What’s the opposite of Legalism?

Our pastor asked an interesting question today during the sermon.

“What’s the opposite of legalism in the bible?”

Now this wasn’t the main point he was making for the sermon because he didn’t spend much time on it.  But it got me thinking quite a bit.  

To me legalism is the over-reliance on a set of rules in order to determine your standing with God.  i.e. if you do good things all the time and follow the rules, you’re ‘good’ with God.  however the downside of legalism is that it often restricts a persons behaviour and prevents a person from doing what they really should be.

Legalism was the problem with the Pharisees who as the spiritual leaders always found fault with Jesus when He did anything that broke their rules of holiness.  e.g. when Jesus healed on the Sabbath or when His disciples were picking up grain in the fields.

This however isn’t the way that God has called us to live our lives.

Being a Christian often means breaking man made rules for the sake of acting out compassion to those in need.  It means doing what God wants you to do over and above what you think is the best thing to do (for your pride or comfort).  It means submitting to God and His rules and not our own.  

I know that praying and reading my bible are good things, but doing them will not make me more holy than I am already. (thought i might make me think that)   

What then is the opposite to legalism?  The answer is quite simply grace.

My holiness comes from trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins on the cross.  The ultimate example of God’s grace shown to an undeserving sinner: me.  My correct response is to then live a life that glorifies God through my actions and in my relationships with others and practicing grace and mercy and charity throughout.

That’s not easy… in fact it’s downright difficult to do all the time.

Good thing I’ve got God’s grace to back me up on that.  And the best example of all to learn from.

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7 thoughts on “What’s the opposite of Legalism?

  1. Grace. I couldn’t agree more. It leaves me more than I would like but that is also what I strive for both with my relationship with God and with people.

  2. If legalism is “the over-reliance on a set of rules in order to determine your standing with God.” Then the complete opposite would not be grace. Rather it’s complete opposite would not be living by any rules or standards at all, would it not? What I have come to the understanding is that there is always a balance. We need God’s laws so that we have a standard of living, and we also need to understand the richness of the gospel and God’s grace that we are forgiven when we break the standards that God has set in place for us. If we live in the complete opposite then we are excusing God’s standards. I hope i am not coming across as if I’m attacking you. But as believers I want to challenge you so that you and myself may grow.

  3. Having just stumbled upon this, I felt the need to respond. Thomas is quite correct. The opposite of legalism is not Grace in and of itself, but rather the belief that there is no need for God’s law, only faith in His grace. This is called antinomianism. James 2:14-26 deals quite in depth with this. Faith without works is dead and anitnomian, however works without faith is legalism, or at least if the emphasis on works more so than faith. However there is a balance of Grace, and we must find that fine line between faith and works. To mimic Thomas, I am not trying to attack you in any way. I am simply bringing my perspective to the discussion.

  4. Hi Thomas and Caleb,

    Thanks for your comments and feedback, really appreciate it and I don’t feel attacked, rather edified.
    It’s been a while since I wrote this post and I think at the time I was reading a lot about works and grace which informed my thoughts. Your comments however have revealed to me how myopic the view was as I was solely focused on the 2 forgetting the bigger picture.

    So thank you very much for pointing it out! Hope that you will continue to keep watch of mine and others writings about our faith so that we can further sharpen one another’s understandings! :D

  5. Hi Sean,

    Don’t think you are wrong per se, really legalism can be seen as both a governance approach whereby the extremes pts are

    – lawlessness
    – complete governance (legalism)

    And attitude whereby the extreme pts are

    – legalistic
    – grace

    But in both cases, we need to remember that our Lord is a God of both justice and mercy, without justice, there would be lawlessness, but without grace, it would be heartless

    And in that we often see the uniqueness of God’s messages that it is seldom about a single dimension (eg shrewd as a serpent (about the head) and innocent as a dove (about the heart)), it is often about both the environment and about our own responses.

    So in that sense both you and Caleb are prob right.

  6. Ha ha, you guys are hilarious. I like the article immensely. The author wrote a great piece, makes sense. Completely true. And then the comments begin to try to redifine his insights in attempt to make them more “true”. This is literally legalism. Quit trying to correct the jots and tiddles. The point he is making is clear… dont relate with god and people with the sense that your earning something that you deserve because of your works. Simple. A perfect example is the bickering of the disciples when the brothers asked if they can sit on either side of christ in heaven. They were working for position, and the disciples became jealous. Position means nothing. Purity of heart and reliance on christ means everything.

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