Legalism! An easy trap to fall into. There never seems to be an end to those who love to call us to some form of law keeping, some sort of obedience to one or many man-made traditions. Legalism! In Paul’s letter to the believers at Galatia he rebukes them for falling prey to this sin. Using the first two chapters of his letter to establish his apostleship, Paul then says to them,
- “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? . . . Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” (Galatians 3:1, 3; 5:7-8 – NASB)
They, the believers who made up the body of Christ in Galatia, had been “bewitched.” The Greek word here means, “to charm someone in a misleading way.” Paul asks, “who” is it that has “charmed you in a misleading way,” a “way” that has caused you to act “foolish(ly).” Someone had slipped into the congregation with the teaching that, you need to do this if you want to be accepted of God; you need to follow the law to truly be accepted by God; your faith is no good if you do not “perfect” it by deeds of “the flesh.” So Paul’s question to them: “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
How easy it is to fall into the trap of legalism, of coming to believe that if we just do this or that then God will really accept us. Then, how easy it is to begin to spread a gospel that is corrupted by this same belief (note Galatians 1:6).
One thing we know from the letter to Galatia is that those who would attempt to call us into a realm of legalistic bondage are to “be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). They are to be driven out from among us, from our presence, they are “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4).
Dr. John MacArthur writes concerning legalism:
- “(Legalism) is as much a threat to the church today as it was in Colosse (and Galatia). Even in evangelical churches there are many people whose assurance of salvation is based on their religious activities rather than faith alone in the all sufficient Savior. They assume they are Christians because they read the Bible, pray, go to church, or perform other religious functions. They judge spirituality on the basis of external performance rather than internal love for Christ, hatred for sin, and a heart devoted to obedience.”
He is so correct in saying that legalism “is as much a threat to the church today as it was” back then. Certainly we need to be on the alert for it and never allow it to corrupt the liberty we have in Christ (Galatians 2:4).
The human motto wreaks of legalism: “If you want something you’re going to have to work for it.” The Galatians probably heard this same motto in their day and so, when “false brethren . . . sneaked ” in and sought “to bring (them) into bondage,” they got “bewitched.” Brethren . . . may you and I learn the Scriptural lesson well . . . . . . don’t be “bewitched.”
Have a good day . . . and as you walk beware of those who would seek to burden you with the works of the flesh, as if such works could somehow actually make you right with God.