Sunday, May 26, 2024

How To Tell If You Are Being Legalistic

Legalism is salvation by faith plus works! It is salvation plus baptism, plus church membership, plus keeping the law, plus communion, plus confession.

The Seventh Day Adventist doctrine, Church of Christ doctrine, Catholic doctrine, Armenian doctrine, Armstrong World-Wide Church of God doctrine, the Mormon doctrine, and the Jehovah (False) Witness doctrine are legalism.


Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.

Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.

Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence, mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do!

Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.

Was Paul a legalist when he told men not to have long hair in I Corinthians chapter 11? Was Paul a legalist when he told the ladies not to have short hair in the same chapter? Sit still and read the rest of the article before you become mad!

Was Moses a legalist when he said, “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” or when he said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery?” Was Paul a legalist when he said in I Timothy chapter 3 that the deacon should not be double tongued, or when he said a deacon should be the husband of one wife, or should be honest, or should be temperate?

Was Paul a legalist in I Timothy chapter 3 when he said the pastor should be sober, or the husband of one wife, or not greedy of filthy lucre? Was Titus a legalist if he obeyed the Apostle Paul in Titus chapter 2 when he told the aged men to be sober, grave, temperate, sound, loving, patient and the aged women to be holy and temperate? Was he a legalist when the told the young ladies to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, obedient to their husband, and the young men to be sober and of sound speech?


Most of the Scriptures are about rules on how Christians ought to live! I challenge you to take Genesis and try to show unsaved people how to be saved or redeemed form going to hell. Now you will find types of salvation but you will have a tough time finding the plan of salvation in Genesis.

Ok, after that go to Exodus. You will find the Passover and it is a type of salvation but the plan of salvation is not listed there. Try Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and you will have a tough time finding the plan of salvation.

That is why in Acts when the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading Isaiah the best chapter on salvation in the Old Testament and the best part of that chapter on salvation he said, “How can I understand unless some man should guide me.”

You will find how to live in Genesis and rules in Exodus, standards in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and in Nehemiah. The truth is if you do not believe in standards and rules you will have to neglect most of the Scriptures.

These pussyfooters dote in II Corinthians 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” The truth is that verse is not talking about where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty for the child of God to do what he wants to do.  It is not saying that where the Spirit of the Lord is the deacons can drink liquor or the Sunday school teachers can smoke. He is saying where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty for the Holy Spirit to work among his people.


As a result in our day, we find ourselves not fighting the vehicle of formalism; as Dr. John Rice boldly put at the top of his SWORD OF THE LORD paper in a banner. We find ourselves fighting INFORMALISM. The pendulum has swung to another extreme with the same cry against the rest of us who hold our feet to the fire on being separatist and are being called “legalist.”

It takes more than facial hair to make a man. Your flowery shirts and glass pulpits are not impressing the Holy Spirit at all. Your “worship teams” disguised as a singing group are not fooling anyone. , especially the Holy Spirit of God. Your colored lights to get the atmosphere you want is insulting to the Holy Spirit. When you decided to secretly follow Rick Warren you had to embrace the tactic of calling the rest of us “legalists.” You are substituting convenience for conviction.


Psalm 119:45 is saying, ”I will walk in liberty because I keep thy commandments” or “I will walk in liberty because I walk within the walls of the city.” Let us suppose that your church building is a city. Suppose your pastor was the mayor. Suppose outside the walls the enemy lurks with his weapons of warfare. Now, are you at liberty outside the walls or inside the walls of the church auditorium?

Where is the freedom inside or outside the walls? I will walk in liberty if I keep thy commandments and the commandments of God are walls built around us to give us a little area where we can walk in liberty and not be enslaved with the captor outside of the walls. The enemy is outside and he cannot reach those inside of the walls.

God’s people have a choice! You can be free inside of the walls or you can be enslaved outside the walls. It bothers me when I hear God’s people using liberty as a license to sin. Liberty is inside of the Laws of God and not outside of the Laws of God. Every commandment, rule, or standard of God has been given for one purpose and that is to build walls around his people especially the young people.

Liquor, dope, elicit sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts build walls of protection for his people!

If fundamentalism is not careful we will lose everything that is near and dear to us! Being a fundamentalist is more than believing salvation by grace, verbal inspiration, plenary inspiration, preserved inspiration, virgin birth, sinless life of Christ, security of the believer, and vicarious death of Christ. Being a fundamentalist also includes having some rules and standards to live by so we can be free.

Those rules are bricks in a mighty wall that has been built by our founding fathers so that we might have a place of freedom in this world of slavery. Rules and standards have never enslaved for the truth is they liberate for all that enslaves has been placed outside the wall.

We know cigarettes enslave so we put nicotine warnings on the outside of the packages so why shouldn’t God’s people put them outside the wall. The same is true of marijuana, liquor, and dope.

Rationalize with me as I ask you a question. “Thou shalt not kill” is a law but you say I want my freedom so who is free, the man who does not kill or the man who does kill?

