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Legalism Part 3

Jesus is preparing a Bride for Himself…

Jude verse 24 says, “He is able to present (me) before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” He is working in me to change me into His image; He is calling me to be holy as He is holy.

So, what’s MY part in all of this? Let’s study God’s Word today and find out.

Legalism Part 3 – Knowing, Owning, Presenting, Walking

Either take a listen or read through this week’s broadcast below. Be blessed.

Legalism Part 3 (with Scripture References):

Welcome to VowsToKeep Radio…Part 3 of a 3-part series on Legalism and Performance. We want to talk with you about this today because as conceptual (and fundamental and doctrinal) as it may seem, this is a topic that no one escapes. And since no one escapes it, legalism WILL affect your marriage.

Some people deal with this and move on with intermittent reminders of truth to get them back onto the path of grace. Some will struggle with legalism and performance most days of their life and they are the ones who will need constant reminders of grace and mercy and the cross.

In the last 2 parts of this series, we’ve debunked what some of us have passed off as Biblical truth when it comes to this topic. We’ve defined legalism…what it is and what it isn’t and how it waylays us from the path of truth.

Let’s review briefly what we discussed in those broadcasts and then move on today to we’re going to (expose and) oppose legalism with Truth and then learning what God truly expects of us as believers. Because there are those of us who struggle to keep what’s true at the forefront and we’re the ones who will continue to ask this question:

What’s our part in all of this. What should I be doing for the Lord? What does He expect of me?

So, in review…in part 1 in this series we learned:

#1 Legalism is a doctrine that believes the right performance will equal the right acceptance and approval from God and others. (See 1 Timothy 4:16, Romans 3:24, Gal. 3:11)

#2 Legalism feels good – doing the right thing (even with the wrong motive) fools us into thinking we’re “good” before God. (Jer. 17:9-10)

#3 Legalism is a gospel replacement – when we believe we can EARN God’s approval, we no longer need the cross. (Romans 10:9, Romans 3, Romans 5) Which leads to #4

#4 Legalism enables me to feel justified even when my heart isn’t right with God  (Galatians 3:1-3)

#5 Legalism is sin – because it Exalts human ability to be our own Savior. It prompts me to place my faith in ME, not in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. (Acts 4:12, Ez. 14:4-5)

#6 Legalism is not obedienceour works look like a response to the gospel rather than a replacement for it. Our works can LOOK like obedience to God’s Word. (Eph. 2:8-9, Romans 5:19)

Then in Part 2, we learned:

Point #7 Legalism is like yeast. It spreads until it infects every area of our lives including every relationship in our lives. (Gal. 5:2-9)

And the last three…

#8 In legalism and performance, I become judge of my standing before God. If I did enough “good”, He’s happy with me. If not, I’ve got to get on His good side again. The bar is constantly moving and it wears me out. (Romans 5:1-2, 1 Cor. 4:2-4)

That causes #9 – In legalism, I perform in fear. I don’t obey out of love. (Gal. 5:1, 1 John 4:13-18)

#10 Legalism is a sanctification replacement. I can’t grow in Christ if I’m trying to change myself on my own. I am the branch and He is the vine and I must remember that apart from Christ, I can do NOTHING. (John 15)

I hope that you take time to study these points out on your ownbecause these aren’t truths you can hear one time and be done with it. If you struggle to believe that God is pleased with you; if you picture Him standing above you tapping His foot, waiting for you to get your act together, these are things you will have to go over and over and over.

And spouses, I’m talking to you right now as well. God’s placed you in your spouse’s life to walk beside them as they grow and change, even at times to pick them up off the ground when their legalism trips them up.

Both the person who dabbles in legalism and performance and the person who has believed the lies of legalism wholeheartedly will ask questions like these… How does God feel about me today? Am I getting this right? Does God’s grace mean I sit limply on the sidelines, doing what I want because I have a covering of grace? What is my part in the Christian life? What does God expect of me?

