Legalism and Tradition

Lords of Darkness

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Chapter:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 3:12-15 π Dt. 8:3 π Psa. 19:7-9 π Mt. 4:4 π Mt. 15:6 π Jn. 15:5 π Rom. 2:7-10 π Rom. 4:14 π Rom. 5:20 π Rom. 7:7-8 π Rom. 7:11 π Rom. 12:2 π 1 Cor. 11:30-32 π 1 Cor. 12:27 π 1 Cor. 15:56 π 2 Cor. 3:6-7 π 2 Cor. 3:18 π 2 Cor. 4:7 π 2 Cor. 5:16 π Gal. 3:10 π Gal. 3:24-25 π Gal. 5:4 π Gal. 5:17 π Gal. 5:18 π Eph. 5:25-27 π 2 Ths. 2:11-12 π Jas. 1:5 π 2 Pet. 3:17-18 π 1 Jn. 1:7 π 1 Jn. 2:24

Rituals that mask over hypocrisy are only one of the ruler of false religion’s grand schemes. Legalism and its twin, tradition, are some of the most insidious deceptions afoot. Legalism is to obey a law out of one’s own resources. Tradition is simply law formed over time. So when we speak of law now, it really doesn’t matter what source the law comes from. It can be God’s law (the Mosaic law), “Christian” law (codes of morality and ethics based, however loosely, on Christ’s teachings), religious law (denominational creeds and by-laws), social law (Southern gentility, the “gentlemen’s club” rules, even diets and budgets are some examples) or even just one’s own personal list of do’s and don’t’s. The result is the same, though of course, the greater the source of the law that is misused, the greater the demonic control will be. That is, the demonic gains much greater control over one who obeys God’s laws apart from Christ than they do over one who obeys some diet or code of conduct apart from Christ. Let us read the Scriptural warnings against legalism:

...the letter [of the law, that ministry of death] kills... ( 2 Cor. 3:6-7 )

...the law entered that the offense might abound... ( Rom. 5:20 )

...the strength of sin is the law. ( 1 Cor. 15:56 )

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment [law], deceived me, and by [the law] killed me. ( Rom. 7:11 )

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse... ( Gal. 3:10 )

You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. ( Gal. 5:4 ) have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. ( Mt. 15:6 )

...if those who are of the law are heirs [of God’s promised righteousness and eternal life], faith is made void and the promise made of no effect... ( Rom. 4:14; top )

Let us review that list before we move on. Trying to keep the law (when we cannot)

brings death (not life),

makes the offense greater (than when we acted in ignorance),

increases sin’s power over us (brings us into greater bondage),

kills us (causes us to abide in death instead of life),

deceives us (into thinking we are better than we actually are),

places us under a curse (the same curse Jesus broke when He went to the cross),

separates us from Christ (because we, in our “goodness,” don’t think we need Christ’s redemptive sacrifice),

removes us from the reach of God’s life-changing power (His grace),

makes God’s word have no effect on our hearts when we hear it,

voids or cancels our faith and

makes us ineligible to receive what God has promised because we really don’t believe God (mostly because we don’t have to).

Yes, law and our attempts to live by law, is more than capable of rendering our spiritual life null and void.

This is the reason the ruler of false religion works so very hard to get us to obey laws, any laws: We don’t need a personal connection with God to obey a list of rules. That list of rules, however broad or narrow in focus, creates a spot in our souls where we neither see nor feel the touch of the demonic as they reach their talons and tentacles into our hearts and minds, bringing about ever greater levels of darkness and control. All this can happen because we can practice that list of rules in varying degrees of success and failure and have absolutely nothing to do with God. We exercise our own knowledge of good and evil just by simply having such a list and we open up our lives to the demonic in the same way as did Adam and Eve. ( Gen. 3:12-15 ) Most people end up practicing lawlessness (doing what is right in their own eyes) precisely because they maintain their own list of do’s and don’t’s and practice whatever they feel or think is right or important. Though many of these things produce what appears to be good results, that which is done apart from Christ is nothing and is truly just something which wars against God and His will for our lives. ( Jn. 15:5 ; Gal. 5:17; top )

Paul wrote,

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. ( Gal. 3:24-25; top )

If we properly apply the law, it leads us to the light of the good news of the glory of Christ. There is a way (Him) out of the darkness and into His light. He becomes our Head and we become His body. ( 1 Cor. 12:27; top ) He commands and we do. By His power, He transforms us and we are transmitters of His light and life into the dark world around us.

