by RC Sproul
Have you, as a Christian, ever been accused of legalism? That word is often bandied about in the Christian subculture incorrectly. For example, some people might call John a legalist because they view him as narrow-minded. But the term legalism does not refer to narrow-mindedness. In reality, legalism manifests itself in many subtle ways.
Basically, legalism involves abstracting the law of God from its original context. Some people seem to be preoccupied in the Christian life with obeying rules and regulations, and they conceive of Christianity as being a series of do’s and don’ts, cold and deadly set of moral principles. That’s one form of legalism, where one is concerned merely with the keeping of God’s law as an end in itself.
Now, God certainly cares about our following His commandments. Yet there is more to the story that we dare not forget. God gave laws such as the Ten Commandments in the context of the covenant. First, God was gracious. He redeemed His people out of slavery in Egypt and entered into a loving, filial relationship with Israel. Only after that grace-based relationship was established did God begin to define the specific laws that are pleasing to Him. I had a professor in graduate school who said, “The essence of Christian theology is grace, and the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.” The legalist isolates the law from the God who gave the law. He is not so much seeking to obey God or honor Christ as he is to obey rules that are devoid of any personal relationship.
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