There is a fundamental problem in each one of those questions, though they are all legitimate… Do you hear the theme? Me, Me, Me. The temptation for us has been and will always be to turn in on ourselves and not look to Christ. To define our own classification before God based on our evaluation of me, myself and I. To look inward to either our sin or OUR solution to our sin. Our feelings often reign sovereign, not the finality of God’s grace pronounced over us.

So, as we go on in the remainder of our broadcast today, we’re going to need to practice Hebrews 12:2, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter, the Pioneer of our faith. It’s going to be through these truths that we’ll study that we will be enabled to shift our focus from us to Christ.

Today on VKR, we’re excited to be walking through 4 steps to getting you (and me) from being crippled in the defeat of performance (which is looking inward) to staying in step with the Spirit (which is looking Christ-ward).

In other words, 4 steps to taking us from where we are to where God has for us to be. From isolation to intimate relationship with your Heavenly Father. From self-analysis to freedom. From a to-do list type life to a purpose filled life. From a life of wondering questions to absolute certainty.

Before we get to our 4 steps of Christian growth today (which as we’ll see in a minute are Knowing, Owning, Offering, and Walking), let’s talk about the stages, for lack of a better word, of the Christian’s life. There is a point before salvation that I am spiritually dead. I hear/read the gospel and I accept Christ as my Savior. I am now His. Adopted into His family for all eternity. His righteousness is credited to my account as my own and I am justified by faith.

This justification removes my sin and makes me right in God’s sight because of what Jesus accomplished for me. I’m a Christian now and I begin my faith journey. Jesus is preparing a Bride for Himself and as Jude verse 24 says, “He is able to present (me) before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” He is working in me to change me into His image; He is calling me to be holy as He is holy. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling presence is both the power for change and the seal on our hearts that we are God’s and God’s alone.   

By His mighty power, as Colossians chapter 1 says… ”we live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to HIS glorious might.” We go forward in faith, (and as 2 Cor. 5 says, “convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” AMEN!)

But, as we know, this is not the experience of every Christian, to live in this kind of victory.

It is for this freedom that Christ set us free, but we get bound again to a yoke of slavery.

And that’s where many of us find ourselves. Bound up, tied up, tripped up and unable to run this race that God has set before us. You’ve seen it in yourself; you’ve seen it in your spouse. The fruit of being enslaved to anything other than Christ results in depression, anger, distrust of one another, frustration and a lack of hope and purpose.

So, let’s go through these 4 steps of our Christian journey –

Knowing, Owning, Offering, and Walking

And as we do, we’re going to assume that we are speaking to believers. Those of us who have professed faith in Jesus, God’s Son and perfect sacrifice. If that’s you today, we pray that you will let God’s Word have its effect on your heart, so much so, that you will live fully in the liberty that is already yours in Christ.

#1 KNOWING

What would you say you know about grace? Is God’s grace the place where you stand or is it a place far off that you long to be? Is God’s grace to something you possess or do you believe it’s not yours quite yet? Let’s review some of the essentials of grace:

Grace is…

Unmerited favor – given what we don’t deserve

(Grace is…) Given through Jesus, who came full of grace and truth (John 1:16)

How we are justified (Romans 3:24)

Why we are able to stand in right position before God, a position of favor (Romans 5:2)

Our covering that we live under (Romans 6:14)

A Gift (Romans 12:3)

Grace trains us in righteousness (Isaiah 26:10)

Grace is…Sufficient for our sins and weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9, Gal. 2:21)

The space between reading these truths and unequivocally believing them (and therefore participating in them) is where many Christians live.

It’s a state of limbo that our enemy labors tirelessly to keep us in. Why? Because when we vacillate in what we really believe, we are disabled in our faith.

Satan can’t take away our salvation but he can make us question who we are in Christ and we willingly believe his foolhardy lies about legalism. Many people spend their entire Christian life in that space, never reaching the full understanding of where they stand in Christ.

