Is It Legalistic?

I recently saw a post on Facebook with a picture of a prohibited left turn sign, and the caption with it referred to people who would view this sign as a suggestion. The problem with this is that the sign in the picture is not suggesting or making a recommendation on how to make your life better.  This particular sign is classified as a regulatory sign, meaning you are required to obey it or risk significant negative consequences.


As I looked at this picture I thought of how many view the Christian life in much the same way. They either view the commands we find in scripture as mere recommendations if they are to experience Gods best in their life, or they simply see them as suggestions with the option to heed them or not.  And even then, some choose to view any of the commands of God as legalistic and enemies of the grace God has given us.


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a simple definition of “commandment” is; an important rule given by God that tells people how to behave.


In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus is asked by one of the Pharisees who was a lawyer which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus responded by telling him the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.  He followed that up by telling him that the second was like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus proceeds to tell him that on those two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  This dialog was focused on the 10 commandments.


In John 14:15 Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will obey His commandments. Did you notice that?  He wasn’t referring to the 10 commandments, but instead His own commandments.  So, if that is the case then we need to see what it is that Jesus commanded of us to do.  Below are just some of Jesus’ commands to His followers.


  • “Repent”, Matthew 4:17
  • “Be reconciled with your brother before offering your gift”, Matthew 5:23-24
  • “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”, Matthew 5:44
  • “Do not worry about your life, …”, Matthew 6:25-32
  • “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, …”, Matthew 6:33
  • “Judge not, that you be not judged”, Matthew 7:1
  • Forgive others as God has forgiven you, Matthew 18:21-35
  • “Do not be deceived”, Matthew 24:4
  • “Watch therefore, and pray always …”, Luke 21:34-36
  • “Watch!”, Mark 13:37


For those who argue that the teachings of Christ prior to His resurrection do not pertain to us, citing the opinion that it would be legalistic to heed the teachings and commands of Jesus beforehand, let’s see what Jesus had to say about this after His resurrection.


After His resurrection Jesus gave clear instructions to the Apostles. Part of what He said touched on this very subject, telling them to “… teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, …”, Matthew 28:20.  What He said told them to teach others to observe, or do, everything He had commanded them to do.  There were no qualifiers expressed or implied in any way, like only those I gave after I resurrected, or ones that involved a particular subject matter or not, but instead He said “all”.


In I John 2:3-6; 5:3, we are told by the Apostle John that keeping and obeying the commandments is an indicator of whether or not we truly know Him. If we truly love God then we will keep and do His commandments, and if we don’t then we really don’t love Him.  If it’s been a while since you’ve read I John, I encourage you to do so.


We live in a society that the measurement of ones love for another is based on the presence and intensity of passion and emotion for the other person. It is important for us to have passion and emotional love for God in our lives.  Jesus told the church in Ephesus that no matter how much they were doing things right, they needed to return to their first love for Him, an intensely passionate love for Him.  However, when Jesus and the Apostles mention our love for God, and the test for whether or not we truly love Him, they do not refer to passion and emotion, but instead one’s obedience to the commandments of God the Father and Jesus Christ.  The obedience isn’t to gain salvation, but instead to demonstrate to Him, others, and ourselves that we truly love Him and are submitted to His lordship in our lives.  This is the test, obedience to His commandments, used multiple times to see how real our love for Him is.


I’m reminded of the words of James in James 2. In this chapter James challenges others to show their faith without works, and that he will show his faith by his works.  With that same train of thought a person can say, “Show me your love for God apart from obeying His commandments, and I’ll show you my love for God by my obedience to His commandments.”  Many try to separate works from their relationship with Christ on that basis of grace, but Scripture tells us that our love for Him is manifest in our adherence to His commandments.  We’re not talking salvation through works as that is not possible, because salvation is only by grace through faith.  But, that doesn’t mean our relationship with Him is exempt from being obedient to Him.


I find that many who try to live their Christian walk apart from obedience to His commandments, citing to do otherwise is “legalistic”, are living their life as though they won’t be held accountable for their disobedience. With that I have seen that they tend to lack an appreciation for Christ and what He’s done for them, or any inclination that they need to live their life in such a way to demonstrate their love and appreciation for Him.  This is a scary place to be in when Scripture plainly tells us that the love of God is not in us if we are not obeying His commandments.  A lot of times this is evident especially so in their pocket books, where they seek to maintain control over their finances as though it is their own and not Gods, having no true desire to honor God with their money or to acknowledge that it’s all His to begin with.  A Christian that has to find reasons for not tithing to God, much less more than the tenth, seeking “loopholes” of some sort to justify their behavior, is a person trying to split their allegiance between God and money, something that God will not tolerate.  In fact, Scripture tells us whenever we put something or someone before Him it is idolatry.


What I’m trying to say in this blog is simple. We are quickly approaching the sudden return of Jesus for His bride, and Scripture is clear that many will be left behind even though they thought they were in good and right standing with Him.  With this sudden appearing of Christ speedily approaching us we need to make sure we are ready for Him, and one of the ways we know that is to see if our love for Him is really what it ought to be.


Does your life reflect true love for Him and His lordship in your life? If not, I strongly encourage you to make whatever changes are necessary to get your life where it needs to be.  We are all a work in progress, and that is where His grace and mercy comes in, but where is the attitude of our heart towards Him, sin, and being surrendered to His will and ways?


John Johansson

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