Paul also wrote,

But if you are led by the Spirit [of God], you are not under the law. ( Gal. 5:18; top )

If we are led by the Spirit of Christ, we will fulfill all of God’s laws - we need not fear that the Holy Spirit of God will command or lead us to do an evil thing to someone. That is an absurd notion it is so impossible. Any spirit that would command or lead us to do something truly evil is a Satanic being. And this is why we must continue to walk beside (not under!) the law of God, letting its light and perfection reflect upon us and reveal where we walk in obedience to God and where we do not.

Perhaps the most damaging form of legalism Christians practice is in our relationships with one another. Any and all who claim to believe in Christ are to be received as brothers - or so the “law of brotherly love” is interpreted and applied. Or we are supposed to “look for Christ” in one another and overlook all sin, error and selfishness. These are nothing less than laws we have concocted to control our relations with other self-proclaimed “Christians.”

Paul wrote:

...from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. ( 2 Cor. 5:16; top )

This verse is a favorite among those who practice obedience to the laws of tolerance and acceptance of one another. But the very act of having a law by which we receive one another is proof positive that we are indeed regarding these “brothers” according to the flesh! Whether they truly are brothers or not only Christ and God know. Unless we rely on the Spirit of Christ to provide discernment, we have no hope of regarding anyone according to God’s perspective. When we adhere to some law by which we receive any and all who claim to be followers of Christ, we fail to discern Christ’s body - an act which makes us eligible for deception, sickness and even death. (see 1 Cor. 11:30-32; top ) - and we remove ourselves from His power, returning only to our own notions of good and evil. Our only hope of discerning the body of Christ or of knowing how to deal with each and every individual we meet as God would deal with them is to rely on the Spirit of God who lives within, not by relying on some rule or standard by which we judge, tolerate and/or accept others.

There are some who object to using the quantity of truth that one possesses as a standard by which to judge the validity of one’s claims of having real Christianity. That is, these say, we cannot judge a person as not being a genuine follower of Christ simply because they do not recognize, for example, the lies that make the “church” such an effective scheme of the devil to keep people from being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Whether another person is walking in the same truths as we are, these people say, cannot be the standard we use to extend or deny fellowship with that other person. There is merit to this objection - but in examining why there is merit, we will discover yet another misbelief which undoubtedly has crippled many believers in their walk with Christ and which offers the demonic yet another well-secluded hiding place from which to further attack and deceive souls.

The first merit to this objection is found in the fact that no standard will ever suffice by which we will be able to rightly judge those who claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is, no law or creed or standard will ever be capable of enabling us to spiritually discern the thoughts of Christ about any given person. Not only that, but obedience to any law, creed or standard in connection with our relations to one another virtually guarantees that we will not be able to spiritually discern what the judgments of God are regarding that other person. Only the Spirit of Christ within knows whether we should embrace or reject, encourage or rebuke, comfort or reprove, listen to or instruct that person before us who claims to be a brother in Christ. Using any codified standard to gauge the validity of another’s genuineness in Christ is short-sighted and misguided - as church history clearly attests. There simply are no rules by which we may rightly include or exclude one who claims to be our brother – there is only a Head, Christ Jesus, who knows very well whom He has received and whom He has not.

