To know for certain that you are not a legalist, you must know the meaning of the word. You may think you know what a legalist is, but you may have only heard a watered down definition of the word. Having not realized the real meaning, you may have misidentified yourself.
I want to make absolutely clear what legalism is, so that if you are one, you can finally escape from this very deceiving trap.
Legalism is just what it sounds like. It is a relationship with God based on legal rules or laws. A true Christian does not have a legal relationship with God. He has a familial relationship with God.
We are in God’s family because Jesus legally fulfilled the law on our behalf. So the only person who can say he legally obeyed God and the only person to win God’s approval by works is Jesus. Jesus is the only true legalist because He is perfect and He fulfilled the law right down to it’s smallest letter. When someone tries to obey God to earn salvation, that person is trying to take the place of the only Son of God.
Who is a legalist today? Who are those who try to earn God’s favor, but never will while in that hopeless endeavor? Let me crack my knuckles before I type the answer to this one.
Here goes! Most of those in the so called church. Every person on the street who thinks God will accept him because he never killed anybody. Those who follow the law of Moses for salvation. Those who dismiss their sin by saying evil doesn’t exist. Those who split up the work of salvation, half for Jesus and half for them. In a word, everyone who doesn’t entirely trust in the sacrifice of the only Savior, Jesus Christ.
If your relationship with God doesn’t have any thing to do with obeying commandments, then how do you live? Well, how does a child in a loving home live? Does he report to his dad and constantly try to earn his place in the family by doing good works and obeying the rules? Or does he simply exist as a child in that family, never questioning his place and having complete assurance of his acceptance? It’s the second, of course. You already knew that.
A sheep acts like a sheep because it’s a sheep. A goat acts like a goat because it’s a goat. Make a tree good and it’s fruit will be good. Jesus makes us good trees when we believe that He is our Savior. We must believe in the cross, and then God takes the ball from there. We must never forget the cross, or we will have believed for nothing. Faith in the Savior’s sacrificial death opens up the door so that God can come into our lives.
So let us fix our eyes on the cross, and God will complete our salvation. Are your eyes fixed on the cross? Or are they fixed on your commitment, obedience, love, works, whatever? All these good things become bad when we trust in them.
Tell me, in the story of the sheep and the goats, did the sheep trust in their good works? No! In fact, they did not even know they did them. They just lived as the sheep they were. Did the goats trust in their works? Yes!! Look where that got them.
How can you have peace in your life with God? You struggle to please God. You feel guilty every day. You are mad at people around you. You have no happiness inside. You say that joy and happiness are different things to make excuses for the lack of happiness in your heart. You are miserable and you fool yourself into thinking you are joyful.
All these things are because you are not sure of God’s acceptance. You are not sure because you’ve been trying to do it yourself. You will never be sure in and of yourself. Give up on yourself. Let go and let God. See where He will take you. It will be someplace very nice. It will be a place of green pastures, overflowing cups and strange peace that passes your ability to understand it.