Here’s your position in Christ today, no matter what your feelings or the enemy might tell you: Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We may in theory “know” these truths, we can see with our own eyes in black and white these words on the pages of the Bible. We can sing about grace with the artist on the radio, listen to a sermon on grace in church on Sunday, even try to picture ourselves before the throne of God clothed in His righteousness and not ours…we can do all these things but grace can still feel very far away. Have you grabbed hold of God’s grace as your own or are you borrowing feelings and phrases from pastors and singers and friends? Is this grace YOURS or does it only belong to those who’ve got “IT” figured out, whatever that “IT” is?

Let this truth free you today: You don’t have to figure anything out.

It’s all been done for you. You HAVE God’s grace to you given through His Son Jesus…You can’t change it or remove it (even on your worst day) but here’s what you can do and what you need to do: change how you accept it in faith and how you live under this beautiful umbrella that God has placed over you.

Just as believing in Christ as your Savior is a matter of faith, so is KNOWING your position in Christ.

Romans 5 is very helpful in KNOWING the gospel on a deeper level. We have the first Adam in the Garden of Eden. Romans 5:12 tells us that sin entered the world through one man and then death through that sin. In this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

Adam hung in indecision between two trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. He chose to sin and we reap the fruit of Adam’s disobedience. You are a sinner not because you sin but because of your heritage in Adam. You sin because you are a sinner. In our old nature, we are spiritually dead.

Jesus became the second Adam and he hung between two trees. And because of His choice, Romans 5 says that many will be made righteous. We now reap the fruit of Christ’s obedience. You have new life in Christ not because you are sinless but because He is. We have a new nature, and we are spiritually alive.

But to be fair, the two cannot be equally compared. Listen to Romans 5:17. “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.”

Not only did Christ make atonement for your sins by the blood He shed for you, (making you accepted in the Beloved), His death was your death. His resurrection was yours.

These truths can be seen in: Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

And in Romans 6:3-4 “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Romans 6:6 “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.”

Romans 6:8 “Now if we died with Christ, we BELIEVE that we will also live with Him.”

We were born into sin, but that old sinful nature has been crucified.

Sin may still be present in our lives but it no longer has power in our lives.

This is the abundant provision of grace in which we now stand.

God’s grace is based on His character, not ours. That’s your truth to own today.

What else– out of the truths you just read – do you need to take on faith today?

Faith that’s already been given to you to believe?

To stop vacillating between grace and legalism, we’ve got to make the step from KNOWING to OWNING.

#2 OWNING

This is what God is calling you to. Can you see His good plan for you? To make you rich through His poverty? Through His death, you died to sin. Through His resurrection, you are alive in Christ Jesus. Like Paul says in Galatians 5:20-21 “The life I now live in the body, I live by FAITH in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

When in faith you are able to thank God for His indescribable gift and SEE yourself as crucified with Christ and now risen to new life in Him, you’re well on the path to OWNING this as yours.

And the state of owning is not nearly as long as that of KNOWING. Like I said, a person can be in the knowing stage for years and years because their head knowledge and human reasoning and lack of faith hasn’t allowed the truth to make the 18inch journey to their heart.

When in faith you transition from knowing to OWNING, most people IMMEDIATELY go to the next step, which is OFFERING.

#3 OFFERING

Why is there no lag time in between OWNING and OFFERING? Because this next step is truly is not a question of when do I offer or what do I offer to God or how do I offer it…this is an all-in, all-out joyous surrender of everything we are to the God in whose grace we now stand.

Turning back to Romans 6 where we were a minute ago, starting in verse 16, (and as you read, look for these themes: Offer and Slave and Obey):

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness.”

This word OFFER is a submitting to our new master, Jesus, and no longer making ourselves available to sin. We will sin, but we are not under obligation to its mastery any longer. We have a new Master and we are anxious to serve HIM!

This is Romans 12:1 where “in view of God’s mercy, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God.”

We see this progression of Knowing – Owning – and then Offering – with Paul in Philippians 3:8-9. He says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (there’s the first step – KNOWING), for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. (There’s the OWNING of what’s true. Being found in Christ through faith).

Verse 10: I want to know Christ – yes to know the power of His resurrection and participate (there’s the offering) in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death” (dying to my slavery to sin and being instead a slave to righteousness).

