Legalism, or obedience?

Keeping the Sabbath (it’s in the 10 commandments)

Carefully observing traffic laws (child restraints, seat belts, stop signs, speed limits…)

Is this legalism?

I think legalism is when you try to earn righteousness before God by your works.  But if God commands something and we work to obey, what is that?  And if God commands something and we don’t do it, what is that?

I think that when we trust Christ for our salvation and desire to live lives of thankful, joyful obedience to God’s commands (knowing that these works do not save you), that’s obedience.  And an inattention to obeying God’s commands is disobedience.

It seems to me that among Christians in America, we look at obedience and think, “Oh dear, that’s legalism” — and celebrate a form of lawlessness instead.

I don’t think you can look at someone and know for sure if they are obedient or a legalist.  But if they’re breaking the law, I think you can know that they’re acting like a lawbreaker — even though they may think they’re celebrating their Christian freedom.

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2 Responses to Legalism, or obedience?

  1. Anne Hawking says:

    Good distinction.

  2. Stephanie says:

    “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

    I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Romans 6:15-23

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