Legalism; March 2, 2018


Ezekiel 20:25 “I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by.”

This is an absolutely incredible verse to me. In verses 11, 13, and 21 God specifies that the person who obeys His laws will live by doing so, but here He specifies that after giving them such life-giving laws, He then gave them rules that were not like that. I can’t help but wonder if any of the latter type made it into the Bible, perhaps in Leviticus. Jesus Himself fulfilled God’s law perfectly, yet He was accused of being a lawbreaker by the Pharisees because He didn’t do things their way. Paul received considerable insight into this issue, and so is a good guide today. The whole point is not to get hung up on legalism, but rather stick to the First and Second Commandments as specified by Jesus. “Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” (Matthew 22:37-40) If a rule doesn’t promote loving God in all His holiness and loving our neighbor as we would like to be loved, it probably isn’t in the first category God mentioned to Ezekiel. That said, tossing out laws because we don’t like them is risky business indeed. If we genuinely love God with all that we are (the First Commandment) then we will seek to be holy just as He is holy. (1 Peter 1:16) That wipes out all sorts of excuses for sin that are currently in vogue!

I don’t think I grew up in a legalistic home, though I certainly had friends who did. However, standards were clear, and I had pretty secure boundaries. I have tended to be rather anti-legalistic, but that hasn’t always worked perfectly. My physical children are well past the point of my “laying down the law” for them, but I am constantly dealing with my spiritual children. I need to be careful and faithful to give them the guidelines/boundaries they need, without being legalistic. I don’t have the wisdom to do that properly, so I’ve got to seek God’s guidance at every point. One of my biggest problems is assuming too much knowledge/background/maturity in people, since I grew up steeped in the Bible. I’ve never been fond of devotional pamphlets, yet they are exactly what some of my spiritual children need. I must not demand that people run when they can barely walk! I am not to lay down rules that fit the second category God mentioned to Ezekiel.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Help me be the shepherd You want me to be, feeding Your sheep exactly what You know they need and nothing else, so that they may grow as You intend in every way, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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