Dr. Doug Posey
When Christians are accused of being “legalistic,” it usually comes from people who believe there is either an overemphasis upon certain rules they’d rather not always keep, or, the accuser sees the legalistic person as keeping rules that shouldn’t even be rules. In short, some believe there should be flexibility on certain rules and others don’t believe in the rules at all.
Granted, some rules are ridiculous. Many of them stem from the overly litigious society in which we live. That is clearly—and humorously—illustrated by this story:
…an anti-lawsuit group from Michigan has held "The Wacky Warning Label Contest" to show the effects of lawsuits on warning labels. A warning sticker on a small tractor that reads "Danger: Avoid Death" took home the top prize.… Kevin Soave, a resident of the Detroit suburb Farmington Hills, submitted the winning label. Carrianne, Jacob, and Robby Turin of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, won second place—and a $250 prize—for a label they found on an iron-on T-shirt transfer that warns: "Do not iron while wearing shirt." Richard Goodnow of Lancaster, Massachusetts, earned the $100 third-place prize for a label on a baby stroller that featured a small storage pouch that warns: "Do not put child in bag."
Ron Vample, "'Avoid Death' is wacky warning winner," USA Today
God didn’t write His laws to help people create or avoid frivolous lawsuits. All of what God commanded is to be taken seriously. We are not to simply turn a blind eye to God’s laws. So, how do we put them in perspective; how we avoid the extremes of legalism and license?
Legalism might be characterized as “Do’s-and-don’t-ism”…
“Do's-and-don'ts-ism has the advantage that you don't need wisdom. You don't have to think subtly or make hard choices. You don't have to relate personally to a demanding and loving Lord.”
Robert C. Roberts (Feb. 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 9.
Legalism, in other words, is spiritual laziness. But, does that mean that we should let the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme? Is there some virtue in ignoring biblical tenets? Should we substitute license, having no regard for God’s standards, for legalism? As Paul would say, “Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15). One commentator put it well when he wrote, “The life under grace does not belittle the ethical demands of the law.”
Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law. He did not abolish it as a standard. But, He also declared all foods clean for eating. And the ceremonial law (festivals, cleansings, etc.) existed to point us to Him. So since He’s come, moral law now takes center stage (things like, not lying, stealing, committing adultery, coveting, etc.). But, we must be real about those too. Nobody’s perfect and even outward perfection can’t give us the ultimate “in” with God.
To avoid the extremes of legalism and license, think of yourself as a legal citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20), only because of what Christ has done. Then, do what any good citizen would do. As a citizen of heaven, you haven’t been called to be a cop or a criminal. It’s not your job to enforce the rules and of course, you want to avoid breaking them. You love the King; the King loves you. This might help too: He’s always watching.
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” — GALATIANS 3:24