Legalism versus Grace


A Study of Two Contrasting
Within The Christian Church.


1         Preface


This discussion paper was prepared in response to a request from Cultwatch who expressed concern at the legalistic practices and traditions of some churches.  This paper is available from their website at

The author is a retired secondary school teacher who has no formal theological training.  I do not pretend to be infallible and I welcome criticisms, corrections and additions to this paper.  I prefer the hard question to the easy answer.  The bibliography at the end of the paper reflects not only my research but also my indebtedness to others.

It is assumed that the reader accepts the final authority of Scripture in spiritual matters.

It is my hope and prayer that many Christians will find this paper useful.  Not every reader is expected to agree with the conclusions reached.  However, it was interesting and profitable for me to write this paper and I pray that others may also find it useful. 

The legalist experiences practical and doctrinal difficulties understanding grace, justification by faith, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and the relationship of faith to works.  Hopefully the Appendices on these subjects clarify some of these difficulties.  For a more detailed discussion of these important topics the reader is referred to standard Bible dictionaries.

May the Lord give you spiritual insight and understanding as you read this paper.  Only God’s Spirit can enlighten you to find hope in the Cross of Christ alone.  If a study of this paper simply educates the mind or enlarges one’s knowledge of the Bible, rather than bringing a God-given change of heart, it will have been as useful as a talisman or a good-luck charm.

Unless otherwise identified, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.

Jim Peacock MA (Hons), Diploma of Teaching.

The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it.”[1]

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [2]

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” [3]

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”[4]


2          Contents.

1     Preface 
2     Contents.
3     Overview.
4    What Is Legalism?
5    The Religious Legalism Of The Scribes And The Pharisees.
6    Jesus Likened The Teaching Of The Pharisees To “Yeast”: Matthew 16: 6, 11-12.
7    An Argument Over The Sabbath: Mark 2:23-28 (Matthew 12:1-8)
8     Breaking God’s Word To Keep Human Tradition: Mark 7:1-13.
9    The Legalism Of The Judaizers.
10        Legalism Perverts The Grace Of God: Galatians 1: 6-9.
11        Legalism Results In Hypocrisy, Fear, And Error: Galatians 2:11-14.
12        Salvation Is By Grace Not Works: Galatians 2:15-16.
13        Salvation Is By Faith In Christ Alone: Galatians 3: 1-9.
14        Freedom From Rules: Reality Is In Christ: Colossians 2: 16-23.
15        Guidelines To Avoid Legalism.
16        Abbreviations.
17        Bibliography.
18    A Prayer Of Commitment.
19        Appendices.


3         Overview.

Considerable ink has been spilt in recent years on the opposing beliefs of legalism and grace as God’s people have come to grips with the first century AD heresy of legalism.   Much of what the author has to say was initially hewn at the coalface of daily Christian experience within the context of a church that grew increasingly legalistic over a period of nearly forty years.  After many years of blessing mixed with frustration, disappointment, and partial victory, the author finally found personal freedom in living by grace.  Personal freedom in Christ is a gift from God, to be used in the service of others.

It is a characteristic of human nature that, in different ways, we try to add to the “finished work” of the cross.  Legalism is an inherent part of our sinful human nature for we find salvation by faith in Christ alone, hurtful to our spiritual pride.  Church and individual have frequently repeated the foolishness of the Galatians.  In all our Christian activities, it is easy for us to miss what matters most to God, love for God and love for our neighbour (Matthew 22: 37-40). 

Evangelicals often pride themselves on their superior knowledge of the Bible, and pentecostals\charismatics usually claim a superior spiritual experience, while older denominations sometimes pride themselves on centuries of tradition.  Yet it is easy for all churches of all persuasions within the community of the Christian faith, to be blind and deaf to uncomfortable biblical truths.

In every culture, the gospel will be clothed with some cultural traditions.  Whether we like it or not, we all depend to some extent on Christian tradition.  The problem seems to be that we do not realize this reliance.  Consequently, there is the ever-present danger that what some call “principles”, or “essentials of the faith”, or “dogma”, become legalistic rules and the basis of a performance-based false Christianity. 

Jesus emphasized that human tradition can never have the same authority as the Word of God.  He forced people to look beyond the cultural and the traditional to find the essential core of God’s Word.  The apostle Paul said to the Galatians that fellowship with God is a trust in Christ that works through love: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”(5:6) Extra biblical rules may seem spiritual, even helpful and necessary, but given too much emphasis become death to life in the Spirit, and to the individual freedom to which God has called us in Christ. 

For the Christian, obedience is to the indwelling Holy Spirit, not to the letter of the law, or religious rules.  As Paul has it,“Not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)

The Pharisees of the New Testament were dedicated legalists and traditionalists with a loveless, impersonal, and mechanical religion based on man-made rules that Jesus emphatically rejected.  In short, legalism is substituting law for grace, achievement for faith. Yet many believers have unthinkingly adopted a checklist of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour that requires such things as church attendance, a particular style of worship or ceremony, compulsory tithing, a dress code, or undue deference to church leaders, or denominational traditions, to the neglect of “more important matters – justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

The Pharisees provide a solemn warning about the danger of self-righteous hypocrisy.  They began as sincere people who valued God’s truth but over time they developed their own understanding of the Old Testament to the point where Jesus said their own traditions, human rules and regulations, contradicted God’s revelation.  It is easy to condemn this legalism, yet be guilty of it ourselves in our relationships with others.  Salvation by works may be dressed in the most evangelical or charismatic of clothes and imposed on an unthinking congregation.

Why were the Galatians and why are we so often lured back into legalism?  There is always the temptation to live by a code of behaviour that gives us a sense of belonging and security but which sets us apart from other believers.  Legalism is the Bible plus something or grace plus something.  Reader, it is a challenging exercise to attempt the detachment of any spiritual baggage to the gospel of the NT by making a clear distinction between the gospel itself and the religious culture of our own church or denomination.  God would have us trust and obey him in a personal, daily, living relationship that is nourished by his Spirit and dependent on his grace in Christ alone.

Given that human nature is basically the same in every generation, all Christians should beware of replacing inner spiritual reality with outward religious ritual.  Those who place human traditions above the Bible, eventually lose the power of God’s Word in their own lives.  How tragic that those who profess to be Christians should so practice their faith that they become worse for doing so.

The danger with all religious rituals and institutions is that they often acquire a life of their own.  Whereas once they blessed people, later they oppress people.  What for one generation may be a test of truth and a means of blessing may become an idol and a hindrance to another generation.  For example, in the OT God commanded Moses to make a bronze figure of a snake and set it on a pole, so that anyone bitten by a snake need only look at the bronze serpent and he would live (Numbers 21:4-9; 1 Corinthians 10:9, 11).  Centuries later King Hezekiah of Judah destroyed the bronze serpent because the people had made it an idol and gave it superstitious respect (2 Kings 18:4).

William Barclay explains:

“A church is in danger of death when it begins to worship its own past, when it lives on its memories instead of finding a challenge in its hopes, when it is more taken up with its traditions than its ideals.  There are churches which are more concerned with correct ritual than they are with living vitality.  A church is in danger of death when it loves systems more than it loves Jesus Christ.  The danger that any church runs is that it should become a ‘club’.  Every church activity is necessary, but only as it serves the primary activity of bringing men and women face to face with Jesus Christ.” [5]

We need to honestly ask ourselves these questions: Is my personal faith and my church based on the Bible?  How much is there ofworthwhile tradition based on the Bible (statements of faith, forms of worship, observance of the sacraments, good works)?  How much is there of harmless tradition (practices and beliefs agreeable with the Bible)?  How much is there of false tradition(practices and beliefs opposed to the Bible)?  How can you break through the barriers of tradition?

4         What Is Legalism?

The following definitions and descriptions of legalism offer various insights into the meaning of a term that is not found as a word in the Bible.

(1) “The attempt to acquire merit before God through the performance of various rituals and practices.” [6]

(2) “Legalism is a distortion of obedience that can never produce truly good works.  Its first fault is that it skews motive and purpose, seeing good deeds as essentially ways to earn more of God’s favour than one has at the moment.  Its second fault is arrogance.  Belief that one’s labour earns God’s favour begets contempt for those who do not labour in the same way.  Its third fault is lovelessness in that its self-advancing purpose squeezes humble kindness and creative compassion out of the heart. 

