What is legalism?

human-judgeLegalism , in Christian theology, is a term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption,  or of sanctification.                                                           – Sorry about that but we need to get it right!

It is a term used by those who believe they are saved and sanctified by grace through faith,  and applied to those who believe it is necessary to obey some aspects of the Law of Moses. It may even be applied to those who place additional (non-Biblical) requirements on a Christian, such as abstaining from alcohol, wearing a tie in church etc.

Legalists and legalistic churches vary enormously in what they teach as being required.  Jews who don’t accept that their Messiah has come in the form of Jesus Christ of Nazareth would be by this definition ‘ultimate’ legalists.  That is not to say they do not have a great deal to bring to the understanding of Christianity as the guardians of the ‘lively oracles of God’ (The Torah or Old Testament) and as the race within which the ‘Saviour of the world’ was born as a human.

Religion, as opposed to Christianity, is always legalistic.  Most ‘Christian’ denominations retain a degree of legalism.  Probably the group which will be most apparent to those who have come to the understanding that they are saved and sanctified by grace, will be the Sabbatarians; groups and churches who, as their name suggests, believe that observing  the Mosaic Sabbath is an essential requirement for salvation usually along with the other nine Commandments and often with the addition of other Mosaic Laws such as tithing, keeping ‘Jewish’ Festivals and eating only ‘clean’ meats etc.

It is the objections of the ‘legalists’ to the teachings of ‘Grace’ that form the basis for this website.  They are those who say ‘Yes -but!’ to Grace. These objections are dealt with in the ‘Yes – but!’ section under various sub-headings and with links to further material where warranted.



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