A Wild and Crazy Place to Be
The spiritual Babylon of the church system is a warm and comfortable place in which to live. Within its comfort zones, it has fixed boundaries and clear delineations. When one steps out of the mainstream church system, however, and into a more Hebraic and Torah-pursuant spiritual orientation, it can becomes the shooting gallery of the wild, wild west of doctrines and ideas.
Outside the so-called organized church system, or churchianity for short, it’s a free-for-all wilderness of every man doing what’s right in his own eyes. In this wilderness outside of organized religion, one has to determine which church beliefs to hold on to and which ones are lies and unbiblical traditions our spiritual fathers have passed on down to us. Here one must learn to separate the spiritual wheat from the chaff. As one’s eyes are opened to the pro-Torah Hebrew roots of the Christian faith, there are many new ideas and doctrines to consider. When coming onward and upward to a fuller knowledge of the truth, one must determine priorities without falling prey to more false doctrines and legalism. This includes determining which biblical truths are the trunk of the tree issues, and which areas are the twigs and the branches.
In the midst of this confusion, there are many winds of doctrines blowing around capturing people’s attention. People often get sidetracked from the trunk of the tree issues and get hung up on nonessential issues. Paul warned about this.
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind [violent agitation, very strong tempestuous wind] of doctrine [teaching, instruction], by the sleight [deception] of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive [to delude, lead astray from the right way]. (Eph 4:14)
If one is not grounded firmly on the foundation of essential biblical truths, one can get hung up on side-issues that can become nonessential pet doctrines. Those who fall prey to this tendency will often gravitate toward biblical teachers who agree with them. A pet doctrine can become so important to a person that it can become a spiritual idol in one’s heart. One can become so convinced of the importance of a nonessential doctrine or belief that one will begin to demand that others around them conform to it, and then view those who don’t as somehow inferior spiritually. This is legalism. These pet doctrines often lead to pride and exclusivism toward those who do not agree with us and our pet doctrines. If not careful, we can develop an us versus them mentality, and become prideful because we posses a truth that the next guy doesn’t.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (1 Tim 4:3)
What Is Legalism?
When one begins to emphasise pet doctrines there is a tendency toward exclusivism (wanting to hang out with others who also hold to these same pet doctrines), which can lead to legalism.
So what is legalism? It’s not what exactly what the church has led you to believe it is. One of the definitions of legalism is an extra-biblical term that is often thrown out as a sort of insult against others who don’t believe as we do.
Another definition of legalism according to the dictionary is “an excessive adherence to law or formula.”
Those in the churchianity often use the term legalism as an invective against those who have discovered the validity of YHVH’s Torah and are now pursuing a more Hebraic or Torah-compliant lifestyle. This, however, isn’t how Yeshua or the apostles understand the concept. Yeshua told his disciples that if they loved him they would keep his Torah commandments (John 14:15). He said that the saint’s eternal spiritual rewards—not their salvation—are based on Torah-obedience (Matt 5:19). He then goes on to tell his disciples that their righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees who were punctiliously obedient the Torah (Matt 5:20). The apostles for their part in numerous places uphold the validity of the Torah in a believer’s life as well (Acts 21:20, 24; 24:14; 25:8; Rom 3:31; 7:12, 22; 13:8–10; 1 Cor 7:19; 9:21; 1 John 2:3–4; 3:4, 24; 5:2–3; Rev 12:17; 14:12; 22:14).
People who are zealous for righteousness and righteous standards of conduct can easily and unwittingly fall prey to legalism. Legalism must be differentiated from righteous living out of a heart of love, faith and humility. YHVH demands that the saints live a righteous life (Matt 5:20; Rev 19:8; 1 John 2:29; Rom 8:4; 1 Cor 15:34; Eph 4:24; 6:14).The Bible defines righteousness as Torah-obedience (Ps 119:172). All unrighteousness is sin (1 John 5:17; 3:10). The Bible prescribes righteousness, but proscribes self-righteousness and legalism.
The apostolic writings reveal that there are two kinds of legalism that had become an issue in the first century Messianic community. These types of legalism are still with us today. These are…
Salvational legalism. This is the idea that salvation is based on one’s good works. Paul addresses this issue and warns against this false teaching in several places (Eph 2:8–9; Gal 3:1–3, 5; Rom 3:20, 27; 4:2; 11:6; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5).
Halachic legalism. Halachah is a Hebrew word that means “to walk” and refers “how one walks out their faith.” Halachic legalism is demanding that others conform to our pet doctrines, our extra-biblical man-made doctrines or traditions, or our specific interpretation on how to walk out a Torah command. It boils down to the idea that “your spiritual walkor halachah needs to conform to mine.” Halachic legalism involves doctrines or beliefs that are nonessential to salvation.
In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern defines these two types of legalism. Salvational legalism is based on…
[A]ctions stemming from boastful, self-righteous belief that by doing them, by following a set of rules in one’s strength, without any trust [faith] in God or faithfulness towards him, one can earn God’s praises and applause and obligate him to grant one a berth in [the kingdom of] heaven. (p. 345–346)
[T]he false principle that God grants acceptance to people, considers them righteous and worthy of being in his presence, on the ground of their obedience to a set of rules, apart from putting their trust in God, relying on him, loving him and accepting his love for them. (p. 521)
Stern then goes on to define halachiclegalism.Continue reading