So far, then, from enriching our relationship with God, as it seeks to do, legalism in all its forms does the opposite.  It puts that relationship in jeopardy and, by stopping us focusing on Christ, it starves our souls while feeding our pride.  Legalistic religion in all its forms should be avoided like the plague.” [7]

(3) “Legalism is the attempt to please God by erecting hard and fast rules where the Bible does not give them, and then making them binding on oneself and others.  It is not a matter of following those things that are commanded, or that have clear biblical principles associated with them.  It is a matter of raising so-called doubtful things to the level of commands.”[8]

(4) “Legalism effectively ousts love as the dynamic of the gospel and the Christian life (and so banishes joy from religion), by reducing both to obedience or conformity to a set of external commands or rules, after the manner of the scribes and Pharisees in the gospels.” [9]

(5) “The Pharisees mistook religious practices for real devotion.  Have we not known people who kept all the rules, whose habits were faultless, and yet whose “sanctity” was cold and unattractive?  They lacked a sense of the significant, giving priority to trivialities, putting procedure before people, and conformity before compassion.  Their religion was all law and no grace.” [10]

(6) “Legalism is an attitude, a mentality based on pride.  It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself.  A legalist assumes the place of authority and pushes it to unwarranted extremes.  It results in illegitimate control, requiring unanimity, not unity.  Pride, which is at the heart of legalism, works guilt, fear and shame.  It leads to an emphasis on what should not be, and what one should not do.  It flourishes in a drab context of negativism.” [11]

(7) “Legalistic obedience, life before God based on religious achievement, does not bring one into right relationship with God (Galatians 2:16; 3:3) but to alienation from him (Galatians 5:4), to rejection of God’s grace (Galatians 2:21), to a life of legalistic bondage (Galatians 4:9, 21; 5:1), and to the curse of death.  (Galatians 3:10–13)” [12]

(8) “Whenever men forget the love and the forgiveness and the service and the mercy that are at the heart of religion and replace them by the performance of rules and regulations religion is in decline.  Christianity has at all times consisted far more in doing things than in refraining from doing things.  People matter far more than systems.  Persons are far more important than rituals.  The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and not law.” [1

(9) “Is it fundamentally a matter of what we do for God or of what He has done for us?  The truth is we cannot boast in ourselves and in the cross simultaneously.  If we boast in ourselves and in our ability to save ourselves, we shall never boast in the cross and in the ability of Christ crucified to save us.  We have to choose.  Only if we have humbled ourselves as hell-deserving sinners shall we give up boasting of ourselves, fly to the cross for salvation and spend the rest of our days glorying in the cross.” [14]


Legalism attempts to please God with man-made rules that are directly opposite to God’s saving grace in Christ.  It is contrary to the principle of faith as it attempts to add to the work of the Cross by Law-like works and thus deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.  It undermines Christian assurance and joy and makes for a self-centred introspective spirituality.

Since it is spiritual and often respectable, it is subtle, deadly and dangerous.  It is based on human pride in the obedience accomplished and in the works performed.  It causes a man to adopt false priorities and values while at the same time he considers that he is growing in grace and holiness.


5      The Religious Legalism Of The Scribes And The Pharisees.

5.1     The Scribes Or Teachers Of The Law

The Greek word “grammateus” Strong’s #1122, occurs 67 times in the NT.  In the KJV it is translated “scribe” in every occurrence except Acts 19:35, where it is translated as “town-clerk”.  Other versions favour “teachers of the law” (NIV; TEV) or“doctors of the law” (NEB).  Arndt and Gingrich comment, “A term for experts in the law, scholars versed in the law, scribes mentioned with the high priests and the elders with whom they formed the Sanhedrin.” [15] 

Thayer says, “In the Bible, a man learned in the Mosaic law and in the sacred writings, an interpreter, teacher.  The scribes explained the meaning of the sacred oracles; examined the more difficult and subtle questions of the law; added to the Mosaic Law decisions of various kinds thought to elucidate its meaning and scope, and did this to the detriment of religion.” [16]

Thus the scribes or “lawyers” were scholars and teachers of Scripture, the custodians of Jewish traditions and experts in the study of the law of Moses (the Torah).  In Jesus’ day, they were usually associated with the Pharisees (Matthew 12:38; Mark 7:5; Luke 6:7) and the Sanhedrin, the highest legal and administrative body in the Jewish state.

They questioned the identity and credentials of Jesus (Mark 2:6; 3:22; 11:27-28) and they disliked his frequent association with the disreputable elements of society (Mark 2:15–17).  As the major opponents of Jesus, they were involved in his trial and mocked him on the cross (Mark 15:31).

For the scribes, following the traditions that had grown up around the Law became the measure of a person’s devotion and spirituality.  The scribes’ official interpretation of the meaning of the Law eventually became more important than the Law itself. Consequently “the results were an exceedingly shallow view of religious and moral life.  Religion was reduced to legal formalism.  All religious and moral life was dragged down to the level of law.” [17]

Christ’s teaching forms a striking contrast to that of the scribes.  The scribes relied on what “was said long ago” (Matthew 5:21, 33) whereas Jesus “taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29).  The scribes taught only their disciples whereas Jesus “had compassion on the crowds” (Matthew 9:36).  The scribes taught only in their own schools while Jesus taught in “all the towns and villages and synagogues.” (Matthew 9:35).  Although the majority opposed Christ (Matthew 21:15), some believed (Matthew 8:19).

5.2     The Pharisees Were Nit-Picking Formalists and Religionists.

While many scribes were Pharisees, the two groups were not identical.  The origin of the Pharisees is obscure but seems to begin in the second century B.C.  Although the root meaning of the word “Pharisee” is uncertain, it is probably related to the Hebrew verb “parash”, meaning “separate” or “divide.” [18]  Thus the name “Pharisee” is usually taken to mean “the separated ones.” It may mean that they separated themselves from the common people or that they separated themselves to the study and interpretation of the Law.  Also they would have nothing to do with the Gentiles whom they considered to be “unclean”.  In first century AD Palestine they were one of the power brokers of Jewish society.

In general, the Pharisees in the NT are a sad indictment of religious legalism, sectarianism, traditionalism, isolationism, and formalism.  They began as an important spiritual movement that promised moral renewal, a purging of the nation’s idolatry, and a restoration of national reverence for God’s Law.   However, the Pharisees developed their own body of interpretations, expansions, and applications of the Law that they came to regard as of divine origin.  Mark (7:3) describes these extra-biblical rules as “the tradition of the elders” (NIV) or “old established tradition” (NEB) or “the tradition of their ancestors” (Knox).

Such is human nature that valuable movements and worthwhile institutions become corrupt over time.  The Pharisees had played an important part in Jewish history by preserving faith at a critical time.  God at first used them, but ultimately abandoned them, when hypocrisy and self-righteous pride predominated.  Regrettably, some aspects of Church history bear testimony to this truth.  Eventually the Pharisees allied with the rationalistic Sadducees and implicated themselves in the murder of Jesus Christ.

Some of Christ’s fiercest critics throughout the four gospels were the Pharisees, or “Separatists” of the day, whose religion was basically negative.  All that mattered to them was that they should not be contaminated by the evil of sinners in general and tax collectors in particular.  The God they served seemed more concerned with outward holiness than with compassion and grace toward needy people.  They forgot the spirit of the Law and they tried to earn God’s favour through spiritual perfectionism i.e. keeping man-made rules and regulations. 

They were always on the lookout for violations of their non-biblical traditions.  They preferred petty and oppressive rituals that dictated their lifestyle, such as fasting for fasting sake, elaborate hand washing, tithing garden herbs leaf by leaf, and endless rules that governed the Sabbath.  This misguided zeal led to a fiercely judgmental attitude toward those who disagreed with them.  However, not all the Pharisees experienced the wrath of Jesus.  Nicodemus (John 3:1 ff; 19:39) and Gamaliel (Acts 5:34 ff) were two notable exceptions, and Jesus had friendly relations with some Pharisees (Luke 7:36; 13:1 ff; Mark 12:34).

In Jesus’ day the Pharisees controlled the synagogues and exercised great control over the general population.  They calculated that the Law had 613 commandments, 248 positive, and 365 negative. [19]  They attempted to keep them all, at least outwardly. Like Saul (Paul) the Pharisee they were “as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:6).  But they were preoccupied with the petty rules of their elaborate religious code and neglectful of the higher realities of justice, mercy and love.  Jesus warned, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20).  This righteousness that Jesus recommended finds its expression in love for God and love for others (Matthew 22: 37-40).

The Pharisees thought they could reach God’s standards by keeping all the outward rules.  Luke says they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” (18:9).  This can easily happen when religious people think God’s will is the same as their list of what they can and cannot do.  Their desire to keep all of God’s laws was commendable, but they put the emphasis on the wrong places so that minor details became a major concern, and they forgot the more important things.  The Pharisees despised “sinners” especially people like tax collectors and prostitutes.  Christians need to remember that they themselves are sinners in God’s eyes, and that Christ died for everyone.

Jesus denounced the Pharisees as hypocrites who “did not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:3), who did not live up to their own high standards of righteousness, and who put burdensome rules upon others which they themselves did not keep (Matthew 23:4).  They used clever but false reasoning to evade the spirit of the law while carrying out its letter (Mark 7:9-13). Their religion was a cloak to hide dishonesty.  They gloried in their own righteousness and did good works only to be seen by men (Luke 18:9-14).

