In an article titled, “The legalism spiral in religion,” David Gushee writes in the Colorado Springs Gazette on April 21, 2016, that many church disputes center around liberal and conservative forms of religion. “Legalism and reactions against it are a constant part of religious life,” he explains. Then he adds, “Legalism can be defined as strict adherence to the letter of the law. … A legalist is fixated on law, seems to miss the principle behind the law, or tightens legal obligation beyond what is right, reasonable, or good for people.”
Last week in his Sunday school class, Gushee discussed Luke 6, which speaks of Jesus tangling with the Pharisees over proper Sabbath observance. He adds, “The command to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy is crucial in Judaism.” The class then spoke about forms of legalism in their younger years. He concluded his article saying, “Legalism kills by squeezing the life out of us. But a reactive anti-legalism can kill by not keeping us away from actions that can ruin our lives—and that of others.”
He makes a good point. We can worship the letter of the law or toss it completely out the window. The truth is, legalism has less to do with one’s actions and more to do with one’s motives. The Pharisees attempted to keep the law “that they be seen by men” (Matthew 6:5). If the ultimate focus of the law is to love the Lord and other people, by contrast a legalist keeps the law by focusing on himself.
Jesus wasn’t pushing aside the fourth commandment in His dispute with the Pharisees, He was attacking their burdensome traditions which they added to the law. Christ established Himself as the One who can properly interpret the law. “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).
Keeping the Sabbath legalistically may be crucial in some forms of Judaism, but keeping the Sabbath holy is relevant for all humanity. The Ten Commandments were not given to a select group of people. God gave them as a gift to bless all human beings. Legalism is a human attempt to keep God’s law and it certainly does squeeze the life out of all of us!
You can read more about legalism and the Sabbath by clicking here.
Also in the news…
The benefits some families see from observing the Sabbath. “Keeping the Sabbath isn’t optional, at least not in God’s book. But observing the day of rest prescribed in the Ten Commandments can be more difficult for busy families than honoring their parents or not swearing.” Here are some interesting reflections on Sabbath keeping from a Sunday keeper.