From Liberty to Legalism
A Candid Study of Legalism, "Pharisees," and Christian Liberty

by Timothy S. Morton

Copyright, 1999
Timothy S. Morton
All Rights Reserved

All Scripture references and quotations are from the
Authorized King James Version of the Bible.

Chapter I
Legalism Verses Liberty

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1)

One aspect of salvation that seems little emphasized today is the fact that a born again Christian is free from the bondage of sin and the "yoke" of the law. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law...," purchasing our freedom with His blood, but as it was in Galatia in Paul's day, so it is today; there are still those who wish to take a Christian's liberty from him. Liberty must be jealously protected. If not, someone will invariably try to take it from him. From the influence of some "well meaning brethren," the Galatians were considering attempting to keep the Old Testament law along with receiving the work of Christ on the cross. Their "friends" were convincing them God would be more pleased and they would be more "acceptable" if they kept His "holy eternal law." Paul, however, rebukes them for such thinking and tells them only a "fool " would willingly trade liberty for bondage (Gal. 3:1-5). "Stand fast" he adjures them.

The old ways of man die hard. Even though a Christian is free from the law and the law is to be abandoned (Gal. 3:24), the tendency remains in him to devise codes and laws beyond the clear teaching of the Scriptures for others to follow. This tendency to "judge" another's actions (or lack of them) by one's own subjective standards and imply holiness is obtained in the keeping of them is the manifestation of what we call "legalism." Legalists love to be an "authority" or judge over others.

It has been said "a legalist is someone who is just a little to the right (that is ideologically) of you," and from a strictly personal perspective this may be true. An Episcopalian may call some Presbyterians "legalists" (or pharisaical); in turn the Presbyterians may call some Baptists "legalists"; and some Baptists may call even other groups "legalists." But where is the line? What must a person believe, say or do to become a true legalist or a Pharisee from a biblical perspective? How far can a believer go insisting on "standards" or "convictions" before he infringes on another Christian's liberty? This relevant and timely topic will be the subject of the following.

Defining The Terms

Before we go on we need to define and explain our terms. Many Fundamentalists when confronted with the term "legalism" (or "legalist") quickly insist it only applies to lost people who seek salvation by works of the law. Though it can mean this, "legalism" is not limited to this narrow definition as any dictionary can attest. A more common and accepted term among Bible believers for groups that teach salvation by works is "cult" instead of legalist. The Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Mormons, and other groups who teach salvation by works are routinely known as "a cult."

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition defines "legalism" as, "strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious moral code." Nearly all other dictionaries define it much the same (some do add as a second definition, "the belief of salvation by good works").

By the above definition it is completely accurate for us to use the term "legalism" (or "legalist") in this article as, "conformity to arbitrary moral codes, rules, or laws to remain in God's will, favor, or blessing after one receives Christ." In other words a believer who insists other believers must follow his or his group's subjective standards before they can live a life pleasing to God is a "legalist." They insist one must follow their "legal" code of behavior to remain in God's will.

We are not saying by this that a professing, born again, "Fundamentalist" who believes in salvation by grace but preaches conformity to his arbitrary "standards" to remain in God's will is a legalist to the extent Jehovah's Witness or other cultists are, but only that any compelled conformity to "laws," rules, or codes to remain in God's favor beyond the clear teaching of the Scriptures makes him a "legalist." He simply teaches or implies his own rules and regulations are "biblical" and others must adhere to them to be "godly." They could be called "Christian Legalists" since they are believers.

A "Pharisee" (or "pharisaical behavior") in this article refers to someone who, whether publicly or privately, manifests the negative or ungodly characteristics of the Pharisees as described in the Scriptures. Typically a Pharisee is someone who is more concerned with the outward "image" or the appearance they portray rather than true godliness and consecration of the heart. Christ characterized them as "hypocrites." Unfortunately, many of the traits of the Pharisees have endured the centuries and are quite obvious among many believers today.

When we speak of "liberty" or "Christian liberty," we are referring to the liberty or freedom every true Christian inherently has by being in Christ. "Liberty" is commonly defined as, "freedom or release from slavery, imprisonment, captivity, or any other form of arbitrary control." "Christian liberty" refers to a Christian's release and separation from sin, death (ultimately), hell, Satan, and the curse of the law by the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has freed use FROM the things that previously bound use, not IN them so we can continue to sin. Freedom FROM sin should not be twisted to mean freedom TO sin. Though with his liberty a believer can choose what he will do, unless he chooses within the realm of truth and righteousness, he places himself back into a form of bondage. True freedom is only found when one willingly places himself in subjection to God.

Must Liberty Be Protected?

Since man's creation it has been his nature to seek what he perceives to be freedom. Eve, thinking her and Adam were in bondage by not having a "knowledge of good and evil," exercised their "choice" and ate of the forbidden tree. The Serpent represented the tree as the source of freedom from their restraints but in fact it was the source of their ultimate bondage. By exercising their freewill, but in the process disobeying God, they became joined to sin and death and placed themselves under the subjection of the Serpent. Therefore, just having a freewill and the ability to choose is not the same as being free. Adam's choices became greatly restricted once he disobeyed. To truly be free one must have a source of liberty (God) and exercise their freewill within the parameters of that liberty (God's word and will). It has often been said, "with freedom comes responsibility."

Since the fall of Adam, however, an ugly side has been manifested in man's quest for freedom, in pursuing their own liberty many attempt (and often succeed) to steal it from others. Cain took his brother Abel's life thinking that would free him from the reproach of Abel's righteous life, but he was mistaken. Cain was marked for life for seeking his freedom at the expense of another or seeking it from the wrong source. Joseph's brethren, wanting to free themselves from his presence and influence, stole Joseph's freedom by selling him into slavery. However, while in bondage and even in prison, Joseph was more free in his heart than his brethren who were bound by the guilt of selling him. True liberty is more an attitude than a physical reality.

Human history is filled with accounts of individuals and groups of people stealing liberty from others. From physical bondage (such as slavery) to "intellectual bondage" (Catholics who deny their people access to the Scriptures, etc.), many feel it is their "duty" to suppress (for their "best interest," of course) the freedom of others. This is the very reason liberty is to be jealously guarded. In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to explain to the Galatians the preciousness of the liberty they have in Christ. There was a group of Jews ("well meaning," of course) who were insisting the Galatians must keep the law to become and remain a Christian. Paul spent six chapters explaining to them how they are free in Christ and cannot be perfected by the bondage of the Mosaic Law. He told them they were "foolish" for so readily giving up the liberty they have in Christ and "not obey[ing] the truth" (Gal. 3:1). Their "well meaning" Jewish "friends" were in fact "false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4).

The Pharisees are the most notorious advocates of bondage found in the Bible. Christ said of them, "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matt 23:4). They developed legalistic, man-made traditions such as meticulous hand washings and tithing of flower seeds which placed great burdens on the gullible and impressionable  public. Christ held these self-righteous hypocrites in the utmost contempt. He directed towards them some of the most scathing words in the Scriptures. As we said many of the traits of the Pharisees can be found among professing believers today, and the legalism of those who promote them is what we are going to concentrate on in the remainder of this article.