John the Baptist had called them a “brood of vipers” that rested complacently in their relationship to Abraham (Matthew 3:7). Jesus seconded this verdict (Matthew 23:33).  He said that the heart must be right with God, and not merely the external actions. He regretted that he had to speak as he did about those who should have been trustworthy guides, but in fact were leading their followers to spiritual disaster.  Jesus’ hard words recorded in Matthew chapter 23 were spoken in love.

The Pharisees believed that the oral “traditions of the elders”, (Mark 7:3,5) though not part of the written law of Moses, had been given to Moses by God at Mount Sinai.  Therefore to the Pharisees, the oral tradition was of equal authority with the Torah or Mosaic Law.  During the second century BC, the oral traditions were recorded as the Mishnah.  Later the Mishnah was supplemented by the Gemara, which was a commentary on the Mishnah.  Finally the two commentaries, the Mishnah and the Gemara, together became known as the Talmud.  The Hebrew word “Talmud” means “study” or “learning.

At some points during Jewish history, the Talmud has been considered equal to or better than the Scripture itself.  The rabbis later said, “The Scriptures are water; the Mishnah, wine; but the Gemara, spiced wine.” [20]  Jesus encountered this attitude among the Pharisees even before the existence of the Talmud (Matthew 15:3).  Christians must be careful not to make the same mistake with their own traditions.

As E. M. Blaiklock comments:

“It is always and everywhere true that any system of religion, or any interpretation of Scripture, which makes religion difficult to follow, irrelevant to common life, hard to understand, and impossible for ordinary men and women, is wrong.  The ‘common people heard him [Jesus] gladly’ because He brought God near, made Heaven real, and faith relevant to life.  Those who, then and now, deny men this gladness, merit the words of His rebuke.” [21]


6         Jesus Likened The Teaching Of The Pharisees To “Yeast”: Matthew 16: 6, 11-12.

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?  But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

As the yeast fungus multiplies, and infiltrates, throughout a piece of dough, it symbolically illustrates a spiritual truth.  As Paul said, “A little yeast works through a whole batch of dough.” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).  The transforming effect of yeast or leaven can be either positive or negative. 

While Jesus had earlier used yeast as a symbol for the extensive growth of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13:33), it was also an image for the corrupting power of evil to extend its influence.  Jesus twice warned his disciples against the “yeast”, that is, the inner corruption of the teaching of the two groups of religious leaders. 

“Be on your guard” or “Beware” (KJV) or “Keep a sharp eye out for” (The Message) translates the Greek “prosecho”, Strong’s #4337.  It means “to hold the mind towards, i.e. pay attention to, be cautious about.” [22]  Vine defines it as “to turn one’s mind or attention to a thing by being on one’s guard against it; it suggests devotion of thought and effort to a thing.” [23]  Thayer says it means, “to give heed to oneself, to guard oneself.” [24]

Typically the Pharisees added to God’s Word while the Sadducees subtracted from it.  False teaching is like yeast in its ability to totally infect a person or a church.  People may be unconsciously won over to it.  At first the disciples were focused on real bread and did not understand the symbolism.

The Pharisees were legalists and traditionalists who made issues out of trivial matters and meaningless rules.  Yeast symbolizedtheir preoccupation with human traditions, their hypocritical ritual, their obsession with an outward show of religious devotion, and their control of others.  The Sadducees were rationalists and skeptics who did not believe in resurrection.  Yeast figuratively described their worldly skepticism with its love of status, wealth, and power.

As Alfred Barnes, the nineteenth century American Presbyterian minister comments:

“Leaven passes secretly, silently, but certainly.  None can see its progress.  So it was with the doctrines of the Pharisees.  They were insinuating, artful, and plausible.  They concealed the real tendency of their doctrines, they instilled them secretly into the mind, and they pervaded all the faculties, like leaven.” [25]

Paul’s figurative use of yeast, in 1 Corinthians 5:8 (“the yeast of malice and wickedness”) and in Galatians 5:9, confirms its negative use as a symbol of what is corrupt and what corrupts.  Paul used the idea of yeast’s ability to permeate flour to warn the Corinthians about the destructive effect of tolerated sin within their church.  Even a small amount of yeast, or corruption, can influence a large number of people to believe false doctrine.


7         An Argument Over The Sabbath: Mark 2:23-28 (Matthew 12:1-8)


“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.  And he also gave some to his companions.” 

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

7.1     Legalism Comes From Mankind, Not God.

This incident describes an area of conflict between Jesus and his disciples and the religious authorities.  The word “Sabbath” means “to cease” or “to desist”.  Jesus was not breaking any OT law concerning the Sabbath, but the Pharisees’ interpretation and misunderstanding of it.  The generosity of the Law allowed hungry people to eat the ripe ears of grain while walking through the fields (Deuteronomy 23:25). 

The Pharisees made the Sabbath their special preserve.  Plucking the ears of grain was technically regarded by them as a form of reaping, and rubbing them to extract the kernel as a form of grinding.  Both reaping and grinding were two kinds of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus 34:21).  They made a burdensome bondage of the Sabbath with 39 types of petty actions forbidden on that day.  They made the observance of the Sabbath more demanding than God had commanded.  Their narrow interpretation of the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8) was typical of their nit-picking beliefs, and their small mindedness put them on a collision course with Jesus.  They saw him and his followers as law-breakers.

7.2     The Principle Of Human Need Supersedes All Ritual And Ceremony.

The irony of Jesus saying, “Have you never read?” to religious experts who prided themselves on their understanding of scripture, is apparent.  Jesus countered their misinterpretation of scripture by quoting a scriptural example that did not fit their narrow legalistic views.  To him, OT scripture was a higher level of authority than the tradition of the Pharisees.

He reminded the Pharisees that David and his men, when they were hungry, broke the ceremonial law (1 Samuel chapter 21; Leviticus 24:9), yet God did not condemn them.  In effect, Jesus said that if you condemn my disciples, then you also condemn David and his men who were guilty of a greater sin.  The Pharisees could not deny this example from scripture that showed that where a human need existed, God allowed ritual regulations to be disregarded.  

7.3     The Principle That The Sabbath Was Made For Mankind.

But Jesus went on to appeal to an earlier and higher precedent.  “Made” (27) means “made by God”, while “for man” means “for his benefit.”  While the Sabbath was to be observed as a day holy to the Lord, Jesus pointed out that the goal of Sabbath observance was to benefit and bless people both physically and spiritually.  In the order of events in Genesis, Adam is created on the sixth day, followed by a seventh day of rest and freedom.  In other words, mankind was made first, and then the Sabbath was made for his welfare (Genesis 2:1-3).

God commanded people to rest one day in seven for their own good, rather than as an end in itself, which was how the Pharisees thought of it.  The Sabbath was not made first, and then mankind made with regard to it.  As the Sabbath was meant for man’s good, the law concerning it should be interpreted so as to further his well-being in general.  This special day was also intended for actions of compassion and mercy, as Jesus makes plain in Matthew’s account (12:12).

7.4     Jesus Rejected Man-Made Religious Rules.

Jesus emphatically rejected the Halakah, the complicated series of rules made by the scribes, which was considered by them to have almost an equal authority with the OT.  Jesus emphasized the intent or spirit of the Law while the Pharisees rigidly required the letter of the Law as well as their own ridiculous interpretations of it. 

In Matthew’s account of this incident, Jesus quotes one of his favourite OT verses, Hosea 6:6“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Thus Jesus shifted the issue from strict obedience to the detailed laws of the OT to one’s heart attitude towards God.  To him, this was all-important, not the observance of ritual, custom and tradition.  God requires “mercy” (KJV) or “steadfast love” (RSV) or “loyalty”(NASB) or “faithfulness” (NET) or “kindness” (TEV) expressed in a personal relationship.

7.5     There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See.

The Pharisees on this occasion, as on other occasions, deliberately closed their eyes to the truth of Christ’s teaching and his claims.  This is a negative aspect to a law of spiritual response.  As we accept truth so we understand more of it; conversely, the more we refuse truth or ignore it, the less we understand of it until eventually self-righteousness condemns us to blindness (John 9:39-41).  Some of the parables of Jesus, such as the parable of the sower, reinforce this basic truth (Mark 4:23-25

In brief, “They knew the Bible story, but did not understand its essential meaning.  Bigotry made the safeguarding of their traditions more important than the recognition of new truth; indeed, the one precluded any possibility of the other.  We must read God’s word with open minds and open hearts, seeking the insight of love, not the confirmation of our own ideas.” [26]

7.6     The Lordship Of Christ In Our Lives Gives Us Freedom.

The Pharisees misrepresented God with their petty, negative and tyrannical rules that distorted the Sabbath.  Jesus insisted that his Father established the Sabbath for people’s good as an opportunity to cease from the repetitive everyday routine of work and be refreshed and strengthened in faith.  Often he deliberately performed gracious acts of mercy such as healing on the Sabbath to make the point that as the Lord of the Sabbath, he had come to bring life in all its fullness (John 10:10).  As “Lord of the Sabbath”he asserted his authority to interpret the Sabbath law and implies that Jesus has an authority as great as that of the Mosaic Law. As the Sabbath was God’s day, this claim was also equivalent to a claim to deity.  Jesus knew that his answer was a challenge to the religious “establishment” and put his life in danger.

