“I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you. For I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:1,3)

There are many good, profitable and honorable causes in life that can occupy our attention. But what is the main thing?

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 what is to be of first importance.

“The Bible tells us that, while there are many different callings and many possible areas of service in the kingdom of God, one transcendent truth should define our lives. One simple truth should motivate our work and affect every part of who we are: Christ died for our sins!”  (C. J. Mahaney)

The words “of first importance” point to the quintessence (i.e. the heart & soul, the center, the core) of the gospel which Paul preached. That is, while Paul’s preaching and teaching touched upon many themes, not all of these themes were of equal weight and centrality to his message.

A.T Robertson in his classic five volume set Word Pictures in the New Testament, mentions that the phrase “first of all” (ἐν πρωτοις in Greek), refers to importance, not time. In other words, Paul isn’t saying, “The first thing I shared with you was Christ died for your sins…, and then the second thing I shared with you…”. No, instead he is saying “The most important thing I shared with you…”

There are three main tendencies that can draw our hearts away from “gospel-centered living.” They are…

  1. Legalism: Basing our relationship with God on our own performance.
  2. Condemnation: Being more focused on our sin than on God’s grace.
  3. Subjectivism: Basing our view of God on our changing feelings and emotions.

Today I want to focus briefly on the first of the three tendencies, legalism.

What is legalism?

Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.

In other words, a legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s approval and forgiveness through personal performance.

“Legalism has its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means the glory goes to people rather than God.”

(Thomas Schreiner)

Theologian and Bible Scholar Dr. Lewis Johnson writes this about the insidious poison of legalism:

“One of the most serious problems facing the Christian church today is the problem of legalism. One of the most serious problems facing the church in Paul’s day was the problem of legalism. In every day it is the same.

Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes his power for vital worship and vibrant service. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing.”

Next week we’re going to look at why legalism is so dangerous to our spiritual health and why it is so important that we understand the difference between living “from” acceptance rather than “for” acceptance.

Until next week, Soli Deo Gloria!