Faith Bible Blog

Information and Reflections for the FBC Family

TXT: Can conviction lead to legalism?

Question: Doesn’t a ‘no compromise’ mentality lead to legalism?


The short answer is no. But there are a number of distinct biblical principles that need to be clearly defined to accurately answer your question.  The best place to start is to define the term “legalism” from a biblical perspective.

The Bible defines “legalism” as any extra-biblical, man-made tradition or practice that seeks to “earn” right standing before God (Matt 15:3-9, 23:16-24).  “Legalists” distort God’s Word by requiring believers to adopt man-made attitudes and/or actions to “gain” God’s favor or approval. The classic biblical example is the Judaizers described in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.  These were a group of self-righteous Jews who required the Galatian believers to place their “faith in Christ” plus “circumcision”  and thereby  self-righteously gain  acceptance and  justification  before God (Gal 5:1-6). The apostle Paul had taught them the gospel of grace, not works!  The Judaizers distorted the biblical gospel (Gal 1:6).

“Legalism” is presented in varied forms in the New Testament.  The two most prominent are the Pharisees and the aforementioned Judaizers (Matt 15:3-9, 23:16-24; Mark 2:16-3:6, 7:1-8; Luke 20:45-47; Gal 1-6).

In contrast, genuine “saving faith” in Jesus Christ always embraces “obedience” to God’s Word.  Obedience to the clear, accurate teaching of Scripture is never legalistic!  It is the natural outflow of a heart transformed by God’s saving grace.

Early in my walk with Christ, I learned an important little phrase from one of my many beloved disciplers. It helped me understand the difference between “legalism” and  genuine, biblical obedience.  It goes like this… “Christians don’t do good works to be saved… they do good works because they’re  saved.”

Spirit-enabled obedience to the Word of God is the path to an “uncompromising life.”
Legalism is the path to ruin because it “corrupts” the way of salvation (Gal 1:6-9).

As we study the book of Daniel together over the next few months, I firmly believe that we will repeatedly see the “driving force” behind Daniel ‘s whole-hearted commitment to fully obey God.  Daniel purposed to live an obedient, uncompromising life because he loved God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength ( read Deut 6).  He had been a recipient of God’s saving grace.

We must not fall into the trap of seeking to impose or measure our pursuit of an obedient, uncompromising life on the heart and life of another believer – that would be legalistic! I like the way that Paul sums up how we are to treat one another on the road toward an “uncompromising life” in Galatians 6:

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load” (Gal 6:1-5)

So, in summary, “legalists” often think that their unbiblical “works”  and “ways” are something when they are nothing! They lay heavy burdens on other believers, often criticizing others for their  “lack of obedience” to their man-made, self-righteous “works.”  In contrast, Spirit-filled Christians desire to obey God’s Word alone!  They recognize that they are nothing and desire to help one another (i.e., lighten burdens!) in their pursuit of an “uncompromising life” to the glory of God!

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Author: Peter Spiers

Peter is an executive with CFA, a national healthcare consulting firm, and invests all his off-work time into his church and his family. He is faithful to invest his life into men and loves to see people transformed by God's Word.