7.7     Beware Of Becoming Restricted By Traditions And Structures.

This incident has relevance to our lives today.  Reader, is Christ Lord of your Sabbath?  Do you spend Sunday, the Lord’s Day, so as to bring the maximum benefit to yourself and to others?  Perhaps our Christian Sunday might be more attractive to our secular society if it saw Christians use it in a wholesome way, that enriches family life, rather than in a boring restrictive way that prohibits harmless activities.  Sunday is a day for worship and rest from regular secular work, but it is also a time of fun and for enjoying God’s glorious creation.  Let us not make “religious duty” an excuse for not doing good.

The Sabbath was a defining feature of Judaism.  It may be said to represent all those religious traditions that have blessed God’s people throughout history.  The same could be said of our denominational doctrines and interpretations of the Bible, and our heritage of church traditions, customs and rituals.  The danger with all religious rituals and institutions is that they often acquire a life of their own.  Whereas once they blessed people; later they oppress people.  The religious scruples of the Pharisees hindered Christ’s mission.  What for one generation may be a test of truth and a means of blessing, may become an idol and a hindrance to another generation.

Christians need to submit all their rituals and traditions to the lordship of Christ.  God is always doing new things.  The Pharisees represented the old ways and old attitudes that needed to change and respond to God’s new ways.  The new wine of Jesus broke the old wineskin of Judaism (Mark 2:21-22).  The new is not easily attached to the old.  The “new wine” represents the inner working of the Holy Spirit.  We should be open to Christ challenging our traditional assumptions, attitudes and activities.  The failure to change the structures and traditions of your church to accommodate the new work of the Holy Spirit may have disastrous results.  Jesus will not patch up an old rigid legalistic system of religion.


8         Breaking God’s Word To Keep Human Tradition: Mark 7:1-13.

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.  When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash.  And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”  He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’  But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God) then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by yourtradition that you have handed down.  And you do many things like that.”

8.1     God’s Truth Or Human Tradition?

It seems that the local Pharisees called in the “big guns” from Jerusalem to indirectly challenge Jesus by criticizing his disciples. The main issue was religious tradition.  The Pharisees’ careful observance of hand and pot washing was not a matter of hygiene but of trivial, irrelevant religious ceremony and taboos.  The purpose of the ritual washings was to avoid the moral pollution of their separateness after exposure to people or things in public.  Their religion was outward rather than inward.  It was a matter of lip-profession rather than heart-possession.  Their negative criticism of Jesus was motivated by envy, insecurity and hurt pride. Isaiah (29:13) had predicted their formalism, pride of holiness, and hypocritical exclusiveness.

Human rules and regulations have a tendency to replace God’s Word.  Three times (verses 8, 9, and 13) in this encounter Jesus made this charge against the Pharisees.  Five times the key word “tradition” is mentioned (3, 5, 8, 9, and 13).  The Pharisees opposed Jesus because he refused to accept the traditional teachings of their oral law.  They felt these traditions were as authoritative as the OT laws because their rules applied the law.

The word “tradition” translates the Greek “paradosis”, Strong’s #3862, meaning “the Jewish traditional law.” [27] Thayer defines the word as “the body of precepts, especially ritual, which in the opinion of the later Jews were orally delivered by Moses and orally transmitted in unbroken succession to subsequent generations, which precepts, both illustrating and expanding the written law, to be obeyed with equal reverence.” [28]

8.2     The Corruption Of God’s Word By Tradition.

Jesus criticized the traditional beliefs of the Pharisees and used three powerful verbs to describe the corruption of God’s Word by human tradition:

(1) The Greek “aphiemi”, (verse 8) Strong’s #863 is translated as “put aside” (JB) or “neglect” (NEB) or “disregard and give up”(Amp. Bible) or “leave on one side” (Knox).  Arndt and Gingrich have “to give up, abandon, neglect” [29]

(2) The Greek “atheteo”, (verse 9) Strong’s #114 is translated “reject” (KJV) or “setting aside” (NIV) or “nullifying and doing away with” (Amp. Bible) or “defeated” (Knox).  Thayer defines it as “to do away with something laid down, prescribed, established; hence to deprive a law of force by opinions or acts opposed to it; to thwart the efficacy [value or usefulness] of anything, to nullify, make void, frustrate.” [30]  J. I. Packer has “to set at naught, reject”.  In classical Greek “atheteo” means to set aside a treaty or promise, to break faith, and in general to deny, disprove and do away with what has been laid down.” [31]

(3) The Greek “akuroo” (verse 13) Strong’s #208 is translated as “making of none effect” (KJV) or “nullify” (NIV) or “make null and void” (NEB) or “invalidating” (NASB) or “repeal” (Moffatt).  It also has the meaning “to render void, deprive of force and authority.” [32]  In the NT the word occurs only here, and in Matthew 15:6, and in Galatians 3:17.  Liddell and Scott define it as “without authority, no longer in force (of laws or sentences), to cancel, set aside, annulled.” [33]

J. Behm defines “akuroo” as “to make invalid, to rob of force”; a technical legal term.  He says, “The word has a legal ring in Mark. 7:13 (Matthew 15:6).  When the Jews placed cultic obligations [a system of religious worship expressed in ritual] above the keeping of the command of God in the Decalogue [the ten commandments], they made the Word of God of none effect in favour of human decisions of doubtful religious value.” [34]

J. C. Ryle, the nineteenth century Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, explains:

“The first step of the Pharisees was to add their traditions to Scripture as useful supplements.  The second was to place them on a level with the Word of God and to give them equal authority with it.  The last was to honour them above Scripture and to degrade Scripture from its lawful position.  Jesus establishes the great truth that there is an inherent tendency in all traditions to make the Word of God ineffective.  Church history is full of examples of this very procedure.” [35]

8.3     Jesus Requires Reality Not Ritual

Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites” (6) for in spite of their outward show of holiness, in reality their practice of religion contradicted God’s will.  He took the fifth commandment as an example of their distorting God’s Word by their tradition (verses 9-13).  By declaring their possessions “corban” or “devoted to God”, children were evading their scriptural responsibility to honour their parents with material help.  People could say that money was “given to God” and could not be used to provide for their parents.  This tradition was encouraged by the religious leaders to gain financial support for religious services!  It made nonsense of God’s command to, “honour your parents.” 

In this way ordinary people were disobeying the very command that the Pharisees’ tradition was supposed to protect.  Should the child regret his gift of Corban, the Pharisees insisted that the vow be kept in accordance with Numbers 30:2.  However, Jesus rejected this practice of using the letter of one commandment to invalidate the intent of another.

8.4     Not Outward Things But Inward Things Corrupt.

The short parable about inner heart purity (verses 14-15) makes two points.  First what we eat, as the Pharisees taught, does not make us spiritually unclean.  Jesus was in effect abolishing the Mosaic system of “clean and unclean food.”  Second, genuine holiness is a matter of the heart.  Jesus said, “From within, out of men’s hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality” (Mark 7:21).  It is a matter of a clean heart rather than clean hands.  We are contaminated by what finds a place in, and comes out of, our hearts and minds.  Holiness is inward, not outward; it is a matter of inner motives and desires, not outward appearances.

8.5     The Main Issue Is A Heart Changed By God’s Grace.

It has been well said that, “The heart of Christianity is Christ in the heart.”  Jesus reminds us that God is concerned with the state of the human heart.  He wants us to have a heart full of grace, mercy and compassion for others.  Religious ceremony by itself, does not cure a corrupt heart and mere outward change is ineffectual in developing Christian character. 

It is easy for us to forget that the scribes and Pharisees were much like the average evangelical Christian of today, or perhaps like the reader of this paper!  They were concerned about personal morality in everyday life.  Therefore they practiced ceremonial hand-washing rules.  Perhaps the equivalent today might be saying Grace before a meal, or observing a time of prayer and Bible reading, or regular church attendance. 

In the past (and not the present?) evangelical Christians indulged in intense arguments about lipstick and makeup, necklines and hemlines, items of jewelry, use of alcohol, watching television, a dress code for church attendance, dancing, going to the movies or the theatre, suitable and unsuitable activities for Sundays etc.  The list varies from culture to culture and from church to church.  The reader can make her/his own list from experience.

