Legalism vs Holiness

About LEGALISM – Andrew Strom

During our “TV” discussion someone posted a very interesting poem. I can’t tell if it is somewhat “tongue in cheek” but it certainly opens up the discussion of what is ‘Legalism’ and what is ‘Holiness’. Below is a portion of this poem, followed by my own comments:

by Bill Harper

The Holiness preacher, a Godly man, was seen riding his circuit with Bible in hand. He rode in sunshine and he rode in rain, he rode when he felt good, and he rode in pain…

Often he fasted, God’s will to achieve, striving for perfection, lest the Spirit he’d grieve. Often his congregation numbered just a few. He preached without compromise and he helped them pray through…

He preached against demon rum and the dance. He spoke against painted up women and games of chance. The Holiness preacher, a Godly man, kept up with the times, God’s kingdom to expand…

Few people attended in fancy clothes. They didn’t come to look at others, down their nose. As he entered into this modern age he preached against radio as though in a rage.

Avoid the theater also he’d say. Avoid worldliness, walk the strait narrow way. When moving pictures made their debut he preached against this devil’s invention so new.

Movies corrupted our morals said he, the things they portrayed weren’t fit for Christians to see. During the depression he bought a tent, in which to hold meetings, telling men to repent…

ANDREW AGAIN: The poem about “The Holiness Preacher” above is certainly well-done. But can I just say this, my friends – The old-time “Holiness” movement that concerned itself with “dancing” and “bobbed hair” and ‘no makeup for women’, etc, is NOT where I am coming from with this TV thing.

A lot of those concerns were about “outward” things – and easily descended into legalism. I truly believe that TV is gaining access to the “heart” of man – and that is my main concern. It slowly and gradually fills people’s minds and lives with complete junk.

To be frank with you, I don’t care about “bobbed hair” and I have been known to dance enthusiastically with my wife at weddings, etc. – and also to take her out to the Cinema on occasion. Does that make me “unholy”? Is that what we think “holiness” is about? Is it all about these ‘outward’ things?

I have to confess to you – when I first read the poem about the “Holiness preacher” the only thing that sprang to my mind was that it was not real Holiness – but rather “Legalism” that this man represented. And yes – this became a huge problem in the old Holiness circles. You had to have your hair the “right” way and your dress the “right” way and never attend movies or dances and on and on.

The only real Holiness I am interested in preaching is Holiness of the HEART. If our focus is on mere “outward” things then all we will get from our preaching is a bunch of ‘Legalists’ who do and say all the “right” things – but their hearts are proud and self-righteous.

I greatly fear that many “holiness” circles today have the same legalistic tendencies. It is all about the “right” music styles and head coverings and long dresses – and the ‘Heart’ is forgotten in the rush to get all these “outward” things right. This is no Holiness at all. God is after a pure heart. He wants the INSIDE of the cup to be cleaned – rather than all this focus on the ‘outside’.

We need to apply this Scripture – “To the pure all things are pure.” This is a place of tremendous freedom – but only if we truly have a pure heart.

Can we please learn the difference between Holiness and Legalism, my friends, so this generation does not repeat many of the same errors as our ‘Holiness’ forefathers?

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God bless you all!

Andrew Strom.

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The Insidious Nature of False Doctrine

wolf in sheeps clothing photo: wolf in sheeps clothing Wolf-sheep.jpg


ANDREW’s NOTE: Below is an excellent study of this subject by Jim Pruitt. We already discussed the dangers of the ‘Hebrew Roots’ movement some time ago. I truly don’t mind people calling Jesus “Yeshua” – unless they want to force us all to do it. Paul certainly wrote in Greek, and “Iesous” (or ‘Jesus’) was the word he used. But Yeshua is fine too. However I certainly DO mind when people start telling Gentile Christians to become “Torah Observant” – back under the Old Law. This is deadly deception in my view – directly opposed to the New Testament. But this movement has been growing and we need to be aware of what the Bible clearly teaches on this subject. Jim Pruitt’s study below will help us do that-

-by Jim Pruitt

Three issues have popped up in other areas within the public arena and it is important to address them before they become defacto doctrine. In the first century some of the Jewish Christians sought to impose these behaviors on Gentile Christians and they were addressed in several places in the New Testament (most notably in Acts 15). They are the doctrinal view that all Christians should worship on Saturday (as opposed to Sunday), should abstain from non-kosher foods, and that the Jewish holidays and festivals should still be observed. Adherence to these behaviors were explicitly commanded by God of the Hebrews in the Old Testament and most were from the book of Leviticus.

However, when Christ came He fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17-20) and “things which were a mere shadow of what was to come” were no longer applicable.