Don’t hear me say today that we get PAST the knowing and move on to owning and then offering. Just as Paul reiterates here in Philippians 3, he wants to continue to know Christ, his life, suffering, death and resurrection. He’s saying, may I never forget the gospel! In fact, in verse 11 he says, not that I have already obtained all this or have already arrived at my goal, I’m going to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

And therein comes our final point before we speak to those of you who have a spouse living in the trap of legalism.


#4 WALKING

Here again, we’re going to have to watch carefully where we fix our eyes. What we’re focused on. Here we can get in trouble, having come so far in Christ, Knowing, Owning and Offering, only to try to walk on our own. Ahh! May it never be so!

If I’ve died to the law so I might live for God, I cannot try to walk by the law in order to please God.

My job now is to keep the gospel so close to my heart, that it is on the tip of my tongue and on the cusp of my heart at any given moment…so I don’t forget that I am not under the law, I’m no longer in Adam and my old sinful nature…I am IN Christ. And my calling now is to walk after the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4) and to never live independent from God.

We are on this path of sanctification. We are being led by the Spirit not by our flesh. This is God’s work that He started and it is He who will finish it. He is the Vine and we are the branches but we don’t have to strive to be attached to the Vine. We are already there!

We have already been grafted in and now our aim is to rest in Him, to abide in Him and to let Him do His work in us and through us.

We don’t come to God in our own righteousness, saying “here I am!” We say, as did Hudson Taylor (the great missionary of the 1800’s) “I used to ask God if He would come and help me; then I asked God if I might come and help Him; then I ended by asking God to do His own work through me.”


That is the freedom of the Christian life. It is a matter of staying in step with the Spirit.

In this place of freedom, I am not ruled or mastered by my sin, by lies of legalism, by my emotions.

As I WALK, I am led by the Spirit and I am not under the law. It’s in this freedom that I “walk in the way of love” as is it says in Eph 5:2 and life a life worthy of the calling I have received (Eph. 4:1). And it’s here, that I finally come to “let the peace of Christ RULE in my heart” (Colossians 3:15). What a joyous place that is.

What is your next step in grace?

Do you need to KNOW the gospel? Do you need to OWN it? Have you hesitated in OFFERING all of yourself? In your WALK, are you walking in the Spirit or after the flesh? Where are you fixing your eyes? Please take time to listen again to this series and go through these verses on your own. Go over them with your spouse. Tell him/her what step you need to take and ask them to encourage you on your faith journey.

In Conclusion today on VowsToKeep Radio, I want to say a word to Spouses:

People who are legalistic, most of the time have no idea that they are. It’s a concept. Like grace. They know the word grace. Most of the time when you’re in a legalistic mindset, it doesn’t even occur to you that it’s happening. People who tend towards legalism might write it off as a personality trait – perfectionism.

If this is your husband or wife we are describing, you are in a prime position, maybe the ONLY person in his or her life in that position, who can see the warning signs from far enough off that you can step in and help them take these steps of KNOWING, OWNING, OFFERING, and WALKING.

Watch for warning signs that your spouse is in legalism (either with you or with God): watch for a lack of peace. Watch for frustration when things aren’t perfect and lack of believing they are completely loved and accepted that might lead to isolation or depression or anger.

Watch for lack of hope and purpose when they fail. One of the biggest warning signs you might see is your spouse trying to gain YOUR approval but not ever feeling like they have it. What do they believe their performance with YOU buys them? Security? Approval? Acceptance? More love? Be on the lookout so you can come along side them and help them take their next step of faith.

Hebrews 3:12 “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another DAILY, as long as it is called “Today”, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Understand – If you’re married to someone who is legalistic, this is not a one-time conversation. You might want it to be. But legalism is something that requires a much longer grace.

As the spouse of a legalistic person, keep the gospel close to your heart as well. So you can remember it is the God of comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Praise be to God today as we finish by reading Psalm 25, a Psalm for those who tend toward legalism but desire to walk after the Spirit:


8 Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
    He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
    and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.

Recommended Reading: Watchman Nee “The Normal Christian Life”

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