“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”(Galatians 5:1)

Last week I mentioned that 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.

I want to focus our attention again this week on the first of these three tendencies: legalism.

I want to begin by answering the question:

Why is legalism so dangerous? Legalism claims that the death of Jesus on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficient. It essentially says to God, “Your plan didn’t work. The cross wasn’t enough and I need to add my good works to it to be saved!”

Back in the early 1990’s I preached verse by verse through the book of Galatians. We spent almost a year an a half studying this very important and profound book. The theme of the book of Galatians is found in chapter five and verse one…

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

In other words, what Paul was trying to communicate so clearly to these believers was…

We are saved from our sins by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not by obeying God’s laws!

Paul makes it crystal clear in Galatians 2:15-16

“…a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Why was Paul having to emphasize this so strongly to these early believers? There were some false teachers in Galatia called “Judaizers.” Judaizers were “legalistic Jewish Christians.” They believed and taught that in addition to faith in Christ, a person also had to keep certain Old Testament ceremonial laws (circumcision in particular).

These Judaizers were saying to Paul, “We know what you are doing. You’re trying to make the message of the gospel more appealing to people by removing certain legal requirements. Paul, you are diluting the Gospel!”

The reality was…it was the Judaizers who were preaching a “false gospel.” Paul was preaching the pure, true Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Paul makes this bold point very clear right out of the gate in Galatians 1:8-9

“But even if we are an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

(Side note: the Greek word for “contrary” is “heteron” from which we get our English word “heretical”)

Strong words! And appropriately so. Why? Read carefully: Anyone, no matter how seemingly moral they may be, if they are adding anything to the free gift of salvation found only in Jesus Christ, they are teaching a false gospel! And therefore, they are not saved and are leading others astray! That is what Paul is saying very clearly in the book of Galatians.

This is why the Protestant Reformation needed to happen. Because the church at that time had been adding to the salvation message. They would say things like, “In order to be saved, you must place your faith in Christ and you need to observe these certain sacraments, and you must pay these indulgences, and you must…, etc.”

The gospel message that the church was preaching was no longer the true gospel message.

Always be very wary of anyone who comes along and tries to add something to the pure Gospel message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! Many times these are some of the most sincere, dedicated people who end up leading others astray. They are the ones who end up starting cults (Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, etc.).

A few weeks ago I saw a PBS special on Seventh Day Adventists. The focus of the program was on their highly rated medical hospitals (which are good things). But if you know anything about the doctrinal beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, you know that they add “works of obedience” to the salvation message.

Almost every cult that comes along adds works of obedience to being “saved.” Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. all have a “faith plus something” in order to be saved. Why is this? Mankind wants to feel like they deserve what they get. Mankind naturally wants to feel like they “earned their way to heaven.”

As the well known ancient hymn of the faith (Rock of Ages) says,…

“nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

Until next week, Soli Deo Gloria!