It is important to make a clear distinction between the gospel and “cultural and spiritual baggage”; otherwise there is the danger of making aspects of one’s culture the gospel message.  Christians need to be aware of popular ideas or cultural norms as well as church traditions that would “nullify the word of God.” 

For example, chairs and pulpits, formal Sunday dress, types of church organizations and systems, and musical instruments, are some of the “cultural baggage” that has been attached to the gospel by European missionaries in the past.  Jesus was not necessarily against traditional religious and cultural practices.  He respected his own Jewish culture.  But he opposed confusing religious traditions with God’s Word and making them compulsory

Let us make sure that we are not living by man-made rules.  There is a constant temptation to live by a checklist of rules for acceptable and unacceptable Christian behaviour.  We should remember that cultural and traditional practices are human traditions and not divine revelation.  Sometimes our personal traditions are easier to maintain than keeping one’s heart right with God, ministering with compassion to needy people, and fulfilling the task of world mission (Matthew 28:18-20) at home and overseas. Worse still, our traditions may become the standard by which we judge our (superior?) spirituality and that of others.

8.6     Let Us Live By God’s Living Word.

As Christians we are called to live by God’s “living and active” Word and allow it to change our lives in depth.  Given its proper place, “It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  It has power to reach into the depths of one’s personality.  It is able to expose, educate, change, direct us and determine our lifestyle as a living faith.  It challenges our attitudes and assumptions, and it exposes our pride, our prejudices and our pious pretensions.  We are not at liberty, as did the Pharisees, to manipulate, distort, rationalize, formalize, externalize, trivialize, or displace it.

However, all these first century errors still exist today.  They remain part of the Christian community where believers try to tame God’s Word with narrow traditions and dogmatic personal opinions.  For example, they may be seen in the church where a leader tyrannizes an entire fellowship with the “weaker brother” argument, yet he will not live in the spirit of Romans chapter 14.  It is the weak believers who need the security of rules and regulations and who are afraid of their freedom in Christ.


9         The Legalism Of The Judaizers.

9.1     Who Were Paul’s Opponents?

Academics still wrestle with the details about Paul’s opponents.  Some regard Paul’s opponents as specific groups peculiar to each local church, while others favour a widespread movement.  The traditional view holds that his opponents were Jewish Christians or “Judaizers” who tried to impose a Jewish way of life on Gentile or non-Jewish Christians. 

They demanded that Gentile Christians observe the Law of Moses, including ritual observances such as special days, kosher foods and especially circumcision.  The influence of this group was evident in the churches of Galatia, (Galatians 5:11-12; 6:13), Philippi (Philippians 3:2-3) and Colosse (Colossians 2:16-17).  Perhaps some Gentile Christians were attracted to Judaism.

The word “to Judaize”, Greek “ioudaizo” Strong’s #2450, is found once in the NT in Galatians 2:14 where it means “to adopt Jewish customs and rites, imitate the Jews; one who observes the ritual law of the Jews.” [36]  The KJV has “to live as do the Jews.”  The issue concerned one’s salvation, not simply whether one practiced Jewish customs.  In effect the Judaizers, or “those who belonged to the circumcision group” (Galatians 2:12), required a Gentile to become a Jew before s/he could become a Christian, whereas Paul argued that salvation was based on faith in Christ alone.

9.2     The Book Of Galatians: Salvation Is By Grace Alone.

The argument of Paul’s opponents, the Jewish traditionalists or “conservatives”, sometimes called “Judaizers”, that circumcision and other parts of the Jewish law were necessary for salvation, was not so much as an addition to the gospel but a distortion and a corruption of it.  It cancelled out the principle that salvation is given by grace and received by faith; it advocated a salvation by works that was so different from the gospel that Paul preached, that it was no gospel at all.  In effect, it claimed for mankind a share in the glory of salvation that belongs to God alone and denied the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Paul vigorously refuted these false teachers.  For Paul, the gospel was for the undeserving and operative through personal faith alone.  He emphasized that salvation is by grace alone, and not by personal faith plus moral effort, or good deeds, or religious ritual, or any other “religious extras” such as extra-biblical church rules.

9.3     It Is Easy To Be Lured Into Legalism.

Legalism is a “gospel plus” distortion and deviation of Christianity that is difficult to disprove as it is usually mixed with sound evangelical doctrine.  Legalism, which teaches that a person’s justification [being made right with God] and sanctification [becoming holy like Jesus] depends upon a person’s efforts and obedience to church rules, is an enemy of the gospel of grace. Some people respond to a faith that is not afraid to make heavy demands on its followers.  It is seen as an attractive alternative to some mainstream churches that may lack authority or spiritual vitality. 

Today the keeping of certain church rules or ceremonies is sometimes made the condition of salvation and Christian maturity.  The issue is not simply one of grace versus obedience, as some legalists would make of it.  It is fatally easy for we Christians, having begun by simple faith in Christ for salvation, to live the Christian life in our own strength, and by keeping rules, try to make ourselves acceptable to God and to church leaders. 

We understand that our lives should change, and obedience to God’s Word is required, and rules can be useful.  But when Christianity becomes a set of rules (as it did for the Pharisees), and authoritarian religious leaders demand obedience, then rules become more important than people, and people are usually damaged, emotionally and spiritually.  There are churches that preach the gospel but have legalistic practices that keep their members immature, feeling guilty and fearful, and focused on externals.

Rather than follow legalistic obedience, we should respond in faith to God’s grace, and allow the Holy Spirit to form Christ within us and so transform us.  Although the new life in Christ is not subject to a code of law, Christian liberty is not license. The faith that accepts God’s grace is motivated by the Holy Spirit to produce “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).  When obedience comes from the operation of the Spirit in one’s heart, then it is love and not law that provides the motivation.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

William Barclay explains:

“The basic fact behind this epistle is that Paul’s gospel was a gospel of free grace.  He believed that nothing a man could do could ever earn the love of God; and that therefore all a man could do was fling himself on his mercy in an act of faith.  All a man could do was take in wondering gratitude what God offered; the important thing was not what we could do for ourselves but what he had done for us.” [37]


10    Legalism Perverts The Grace Of God: Galatians 1: 6-9.


“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed.”                 (NASB)

10.1     Only One Gospel.

Usually Paul began his letter with a prayer of thanksgiving for the faith of those who received his letter.  On this occasion, instead of encouraging words, Paul used strong language expressing shock, annoyance, and unease.  Since the Galatians are in danger of apostasy, Paul does not waste time, but he goes right to the heart of the problem.  He sees the new teaching that has infiltrated the Galatian churches as a heresy that is directly opposed to the gospel message.

Paul makes it very clear that to alter the gospel message in any way is to desert the loving God “who called you by the grace of Christ.”  Other passages in Paul’s writings have “gospel” and “grace” used in the same context, implying that the only channel of divine grace is the “truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:5, 14.)

In verse 6 Paul uses the Greek “metatitheemi”, Strong’s #3346.  It is translated “removed from” (KJV, RSV) or “turned away from” (JB) or “transferred your allegiance” (Phillips) or “deserting” (NIV, NASB).  It implies the idea of following.  In secular Greek it meant “to bring to, or set in another place; a change of place or change of mind.  The Septuagint translation uses it for removing boundaries, transplanting peoples, or translating from the earth [Hebrews 11:5] as well as for convincing or talking around.” [38]

Vincent says, “The verb is used in Greek and Roman classical authors of “altering a treaty, changing an opinion, desertion from an army.  Lightfoot renders it: ‘are turning renegades.’” [39]  “The word ‘deserting’ carries with it the idea of changing one’s mind, of a willful forsaking of one’s former loyalty and adoption of another.  The term may be rendered as “abandoning,” “leaving to the side,” or even “going off and forgetting.” [40]

The Greek “tarasso”, Strong’s #5015, is translated “trouble” (KJV) or “unsettle your minds” (NEB) or “confusing” (Exp. Para.) or “disturbing” (NIV).  Thayer defines the word as “to agitate, to make restless, to render anxious or distressed, to perplex the mind by suggesting scruples or doubts.” [41]  A gospel of legalism that adds works to faith can only bring unsettling doubts and confusion because it undermines one’s assurance of salvation.  It is the opposite of Christ’s gift of peace.

In verse 7 Paul uses the Greek “metastrepho”, Strong’s #3344, which means “to transform into something of an opposite character.” [42]  Arndt and Gingrich define the word as “to alter, to pervert, to change something into something else, often its opposite.” [43]  It is translated “distort” (NEB, NASB) or “pervert” (NIV, RSV) or “twist and change” (NLB) or “reversing” (Barclay).  The same word is used in Acts 2:20, “the sun shall be turned into darkness” (quoting Joel 2:31).  Bertram also notes that Paul’s opponents turned the gospel into its opposite.[44]  The false teachers were turning the light of God’s truth into the opposite of the gospel, the darkness of error.