The second merit to this objection is found in the fact that God does not judge any of us by how much truth we have at any given moment but rather by the attitudes of our heart toward truth, of which Christ is the epitome, the ultimate expression of truth. If all we have is a little bit of genuine truth, a little bit of genuine light, if we keep that, it will be enough. ( 1 Jn. 2:24 ) But what happens when we are exposed to more light, more truth - especially light or truth that contradicts what we think we know or that requires us to deny ourselves so that we might follow after Christ - is a very real indicator of the validity of our Christianity. One who resists and rejects genuine truth is not going to be one who receives eternal life, glory, honor and peace from God ( Rom. 2:7-10 ) but rather will receive from God a strong delusion that enables them to believe Satan’s lies. ( 2 Ths. 2:11-12; top ) One who claims to be a Christian but who resists and/or rejects genuine revelation from the Spirit of Christ is one who is in the process of removing himself from the narrowing road that leads to life and is returning to the wide, smooth, slippery highway that leads to eternal death.

What is really exposed by this objection is the misconception that salvation is a static condition or an unchanging state of existence. True salvation is life. It is the process of being transformed from glory to glory ( 2 Cor. 3:18 ), of growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ ( 2 Pet. 3:17-18 ), of being renewed in spirit and transformed ever more into His likeness ( Rom. 12:2 ), etc. Using the amount of truth that one possesses at any one time to gauge the validity of that one’s salvation is like trying to understand and evaluate a movie (motion picture) by looking at only one picture frame from that movie. If we need an indicator right now of another’s genuineness in Christ, we should ask Christ who will tell us all we really need to know. ( Jas. 1:5 ) Then let us encourage one another to carefully walk in truth and light for one who resists and rejects God’s truth is not going to fare very well on judgment day and is certainly not a good role model to follow or imitate today. With such a one, it is impossible to have genuine fellowship in Christ ( 1 Jn. 1:7; top ) though we can certainly expend a great deal of time and effort trying to manufacture some kind of “Christian” “unity.”

Once we know Christ, to return to any list of rules is to reject Him as our Head in direct proportion to the scale to which our laws apply. The success of the ruler of false religion can be seen:

first in the fact that so few who name the name of Christ know what the proper place and function of law is (namely, prior to conversion, to show how sinful sinners really are - Rom. 7:7-8 - and, after conversion, to remain as a mirror to confirm or deny our likeness to Christ’s characteristics and His requirements - compare Psa. 19:7-9 with Eph. 5:25-27; top );

second in the prevalence of trying to live by portions of the “Christian” code (the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, etc.);

third in the reliance upon creeds and traditions rather than the personal leading of the Holy Spirit of Christ; and

fourth in the widespread failure of many to recognize when we are subtly adhering to some law (in contrast to truly living only by the leading of Christ’s Spirit).

If we would be free of the ruler of false religion in this regard, we must set aside our own opinions of what is good and evil, right and wrong, etc. and set ourselves at the feet of our Master Christ and allow Him to dictate our actions. An illustration might be helpful here.

In olden days, a king kept a retinue of servants on hand who simply sat in his presence awaiting orders. One servant would be sent on this errand, another on that and so on. The servants were to listen not only to the particular instructions for their own mission but to everything the king said so that when they were sent on their mission, they would know the heart of the king and could respond accordingly to unforeseen circumstances. Some days no servants would go out, other days they would all be sent out - it did not matter. Their responsibility was to simply sit there and listen until they were sent out.

So too are we to sit at our King’s feet. We are to know His word, the Bible, as best we can - and not as men are teaching it. We live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God - not the mouths of men. (see Dt. 8:3 ; Mt. 4:4; top ) Then, when our turn to serve arises - and it will - we carry the treasures of our King in our earthen vessel and share them as He dictates so that

...the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. ( 2 Cor. 4:7; top )

Adhering to some law or tradition out of our own resources simply means that we are not sitting quietly at our Lord’s feet. We are loudly telling Him what we ought and ought not be doing. This only produces confusion, the work of the devil, and does not produce the fruits of righteousness in our lives. It also opens doors for the demonic to enter in and control more of our lives by bringing us into more bondage to their lies.

Ritualism and Hypocrisy π Displacing Christ
Lords of Darkness

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