21st Century Pharisees?

If modern terminology was used during the first century, the Pharisees could have easily been considered "Bible believing Fundamentalists." They had the right "Bible," believed their Bible was the very word of God and took it literally, spent countless hours reading and studying it, believed the promise of the coming Messiah, believed in angels and the spirit world, and held to every other fundamental doctrine found in their Scriptures. To the Jewish public they were devout, dedicated, godly, and "orthodox," each a model or example for the common believer. Ironically, when the God they claimed to serve came to them in person they didn't recognize Him, and in less than four years they were so opposed to Him they directly caused His death! Their "godly" and "devout" appearance did not reflect the truth.

Even though they had a reputation of being extremely consecrated and devout, Christ reserved for them His most searing remarks and criticism. He sternly and publicly rebuked them for their pious attitude and hypocritical behavior while He exercised kindness, grace, and compassion towards those who were publicly branded as "sinners." Where did the Pharisees go wrong? They had the right God, Bible, heritage, and "doctrines," but what power or influence lead them astray? What caused them to be so harshly castigated by their Creator?

The answer, of course, can only be found in the Scriptures. The Pharisee's besetting sin was a vice that originated long before man came on the scene, that is, PRIDE. Pride and envy (Pro. 27:4) are probably the most consuming and destructive vices one can entertain. Their first victim was not even a man but no less than the anointed cherub Lucifer, "son of the morning" (Isa. 14:12)! Lucifer's new found pride blinded him to the point that he thought he could be like "the most high" (Isa. 14:14). His five "I will[s]" found in Isaiah chapter 14 expose Lucifer's pride and arrogance for all creation to see. Apparently, the Lord revealed these heavenly events in his word so man could read and learn of pride's destructive power (Pro. 16:18). From cherub to human, all who allow it to thrive ultimately suffer.

Every person is susceptible to pride. Since the fall there is an inherent desire in man to exalt himself or make himself appear better than he really is. That pride is always present, however, does not mean a believer must let it have its way. All true Christians have a new nature (actually Christ's own righteous nature) that is NOT susceptible to pride, and when they follow it pride is not in the picture. But believers also still have the old Adamic nature they were born with and pride is very much at home with this "old man," and whenever this nature is followed, pride is always manifested in some form.

Nearly every sin a person can commit has its roots in pride. If one lies it's because pride is afraid of the truth; if one steals it's because pride wants something; if one curses it's because pride says "I can say what I want"; if one exalts himself it's because pride loves the attention; if one is a religious hypocrite it's because pride wants to appear "godly." For all practical purposes the terms "pride" and "self" are interchangeable. It has often been said "self-preservation" is the strongest human trait and man will resort to nearly any means to protect himself. Likewise, when one is protecting his reputation or "image" before others, pride will resort to desperate measures to keep his bloated ego from embarrassment.

Chapter II
The Marks Of A Legalistic Pharisee

The traits or marks of a "Pharisee" did not originate with the Pharisees, it is just these characteristics are most clearly manifested in the Bible's account of the Pharisee's behavior. As we said these selfish tendencies which are fueled by pride are native in every human. Some, unfortunately, practice little restraint and these tendencies are often allowed to surface. Though the natural man is nothing but vain pride and bloated ego, it seems sometimes pride and conceit are most openly manifested by those who profess Christ.

The most proud, self-righteous, and legalistic, people your author has ever met have been professing Christians. Some Christians are so dogmatic in their subjective "standards" and "positions" that they, like the Pharisees, actually believe they are doing God service by compelling their "biblical" convictions on others. They are blinded by their conceit. Below we will list some of the most enduring traits of the Pharisees and detail how these legalistic tendencies are manifested among today's "Bible believing Christians."

The traits and characteristics outlined below detail many aspects of legalistic, pharisaical behavior. We are not saying that certain groups or sects of believers or even certain individuals manifest ALL of these traits, only that ALL believers manifest some of these traits to various degrees at some times in their life.

All Pharisees act as if they essentially have a monopoly on God's word, the knowledge of God's will, sound doctrine, and truth. 

In other words, any church, school, religious association, preacher, "scholar," or any other person who believes, says, or implies one must come to them only to find what God has said (to "interpret" the Bible), what God desires for their lives, or for truth is pharisaical and legalistic.

The 1st century Scribes and Pharisees manifested this theological arrogance often. In John 9 they ridiculed and mocked the blind man who was healed by Christ by saying, "Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples," and "Thou wast altogether born in sins, and doest thou teach us?" (vs 28, 33) as if no one could have truth but them. Some of them smugly said of Christ, "This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day," so even their Creator was not included in their legalistic monopoly.

Of course, all of the present day cults (Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, etc.) claim to be God's only true "church" and insist all not joined with them are "without hope and without God," but many saved "Fundamentalist Pharisees" share a similar mentality. Some Fundamental Baptists will allow someone to be saved who is not a member of their church but will not allow them to be in the "body of Christ" or "Christ's bride" ("Baptist Briders"). We cannot delve into a treatise on this subject in this article, but these Baptists believe they and they alone are the "Body of Christ." All other "churches" including other Baptists are considered "alien."

Other Fundamentalists will allow people in other "churches" to be saved and in the "Body of Christ" but insist they must follow certain arbitrary guidelines concerning dress, behavior, associations, etc., before they can be in God's will. We will discuss these matters in following topics; we mention it here to show how these requirements are a theological monopoly.

Pharisees are often "hyper-seperationists" in their attitude toward others. 

Since Pharisees believe they are "God's true people," they feel they must separate from all others who don't follow their "truth." True, Christians are to separate from the world, ungodliness, obvious heresy, and carnal believers, but these "sects" essentially refuse fellowship from all other believers simply because they don't go to their "type" of Fundamentalist church, keep their subjective "rules" and "laws," or idolize their favorite preachers.

A few years ago your author and his family began attending a church that he suspected was overly separative and legalistic and soon his suspicions were proved true. The pastor would routinely ridicule other Fundamentalists "without the camp" as if they were second or third class Christians (if Christians at all). He constantly tried to force his "convictions" on his people about movies, television, even radio, dress, and other things (which we concede can be used for evil, but the devices themselves are not evil) and strongly implied if others didn't live like he (claims) to live they couldn't be in God's will and God won't use them. He devoutly followed the camp meeting crowd out of Resaca, Georgia and barely tolerated the mention of any preacher or church that was not in this "clique."

The pastor apparently sensed we were not easily manipulated and we held no undue esteem for his favorite preachers or "crowd" and he appeared to only tolerate our presence. He made no attempt to visit us and inquire as to our intentions, he never talked to us about joining his church, and never checked on us when we missed a service. He finally did visit us (a couple months later) after we shamed him into it by saying we have been expecting him to come over, but he would not talk of anything of substance.

