Legalism is the religion of human achievement. It is when we exchange our relationship with Jesus for our own rules and rituals. Legalism takes the focus off of what God has done for us and puts the focus on what we have done for God. As J.I. Packer put it, “Legalism is a distortion of obedience.”
While legalism may look spiritual on the surface, once you peel back the layers of legalism…it kills.
Legalism kills…your motivation
When your spirituality is built of legalism, you motivation for doing good is built on your feeble attempt to earn God’s favor.
Legalism kills…your humility
The result of legalism in our lives produces arrogance. We feel like we are better than people that don’t follow the same rules that we do.
Legalism kills…your love
Kindness, compassion, and love are squeezed out of our lives and replaced with judgment, contempt, and unforgiveness.
Legalism kills…your relationship with Christ
Following rules replaces following Christ. Our focus is no longer on Jesus but placed on our own lives.
The apostle Paul warns us of legalism in Colossians 2:20-23: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
Paul’s point is simple: true spirituality does not consist of keeping external rules, but of having an inner relationship with Jesus Christ.