fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

Legalism leads to more obvious sins


Legalism leads to more obvious sins by Julie McAllen

I love the letter to the Galatians! Paul wrote it to Gentile Christians who were being persuaded by Jews to add to their new faith another sort of gospel other than what they’d first accepted. They were thrown into confusion by those who said they had to be circumcised. Paul reasons with them that their faith in Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient. Near as I can tell, he did not write this letter to correct a problem of fornication in the congregation or misuse of the Lord’s Supper as he did in other letters. He wrote it to demonstrate the superiority of grace over works. That was his intent. Even Peter is brought up as an example of one who succumbed to the temptation of legalistic hypocrisy in Gal 2:11-21. Paul warned them that they were falling away from grace and Christ would mean nothing to them if they followed that example. He was not warning them about other sins such as fornication, stealing, lying, etc.

7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9″A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. 11Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. (Gal 5:7-11)

Paul doesn’t bring up fornication or drunkenness as the cause for not obeying the truth. He points to the yeast as this persuasion to be circumcised. Trading the gift of grace for an outward show of religious piety. I personally believe the “whoever he may be” mentioned is Peter. So why does Paul bring up the works of the flesh later in Gal 5:19-21? Things like sexual immorality, witchcraft, drunkenness, the very things that strict, staunch religious people warn against all the time? Read the chapter! My opinion is that Paul is warning the Galatians about this little seed, this yeast of proving themselves righteous by works, is alienating them from Christ and will eventually lead them to those more obvious sins which can be seen. I don’t think the Galatians were actually involved in these sins at the time, but because some were beginning to walk in the flesh by trying to prove themselves righteous by circumcision and not eating with certain people in view of the religious elite (Gal 2:12), Paul had to lay out the warning in the latter part of his letter.

16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 1. 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:16-21)

Legalistic religions who deny their followers the experience of being led by the Spirit, have given them over to the only choice they have––to walk in the flesh. They walk in the flesh to fulfill their religious duties demanded by the leaders. These appear good. Things like showing up for meetings, performing services, abstaining from certain foods or events and mingling with non-believers. Paul does not mention these specifically, but he does say that those who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ and have fallen away from grace (Gal 5:4). Yes, those trying to be justified by doing good works. They are walking in the flesh or sinful nature by this. Therefore, he gives the warning of what that leads to…….sexual immorality, etc. etc. etc. In a religion where no one is allowed to be “born of spirit,” there is a constant struggle between “serving God” and battling the sinful nature. How can a baby even begin to walk before it is born?

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

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June 9, 2009 - Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for your post on legalism. I appreciate how you brought out that although Paul was not writing to the Galatians about commiting sin in the flesh sin (yet), he does mention them later because of the danger of weakening in their faith due to false doctrine; and succumbing to sinning in the flesh. It’s so true that there are those who try to justify their salvation through good works but you just can’t. Salavation CANNOT be earned. This week we continue our study of Galatians and the discussion of works and faith. God bless.

    Comment by Linda | June 13, 2009


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