I gave him a copy of my book on marriage and divorce (From Marriage To Remarriage), fully knowing he believed differently about it, and sincerely asked him to write a paper detailing from Scripture what was unscriptural about it. He said he would but evidently didn't think it was worth his time because he never responded or proved my "errors." If I am so wrong why doesn't he show me my errors, especially after I asked him? This behavior gave me the impression that he thinks his (and his crowd's) position is not to be questioned; he is right, that's what he was taught, and that's that. Actually I think he read the book but couldn't "Scripturally" refute it. He had his "arguments" against it but no scripture, and he knew I required Scripture. These people are so "holy" and separated that they have in some ways separated themselves from God and the Bible!

Pharisees smugly denounce and ridicule believers who do not believe exactly as they do or belong to their "church;" they harbor a superior, condescending attitude toward others (John 9:34). 

Your author has heard legalistic pastors speak of Christians who leave their church and go to another Fundamentalist church as being "outside wallowing in the mire." They imply these believers have "backslidden" and even question their salvation simply because they don't go to "God's (their) church."  This attitude comes from a pharisaical conceit and arrogance these people entertain, they actually believe all truth and godliness centers around them.

Nearly all who believe they are "God's true church" harbor a superior, condescending attitude to some degree. Your author has meet some pastors (and especially their wives) who are quite conceited in their manner. They often act haughty and superior, refuse to speak, talk down to others, harbor a condescending attitude, etc. They act as if those who don't follow them (or adore them) are beneath them. What are they other than redeemed, hell deserving "dogs" like the rest of us Christians? What leads them to think they are an elite class of superior believers? PRIDE, people. Nothing but pure, unadulterated pride. They think since they wear the "right clothes," go to the "right places," associate with the "right people," go to the "right church," etc., they are special and favored by God. Although some of the brethren seem to manifest these vain characteristics more than others, we are ALL susceptible to it, Christian. BEWARE!

Pharisees have an outward show of "humility" and "consecration" while inwardly they are proud and self-righteous. 

The Lord's most used descriptive term for the Pharisees was "hypocrites." He publicly branded them as outwardly beautiful "whited sepulchers" but filled with "hypocrisy and iniquity." Hypocrisy is a natural offspring of pride. Pride wants a person to look good and be "well respected" regardless of the truth and will devise all sorts of schemes and plans to make this happen. To pride "image is everything" and Christians and preachers are by no means immune.

We need not mention all the nationally known "preachers" who "fell" once a scandal broke about them. They portrayed themselves as holy Christians others should emulate, but were actually living a lie before the public. What about all those living lies that have not yet been exposed? Sometimes it appears everybody is a hypocrite. There are preachers who preach holiness and godliness yet secretly lust after women and view pornography. There are married Christian "ladies" who in church "dress modestly and conservatively" but in public are "flirts" and little more than harlots. There are unmarried Christian young women who never miss a service and are well respected in church yet in secret they are engaged to one fellow and are "sleeping with" another. It is often a rude awakening for a new Christian, who is trying his best to live for God and do right, to find out that many of the people he admires and goes to church with are two-faced, lying hypocrites. For this reason we all must keep our eyes on Christ.

Remember the pastor above who denounced anyone having a television? He makes big boasts about not having a television yet we heard him with our own ears talking to a television advertiser about advertising his small business on local television. He was especially interested in an "NFL football package"! I guess it's all right to advertise on (thus financially supporting!) television along with beer companies and "wine coolers" as long as he doesn't have a television in his home! I fail to see how a "pastor" who is supposed to be "blameless" can justify such an inconsistency. Are not pastors supposed to be a Christian and a preacher before being a businessman?

We know of another preacher who bragged about being so consecrated that he wouldn't have a "sinful" television in his home, but whenever there was something on he wanted to watch he would go to his sister's and watch it on her TV! Hypocrites are everywhere, and if you'll look in the mirror you will find one more! Hypocrisy is something we all must constantly guard against.

I know several lost people who are more upstanding and genuine than most Christians. I have lost relatives who cuss and swear and make no claim to Christianity but they are consistent. They don't have a "phony" bone in their body. They act the same before everyone whether it be preacher or pauper and put on no "airs." And sad to say if a person really needed help they would be more likely to unselfishly help someone more than a lot of church-going Christians. Lost people are lost but they are not blind to hypocrisy and nothing alienates them much quicker than hypocrisy among church attendees. Many times when out visiting people the issue of hypocrites in the church is brought up. All one can do is point them to Christ and show how He loves them and died for them and how His offer of salvation is genuine. You will very rarely gain anything by defending a brother a lost person thinks is a hypocrite (he usually is!). Point them to Christ.

Pharisees desire the praise of men; they desire to be honored among themselves and held in high esteem by the public. 

Pride loves praise. Often when one goes to a "camp-meeting" or "preacher convention" he hears enough preachers praising each other to last a lifetime. Usually the host pastor when introducing the "keynote speaker" will praise him to "high-heaven" as if he is the thirteenth apostle. And in turn the guest preacher will praise the pastor. It's enough to make one sick.

One word that is commonly heard around preacher conferences is "doctor." If one didn't know better he would think there are more "doctors" in some of these conferences than there are in a hospital!. Have you ever looked through a "Sword of the Lord" or other Christian paper at the "lineup" at one of the larger meetings? They are nearly all addressed as "doctor." But you know what's really interesting about this, most of them aren't doctors at all. They hold what's known as an "honorary doctorate" which is nothing more than a piece of paper. (For a more detailed examination of the "honorary doctorate" see our article "Are All Doctors Really Doctors?")

In their eyes the highest form of praise one preacher can give another is the esteemed title of "doctor" so many Christian colleges and universities have "granted" a "doctorate" to their favorite preachers as an honor. However, instead of treating the doctorate as an honor, many preachers actually treat it as if it were earned! They call themselves "doctor," sign their names "doctor," encourage others to call them "doctor," and even monogram "Dr." on their clothes. Why do otherwise sound and sensible preachers engage in such deceptive behavior? "And [they] love...greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi [Doctor, Doctor]" (Matt. 23:6-8). Pride and envy can cause the best of men to succumb to their influence.

"Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" (Pro. 27:4)

Pharisees teach their man-made traditions as God's eternal laws. 

Though most present day "Fundamentalist" Pharisees will concede doctrinally that a person is saved and KEPT by grace, their practice indicates otherwise. Pharisees always have arbitrary standards they essentially compel others to keep before they will acknowledge a person may be saved.

To many divorce and/or remarriage is in essence an "unpardonable sin." Even if they allow a divorced Christian to be saved in their eyes, they still treat them as a lower class of believer. No divorced person ever will be able to live up to the "holy" standards of the Pharisee, nor will the Pharisees allow them any type of ministry. We have covered this matter in much detail in our book, From Marriage To Remarriage.

