Why Legalism Is Dangerous

Jesus did not come to establish religion and certainly not rules; he came to establish a relationship between you and the Heavenly Father.

No where is this more evident than the exchange Jesus had with Pharisees and scribes who came from Jerusalem to challenge Him (Matthew 15:1-9).

The Pharisees demanded to know why the disciples of Jesus transgressed “the tradition of the elders.“ They specifically charged the disciples with not washing their hands before they ate. (By the way, this charge against the disciples has nothing to do with cleanliness or germs; it simply had to do with the keeping of certain ceremonies which the Pharisees valued).

Jesus asked a question of his own. Why do you transgress the Word of God? He specifically charged them with disobeying the commandment concerning honoring father and mother. The oral law (the tradition of the elders) allowed children to neglect the needs of their parents by declaring that their goods were a “gift“ to God. By doing this, they could keep the use of those gifts given to God and ignore their parents.

Jesus called them out for disobeying the obvious law of the Lord. Jesus then quoted the Prophet Isaiah where he described the people who were close to God with their lips but far from him in their hearts. Isaiah described how their worship is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:3).

In other words, they neglected the commandments of the Lord by the emphasis of their legalism.

What can this tell us about that the dangers of legalism?

First, it is easy to emphasize the periphery and neglect the center. Our relationship with God is the center of faith. We must not neglect that which is life-giving and filled with joy by “straining at gnats.” Legalism lets us take our eye off the prize.

Second, legalism can become our idol which we hold to in place of God.

Finally, legalism by its nature lets us think we have done something when we have really done nothing. 

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