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Obedience or Legalism?

Q: Someone told me that if I try to strictly obey God’s law that this is legalism, and that legalism is wrong.  Is this true?

Suggested Daily Reading: James 1:19-27

A:  What would you think of a guy who tells everyone that he really loves his girlfriend, but he is not very interested in doing things that please her?  In addition, it doesn’t bother him when he does things that hurt her feelings or things that he knows she doesn’t like?  What would you think of his so-called “love”?  We would likely say that this guy may think that he loves his girlfriend, but his actions show that he does not.  His love appears either not to be real or not very deep.


If we confess that we love God, then we should want to do that which is pleasing to Him. We should fight against doing things that we know are against His will.  How do we know what is pleasing and displeasing to the Lord?  We learn this from His Word, the Bible.  So when we want to obey God and His Word from our heart this is a sign of loving God.  Loving obedience is a good thing.  It is not wrong.  When we want to do that which God commands us to do, this a fruit of love.  Jesus teaches us, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 14:15).


Legalism, however, is when we add commandments or teachings of our own that are not in the Bible.  This goes beyond God’s Word.  If we strictly follow our own or other people’s man-made rules, that is legalism.  When we follow men’s teachings instead of God’s teachings, trying to earn our salvation by our own works, instead of Jesus’ righteousness, this is legalism.


Obeying God out of love and respect to Him, is what we are called to do.  This is biblical obedience.  This is right and good.  Trusting in our own or others’ rules and trying to earn my righteousness by strictly following them is legalism.  This is wrong.

Are you praying and trying to serve and obey God out of love in return to Him?  Are you also fighting against adding your own ideas or other people’s rules to God’s and becoming proud of your obedience and trusting in your righteousness for your salvation?  Meditate on this truth: our good works of obedience can never earn our salvation, but they are necessary as a result of our salvation.  How clearly can others see that you love God from what you say and do and from what you do not say and do?

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