Some insist if a woman (or man) doesn't dress in a certain way then her salvation is in question. Some will go as far as saying she definitely is NOT saved in spite of what she professes. They self-righteously feel their standard on dress is God's standard. This legalistic attitude is manifested in many ways.

If one does not dress in a manner that is acceptable to the Pharisees "righteous standard," they will treat the poor person as if they are a little more than a leper. Some are so righteousness they will not allow an "improperly dressed" person (Christian or not) in their presence to worship the Lord. In many of their churches one can even find signs that state "Women wearing slacks or a "pantsuit" are not permitted in the sanctuary!" These Pharisees are much too holy to allow someone with such "low standards" or morals near them. They must ban them from their presence. This is one of the most blatant manifestations of hypocrisy and legalism one can imagine. Believers who will deny a fellow believer or a person seeking salvation entrance into (supposedly) God's house and God's (perceived) presence because of their arbitrary standards. It is not a question of decency but of opinion. If the hearts and secrets of some of those who insist on such outward "rules" were revealed, they would be seen for what they really are: lying, two-faced, hypocrites.

All the Bible really says about dress in the New Testament can be boiled down to one word, "modest" (1 Tim. 2:9). Every Christian should dress and behave modestly, that is in a descent manner that does not draw attention to oneself. In many instances certain slacks can be more modest than some dresses. But we understand, the issue is not modesty or simple decency, but conformation to a subjective, humanistic standard contrived by modern day Pharisees. We know about the verses they use to justify their position, but just like any Pharisee the "law" is more important than the person. Christ said, however, "The sabbath (law) was made for man, and not man for the sabbath (law)" (Mark 2:27).

The Pharisees and their wives take great pride in their "scriptural dress" and godly manner, but they are blind to the fact they often violate the simple modesty principle. How many of you have seen men and women wear clothes that were "technically correct" (long enough, high enough, etc.), but anything but modest. Bright, flashy dresses; thick, chalky makeup; big, bouncy hair, bold, obvious jewelry, etc., that are beyond the average attire of those around them or on the cutting edge of "fashion," is not modesty. Modesty does not draw attention to itself in any manner, but these people lust after attention. Hypocrites.

Pharisees seek to live off the charity of others, and believe it is the duty of others to support them. 

It's sad to say but among Fundamental preachers are some of the biggest "leeches" in society. Sometimes I think the old "preacher joke," "The reason I became a preacher is I don't like to work," is more true than not. To some pastors and preachers the thought of an outside job to help support themselves and their families is an abomination. They insist it is the duty of their congregation, the government, or anyone else to support them, and they have their "proof texts" to back them up. Granted, the Bible says believers are to support those who teach them, and most believers have little problem with this. The problem arises when a pastor of a new or small church expects others to sacrifice more than the pastor is willing to. This attitude can hinder the pastor's work greatly because most people must work for their income and expect their pastor to work in some form also.

I know of missionaries who expect their monthly support to be considerably greater than that of the majority of Christians and probably greater than 95% of the people in the area of their mission field. A missionary came to a rural town here in West Virginia to start a church and required well above average monthly support claiming he needed it so he could build his church "full time" without having to work. After he got his support he then moved to the area and established a church in a building, but hardly no one came. That was over five years ago and as far as I know he still just preaches to his family. He may have the best intentions and be sincere in his mission, but people in his area of Appalachia are skeptical, independent, and have little use for a preacher that won't become "one of them." Preachers and missionaries with the best of intentions cannot expect people to listen to and respect them if they claim special privileges or act "allergic to work."

Even though the apostle Paul stated he has "power" to "forbear working" and could "live of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:6, 14), for his testimony's sake he didn't exercise this power and worked at a public job. Unlike many today Paul believed his testimony was more important than his "rights" (1 Cor. 9:12), even rights God has "ordained." It is unfortunate that many who wish to emulate Paul won't follow him in this area. They act as if common work is beneath them ("If I don't get more support, I might have to resort to work!"), and sometimes bring other like-minded preacher friends in to make his congregation feel "guilty" ("You should be ashamed for not supporting your [lazy] pastor"). Other preachers act as if their church members belongings are their property at will. Being compulsive borrowers, borrowing anything from vehicles to pencils (only sometimes returning them), they take their congregation for granted and thus damage their testimony.

Some preachers have been known to go into a Christian's place of business and embarrass the brother by asking him to give him things (clothing, food, appliances, etc.). This places the owner in an uncomfortable situation, he's wanting to do right but feels he is being taken advantage of. Those who use God's name and word as an excuse for laziness will be little respected by their brethren and in their community.

Some evangelists driving in very expensive busses, having the best of clothes for himself and his family (much better than most Christians), boasting about having "four-wheelers," boats, a summer cottage, etc., and taking lengthy trips overseas are so caught up in their lifestyle they actually believe this "lifestyle" is normal for "someone in God's will." They behave more like "prosperity gospel" Charismatics than Bible believing Fundamentalists. They imply prosperity is a sign of God's blessing, and if you want to get in on it you can began by supporting them! Of course, they have a lifestyle to maintain.

It is not that Christians are "tight-wads" and refuse to support God's work, on the contrary Christians are usually very generous, it's they do not like to support laziness in anyone. The reason some preachers don't get the support they want is they are notoriously lazy and slothful. Many preachers are even too lazy to study. From listening to some preachers a few times one soon learns they only have a handful of original messages and just "preach" variations of them. Unfortunately, one could listen to one of these preachers five or six times and hear virtually everything of substance he has to say; the rest is just "filler." Mature, seasoned believers soon recognize this laziness and are not eager to support it. On the other hand, a preacher who is industrious and doesn't neglect study but regularly delivers vibrant, original messages will often receive adequate or even abundant support without ever asking for it.

Pharisees idolize certain leaders of their group. 

One doesn't have to be a Christian very long before he realizes there are certain "patriarchs" (some call them "Protestant Popes") that rule in their little corner of Fundamentalism. To follow a man who is following Christ is a Biblical practice, but to idolize someone like some of these preachers are idolized is obviously not Scriptural. These "big boys" usually attained their status by appearing to do a great work for God, whether building a large ministry, being an accepted scholar, being a "gifted" speaker, having a "charismatic" personality, being a devout "militant Fundamentalist", etc., they are placed by their peers in the limelight of Christendom.

We are not mentioning this to make light of or demean the work of these men, many of them have been used of God to win souls and exalt Christ. However, pride loves "good press" and ego delights in being exalted and esteemed by others, so it is very easy for any believer to allow and even encourage others to think more of him than they should. The self-indulgence of allowing excessive praise of one's self will always lead to the person beginning to believe it. Pride and praise are never satisfied and feed on themselves. These men name ministries after themselves, churches after themselves, schools after themselves, Bibles after themselves, etc. as if their names convey some sort of "holiness." They love the recognition. They will even allow others to name churches after them ("Hyles" Baptist Church!). I wonder if Paul, John, or even Elijah would have allowed such practices?