Here are verses which specifically address the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and festivals:

Colossians 2:16,17 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Romans 14:5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.

John 9:16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath ” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.

Mark 2:27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

If you read these verses without preconception (i.e., without a doctrine that you’re trying to rationalize), then their meaning is perfectly clear and self-explanatory. It’s wrong to consider someone as sinning because they don’t keep the Old Testament definition of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is made for man. If you want to consider every day holy then that’s fine. If you want to pick one day or a series of days as above others to worship God, then that’s fine, too. You won’t find any verses in the New Testament which contradict this.

Here are verses which specifically address food (in addition to Colossians 2:16,17):

Mark 7:18-20 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.”

1 Timothy 4:3-5 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

Romans 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself…

Colossians 2:20-23 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

1 Corinthians 8:8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.

Again, these verses are self-explanatory and you will find nothing in the New Testament which offers any contradictory stance concerning food. Jesus declared all foods clean. The dietary restrictions delineated in Leviticus no longer apply.

How Is It That You Compel The Gentiles To Live like Jews?

In Acts 15, Jewish Christians tried to get the Gentiles to follow their traditions. However, after a heated discussion between those who advocated having them observe Jewish customs and the Apostles (including Paul), they only advised them to keep a minimal set of rules. There was no mention of having them observe the Sabbath, restricting their diet to kosher foods, or observing Jewish holidays. In addition, in all of Paul’s epistles to the Gentiles, there is no mention of it. In fact, I can find no indication in the New Testament or in historical records of the early church of any time where Christian Gentiles were instructed to do so. If it is not mentioned much less commanded in the New Testament, why is it important for us to reinstitute it now?

Looking at these three issues brings to mind Galatians 2 where some Jews had secretly infiltrated the Gentile Christians in order to “spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.” When Paul met with the Apostles, Peter began to refuse to sit or speak with the Gentiles (which he would normally and which was against Jewish tradition) because he was trying to keep from offending the Jewish Christians who were present. But Paul wouldn’t let it slide:

Galatians 2:13-16 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

I find no evidence in the New Testament or in the early church histories where Gentile Christians worshipped on Saturday, ate only kosher foods, or observed Jewish holidays. Scripture clearly indicates that these subjects are a matter of personal choice and that we are not to allow anyone to try and bring us into bondage by saying that God’s Word says otherwise.

Causing A Brother To Stumble

However, there is clear guidance concerning not offending someone by what you eat or by what days you worship in Romans 14:

Romans 14:2-4 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:5,6 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

Romans 14:14-17 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:20-23 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Personal Choice versus Doctrine

How should we interpret Romans 14 in light of the other scriptures we find in the New Testament concerning food? Should we allow doctrines such as we are discussing to be taught and promoted without challenging them? If so, where does the deviation from sound doctrine end? Hasn’t history taught us that error uncorrected only increases in magnitude over time?

I think the key is in the phrase “one person.” Romans 14 is talking about how to interact with a Christian brother who has made a personal choice concerning diet or observance of one day over another. If someone chooses to eat only vegetables or restrict their diet in some other way because they believe it is better for them, or they feel God leading them to do so for a time, or any other personal reason then we should respect that. To try and get them to eat something which they don’t want to (for whatever reason) would be to try and cause your brother to stumble or sin because they would be doing something that they believe is wrong. The same goes for religious observances on certain days. If they feel God leading them to pray, or study the Bible, or worship on a certain day or days then we should respect that.

However, it is entirely another matter when someone begins to teach their fellow brethren that God has commanded these behaviors and to do otherwise is to disobey God. It then is no longer a matter of respecting personal choice but a matter of legalism and the “leaven of the Pharisees” creeping in to restrict our liberty in Christ and begin to put us back into the bondage of the law. Although its initial effects may be innocuous, such thinking inevitably leads to further restrictions until at last we find ourselves back trying to earn God’s favor through works.

All Things To All Men

One reason put forth as justification for such restrictions is that our liberty gives offense to Jews and Muslims who still adhere to these sorts of doctrines. Granted, it is entirely scriptural to avoid giving offense to those of another culture or religion where it is possible without disobeying God when trying to minister to that group:

1 Corinthians 9:20-22 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

But to say that such restrictions are to be observed at all times as a way of life in order to avoid offending anyone is to misrepresent the meaning of the passage. Paul himself didn’t live like a Jew except when he was trying to reach Jews. Paul didn’t stay “weak” in order to avoid offending those who were weak but only when he was trying to reach them.

What Does Christ-Like Mean?