10.2     Legalism Is A False Gospel.

The significance of what Paul says comes from the contrast between the two words translated “different” (verse 6) and “another.” (verse 7).  Paul is amazed that the Galatians had embraced a “different” (Greek “heteros”, Strong’s #2087) gospel (verse 6).  In reality, what they have adopted is not “another” (Greek “allos”, Strong’s #243) gospel (verse 7).  Buchsel comments, “heteros” is used for “another gospel”; and “allos” for “which is not another,” i.e., which is no gospel at all but a human teaching.” [45]  Thayer explains “heteros” as “another i.e. one not of the same nature, form, class, kind, different.” [46]

Paul says that the Galatian drift of apostasy toward “a different gospel” is the acceptance of false teaching.  The Galatians were deceived and were deserting the free gospel of salvation.  Any system of salvation that differs from it is counterfeit.   Since salvation is in Christ by grace alone, the legalistic Galatian emphasis on the idea that one must work for his salvation was definitely a flawed doctrine.  The UBS Handbook Series comments on verse 7, “In some languages it may be necessary to say “to take away the good news about Christ and to put in lies,” or “to substitute false words for true words in the good news about Christ.” [47]  The TEV translates verse 7 as, “Actually, there is no ‘other gospel’.”

10.3     Legalistic Preachers Are Under God’s Curse.

To make sure that the Galatians understood the seriousness of the situation, Paul twice says that anyone, even an angel from heaven, who proclaimed any other form of gospel than that which Paul had preached, “let him be accursed.” (KJV) or “devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment.” (Amp. Bible) or “eternally condemned” (NIV).  The Greek word “anathema”, Strong’s #331, means “being given over to divine condemnation.” [48]

Twice Paul says that the person in question will be separated from God.  The idea is handing over to God’s judicial wrath. [49]  God delivers whoever preaches a false gospel to destruction.  The NET, (and TEV) says, “Let him be condemned to hell!”  This translation gives the outcome that is implied by this dreadful curse.  It is the strongest possible form of condemnation with eternal consequences.  Like the Galatians we must learn to evaluate our teachers.  The nature of the message validates the messenger, not the outward appearance of the messenger.  

In conclusion, “If we as ministers of the Word preach any other gospel than that clearly revealed in the NT we place ourselves under the awful curse of God.  Salvation by works either presents a man with a ladder he can never climb or else it lulls him to sleep in the false security of self-righteousness.” [50]


11    Legalism Results In Hypocrisy, Fear, And Error: Galatians 2:11-14.  


“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.  The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew.  How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”  

11.1     The Point At Issue Was Hypocrisy.  

In verse 13 Paul uses two different Greek words that the NIV translates as “hypocrisy”.  The first word is “sunupokrinomai”Strong’s #4942, which occurs once in the NT.  It means “to join in pretending or playing a part, join in playing the hypocrite.” [51] The word means literally “to answer from under” i.e. from under a mask as an actor would do on stage while playing a part or role.  Hence “hypokrites” means “actor”.   

The second word is “hupokrisis” “Strong’s # 5272 which gives us our English word “hypocrite”.  Arndt and Gingrich define it as “playing a part, hypocrisy, pretense, outward show.” [52]  Thayer says, the verb means “to make an answer on the stage, to personate anyone, play a part.  Hence to simulate, feign, pretend.” [53]

Vine explains, “Pretending to act from one motive, whereas another motive really inspires the act.  So in Galatians 2:13, Peter with other believing Jews, in separating from believing Gentiles at Antioch, pretended that the motive was loyalty to the Law of Moses, whereas really it was fear of the Judaizers.” [54]

Paul wrote to Christians who were challenged by a false gospel.  Paul defended the gospel against a respected leader (“a pillar”verse 9) who held a high position and corrected him “to his face” in public.  Peter was inconsistent and compromised because of fear (12) and the desire to please important religious leaders of “the party of the circumcision”. (NASB)  He was a role model and his action influenced other Jews including Barnabas.  He was a hindrance to Christian Jews who had previously had full fellowship with believing Gentiles.  No Christian leader should forget that “the higher he stands, the longer the shadow he casts.”

11.2     Paul Had Not Confronted Peter On A Trivial Issue.

He describes the consequences of Peter’s actions as “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” (NIV verse 14).  The Greek“orthopodeo” Strong’s #3716, means “to walk straight, walk upright, figuratively act rightly, be straightforward.” [55]  Other translations have: “This behaviour was a contradiction of the truth of the gospel” (Phillips) or “not living up to the truth of the Gospel” (Amp. Bible) or “straying away from the right path which the gospel lays down” (Barclay).  This mistake was related to the very heart of the gospel itself.  After twenty centuries, have we learned this lesson even today

Peter and Paul believed that God accepted both Jews and Gentiles on one condition alone, faith in Christ (15-16).  By separating Christian Jews from Christian Gentiles by his conduct, Peter was denying this reconciling aspect of the gospel.  This was not an honest mistake.  God had previously told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God had made clean” (Acts 10:15).  Peter was not just trying to deceive the men from Jerusalem, or contradict his own views, he was betraying the truth of the gospel, as the belief of justification by faith, implied equality of Jew and Gentile.  Barriers between ethnic groups, social classes, sexes, and denominations within the Church, have the same result today.  It challenges the heart of the gospel. 

11.3     Commitment To God’s Truth Frees Us From Conformity.

Peter gave way to pressure from a group of conservative Christians to compromise his freedom in Christ and he became a hypocrite.  On the other hand, Paul remained free to confront the spiritual and emotional dishonesty of Peter.  Peter was pressured into group conformity by the legalist emotional manipulation of his fellow believers.  Paul kept his integrity in Christ; he was able to confront Peter’s hypocrisy and fears because he held firmly to “the truth of the gospel.”  Group pressure is one aspect of the spirit of legalism that seeks a dictatorial and oppressive control over a church.  This problem still exists in many evangelical\pentecostal\charismatic churches.


12    Salvation Is By Grace Not Works: Galatians 2:15-16.

Paul argues that acceptance with God (or righteousness) is no longer dependent upon a person keeping the Law.  He says, “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

12.1     To be “Justified” is to be “Put Right With God” (See Appendix 2).

“Justified”, the Greek “dikaioo”, Strong’s #1344, a key word in this passage, occurs three times in verse 16.  Justification is an image drawn from the law court.  To be justified is to be declared innocent by the presiding judge.  It is translated as “put right with God” (Barclay; TEV);or “to be declared righteous and put in right standing with God” (Amp. Bible).  It means “to judge, declare, pronounce righteous and therefore acceptable.  It is used respecting God who declares such men as put faith in Christ to be righteous and acceptable to him, and accordingly fit to receive the pardon of their sins and eternal life.” [56] 

G. Schrenk defines the word as, “acquitted”.  He continues, “The wicked are justified by faith on the basis of God’s gracious action in Christ enacted at the cross.  Justification is a finished work of grace, yet the term “by faith” shows that it is also a continuing present.” [57]  Faith is the means by which we receive justification; faith is not the basis of justification.

12.2     There is one gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Righteousness or friendship with God is now based on one’s relationship to Jesus.  Three times in verse 16 Paul emphasizes that nobody is justified by observing the law.  The three phrases increase in emphasis.  The first is general and refers to any man, or anyone.  The second phrase is particular and personal with the use of “we” and “our” and involves Paul himself, and all who stand with him in the faith.  The final statement is universal as the words are literally “all flesh,” i.e., mankind without exception.

Verse 16 is the key to Christian freedom; it is acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord plus nothing else.  The expression in the middle of verse 16, literally “we have believed into Christ,” implies an act of personal commitment, not just agreeing to the facts about Christ, but also actually turning to him for mercy.  Sometimes particular denominational doctrines, individual church practices, and the scruples of church leaders, who consider themselves to be spiritual super stars, make us legalistic.  Genuine spirituality is grounded in faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ.

Paul makes it clear that sinners are declared righteous not on the basis of their own merits or achievements or good works but rather on the basis of their position “in Christ”: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”.(Romans 8:1).  Paul says if works can save men, Christ has died in vain; it is to regard the death of Christ as unnecessary (Galatians 2:21).  To mix legalism, or law keeping, with grace distorts grace.  If salvation is by works, it is not by grace:  “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6).  Embracing legalism means rejecting God because it means replacing man for God in one’s life.

