Friday, July 12, 2024

Why is What I Call Following The Bible, You Call Legalism?

by Bob Gray Sr.

Psalm 119:45, “And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.”

The Psalmist is saying I will walk in liberty because I keep thy commandments. This is a strange statement to me for it seems to me that the opposite would be true. It seems like one would walk in liberty if one did not keep commandments. However, verse 45 is amazing for God says that those who keep his precepts or his commandments will walk in liberty. I will walk in liberty because I keep God’s commandments!

In our fundamental churches, schools, and colleges we have some rules, regulations, and standards. We have rules about dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, proper conduct, etc.

Immediately the accusations begin to come when such a stand is taken. The cry is always the same, and the charge is always the same. “Why, that is nothing but legalism with all those rules, standards, and regulations for they are nothing but promoting legalism!”

The truth of the matter is, when you associate legalism with rules, regulations and standards, people with neo-evangelical hearts who masquerade make such statements in fundamental Baptist clothing. Sometimes they are made by people who were real fundamental Baptist at one time, and yet have become weary of the battle and long to return to the onions, watermelons, leaks, cucumbers, and garlic of acceptance. Also, this cry of legalism often comes from the desks of colleges and seminaries built on fundamental foundations with walls of compromise and a leaking roof of pseudo liberty.

We have grown to desire that our truth be accredited by worldly educated error. We want a license from wrong to do right! My I remind all of us of that fundamental world we believed in and practiced before we had teenagers, home-schoolers, liberal fundamental colleges, Bill Gothard, Oral Roberts University, Benny Hinn, his girlfriend Evangelist Paula White, amusement parks, and before Jerry Falwell slid down a charismatic water slide!

May I push what Dr. Jack Hyles used to call that little “reset button” to return us back to the old-fashioned fundamental Baptist convictions. I’m speaking of when we believed in separating ourselves from the world and building walls to protect the next generation from being sucker punched by Satan and his crowd.

Since when did it hurt to not smoke? I would suggest that separation is not bad but good for the next generation. No one can sow wild oats and then pray for no crop failure with success! Each institution must decide themselves what is going to be good or bad for those following them. I am talking of old-fashioned standards our fathers use to have for us.

Faith of our fathers living still

In spite of dungeon fire and sword

This generation must not listen to the prophets of compromise who are silently bridging fundamentalism to a liberal Southern Baptist Convention in order to garner the crowds. No one is legalistic who insists on standards. When someone adds anything to salvation, other than the shed and applied blood of Jesus Christ, is by definition a legalist.

When you conveniently compromise you are not only betraying Billy Sunday, Sam Jones, Bob Jones Sr., Mordecai Ham, John Wesley, John R. Rice, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, and Jack Hyles, but you are betraying your own standards of just a few years back.

If we cannot have our padded pews with hell-fire and brimstone preaching, then let us go back to the sawdust trail and the store front buildings while sitting on wooden benches.

If we cannot have organs with trained choirs without the seven-fold Amens and the crusty anthems, then let us go back to the “pie-anar” and tuning fork.

If we cannot have a marriage of proper grammar and the mourner’s bench with preaching on Hell, Heaven, the rapture, the second coming, and separation, then let us go back to split infinitives, dangling participles, and hung gerunds.

If tiled restrooms and chandeliers are not conducive to the old-time religion, then let us mark off a path and build an outhouse. Let us screw a 60-watt light bulb in it and order a Sears & Roebuck catalogue for the outhouse and get right with God.

If we have to include Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Niebuhr in our required reading in order to be intellectual theologically, then let us go back to the Blue-black Speller, the ABC’s, the alphabet, and the simple preaching of thus saith the Lord God! We have listened too much to psychologists in the pulpit and not enough to leather lunged Baptist preachers. We have listened too much to philosophers and not enough to old-fashioned prophets of God. We have listened too much to so-called Christian TV and radio and not enough to men of God.

Ladies and gentlemen, common shoes have historically shod the beautiful feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace. The hands that have wielded the sword of the Spirit have been old and calloused ones. The eyes that have looked through the helmet of salvation have been tear stained ones. The bodies that have been protected by the shield of faith have been pure and separated ones.

It is sad to say, but there are those inside the walls of a local independent Baptist church who would have their man of God forsake his standards simply because their daughter does not like them. It is sad to say, but there are those outside the walls of the local church who would have you forsake your standards or as they refer to as “legalism.”

Standards do not make nor keep you right with God, but they do keep you from wrecking your life with one stupid stunt. No man of God is attempting to run anyone’s life, but he must do his best to use his influence to warn. I hate to say this, but there are more people in fundamentalism who want us to lower our standards than who want to raise the standards. These are the ones who cry “legalism.”

Legalism has nothing to do with living right, talking right, or walking right. Legalism is adding to faith something else required for salvation other than just faith in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Dr. Bill Rice, the late Evangelist, was a half-brother to Dr. John R. Rice. He was preaching a revival camp meeting when a deacon jumped him about being so negative with his preaching. One night Dr. Bill preached against dancing, then the next night against movies, then the next night against smoking, then the next night against teen petting and necking.

