Is ‘legalism’ keeping the law in order to obtain salvation or in order to keep it? Is ‘legalism’ man-made laws? You might think these definitions are pretty close to what you believe based on what you’ve been taught or what your particular bible translation states but read for yourself and see if you feel the same way.
I got a wake-up call when I started reading Galatians from The Complete Jewish Bible, which is a Hebrew to English translation, and I’ve got to tell you, it reads differently than the other translations we have. The other translations change the wording slightly which changes the meaning entirely. I’m going to list a bunch of verses from The Complete Jewish Bible in case you don’t have this translation and try to guess for yourself what the real definition is without me telling you at the end.
“…we have come to realize that a person is not declared righteous by God on the ground of his legalistic observance of Torah commands, but through the Messiah Yeshua’s trusting faithfulness.” Gal 2:16
“For it was through letting the Torah speak for itself that I died to its traditional legalistic misinterpretation, so that I might live in direct relationship with God. Gal 2:19
“I want to know from you just this one thing: did you receive the Spirit by legalistic observance of Torah commands or by trusting in what you heard and being faithful to it? Are you that stupid? Having begun with the Spirit’s power, do you think you can reach the goal under your own power? Gal 3:2-3
“…does he do it because of your legalistic observance of Torah commands or because you trust in what you heard and are faithful to it? Gal 3:5
“It was the same with Avraham: “He trusted in God and was faithful to him, and that was credited to his account as righteousness.” Be assured, then, that it is those who live by trusting and being faithful who are really children of Abraham. Also the Tanakh, foreseeing that God would consider the Gentiles righteous when they live by trusting and being faithful, told the Good News to Avraham in advance by saying, “In connection with you, all the Goyim will be blessed.” So then, those who rely on trusting and being faithful are blessed along with Avraham, who trusted and was faithful. Gal 3:6-9
“For everyone who depends on legalistic observance of Torah commands lives under a curse, since it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah.” Now it is evident that no one comes to be declared righteous by God through legalism, since “The person who is righteous will attain life by trusting and being faithful.” Furthermore, legalism is not based on trust and being faithful, but on a misuse of the text that says, “Anyone who does these things will attain life through them.” Gal 3:10-12
So then, why the legal part of the Torah? It was added in order to create transgressions, until the coming of the seed about whom the promise had been made. Gal 3:19
Does this mean that the legal part of the Torah stands in opposition to God’s promises? Heaven forbid! For if the legal part of the Torah which God gave had had in itself the power to give life, then righteousness really would have come by legalistically following such a Torah. But instead, the Tanakh shuts up everything under sin: so that what has been promised might be given, on the basis of Yeshua the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness, to those who continue to be trustingly faithful. Gal 3:21-22
Now before the time for this trusting faithfulness came, we were imprisoned in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism, kept under guard until this yet-to-come trusting faithfulness would be revealed. Accordingly, the Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came, so that we might be declared righteous on the ground of trusting and being faithful. But now that the time for this trusting faithfulness has come, we are no longer under a custodian. For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness; …Gal 3:23-26
Other things are mentioned in Galatians such as circumcision and Isaac whom the promise followed and all of these things are tied in together. So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll explain it as best as I can…
Legalism is obeying the laws WITHOUT trusting and being faithful to Yeshua. It is a strict adherence to the laws – going through the motions because you are commanded to. It’s obeying laws which have no meaning to you whatsoever – you just do it because it’s the thing to do. There is no relationship with Yeshua. It’s kind of like doing community service – you do it because you have to, not because you care about what you’re doing or whom it may help. It’s just a series of things you do. It is also devoid of the Holy Spirit.
In a nutshell, the commands given at Mt. Sinai was limited by human capability. This is the Old Covenant.
The New Covenant has the power of the Holy Spirit, breathing life into these same laws given, with emphasis on loving others. It is a relationship with God.
For it is by the power of the Spirit, who works in us because we trust and are faithful, that we confidently expect our hope of attaining righteousness to be fulfilled. When we are united with the Messiah Yeshua, neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is trusting faithfullness expressing itself through love. Gal 5:5-6
It comes down to being indwelled with the Holy Sprit. Legalism is devoid of the Holy Spirit. Anyone can do good things, but if you’re not doing it because you love that person and thus love God, then it counts for nothing.
And this ties in to the “law being done away with.” It simply is not true. Yes a better Covenant came and it was better because now Gentiles can be grafted in and obtain salvation by trusting and being faithful to Messiah, we inherit the same promises as the Jews such as the land and eternal life, we are freed from the bondage that the old laws gave because we no longer have to trudge through and do them in the flesh, but instead we have the Holy Spirit enabling us to obey them. And most importantly, with the New Covenant comes a relationship with Yeshua.
This is not the easiest subject to grasp so don’t be discouraged. I’m still learning myself so I don’t claim to have a lock on this subject. There is much more on this subject that I could mention but since I’m not a writer, I fear that I’ll just confuse you even more. So I encourage you all to do your own study and if you can shed some more light on this subject, then by all means please comment.