Home Uncategorized A Bit More on Legalism

A Bit More on Legalism

by Kelly Crawford

The last post on legalism seems to be quite a popular topic, with many more things that could be addressed.

I like what one reader said in her comment about how the strength of the Christian influence is weakened when we are at war against each other! This should not be, and we are warned in Scripture to “be like minded” and to be of one accord.

*sigh* Why is this so hard?

I guess because either direction can become a slippery slope if we are not careful to keep ourselves (and our sinful nature’s) in check.

If I focus too heavily on my freedom in Christ, it becomes more than freedom. It becomes a license, which is not biblical. Being led by the Spirit without using the Bible as a solid gauge for
living, is a lot like trying to go somewhere using merely my “directional instincts” without the road map. The Spirit is given as a Comforter, and as a means to give me understanding of the Word of God. The Spirit is an aid along with the Word, not to be used alone as my only Guide.

It seems that “living by the Holy Spirit” has become a substitue instead of a compliment to the Word of God.

So when the Word of God says.. “dress in modest apparel”…”be careful that you do not become a stumbling block”…”if your liberty offends your brother, you do not walk in love”…

then wearing an article of clothing that is questionably immodest in front of men because “I’m being led by the Spirit” is not exercising my freedom in Christ; it is disobedience to the Word of God.

But if in my desire to please the Lord I raise a standard that I hold as “necessary” for salvation and require others to meet it, I have crossed over into legalism. Legalism IS real; and many have fallen into it.

Here’s the litmus: is my conduct an approach to win God’s favor, or is it a response to having already received it? If it is an approach, it will be burdensome; if it is a response, it will be a delight.

It is interesting to consider an illustration that Jesus gave about the Judgement. He said MANY would call Him “Lord” on that day, but He would say “depart from Me, I never knew you”. And when they ask “why”, His reply will be, “because I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, hungry and you didn’t feed me, in prison and you didn’t visit me”.

All His reasons involve a lack of “doing”…a lack of obedience. These days, Christians are afraid to even use that word. But Jesus wasn’t…”If you love me you will obey me.”

I hope you don’t think I am undermining the free and complete work of Christ on the cross for our salvation. Please understand that I am in no way insinuating that we must add to that work in order to complete it.

What I’m trying to convey, is that we who have received that incredible gift of grace, should joyfully seek to please the One for Whom we live; we should gladly do all we can to be set apart in a dark world; we should not even be afraid of erring on the side of caution with those issues that are cloudy. Why err on the wrong side?

Thoughts to ponder…

P.S. Blogger’s spell check hasn’t been working for awhile, so don’t be too harsh with my spelling…I don’t have a lot of time for editing!

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Elizabeth February 7, 2008 - 3:29 pm


Obviously, if our behavior runs contrary to God’s Word, we are being sinful.

However, your illustration of modest dress has often become a source of schism among many Christians. Which is why I said we must walk according to the Spirit in this area.

Is it any of my business to let another Christian lady know her dress is immodest? I think not. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not mine.

Meddling is a form of legalism, I think. It’s precisely what the Pharisees did and just what Jesus came to abolish.

Word Warrior February 7, 2008 - 5:18 pm

Well, your question raises an interesting debate…is it any of our business to let another know of his or her sin?

In the gray areas, I think Scripture IS clear that we are not to judge, that, as you said, we shall stand or fall before the Lord.

But in clear areas (which have been made gray by some), do we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable?

The contempory doctrine tends to gasp in horror at the very thought…but was it always that way? Is it true that the Bible teaches we are not to point out another’s sin?

Actually, Scripture has some to say on the subject.

“Bretheren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20

“remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit…..on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Jude 17-19

“How can you say to your brother ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In areas of sin, I think we are commanded to point out (in love) each other’s sin, and be just as willing to receive correction.

The problem then is, which areas are CLEAR areas of sin…I keep bringing up modesty because it is one of the areas of most dispute, and yet Scripture clearly gives command to dress modestly.

