather than that we seek to “keep law/rules” because we are saved. Thus in some cases we leave the impression that “keeping the rules” maintains our relationship with Christ, rather than teaching that our relationship in Christ causes us to want to “keep the rules.” In John 14:23 we read, “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word….” Note carefully that Jesus did not say one would “keep His word” in order to “love Him,” but rather “if anyone loves Me “he will keep My word.” There is a big difference in one who demonstrates “obedience to the faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) because of his/her trust in the sacrifice of Jesus and in one who has “faith in his obedience” because Jesus made a sacrifice!
Wayne Dunaway gandpministries.org