It is beneficial for one to have a sort of spiritual mentor: someone who is more spiritual than yourself to look up to for advice and guidance, but one must always remember, this person no matter how spiritual, godly, or accomplished he is, he is just a man (or woman). He is to be followed ONLY as he follows Christ. To esteem him too highly is destructive for both parties. It gives occasion to the flesh (of the mentor) to glory in itself, and it also causes the less mature to have too much confidence in a mere man. It is good to "look up" to people who help one in his Christian life as long as he always looks beyond them to the Lord Jesus Christ at the same time.

Pharisees "say and do not" or don't "practice what they preach." 

Saying one thing and doing another is the most obvious form of hypocrisy. The Pharisees of old would place great burdens on people claiming the trial would make them more "godly" or "spiritual" like they claimed to be. However, in truth they would not consider bearing such a load themselves. As long as they had the appearance of being "spiritual," pius, devout, etc., that was all that concerned them.

Today's hypocritical Pharisees may not be as obvious in their hypocrisy, but the hypocrisy is still there. Believer it or not, some preachers will preach things they themselves have no intention of following (to some of you this may be a shock to learn, but to us who have been around Fundamentalist preachers for a while, this is common knowledge). Some essentially command their people to "tithe" yet they don't tithe themselves. Some "respected" evangelists will preach hard and heavy on "proper dress for Christian women," but their own wife and/or daughters dress like harlots away from church. Others may insist it is "wrong" to gamble but they secretly buy lottery tickets (I wonder what they would do if they won? Their "sin" would be exposed! Of course, they would justify it as "God's will"). Still others may rave and rant against television but they want to gain income from it through advertising. The list is nearly endless.

I once heard a preacher say, "Do as I say, not as I do," and I thought "If you don't do it, buddy, why should anyone else. People like this are little esteemed and little followed by someone wanting to follow the truth. As another has said, "It is amazing how easy it is for a legalist to identify wrong behavior in the lives and ministries of others while he ignores or excuses the same behavior in his life."

Pharisees restrain others from having or seeking true godliness. 

Pharisees will often "counsel" a new Christian by saying something like, "You are now full of zeal and like to shout and rejoice but these "emotionalisms" will diminish as you become more mature." That is, the Pharisees don't want to be "showed up" by someone who thirsts for truth, knowledge, and God more than they do or openly expresses their love of the Lord, so they "encourage" them to act more "dignified and restrained." Pharisees can't stand for someone else to have the preeminence. They turn green with envy.

On the other hand some preachers try to shame or force Christians into emotional outbursts or shouting by saying things like, "You might as well shout here because we will all be shouting in heaven," "When the Lord saves you He puts a shout on your lips, if you don't want to shout you had better check and see if what you have is real," etc., but they apparently don't realize that if they get someone to shout by making them feel guilty, the shout is not real. If it is not from the heart and unto the Lord, it is hypocrisy. I am not against shouting or rejoicing, by no means, but it must come forth freely as unto the Lord, not drawn out by coercion. I'm afraid, however, from what I have observed in some churches, shouting is to some Baptists what "tongues" are for Charismatics, a means to get attention.

Pharisees refuse to even consider any doctrine or biblical reasoning that doesn't conform to their position despite all indications to the contrary. 

Truth, reason and sound Bible reasoning have little or no effect on a "dyed-in-the-wool" Pharisee. We get emails from all kinds of "believers" because of our web site. Many are critical of the KJB and attack our stand, others want to "correct" us concerning something we wrote in one of our articles, some want to ask us a question, and some just want to "pick a fight" and argue.

I once got an email from a fellow who insisted our position that a believer is secure in Christ and cannot loose his salvation is wrong and he sent me some links to "the truth." I checked his links, they contained the same old Arminian rhetoric I have heard for years. I wrote him back and in the course of the letter mentioned there were no "Christians" found in the Bible until Acts 11:26. Well, he took issue with this statement and wrote back telling me how I was wrong and insisted there were Christians before Acts 11. He said the terms "Christian" and "disciple" were "synonymous" and even though the term "Christian" wasn't used, all disciples were Christians.

This fellow just wanted to argue, facts that can easily be checked only got in his way. An eight year old could find the truth in minutes with only a Bible and concordance. The simple fact is the first mention of the term "Christian" is in Acts 11:26. This is not to say there were not saved people before then, only that there were no believers called Christians before then. The Holy Spirit waited until AFTER the new birth was fully established on the day of Pentecost, after the conversion of Saul (the apostle to the Gentiles) and after the conversion of Corneilus (the first Gentile convert) before He allowed this designation of believers to come about. This fellow assumes every saved person in any age is a "born again Christian" but the Bible simply doesn't support him (See our work, The Difference Is In The Dispensations).

As for the terms "Christian" and "disciple" being synonymous, I wrote the guy back and said if his contention was true then "the Pharisees must have been "Moses's Christians" as well as "Moses's disciples" (John 9:28), and John's disciples must have been "Christians" before they ever heard of Christ (Acts 19:1-7)." The Bible has a way of correcting bigots and those who adhere to assumed doctrines, but a Pharisee will not receive correction, not even from the Bible. [I also asked this fellow if he ever sinned and lost his salvation since he believed any sin would cost one his salvation, of course, he refused to answer. They never do. I have yet to have someone who believes a born again Christian can loose their salvation admit they have ever sinned and lost theirs. "Scribes, Pharisees, Hypocrites."]

Pharisees act as if they are "favored" by God" and are allowed more liberties than the "average Christian."

They feel they are not subject to Biblical commands and guidelines that "common Christians" are subject to. Some preachers are bad about this, they act (although they will never openly admit it) because they are a preacher or pastor that they are superior to the "laity" and the Lord will allow them certain liberties (sins) He won't tolerate in others. They will preach against some vice from the pulpit to the common believer, but behave as if they are immune from the vice because of their "godly position." How arrogant of them to take credit of the grace of God, thinking their lack of chastening from God is a license to excess.

 Some of the biggest gossips I have ever encountered in my life have been preachers. I have heard Fundamentalist preachers talking among themselves about other preachers and Christians something pitiful. They will spread rumors, add comments to the rumors, make "off-color" comments about others, laugh and joke about another's unfortunate situation, etc., as if it's acceptable preacher behavior. They act little different than a group of men at a poker game or bar. The only real difference is the preachers (usually) don't swear or "drink" (at least not in church).

"Preacher gossip" is a very real problem. Unfortunately, the majority of preachers I have encountered engage in it to some extent (a few truly godly preachers don't, and they are to be admired.) They get in their little groups of two or more or on the phone and simply gossip. "Did you hear about what happened to brother So-and-so?" "No, what happened?" "I heard his wife..." and on it goes. I have heard preachers refer to their conversations as "Preacher gossip." They apparently just don't feel their "gossip" is really gossip because they are "God-called preachers." They feel they are an elite class of Christian.