The deacon told Dr. Bill that he would have to preach something positive or he would see to it that the meeting was closed down. Dr. Bill agreed to do so. The next night Dr. Bill stood up behind the pulpit and announced that a deacon had asked him to preach a positive message. So he told them he was going to do that very thing. He said tonight my sermon is “If you don’t get saved, you are positively going to Hell!”

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 1 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 1 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 1 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 from 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 2 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.


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 were 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 builds 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 from which you escaped. 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 thought was free, and yet ended his life enslaved to dope. The same is true of Jimmy Hendricks, Janis Joplin, and hundreds of 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 does not love you, for he loves your love. The principal who breaks down those walls does not love his students, for he loves their love. The preacher, youth director and principal that loves will build up the wall of standards and rules to keep the ones they love from that which enslaves 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 kept God’s commandments and not because he broke 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 them.


If I unplug the microphone from a pulpit because the microphone cries and pleads to be free, that 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 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 apart 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.

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 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 they 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 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?


  • Rules do not make rebels, they merely expose rebels.
  • Obeying the rules does not make one spiritual.
  • Rules keep you from that which will scar for a lifetime.
  • Rules will keep one innocent.
  • It is the responsibility of leaders to provide standards and rules.
  • Rules cannot be established by a novice.
  • Rules come from the Scriptures.
  • Rules come from seniority that has dealt with destructive behavior.


by Bob Gray Sr.

What do you think?  Is following the Bible legalism? Leave your comment in the section below.

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  1. Of course not. Legalism is when you believe your following of the Bible’s standards is your salvation, when what you do is your grace rather than the work of Christ on the cross.

  2. Of course not. Legalism is when you believe your following of the Bible’s standards is your salvation, when what you do is your grace rather than the work of Christ on the cross.

  3. It’s a matter of the heart, if we are born again the natural result from a supernatural transaction will be obedience. But as leaders if we impose standards(having and imposing are different) then we are in effect saying if you don’t dress a certain way, or act a certain way, or speak a certain way, then you must not be saved…..isn’t that what the Pharisees taught? Our responsibility is to preach the gospel, this is what God uses to save people, once they are genuinely saved(born again) then the rest is up to God. I have seen so many times where a youn person, even preachers kids who have made a “profession” of faith and years down the road realize the it was a false profession and they were never saved to begin with because they wanted to please the pastor instead of God. Let God do his work, and let us not lead by constraint.

  4. I think this article confuses the words fundamental and rules. “Real fundamental Baptist “ has nothing to do with dress. I can wear my ripped jeans and pink suit coat and still preach the fundamentals of the faith, and if we are really BIBLE PREACHING than we may need to be weary of defining words incorrectly and preaching standards found in cultural and not in scripture. It’s only there if we say things like “ applications “ and then if you do use such a platform to place your philosophy on, the interpretation is left up to the reader and an ever changing culture. What is dress today may have been drab 10 years ago. I find myself to be a better Stuart of what God has given me than to continually spend $500 on a well fitted that is made out of non-durable material and tends not to last long. Instead I shop at good will and buy 3 suit coats and a pair of jeans for $10. It’s dress in today’s culture, I’m safe from Gods command of not adorning gay aperel, I don’t look like a religious person( which is actually the point of the scriptures men point to to force you to wear what they want) and I’m not wasting what Hod has given me, people paying for suits is nonsense. Imagine Jesus saying “look at this mans sandals! I can use him, them things look the sandels everyone else wears” I preach the whole council of the word of God. That is my standard of excellency, not to look like you.

  5. Southern Baptist’s have the same doctrine as Fundamental Baptists so since this article claims that legalism only means adding something else to salvation other than repentance and faith in Christ alone then why are they not considered Fundamentalists? Caution: if the answer is directly related to rules and standards they lack, then the author has misrepresented the rest of the actual definition. This would include adding standards that the Bible does not support. For example, watching certain movies can be sinful, hands down. But to claim that watching all movies is sinful is not only disingenuous but also sinful. Know of a preacher years go that preached against going to the movies but I caught him coming out of a Block Buster with a movie in his hand. Somehow, it was ok to rent a movie from them but not ok to go watch a G rated movie at the theater. Double standard, money still goes to the same crowd. If you’re going to have standards then they must be Biblical, not some man’s idea of being cautious or safe. This is exactly how the pharisees approached scripture and it evolved to some 500 extra rules to ‘correctly’ follow the law. Something else to think about.

  6. The sad thing is The IFBM (Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement) has become more like the Amish. They seem not to remember what was new then is old now. The Church of Christ still don’t use any instruments in their services, the IFBM still think drums are evil as well as electric guitars. They look on the outside appearance rather than the inside.As an ordained Independent Baptist Pastor myself, I am tending to lean more to the saved by Grace and not by works doctrine these days, because the old movement is still looking at what you do and how you dress, and what kind of music you listen to determines if you truly are saved or not. I just glad I’m a sinner saved by grace, and now I can freely show it with the way I live and not the way I appear to other preachers.


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