Saturday, August 20, 2005

Why Performance-Based Legalism Is Harmful

I want to say a few words about that form of “legalism” which I call Performance-Based Christianity, as opposed to Grace-Based. It's that form of legalism that tries to earn God's favor or love by what we do.

There are several other forms of legalism, for example:

1. There is initial salvation by works;

2. There is the Seventh Day Adventist type of legalism, which speaks of initial salvation by grace, but it must be followed by law-works or you end up losing your salvation;

3. There is that extra-biblical type of cultural "legalism", such as "no lipstick", "no pants for ladies", etc.;

4. There is pure Galatianism, which mixes law-works with grace, which of course makes it not grace.

The Perfomance-Based Christianity type I speak of is, I believe, the most destructive to the spiritual walk of the Christian, because it does several bad things:

1. It makes a Christian think they are better or worse than other Christians, causing pride or despair respectively;

2. It encourages the Christian to be self-centered -- always examining his navel as to whether he is "measuring up" (and he never is, of course) -- instead of being Christ-centered, looking to Jesus and fellowshiping with Him;

3. It encourages Daisy Theology -- "He loves me, He loves me not", robbing the believer of that precious and total love and acceptance that God has for him in Christ;

4. Worst of all, it adds law to grace, which Paul points out makes it no longer grace, whereupon one "falls from grace", as the Galatians did in their foolishness, and gets on the ground of Law, which quenches the Holy Spirit, and inflames sin.

The problem with Law-based living is that the one who lives that way must, 1. obey all of it, 2. obey it continually, 3. obey it perfectly.

Sorry, but "Striving to obey God's commandments" won't cut it, and one who lives that way is cursed by his own paradigm.

"For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them.'" (Gal. 3:10)

But...We are "...servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:6)

And that New Covenant, of course, is in Jesus Christ, our Lawgiver, Lawkeeper, and Sacrifice Lamb, who became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. What a Savior and Friend!

Listen to "Grace For Life" Radio Program.


Bhedr said...

Boy I couldn't agree more brother. All glory must go to the work of Christ 100%. Our earnestness is like a wave tossed about. We must stand on the Grace of God alone.

The law was made for the lost not the righteouss. I Timothy 1:9

vilen25 said...

I also agree with this wholeheartedly. I was part of a singles ministry at a megachurch where those who were in high-profile ministry positions, or who swamped themselves with activity were praised, and others were looked down on. I eventually left this church, seeing that "performance legalism" was their goal, not intimacy with Christ.

Wish I could find a church that could make the distinctions you have.


Michael W. Adams said...

It also leads to a critical spirit because in performance-based Christianity, I have to be right in my actions and motives. That can lead to a harshness that reveals itself in being critical of others over issues that have no real significance.

Terry Rayburn said...


Excellent point. Thanks.