I personally know of preachers who can't help but repeat things told them in confidence. It seems they are compelled to tell secrets, sometimes destroying people and ministries. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made as a Christian was confiding in my "pastor" at the time.  I told him some things that were somewhat sensitive in nature and insisted I did not want them repeated (it was nothing incriminating about myself only some personal matters that could be misunderstood) and he promised me, "What you told me today, brother, will not leave this room." Well, he must have called someone in the room and told them because within a few days it was the prevailing gossip in the church. As with nearly all rumors this gossip that was going around little resembled the things I told him, and added to it was pure fabrications which made me and my wife out to be "scoundrels." I traced the gossip backwards and found out he had told his family, including his daughters, who I now know are notorious gossips.

When I confronted the pastor about this matter he would admit to nothing. He would not admit he told his daughters, he would not admit they repeated anything or were inventing stories, nor would he even try to deal with the matter. This whole matter was a bitter pill to swallow for me, and I felt betrayed. I actually trusted the man, but, as they say, "live and learn."  Because of the rumors and the atmosphere they created, my wife and I were essentially forced to leave the church. I had attended there for 11 years (several years longer than this pastor had been there). After we left and other members asked him why we left he more or less said, "I have no idea" and then proceeded to imply the reason was likely another person in the church to take suspicion off of him and his family. Today that church is only a shadow of what it once was, many other long-term members have left for similar reasons.

Nevertheless, the "pastor" apparently felt no guilt or remorse for his actions. After some reflection on the matter and talking to other members I realized the man was only a figurehead  pastor, he more or less did what he was told by the female members of his family. For him to admit any wrong on the part of his "girls" would make his life miserable at home and destroy the image he promotes of himself and his family. So he sacrificed us and other faithful church members to protect himself and his reputation. I'm sure, however, he has convinced himself that he has done the best he could with the situation, and the Lord must approve since He still allows him to "preach" and is still "blessing" him.

How vain and shallow we humans are, it's a wonder the Lord doesn't consume us all in our conceit and vanity!

There are a few more "holy" vices found among believers like lying (for the glory of God, of course), swearing (more preachers than you realize "cuss" or swear), gambling (oh, yes) and even worse things. They have justified these actions in their minds reasoning, if they are not the "perfect will" of God, they are at least "acceptable" in his sight because they are His "chosen vessels." They seem to reason since God hasn't stricken them with some calamity they must be approved, but this is faulty, humanistic reasoning. God has made his will clear with His word; any deviation from it will have consequences.

The Scriptural Limits

Contrary to what a legalistic Pharisee would have you believe, they are not the only conduit of truth, nor are they the final authority on Christian behavior. Only the Scriptures are (KJB). I have heard preachers "milk" passages (like Deut. 22:5) and twist them drastically to "prove" their personal preference on "hair," "dress," "cards," "TV," "church attendance," "tithing," and a multitude of other subjects. If these people want to follow their own preferences on these matters themselves, fine; but when they try to force them on others and insist their standards are the Bible standards, they cross the line into legalism.

C. I. Scofield aptly said, "The church has no authority to decide questions of personal liberty in things not expressly forbidden in Scripture." It couldn't be said any plainer. If the church as body has no authority over a believer's personal liberty where the Bible is silent or not specific, how much less a group or individual? Those who think otherwise are deceived.  "So then every one of us shall give account of HIMSELF to God" (Rom. 14:12).

Chapter III
Liberty's Limitations

From the above two chapters, with all our "negativeness," the reader may think we have a "sour" outlook on many Christians, preachers, or on Christianity in general, but that is not the case. We only have a sour outlook on selfish human nature. We are convinced the primary detriment to spirit-filled, godly living among Christians is not Satan but conceited, vile human nature (the "old man") given place in a believer's heart.  A Christian that lives after the Spirit, however, will put to death the old man and not act like a Pharisee or live as a hypocrite.  Furthermore, he will not unduly judge his brother or become a "stumblingblock" in his way (Rom. 14:13).  In fact, a truly Spirit-filled believer will willingly relinquish his personal liberties and give up his freedoms for the benefit of his brethren.

The liberty Christ gives believers is not intended to be used as a means for self gratification or personal excess. Neither is it to be used as "stumblingblock" to others. The same Paul who said, ""Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free..." (Gal. 5:1), also said, "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all..." (1 Cor. 9:19) . The difference between the statements is in Galatians Paul is dealing with the sufficiency of salvation in Christ alone apart from the bondage of works or the law, but in Corinthians he is speaking of a believers attitude and relationship with other believers. A Christian should never concede or "give an inch" to those who contend there is an element of works or "law-keeping" necessary for one to be saved or remain saved. When it comes to the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross, and that work alone, to secure a believers salvation for all eternity ("It is FINISHED"), every believer should "stand fast" for the truth; but when dealing with matters of personal liberty, every believer should be willing to concede his "rights".

"Meats," "Days," and More

 In New Testament times the issue of a Christian eating "meats" offered to idols was a "hot" issue. Believers that were "strong" in faith (Rom. 15:1) realized, "that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" (1 Cor. 8:4) and that meats offered to them were in no way tainted or unclean. They could eat the meats with a clear conscience. However, there were other believers who for one reason or another could not eat the "meats" with a clear conscience. They were truly Christians like their "strong" brethren, but their conscience was "weak" and would not allow them to eat the meats without feeling "defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7).  What does Paul do? Does he rebuke and berate the "weak" and tell them to "be strong" and go ahead and eat the meat, defiling themselves in their own eyes? Not at all. Instead he encourages the "strong" to "bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please [themselves]" (Rom. 15:1).

Clearly, the "Christian thing to do" when a believer's liberty infringes on another believer's weakness is for the strong to sacrifice their liberty for the sake of his brother. This is what Christ did. He did not have to die on the cross and suffer all He did. He is the God of heaven. He willingly humbled Himself and became a man for the sake of man because man was weak and had a great need (Phil. 2:6-8). So likewise should His followers do the same. If one truly loves his brother (as he is commanded to), he will avoid doing anything that would harm him. He would gladly give up most anything that is rightfully his if it in some way would cause his brother to stumble as a Christian. Paul insists it is only right for a believer who eats meats offered to idols to abstain from eating them if it hurts another (Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 8:1-13, 9:19-22). And if one insists on his "right" to eat his meats, ignoring the weakness of his brother, he sins against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12).  "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend" (1 Cor 8:13).

"Meats" were only one example of differences in the positions of believers in the New Testament. Another was the keeping of "days" (Rom. 14:5-6). Apparently, some believers felt certain days were holier than others (The Lords Day?) or deserved special recognition while others esteemed every day alike. Paul, didn't take sides, he simply said, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). Paul had no problem with a believer esteeming or not esteeming any certain day. He knew once a believer gets saved and is "in Christ," "days" don't matter. He also knew the "Lord's Day" was not a "holy day" or a even replacement of the Jewish Sabbath, but many Christians today don't realize this.