Dear reader, consider honestly these questions:

Are you trusting in the grace of God in Christ alone for salvation or are you relying on your own good works?  Are you mixing law and grace? i.e. How much of your faith is in religious activities that please others, especially church leaders?  Are you“straightforward about the truth of the gospel?” (Galatians 2:14 NKJV)

William Barclay concludes:

“There are two great temptations in the Christian life, and the better a man is the more liable he is to them.  First, there is the temptation to try and earn God’s favour, and, second, the temptation to use some little achievement to compare oneself with our fellow men to our advantage.  But the Christianity which has enough of self left in it to think that by its own efforts it can please God, and that by its own achievements it can show itself superior to other men is not true Christianity at all.” [58]


13    Salvation Is By Faith In Christ Alone: Galatians 3: 1-9.


“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain– if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law,or by hearing with faith 

6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” (NASB)

13.1     Legalism Has A Satanic Origin.

The tragedy of the Galatian Christians was that they went sadly wrong after beginning so well.  “Foolish” means “spiritually dull and unwise”.  (See Luke 24:25 where the same Greek word “anoeetos” is used.)  Christians are deceived, says Paul in verse one, when they take their eyes off the Cross as the centre of their Christian life.  The cross of Christ was always central with Paul.

Some commentators see the question, “Who has bewitched you?” as a sarcastic rhetorical one and favour a figurative explanation. For example, F. F. Bruce paraphrases, “Who is it that has hypnotized you?” [59]  Others offer a more literal explanation involving witchcraft.  Either way, the influence of a cunning satanic power corrupted the faith of the Galatians and used legalism to do so.

The Greek “baskaino”, Strong’s #940, translated “bewitched” (KJV; NIV) or “ put a spell on?” (TEV; JB) occurs only here in the NT.  Thayer says it originally mean “to speak ill of one, to slander” [60].  Vine defines the word as “to slander anyone; to bring evil on a person by feigned praise, or mislead by an evil eye, and so to charm, or bewitch” (English, “fascinate” is connected); it is used figuratively in Galatians 3:1 of leading into evil doctrine.”

The UBS Handbook Series has “Who put a spell on you?” and adds this comment:

“The word “bewitched” suggests the use of magic, particularly the casting of a spell through the use of the evil eye.  The belief that one person could cast a spell over another is common in many parts of the world, but one must not deduce from this statement that Paul believed in magic.  He is more likely using “bewitched” in a metaphorical sense, and he probably means by it “to pervert,” “to lead astray,” or “to confuse the mind.” [61]

G. Delling offers a more literal interpretation of “baskaino”.  He says, “This is not an exaggerated metaphor, for behind magic stands the power of falsehood and this has been exercised to do harm to the Galatians.  The dangerous feature is that the Galatians have willingly yielded to these magicians and their influence without realising to what powers of falsehood they were surrendering.” [62]

13.2     Three Either\Ors.

In this chapter Paul uses three contrasting pairs of words, or alternatives, that are at the heart of the argument between Paul’s gospel and the message of the Judaizer’s.

(1) Legalism or Faith?

Salvation by good deeds, or “the works of the Law” in verses 2 and 5, is a “do-it-yourself” salvation because it means trying to satisfy God’s standards by our own efforts.  This type of self-righteousness inevitably fails.  On the other hand, salvation by faith,“by hearing with faith”, verses 2 and 5, relies entirely on what God does for us in Christ.  Receiving the Spirit is the same as receiving Christ.  It results in successful living.

The fruits of legalism are spiritual pride, spiritual blindness, failure, fear, depression, the illusion of self-importance, and insecurity.  In contrast, the fruits of grace are a delight in God’s love, joy through freedom from self-absorption, a responsible exercise of freedom, an assurance of salvation, and a genuine love for people.  Christian freedom is freedom from self and Satan that we may please God and not ourselves.

(2) Flesh or Spirit?

In verse 3 Paul makes a sharp contrast between the (Holy) “Spirit”, and “the flesh” (NASB) or “human effort” (NIV) or “your own power” (TEV).  The Greek “sarx” Strong’s #4561, means “human nature apart from divine influence, and prone to sin and opposed to God.  It includes whatever in the soul is weak, low, debased, tending to ungodliness and vice.   It is the entire nature of man without the Holy Spirit.” [63]  E. Schweizer notes that the flesh as a wrong disposition away from God becomes a controlling power, and that legal observance is itself a manifestation of ‘sarx’.” [64]

As Christians we live either under the control of the flesh (sinful human nature) or the control of the Holy Spirit.  Later Paul contrasts the “deeds of the flesh” (5:19) with the “fruit of the Spirit” (5:22).  Both are irreconcilably opposed to each other (5:17). The Galatians “began” with the Spirit and trusted themselves to Christ.  But now they want to “end”, or mature their faith, by performing religious duties and works done in obedience to the Law.  Paul sees this as a backward step not progress.

(3) Law or Promise?

The Law required its demands to be entirely kept (10).  On the other hand, God’s promises, made first to Abraham, present an offer that is to be believed in order to enjoy its blessings, including the Holy Spirit (13-14).  The provision of God’s Spirit (verses5 and 14) is a continuous, ever-increasing, never-ending supply.  Nothing can exhaust the grace of God.

It is the Spirit, living the life of Jesus in us, that is the distinctive mark of God’s people in this age.  The Christian life is based on a relationship of trust, not performance.  The way of faith is the only way to have a right relationship with God.  In verse 11, Paul quotes Habbakuk 2:4, “It is the man who is right with God through faith who will live.” (Barclay)  As we abandon ourselves to the goodness and grace of God found in Christ, so we experience the joyful freedom of the children of God.  A legalistic performance based on rules only crushes ourselves and others. 

In summary, the Law had to be obeyed while the promise had only to be believed.  The Law condemned while the promise justified.  The Law was temporary while the promise of Christ was eternal.  God’s revelation in Christ is superior and final.

13.3     An Appeal To Scripture (Verses 6-9)

Having appealed to the Galatians on the basis of their experience, Paul now appeals to OT scripture.  He says that the life of Abraham is a preview of the gospel.  Abraham’s faith was the basis of his obedience, not that Abraham’s faith was a good work and that it was his obedience that saved him.  The Greek “logizomai”, Strong’s #3049, is translated “reckoned” (NASB) or “accounted” and “imputed” (KJV) or “credited” (NIV) or “counted” (NEB). 

Logizomai”, means “to calculate, to pass to one’s account; a thing is reckoned to be something.” [65]  As a commercial and mathematical term it means “to put on someone’s account, to charge to someone.”  [66]Almost half of the occurrences of this word are in the book of Romans.  H. Heidland says, “The cross [of Christ] is the point of union, for if God does not impute sin tous, it is because Christ has been made sin for us.”  [67]

Faith itself is a grace-gift of God.  Abraham realized that he could do nothing himself.  He believed God’s promises and humbly entrusted himself to God’s mercy and love.  He counted on God to do what he could not do (Genesis 15:6).  Any other attitude is self-righteous pride.  Abraham was the faith-father of Christians.  Thus Paul proved that the gospel of grace was God’s way of salvation from the beginning.


14    Freedom From Rules: Reality Is In Christ: Colossians 2: 16-23.


“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.  Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.  He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, theirfalse humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

14.1     The Supremacy And Sufficiency Of Christ. 

In prison Paul wrote this letter to affirm the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ against the “legal demands” (verse 14, RSV) of the heresy troubling the Colossian believers.  He states that these ascetic and ritual rules were only a shadow of the truth found in Christ.  Paul’s warning “let no one pass judgment on you” (16, RSV) or “take you to task” (Moffatt, Knox), is paralleled in verse 18 by “let no one disqualify you” (NIV), or “do not allow yourself to be condemned” (TEV). 

The meaning of verse 16 is “let no one impose on you his arbitrary standards of Christian conduct; do not feel yourself inferior because your life is not governed in the way that he declares to be necessary.” [68]  Jesus Christ is sufficient for all the spiritual needs of the Christian.  Beware of those who promise a “deeper spiritual life” based on their own religious rules.

14.2     False Humility And Man-Made Religion.

The nature of the Colossian heresy is evident from two key words used by Paul to describe it.

The first word “tapinophrosunee”, Strong’s #5012, used in verses 18 and 23, is translated “false humility” (NIV, Phillips) or “self-abasement” (RSV) or “self-mortification” (NEB) or “self-humiliation” (Exp. Para.).  Thayer notes that it is “used of an affected and ostentatious humility” in this context. [69]  Arndt and Gingrich also comment that this humility or modesty can be wrongly directed. [70]  W. Grundmann observes, “the term is a concept in the Colossian heresy and it either means ‘fasting’ or ‘mortification’.” [71]  A humility in which a person takes delight is only pride.

The second word “ethelothreeskia”, in verse 23, Strong’s #1479, is found only here in the NT.  It is variously translated as “self-imposed worship”, (NIV) or “will-worship” (KJV), or “self-imposed devotions” (JB), or “self-made religion or delight in religiousness” (NASB), or “forced piety” (NEB), or “self-willed worship” (Exp. Para.). 

