“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5, AV)
One of the jobs I had was to set up a field service office for a German printing press manufacturer in the United States. In this, I would often have to visit the company’s customers and troubleshoot problems they were encountering with their machinery. On one occasion, a company had a printing press in which a majority of the electronic modules on the machine would not work. After some troubleshooting, we determined that the control modules of the low voltage circuits were inoperative. The company had to rush an emergency order for a large number of control modules.
I had no idea what caused the problem until the second shift mechanic told me that the night before one of their dryer blower motors would not start. He put a jumper on the 380-Volt contactor for the blower. When I looked at the contactor, I saw a burn mark on one of the terminals just below it. The terminal was the 24-Volt DC power to the control modules. The jumper he installed accidentally hit this terminal, putting 380-Volts AC into the 24-Volt DC circuit. When I told him that this burned out all the 24 Volt DC control modules. His response was, “You mean that little spark did all that?” Yes, one little spark. Similarly, one little spark of adding works to grace, legalism, creates a host of serious problems.
First, legalism undermines the message of God’s sovereignty. Legalism being a manmade righteousness, ultimately makes God subservient to man, which can never be the case. Thus, legalism falsely teaches that man through his own efforts achieves a level of righteousness that forces God to justify one due to his own good works.
Second, legalism brings down the holiness of God to man’s level. In legalism, rather than seeing our righteous deeds as filthy rags, we see that through them man can achieve the infinite holiness of God. The truth is that God alone is infinitely holy and we can only achieve perfect holiness in Christ.
Third, legalism undermines the atonement. Christ died for our sins. If we could achieve the righteousness of God on our own, we would not need a Savior. Christ’s sacrifice would be in vain.
Fourth, legalism denies the necessity of the Holy Spirit for living the Christian life and growing in Christ likeness. It is only through the working of the indwelling Spirit of God that we can have victory over sin (Galatians 5:16), and progress in Christian growth (Galatians 3:1-3).
Fifth, legalism places a yoke upon people that constrains them and prevents them from living the victorious Christian life. Rather than causing growth legalism stifles it. Legalism does not produce joy, but causes frustration and depression. Legalism, rather than releasing people to serve under the power of the indwelling Spirit, enslaves people to the flesh for service. In this way, people are never satisfied and never experience the God-given purposes for their lives.
Finally, legalism steals the glory from God. Any system that is based upon the works of the flesh rather than the grace of God takes the glory from God and attempts to give it to man. Whether this is for the work of salvation or the work of sanctification, legalism attempts to give man the glory.
This list of problems with legalism is not conclusive. However, it points out something paramount to us. We must always be vigilant to guard ourselves against it. It is a death nail in the coffin, a vicious evil and a doctrine from the pit.