" Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess."(Matthew 23:24-25)
"The Outside" In Matthew 23, Jesus openly confronts the legalistic leaders of His day and He hit the nail on the head!! You cannot fix the inside by cleaning the outside. Legalism is when you apply rules to your life that give you the false hope of becoming accepted by God. The reason that it is a FALSE HOPE is because the only thing that can change your life is the application of TRUTH! The reason Jesus was so blunt to the Pharisees is because their man made rules were destroying the lives of innocent people. The Apostle Paul was still pushing the envelope of truth in Galatians when he said that the false teachers of legalism should be accursed. "Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."(Galations 1:7-8) Legalism would take days to explain, that is if it can be explained. The difficulty with trying to explain legalism is that the rules keep changing with each cultural change or with each new generation. At its core, legalism basically has a twofold purpose; (1) To give hope of appeasing God by applying man made rules to external man. (Which is completely void of the Grace of God and will not change the inner man nor appease God). (2) The second purpose for legalism is to give the preachers that control people through the "fear of breaking the rules" a sense of power over their flocks. "For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may GLORY IN YOUR FLESH. "(Galations 6:13)
Be Advised!! You cannot get out of legalism by simply reversing the "rules" or living a "different lifestyle." Legalism is a product of human nature combined with the popular religion of the day and the only way out is by a "Revelation of Grace"! So many people have tried to get out of legalism by trying to bring things back into their lives that they had quit doing because it was against the rules of their religious organization. Legalism is trying to please God with the actions of the flesh and cannot be reversed by more actions of the flesh. The only way to be free is to "know the truth" and in this matter, it's the truth of how the Holy Spirit works in a Christian's Life. Serving God is a matter of the heart, in any culture or in any denomination. It will take a while but you really can be free!!
Scott L. Boatner