Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible. It is a term Christians use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. Legalists believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

Even true believers can be legalistic. We are instructed, rather, to be gracious to one another: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). Sadly, there are those who feel so strongly about non-essential doctrines that they will run others out of their fellowship, not even allowing the expression of another viewpoint. That, too, is legalism. Many legalistic believers today make the error of demanding unqualified adherence to their own biblical interpretations and even to their own traditions. For example, there are those who feel that to be spiritual one must simply avoid tobacco, alcoholic beverages, dancing, movies, etc. The truth is that avoiding these things is no guarantee of spirituality.

The apostle Paul warns us of legalism in Colossians 2:20-23: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Legalists may appear to be righteous and spiritual, but legalism ultimately fails to accomplish God’s purposes because it is an outward performance instead of an inward change.

To avoid falling into the trap of legalism, we can start by holding fast to the words of the apostle John, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) and remembering to be gracious, especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat” (Romans 14:10).

A word of caution is necessary here. While we need to be gracious to one another and tolerant of disagreement over disputable matters, we cannot accept heresy. We are exhorted to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). If we remember these guidelines and apply them in love and mercy, we will be safe from both legalism and heresy. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

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This article is reprinted with permission and was originally published on


  1. I have been reading through pages of comments. FOC are mostly very good quiet faithful people trying to live and struggle everyday for christ. The filth that is accused is so minimal compared to life not in the church, and the ones living that life quickly leave. We do not push our basic beliefs on anyone. We do not advertise our faith, or our trials from god, we do not seek you out to rebuke you on your choices. So many comments are sad. You dont understand our deep faith. We do not believe in doctors, we believe god will make a way this life or next. We believe in love and helping one another. Taking sides with Tommy, Walter, or Earnest is something that would of had to be done if you lived in that time, not now by stories, letters, etc. Do not fault us for our faith. We struggle everyday in so many ways for christ, but we dont have to go around saying praise the lord to prove it. Religion and faith are between you and god. Not on public display.

  2. There are a lot of people in the FOC with a lot of different beliefs and I do not think the intent of this blog and /or comments are meant to judge everyone. However, not believing in doctors as you say is simply denying the reality that they can help some times. As long as children die needlessly you will be rebuked for "not believing in doctors".

    I know people try very hard to be good people at the FOC, but as far as living for Christ, there have been a lot of heresies taught out there. Not everyone believes them but many, many do. For example, the doctrine that you are born holy is very common there. If you believe your are born holy then you think you do not need a savior. The bible says ALL have fallen short.

    The worst heresy happened just a few years ago when a very old woman claimed she was pregnant and that "miracle" was believed by, not everyone, but many, many people and used to "prove" the church is right. She was even "examined" by the midwives who also claimed she was pregnant. It turned out to be a lie. In a sense this woman was expected to produce a child who in some ways was made to be a "savior". To me this was the ultimate rejection of Christ, not by everyone, but a very large number of people.

    I could go on and on about other heresies, but to me that last one is so far over the top I should stop there.

  3. Please explain. You said that you struggle in so many ways for Christ. Please explain just a few how you struggle for Christ.

  4. There are thinkings that we as a majority dont really approve of, yes, we try to steer away from them best we can. We do believe we need a savior, but again there are some that think there own way. The miracle woman was sad, hard to understand, and not as many as you think looked to it for hope. I dont understand why Suzi is not blogging on her church, or her sister in laws church, etc. We never hear much of anything on those. We have the right to live our life as faithful as we choose. We should not have to answer to all these critics for they mean well but are not walking a mile in our shoes.

    1. I blogged about the church I attend last Sunday (just scroll down if you'd like to read it).

      And anyway, the Followers of Christ, despite everything, is my home church, as I spent more than half my life attending it and it formed the basis of my very strong belief and faith in God.


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