I’m free and if I want to go outside the walls of God’s Laws for dope I’ll do it! Yes, and you will find out when you arrived outside those walls that you will be a slave on the outside and that you left your freedom inside of those walls you escaped from. Where is the freedom in I am free to drink liquor? Where is the freedom in I am free to use dope? Where is the freedom?

Love is not breaking down the walls for love is the building up of the walls! Love is not freedom to go to the captor for love is freedom from the captor!

Elvis Presley was free he thought and yet ended his life at the young age of 42 enslaved to dope. The same is true of Jimmy Hendricks, Janis Joplin, and hundreds of other rock stars. The youth director who breaks down those walls loves himself more than he does his youth The truth is he loves their love and not them.

The preacher who breaks down those walls loves you not for he loves your love. The principal who breaks down those walls loves his students not for he loves their love. The preacher, the youth director, and the principle that love will build up the wall of standards and rules to keep the ones they love from that which will enslave them.

  •      There is dope outside those walls
  •      There is liquor outside those walls
  •      There is addiction outside those walls
  •      There is indecency outside those walls
  •      There is heartache outside those walls
  •      There is heartbreak outside those walls
  •      There is disease outside those walls
  •      There is divorce outside those walls
  •      There is wife beating outside those walls
  •      There is child abuse outside those walls
  •      There is enslavement outside those walls

The Psalmist said he would walk in liberty because he of keeping God’s commandments and not because he breaks them. God has built for his people a wall where he can protect his people. This gives freedom to his people from those enemies outside of that wall who would enslave God’s people.


If I unplug the microphone from a pulpit because the microphone cries and pleads to be free does not give freedom to the microphone. The microphone was made for one purpose and that purpose is to be attached to the source of power.

Here is a piece of steel or iron in the ground. It is held captive by the earth. A man takes a pick and shovel. He digs, digs, digs, and digs! He reaches down into the ground and retrieves that piece of steel or iron. That piece of steel or iron is detached but not free because that piece of steel or iron is meant to be part of a great machine somewhere. It is not free because it is detached! It is free only when it is being used for what it was intended to be used for.

When you go to servitude that is a higher servitude from a lower servitude you are free. It is not leaving a purpose but arriving at a greater service that is true freedom. Jesus pleaded, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest…” However, he did not stop there for he continued, “… take my yoke upon you and learn of me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

He is saying come unto me and I will free you, not to be detached, but so you can be attached! That is why the Scriptures speak of  “the law of liberty.”

Here is a piece of coal held captive by the earth and the earth says, “I’ll hold you.” The piece of coal says, “I want to be free!” A miner comes to that Kentucky mine and he goes down into that mine. He breaks free that piece of coal from its’ captor. He puts that piece of coal from that mine on the ground outside the mine. That piece of coal is not free it is just detached! That coal was not made to just be detached and to lie there on the ground. That coal was meant to give warmth, blessing, energy, or comfort to human beings by its usage somewhere!

Jeremiah puts it this way, “Thou hast broken the yokes of wood but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron.” A young person says I’m tired of rules and slavery of my Christian school. Let me be free! So he or she runs from the yoke of wood of the rules of their school and so the yoke of dope overtakes him or her. “I’m free to drink liquor if I want too!” He or she breaks away from the yoke of wood of the rules and the yoke of liquor captures him or her.

God is saying to the government, parents, schools, colleges, and churches free the young people by building walls of standards and rules around them so they will be safe from the captors outside of the walls. That is why our educational system in the USA is so low in world rankings.

That is what Romans 8:2 means when it says, “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” A law made me free from a law! Freedom is when you are liberated from a bad law by a good law.

King David said, “I’ll be free to court Bathsheba.” He went outside the wall that he thought enslaved him and found slavery was outside the wall. He ultimately discovered he was really free on the inside of the wall.

Samson said, “I’ll be free! If I want Delilah’s head in my lap, or if I want to live in sin with Delilah I’ll be free to do so!” He later found out he was really free on the inside. While on the outside of those walls the put out his eyes. They bound him to the mill. Blind and bound while grinding around and around and around on that giant grinding wheel!

I do not hear him saying how much he loves this freedom now! Samson, you are a slave!


Leaders must take this seriously and quit massaging their egos by being like Aaron and allowing the people to do what they want to do and start speaking for God to man. Leaders must quit bringing God down to man and start bringing man up to God. We are made in his image! God is not made in our image! We conform to him not he to us!

Leaders, please let us keep the people free with walls of standards, rules, and protection so that the enemy from without will not capture those whom God loves and we love!

I thank God every day for an old-fashioned wall building Mama, teachers, and preachers! Thank God for wall building schools, colleges, churches, Bible Conferences, and leaders who stand firm inside the walls. This is not legalism but rather it is liberty!

We need the walls to remain strong so that our young people can stay innocent and remain fearful of an enemy that lurks on the outside of the walls of protection where there is the bondage of compromise. Give me liberty inside of the walls.

The rules must be consistent between the pulpit, parent, and peer pressures. If all three are going in the same direction and provide the same consistency the odds are in favor of the follower being allowed to make right decisions! Liberty or legalism?

by Dr. Bob Gray Sr.

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