You don’t really have to trust entirely in yourself and ability to be a legalist, you don’t have to shout back at Jesus and say “well, bro… It is not finished yet, you lied on that cross.” To be a legalist, you don’t have to trust entirely in the law anyway, you may still love Jesus and be a legalist. In fact, legalists love Jesus so much that they even want to help Him out! Oh yes, they fancy Jesus so much and might even make decorations around their homes with stickers bearing the inscription of the five letters of “JESUS.”
What exactly makes one a legalist? Trusting in Jesus 99.9% and then thinking “well, we’ve got to do the remaining 0.01%” makes you a legalist. Many people trust God so much and express this trust in the place of prayer but they don’t trust God alone! Yea, they trust Him very much but not Him alone. They believe that it has to be Jesus plus something else that looks like worship anyway! In the days of the Apostles, the debate was usually about “Jesus plus circumcision” or “Jesus plus kosher” but in the contemporary society today, circumcision has become even archaic to some people and so it is no longer a debate. Even if you want to debate it, there are also health benefits to circumcision and you’d be quickly told that they didn’t do it because of religious reasons.
So, as much as we may not be seeing such a debate of “Jesus plus circumcision” today because it is not a big deal again, we’ve got some other things we are faced with and because it looks so much like “Christian stuff” we have logically defined it to be an instrument of aid to our salvation. It is obvious we don’t talk about “Jesus plus circumcision” but we talk about Jesus plus avoiding certain dress? Don’t we talk about Jesus plus avoiding makeup? And we say things like “until your dressing change, you have not been changed.” Or “until your hairstyle change, you are still a sinner!”
Well, some of us have known better that we don’t also teach “Jesus plus avoiding certain dressings.” But then we talk about “Jesus plus tithing and sowing of seed!” and we want brethren to think their salvation is hinged on those! We make them believe “if you have not given your all, the heavens are still closed upon you!” or “if you have not sow that seed of faith, poverty is knocking on your door.” How about “when you don’t pay tithe, your name isn’t registered in heaven.” Yes, we do that conveniently, after all, the gospel needs money!
How about Jesus plus evangelism? Oh, I know I got most of you here! You hear stuff like “if you don’t win souls your salvation is questionable!” How about Jesus plus praying to Angels and dead saints? Like asking Mary to intercede on our behalf and asking Saint Peter to plead our case? Do we still have a case? Even if we do, is it the Saints that intercede for us? You hear things like “you can’t go to Jesus without coming to His mother first!” Does that mean Jesus lied when beckoned on everyone who is burdened to come on to him?
It is very rampant everywhere! We teach Jesus plus our denomination and we also act it in the way we relate to people of other denominations. You will hear things like “our Church is the ark of salvation and if you aren’t a Catholic, you aren’t saved!” You hear other things like “every other denomination has failed and that is why God raised us!” Sometimes we make people feel as though it is only our Pastor who has the word or at least who teach it better and we say things like “if I enter a city and my denomination is not there, I will travel miles just to attend service.” Jesus is not denominational.
We also teach Jesus plus baptism! We say things like “if you aren’t baptized, you cannot be saved!” Is it the saved that get baptized or the unsaved? Are we saved by baptism or by grace? And we argue about being baptized by immersion, sprinkling and so on as though our salvation is hinged on these things! Oh well, you only got wet if you believe water baptism gets you saved! The real baptism isn’t the type John did but the type Jesus is doing even now! It is spiritual which every believer has experienced. How about Jesus plus fasting and prayers and many more?
Now you see, I am not saying you shouldn’t give, win souls, dress fine, fast, pray and so on but on the subject of salvation, you aren’t saved by doing those things and your salvation isn’t maintained with those things either! It is absolutely Jesus plus nothing, not Jesus plus baptism or Jesus plus evangelism! Add anything to Jesus on the subject of salvation and you find legalism! You are saved once and for all, you don’t maintain salvation neither do you do anything to get saved!
You think legalists dismiss Christ and what He came to do? Oh no, they don’t! In fact, some of them have the word “grace” on their lips every time! Let me tell you how legalists feel, they have a strong pity for Christ and they feel like He is carrying too much load and will need help. They believe they have a part to play in their salvation.
Many times it appears harmless! “Isn’t it just paying tithes and sowing seeds? Isn’t it just winning souls? Isn’t it just about being loyal to Pastor? How they communicate it shouldn’t matter as long as the act isn’t bad! Humans need some kind of threat and push anyways!” Legalists are well calculated and organized, they look morally sound, they even promote charity works and they dress decently. After looking at them, you might conclude there isn’t anything wrong legalism. Paul thinks otherwise, Paul believes they are like dogs and they make demands of cutting the body! (Philippians 3:2) After all, Jesus said if any part of our body will make us sin we should cut it off and throw it into the fire. That is how they think it!
If there is any better way to explain Paul’s approach to the legalists we might conclude he was intolerant. How about the Galatians that he called “foolish” because they are trying to make it “Jesus plus something.” Would Paul go that far to call certain believers dogs? You could think about this for a while! He didn’t call fornicators or thieves “dogs” Why is Paul not taking it lightly with legalist? It is because they make a mess of what Jesus has done. It is a mockery to God when we want to work it for ourselves. Legalists are simply saying “oh Jesus, we know you did a great job! But we will help you finish it!”
Paul’s voice keeps resonating today, asking anyone who wants to earn or maintain salvation by works “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by it forever?” (Galatians 4:9). There is no joy in trying to help God save you! On your own, you can never ever do it right! Why not let Jesus alone? The works of God are perfectly displayed when we don’t try helping out! Jesus never asked for your hand in getting you saved! He only said “whosoever believes… shall be saved!” Now we don’t act good to be saved to keep being saved, we act good because we are saved and we ought to show it. It is Jesus plus nothing!