Today, many believers esteem the Lord's Day (Sunday) as some sort of "Christian Sabbath" (Of course, the Bible knows nothing of a "Christian Sabbath," it only speaks of an Old Testament Sabbath given to Israel), but these believers treat Sunday as if it is the Sabbath. This belief is likely a "carry over" from Catholicism and before that Judaism. Christ died nearly 2000 years ago to free man from the law yet remnants of it still linger. However, the Lord's day is NOT the Sabbath, and as surprising as it may sound, neither is it a "command" that Christians observe it. Christians do assemble, give, take the "Lord's Supper," etc., on the "first day of the week," but this is only by following the EXAMPLE of the Scriptures; it is NOT a command! Some of you reading this are probably having convulsions about now, but you will have to show us from the Bible where observance of the Lord's Day is commanded to convince us otherwise.

True, the Bible does say, "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together," but it still does not require any certain day to be preferred or esteemed above another. It does not even stipulate as to how often believers should assemble (but at least once a week has been given as an example). Nevertheless, the "strong" brother should not ridicule, intimidate, or browbeat the "weak" over the issue of observing "days." If some Christians hold Sunday in higher esteem than the other six days of the week, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5).

Although "meats" and "days" were the examples Paul used in his letters, their are many other issues that can fall into this category. Dress, hair length, head covering (women), foot-washing, manner of communion, movies, television, radio, internet, etc., etc., are issues that can fit into the same category today. As we saw in the previous chapter, many preach their opinion as Bible doctrine on these matters and will barely tolerate those who don't agree. If their egos were not so bloated they would realize the Bible is not specific on any of these subjects.

The "Rights" of a Christian

Today, it seems, everybody wants to stand up for their "rights." Even though the Bible says nothing about a Christian in himself having "rights," many believers can be heard defending or upholding them. Your author has heard Fundamentalist preachers say things like, "It is my right as a Christian to have an expensive home or a luxury car," "It is my right to play golf all day or go on a cruise," "It is my right to be supported by you people (Christians) and not have to work," etc. Again, they talk more like "prosperity gospel" Charismatics than "Bible believing Fundamentalists." How unlike their Savior they are. Christ had the highest "right" in the universe "being in the form of God..." but he humbled Himself and waived His rights so He could save us. Paul, who followed Christ, waived all his "rights" ("But I have used none of these things...for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void," 1 Cor. 9:15), even those "ordained of God" (1 Cor. 9:14). But regardless of what they say, these upholders of rights are not following either.

The essence of the "rights" a Christian has while in this world is a right to call God his Father, Christ his Savior, the Holy Spirit his comforter, and the right to SUFFER for them (2 Tim. 3:12). The Bible does not "grant" believers the right to much more. True, a preacher in a sense has a right to be supported by those he teaches, but a man who will waive that right for the sake of the gospel and his testimony MORE follows the leading of Christ. It has been said the one word that most defines the true Christian "mentality" is "Others." Philippians 2:3 says this plainly, "...let each esteem others BETTER than himself." This one verse blows a huge hole in the "self-esteem" and the "Christian rights" promoters so prevalent today. They emphasize "self" while the Scriptures emphasize "others." It is sad to say but much that is heard from Fundamentalist pulpits today is more self-serving rhetoric than sound Bible doctrine. Likewise, many Christians and preachers wouldn't consider sacrificing some of their "rights" for the sake of their brethren or the gospel. Their behavior and attitude of excess is often the fuel that drives those who criticize Christianity as a hypocritical, money-making "scam."

The Christian Attitude

Whether a person is a legalist, Pharisee, or a humble sacrificial Christian is a result of their mentality or attitude. It stands to reason if one's attitude is derived from the wrong source he can't help but have the wrong attitude. If a preacher is found proclaiming his rights, and the Bible places no emphasis on rights (and it doesn't), then the preacher obviously derived his attitude from a source other than the Bible. That the preacher has verses to supposedly back up his claims is immaterial; his attitude is contrary to the sacrificial attitude found throughout the Scriptures.

The Bible is emphatic as to the attitude a Christian is to have. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," states it plainly. A Christian is to have Christ's attitude. He or she is to FOLLOW (not "imitate") their Savior in His attitude and behavior through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is every Christians "calling," "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet 2:21). The "steps" of a beaten, bloody, savior; climbing a hill to His death on a cross, not for Himself but for OTHERS, is not the "steps" of a modern day Christian who demands his rights! A preacher who misuses the Scriptures to convince gullible believers to support his extravagant and flamboyant lifestyle does not have the "mind of Christ." He has more the mind of "SELF."

In Galatians chapter 6 the Scriptures associate a believer with the "Law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), however, this law is not so much a "law" of specific commands but of an attitude or spiritual "mind set". The "law of Christ" does not consist of negative "thou shalt nots" but of positive yielding of one's "members" to the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6). When a believer "walk[s] in the Spirit" or is "led of the Spirit," he is fulfilling the law of Christ. But when he yields to the "flesh," he is not following the law of Christ, and the "works of the flesh" manifest this (Gal. 5:16-21). Therefore, "the law of Christ" is not a law like the Pharisees would have one think. They often say, "Christians are under a law, the law of Christ," but they assume the "law of Christ" is negative like other laws in the Bible. The Bible does not say one can break the "law of Christ," but it does say one can "fulfil" it.  Christians ARE commanded, however, to, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16), and when they obey, they "fulfil the law of Christ."

Some of you may take issue with us for these statements claiming were are the very thing we oppose (legalistic), but, brethren, the Bible is clear on the attitude and disposition a Christian should have. There are a multitude of verses that deal with the issue (Matt. 4:19, 8:22; Luke 9:23; John 10:4; 1 Cor. 11:1; etc.). As we mentioned above, a legalist is someone who goes beyond the teaching of the Scriptures with their own subjective rules and laws as a means to "holiness." They are not satisfied with the Bible's "standards" and feel they must add to them for the sake of "godliness." As another has said, "We are free to counsel one another, and help one another, but not to legislate. It is wrong, absolutely wrong, to do so. It becomes legality when we make unwarranted demands upon others in an area not prohibited by Scripture."

The "Weak" and the "Strong"

We mentioned how Paul classified believers as "weak" and "strong" when dealing with personal liberties and limitations, but Paul was not implying that the "strong" was superior to the "weak" or the weak necessarily needed to become "strong." He didn't take sides (even though he, himself held the "strong" position). He was simply telling believers they are not to judge each other on matters of personal liberty and limitations that the Bible is not specific on. Paul very well knew the human tendency to be judgmental of others (he used to be a Pharisee) and he spent considerable time adjuring others not to unduly judge. What Paul considers "weak" or "strong" about believers is not the believer's position or standing before God but the condition of their conscience. The "weak" had a weak conscience as to what it would allow the person to do while the "strong" had a strong conscience.