If the Spirit frees you to dress in a way that offends another, what then?

I know a family whose husband struggled for years with lust and pornography. (There are many, many men, if they were revealed, I think, who do.) If that wife who is painfully aware of her husband’s weakness, is offended at the woman who is “freed up” at church with her short skirt, then what?

Whose job is it? If it goes unchecked, how many will fall, and stumble, and how many will be guilty of sin because a brother or sister did not love enough to “pull him from the fire”?

Some sins affect only the offender, and other sins affect also those around them.

I don’t know these answers, but I’ve pondered them for some time.


Terry @ Breathing Grace February 7, 2008 - 7:29 pm

I have a question: Are we stipulating here that women who wear pants are automatically and in all instances immodest? If so, I think I may be in trouble! And in your last post, I assumed you were using dress as just one example to illustrate your point concerning legalism vs. obedience. I still agree overall with what you’ve said, I just think I need clarification as to what we are discussing here. Is it legalism in general, or modesty specifically as it relates to legalism?

Word Warrior February 7, 2008 - 8:33 pm

No, no…we are not talking about a dress vs. pants issue. We are talking blatant immodesty that is now being defended in the name of “freedom”…dress being just ONE example of the conflict in the freedom/legalism debate. There are many, many others, I just picked a topic for illustration’s sake.

I was simply saying, that since we can’t define, exactly, what is modest and what is not, then those who err on the side of “too modest” should not, in my opinion, be deemed legalistic, if they are simply trying to walk in love toward men.

The same princple could be applied to other areas…

Does that clarify?

Word Warrior February 7, 2008 - 8:35 pm

Sorry, that was still confusing.

We are debating “legalism”; I keep using the example of modesty, as it relates to legalism, as a concrete example.

Anonymous February 8, 2008 - 11:16 am

Our freedom in Christ is freedom from sin to uphold the Law, not freedom to disregard the Law. If a woman is dressing immodestly in the name of “Freedom” or “Grace” she is deceived. Of course, now we have to define “immodest”. I don’t believe this is a pants vs. dress issue. The Bible tells women not to dress like men, however, men in Bible times wore dresses. The issue of immodesty is skin baring, body hugging clothing.

Anonymous February 8, 2008 - 11:17 am

oh, I forgot to add, in a case like that I believe it is clearly sin and should be pointed out to the offending party in love.

Ashley S. February 8, 2008 - 11:21 am

Can I share a little bit more on the issue of dress? This really can be a concern – even in the church.

A dear friend, married to my dh’s cousin, goes to a small church. I would enjoy going there sometime as we know just about everyone and I’d love to catch up with old friends…. However, she related to me one day that she was bothered by a young wife and mother who wears really low cut and revealing blouses. While they are good friends it bothers her that her husband has to look away.

I remember visibly wincing. She asked me why. I told her that because her and her husband are roughly the same height they see about the same things. But my dh is 8″ taller than me, so if the sight is enough to bother me, he is *really* getting an eye-full. 🙁

As my husband hates to be in such positions, we’ve never visited this church.

Terry @ Breathing Grace February 8, 2008 - 12:55 pm

Thanks Kelly, for clearing things up for me.

Anonymous February 9, 2008 - 7:22 pm

I know this is stupid and it’s probably something obvious…but what in the world does “dh” stand for!!!??
I see it in many blogs!

Ashley S. February 9, 2008 - 8:09 pm

It’s short for “dear husband”. 🙂

Miss Rebekah Ann S. February 10, 2008 - 6:32 pm

Outstanding post!! 🙂

It’s so, so important that we obey the Lord’s every command. This is not legalism-this is the Christian’s duty! Now, if we do it out of a wrong motive, it can, in a sense, become legalistic. Our obedience must flow from a heart that desires to please its Lord and Savior in all things.

Sheila February 10, 2008 - 8:57 pm

Another excellent post. (Boy, do I have a lot of input!) 🙂


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