Another rationalization given for these doctrines is that they make you more “Christ-like” since these were behaviors that we believe Jesus observed since he was, after all, Jewish. However, if that is the reason for doing these things then where does it end? There are many rituals and customs which were commanded by God in the Old Testament and which were observed by the Jews of Jesus’ time. Are we now to say that God commands all Christians to observe the following:

Christians are to be considered unclean and untouchable for period of time after having had contact with a dead non-kosher animal (for instance, touching bacon), during menstruation, after giving birth, and after a seminal emission (Leviticus 11,12 and 15)

* Women can’t wear men’s clothing and vice-versa (Deuteronomy 22:5)

* It is forbidden to wear a garment where wool and linen are mixed (Deuteronomy 22:11)

* You can’t eat the fruit of a tree for the first three years after you plant it (Leviticus 19:23)

* Anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be put to death (Exodus 35:2)

* Anyone who curses their mother or father, commits adultery, or has sexual relations with someone in their immediate family or of the same sex will be put to death (Levitius 20:9-13)

* If you’re in fulltime ministry, then you can’t shave your head or trim your beard (Leviticus 21:5)

* If you have a garden or are a farmer, then every seventh year you are forbidden from sowing any seed, gathering any crops, or weeding and trimming (Leviticus 25:4,5)

These are just a handful of the restrictions found. If the commandments concerning observing the Sabbath only on a certain day, eating only kosher foods, and observing Jewish festivals are still in effect then it stands to reason that all the others are also still in effect. Isn’t it hypocrisy to pick out one or two and choose to just obey them? Isn’t that part of the “leaven of the Pharisees” that Jesus spoke against?

There are many aspects of Jesus’ life which differs from most people today. Unlike Jesus, most of us drive when going long distances, have homes and mortgages, bathe daily, and use deodorant. It is obvious to even a casual student of the Bible that trying to be “Christ-like” means to emulate His character and not his cultural customs.

The Appearance of Wisdom

There is something in our “old self” (Colossians 3:9) which longs for religious ritual and self-abasement. It has to do with the same reason that Christ and salvation by grace is a stumbling block to those of other religions and non-Christians. We have trouble accepting the fact that there isn’t something which we can do to earn our own salvation. If we can do things to show how pious we are, then we can feel better about ourselves. It’s all part of a “works” mentality (Ephesians 2:8,9) and helps to feed the most common of sins… pride.

The pride we take in how devout we are is something which all the other religions of the world can relate to. Those who sincerely seek to follow those religions must by nature focus on discipline and what they can outwardly achieve. When your spiritual future is entirely up to what you can accomplish by the force of your own will then you can count on many tasks and rituals being required so that you have a means of measuring your success. Again, this is one of the reasons that followers of other religions hold much of Christianity in such contempt because we insist that we are saved by grace alone and that there is nothing we can do to merit it.

Within Christianity, the concept of being saved by grace alone often causes people to stumble into extremes at both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, you find those who believe they have their “fire insurance” so they can pretty much do what they feel is right (often phrased as “being led by the Spirit” in order to make it sound spiritual). On the other, there are those who set out to offset that very perception and go right past sanctification and wind up in the same techniques used by other religions to curry God’s favor. Of course, we should be led by the Spirit but the Holy Spirit will never lead you to ignore the Word of God. And we should seek sanctification as we continue in the process of repentance and maturity but that doesn’t mean seeking to revive restrictions from the Old Testament which the New Testament has removed. Doing so may have the “appearance of wisdom” (Colossians 2:23 ) but is actually just a step towards putting yourself back into the bondage of the Law.


There appears to be a wider (and more bizarre) variety of false doctrines among Pentecostals and Charismatics (which I consider myself a member of). I think the reason for this is that we have swung more towards the experiential in our efforts to know God and have begun to neglect the Word of God. The Word of God should be our standard against which we measure any experience or compulsion which we believe is from the Spirit. If we did so, then many of these aberrations could be avoided.

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

In summary, we need to respect the personal choices of our fellow Christians even if we find no Biblical basis for them as long as they do not actually conflict with God’s Word. However, when false doctrines begin to be taught which go beyond personal choice and declare that God has commanded something which His Word contradicts, then we need to address it before it multiplies and mutates. Satan (although better known for his tactical methods eliciting immediate gratification) has been around for thousands of years and acts strategically as well. He can take the long view to achieve his means and, failing to get us to abandon our faith outright, he will use methods both subtle and gross in an attempt to bend our passion for God. Remember, brothers that each bizarre doctrine, sect, and denomination which is in the world today started but with a single man.

Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.

Galatians 5:1-4 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Romans 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

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Andrew Strom