The problem arises when a "weak" or "strong" believer observes his "opposite" doing something different than he does. When a "weak" believer sees a "strong" doing something his weak conscience will not allow him to do (like eating meats offered to idols) he is likely to judge him for it. On the other hand, when a "strong" believer sees a "weak" abstaining from something for "religious reasons" that the "strong's" conscience allows, he could "despise" his brother's "ignorant" behavior. These tendencies are very real and must be vigilantly guarded against by every believer. The lesson is Christians are not to judge each other in these matters, and if anyone must concede, of course, it is to be the "strong." If he refuses to sacrifice his liberty for the sake of his brethren and unity, he may be "strong" in conscience but he is weak in following Christ.

Legalism's Only Remedy

The remedy for legalism or pharisaical behavior is simple in concept but hard for many in practice. In fact, nearly every spiritual fault or sin a believer may find himself in has the same remedy, that is, REPENT! Once you see your fault or sin for what it really is, confess it to God, repent of it (turn from it, change your mind about it), and through the power of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit strive to overcome it. Positionally all Christians are "overcomers" by the work of Christ, but personally every believer must avail himself of Christ's power so he can overcome sin in his daily walk (See our work, More Than Forgiven, under the heading, "Sanctification," for a more detailed look at overcoming sin).  He must "yield" his "members" to God (Rom. 6:11-16). However, before one can repent and "get right" he must first see that he is wrong, and this is the legalists weakness (in fact, blindness), like any other Pharisee he can't see where he is wrong.

The only way anyone, saved or lost, can see their spiritual needs is through the word of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will convict their hearts of their sin once they are exposed to God's word, but it is up to each individual as to what they do with the conviction. Some through the word follow the conviction to its only satisfying answer, Christ; while sadly the majority harden themselves against the conviction and turn away. Some Christians who yielded to the Holy Spirit and received Christ to be saved in turn harden themselves against the wooing of the Spirit to FOLLOW Christ. Christians will not hesitate to trust God with their "soul," but many resist to trust Him with their LIFE!

In Conclusion

To paraphrase a well known proverb, "The road to legalism is paved with good intentions." Most who desire to lord it over other Christians with their brand of legalism got there (like any Pharisee) by thinking they were doing God a service. They believe their "standards" are an aid to godliness and holiness and all believers who seek these virtues must adhere to them. As with all true believers, they began their Christian life with liberty, that is, freedom from the law, sin, death, and Hell, but they by their "laws" wish to restrict the liberty of others and judge those who don't "conform." They attempt to "legislate" righteousness on people, but the Bible testifies true righteousness can come only from the inside. As has been said, "The law (any law) is like a mirror, one can look in it and see he is dirty, but he cannot wash himself with it," so even if the legalist's law was scriptural, following it would not make one righteous.

As we mentioned above, every Christian has the tendency and ability to be legalistic. And we think it is safe to say every believer has at times spoken or acted toward a brother in a legalistic or pharisaical manner. Pride and envy are enemies of us all, but we must overcome them by the power of God. If we don't then we become a hindrance to the gospel rather than a friend. God help us all to have the sacrificial "mind of Christ" and give up our "rights" where they hinder other people, forsaking the evil attitude of darkness. When we do then we can truly enjoy the precious liberty we have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen!


This appendix contains a sermon outline dealing with legalism gleaned from the Internet. The address and author are unknown.

Sermon Outline on Legalism

I. Trying To Help God—When He Doesn't Need The Help.

A. Legalism thinks that more rules are needed.
          1. Not happy with the restrictions that are given by God, legalists feel compelled to come up with new
          2. It is, therefore, a primarily negative approach to religion.
          3. "Don't do it," is the legalist's loudest call (Col. 2:20-23).

B. The Jews excelled in legalism (Mat. 23:1-33).
          1. During the Inter-testament Period, the Jews devised the idea of "hedges around the Torah."
          2. They reasoned that Moses had surely spoken many things he did not record.
          3. These rules just happened to be the very ones they devised to help God with His job.
          4. They were called the "Oral Torah."
          5. In practice, they were laws invented by men to keep people a step, or two, or three away from
          breaking a law of God.
          6. These laws were the very things that Jesus condemned with great passion (Mk. 7:1-13).
          7. By His rejecting the "hedges," the religious establishment had built, they concluded that Jesus was
          a blasphemer (Jn. 5:8-16; 9:13-16).
          8. Legalism saw the holiest man that ever lived as being unholy (Matt. 12:23-24).

C. Consider a few of the more contemporary hedges that some have tried to impose on others.
          1. Since many movies are not good, don't see any movies.
          2. Since you can gamble with playing cards, don't use cards.
          3. Since T. V. has violence and distorted sexuality in many programs, don't watch T. V.
          4. Since a certain amount of modern music promotes nonchristian agendas, don't listen to
          contemporary music.
          5. If a modern Bible translation has some error, do not refer to anything good in it.
          6. God originally didn't allow meat to be eaten, so we should be vegetarians.
          7. Since we don't know what might happen if people were to meet in private homes for Bible studies,
          studies must be in the church building.
          8. Since drama is not an acceptable substitute for worship, there can be no drama in any setting at
          9. Because some people want to change the biblical nature of the Lord's Day assembly, even after we
          have properly engaged in the commanded service, there can still be no other type of assembly on the
          Lord's Day than a "church" service.
          10. Since irreverence is a problem in religion, "thee" and "thou" must be used in prayer.

II. The Heart Of Legalism (Matt. 23:12).

     A. Legalism is particularly dangerous because it uses the Bible in a certain amount of what it does (vv. 1-3a).
     B. But, legalists say and do not do (v. 3b).
     C. Legalism makes religion a burden rather than a joy (v. 4; 11:28-30).
     D. Their purpose is to be seen of men (vv. 5-12; 6:1-18).

III. The Practice Of Legalism (Matt. 23:13-33).

A. Legalism shuts off the kingdom and makes disciples that are worse off than they were before their
     conversion (vv. 13, 15).
          1. Manmade religion cannot get people to heaven (Matt. 15:6-9).
          2. When people are deceived into thinking legalism is correct, they are much less apt to become
          Christians than before they were deceived.

B. Legalism takes advantage of people's fears and insecurities to manipulate them into supporting the
     traditions of men (v. 14).
          1. Guilt is the chief tactic of legalism.
          2. Those with tender hearts are most easily exploited.

C. Legalism plays games with the truth (vv. 16-22).
          1. Its "yes" and its "no" mean nothing (Matt. 5:37).
          2. The rules do not apply to legalists, they are serving God as His special servants (Lk. 18:9-14).

D. Legalism has a distorted sense of significance (vv. 23-24).
          1. Since legalists are often hypocrites, they do not have the great principles of true religion enthroned
          in their hearts.
          2. Hence, they elevate all they have, a mere outward show.

E. Legalism is a religion of mere outward show (vv. 25-28).
          1. The Lord give this one a double-dose.
          2. This is the defining fault of legalism.

F. Legalism cannot see itself as it really is (vv. 29-33).
          1. It is deceived into thinking that it is not like others guilty of the same sins.
          2. They are blind in the worst way of all (Jn. 9:39-41).