Thayer defines this word as “voluntary, arbitrary worship i.e. worship which one devises and prescribes for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of the faith which ought to be directed to Christ; said of the misdirected zeal and practices of ascetics.”[72]  Arndt and Gingrich define the word as “self-made religion, would-be religion.” [73]

14.3     Legalism, Mysticism and Asceticism.

The problem at Colossae was syncretism, i.e. the merging of the historic gospel with aspects of other religions.  The result was legalism, mysticism, and asceticism based on false humility and pride.  These believers were opening themselves to all kinds of demonic activity.

First there was legalism (verses 16-17).  Human nature has an amazing capacity for complicating the gospel.  The false teachers wove a web of rules and regulations around the Colossian believers.  As in Galatia it was taught that Christians should also keep the Jewish weekly, monthly, and annual feasts.  Paul criticizes the loss of Christian freedom to religion of ritual and external rules.

Paul indicates that since the Law has been fulfilled and replaced by Christ, there is no need for such law-keeping.  Verse 17 says, “These things are mere shadows of a coming reality; the reality has now come and it is found in Christ.”[74]  The Colossians were mistaking shadow for substance.  OT Jewish ritual was only a foreshadowing of the truth and the “reality” found in Christ.  The “things that were to come” have come with Christ.  The Jewish food laws were of little importance compared with the overriding truth of the Cross.  The letter to the Hebrews is a commentary on this verse (cf. Hebrews 8:5; 10:1).  Human nature enjoys “religious duties” but any system of salvation that encourages the idea that man’s religious practices can contribute to his own salvation is contrary to the gospel of the grace of God.

Secondly there was Eastern mysticism or visions with hidden meanings (verses 18-19).  The false teachers were busy with mystic visions based on human imagination, contemplation, special experiences, speculation, and types of worship that ignored and demoted Christ.  Paul’s main point is that nobody need more than Christ offers.  It is loss, not gain, for a Christian to turn to Jewish ritual, angel-worship and the cloudy world of visions.  Worship belongs to God and to Jesus Christ. 

Paul warned his readers about him whose “unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions” (18, NIV) or “puffed up by his sensuous notions and inflated by his unspiritual thoughts and fleshly conceit” (Amp. Bible) or those “inflating themselves to a false importance” (JB).  The false teachers prided themselves on special visions of secret things that ordinary Christians did not understand and which (they considered) gave them a superior spiritual experience.  “The most devastating criticism [of Paul] is that by using their own private religious experiences as the basis of their authority they were in fact rejecting Christ as their Head. [75

The third strand was asceticism or severe self-discipline and abstinence from pleasure for spiritual reasons (verses 20-23).  The false teachers believed the suppression of evils in the human body would free the soul.  The Law prohibited certain foods but not beverages.  Thus these prohibitions went beyond the Law and encouraged the deadly sin of spiritual pride.  The Colossians were told they must not handle, taste nor even touch certain things, according to external rules that were “based on human commands and teachings.” (22), or “human doctrines and regulations” (JB) cf. 1 Timothy 4:3.

On the surface this may appear to be humility and wisdom, but human traditions, as Jesus taught (Mark 7:8-9) may mean the heart is far from God (Isaiah 29:13).  Such asceticism is of little value and only serves to indulge unredeemed human nature. Jesus himself taught that it made no difference spiritually what a person ate or drank (Mark 7:14-23) unless one is considering Romans chapters 14 and 15.  This devotion was a self-imposed form of worship which man devises for himself and it only panders to human pride (23).

14.4     Legalism Is Retrograde Christianity.

Since God has done all that is necessary for salvation in Christ, man-made ideas displace and insult Christ.  True freedom in the Holy Spirit only comes from a complete and final forgiveness of sin.  If we have doubts about whether or not God has accepted us, we are likely to follow rules and regulations of some kind, but trying to obey rules is a poor motive for holy living.  A more powerful motivation stems from love for Jesus Christ whose sacrifice makes forgiveness possible.

False teaching develops when Christians stop resting on the finished work of Christ or rejoicing in the fullness of life in Christ. False teaching also caters to intellectual pride and replaces the simplicity of faith in Christ with something more sophisticated.  Any religion that is based on human speculation rather than God’s revelation results in pride.  This type of false gospel leads its followers to see themselves as a spiritual elite; they are often intolerant, judgmental and dictatorial in their attitudes.  They believe that theirs is the only valid form of Christianity and they quickly exclude all who disagree with them.

14.5     Christ Is Our Life.

Christians should accept their identification with Christ as the controlling principle for their lives as Christians are dead to, and therefore delivered from, the “elemental spirits of the universe” (verse 20, NEB, RSV), or “the principles of this world” (JB).  This probably refers to the spiritual forces that controlled their lives before they came to Christ.  Christ is our life in the sense that our fellowship with God flows from him.  He is sovereign over all areas of life; it is a life that the world does not control.  Why then take up with speculation, fantasies and mere shadows when you have spiritual reality in Christ?  The regulations of the old Law were just a shadow, not the reality which is Christ himself. Be aware of bondage to human tradition.

The source of the life of the body, the Church, is Christ himself for he is the “Head” (19).  If there is to be growth in the Christian life, it must come from Christ alone.  Christ himself is the benchmark of all teaching and of the teachers themselves.  We have died to religious self-indulgence like legalism and risen to freedom in Christ.  Christ alone makes the Church, his body, live and grow spiritually (19).  In the parallel passage in Ephesians 4:15-16, the binding force of unity is love.

The world’s way of religion such as legalism, man-made restrictions, abstinence and asceticism, is only another form of “sensual indulgence” (23, NIV), or “the indulgences of sinful human nature.” (Barclay).  The RSV (margin) says “serving only to indulge the flesh” i.e. these practices tend to increase man’s sensuality and pride, not diminish it.  Physical discipline for health’s sake is one thing (1 Timothy 4:8).  But physical self-denial in an attempt to live a holy life is another matter.  This false spirituality usually brings out the worst not the best in people.

G. P. MacLeod warns that “not holding fast to the Head (Christ) (verse 19, NASB) is a fatal error:  

“When men are persuaded to accept the church, its teaching, fellowship, and programme, as the source and goal of all Christian living, we are “not holding fast to the Head.”  In and by itself, as a human institution, the church, or any branch of it, can become, as the Colossian teachers were threatening to make the church at Colossae, a seller of its own ideas, an apostate church, teaching a code of conduct and a way of salvation that depart more and more from God’s revelation of his will and purpose in Christ. Christianity is more than the church.  It is Christ.  He is the head.” [76]


15    Guidelines To Avoid Legalism.

(1) The Christian is under the grace principle of life; this is main guideline.  In the NT Paul insists on the freedom of the Christian who has been delivered by Christ from bondage to a set of religious rules.  He said to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1).  Christians with a tender conscience should not allow themselves to be condemned by those who claim to be superior spiritually. 

(2) Apart from specific biblical commands, the believer is to live toward God and others with the understanding that s/he owes everything to God.  Christian freedom means that we positively seek the good of others; we are not completely free to please ourselves.  We follow the example of Christ (Romans 15:3).

Paul emphasized, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13).  Paul rejected both legalism and lawlessness and approved unselfish, disciplined, responsible Christian living directed by the Holy Spirit.  “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) is a useful guide and a test of our actions and of our activities. I.e. “If I do this, will I honour God?”  Or, “Would someone be helped or hindered by what I do?”

(3) In every instance of “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1 NIV), or “personal opinions” (TEV), we should decide on the basis of love for one another (Romans 13:8-10).  The new rule of love is the true fulfillment of the Law.  Paul was voluntarily a slave of Christ and others for love’s sake.

(4) We are to accept and not judge one another in matters of conscience (Romans 14:1-12).  It is better to be a “strong” believer than a “weak” one, but every believer is probably a mixture of both strong and weak depending on the issue.

(5) Be aware that legalism appeals to the “flesh” or fallen human nature which enjoys being religious and boasts about its religious achievements.  The legalist measures and compares himself with others whereas the true Christian measures himself against Christ, not other believers.

(6) Understand that we were not only initially saved “by grace through faith”, but we must continue to live the Christian life daily “by grace through faith.”

(7) Understand that sanctification is both positional and instantaneous and progressive and practical.  See Appendix 4.

(8) The basis of Christian freedom is the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Therefore test all teaching against who Christ is and what he has done.  Test what is not sure against the sure.  Hence the need to know God’s Word.  Jesus replied to the Sadducees, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Mark 12:24).


16    Abbreviations.

Amp. Bible.        The Amplified Bible, Zondervan, 1965.

AG            A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, W. F. Arndt and F .W. Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Barclay      William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1975.

DNTT         New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown, electronic edition, Zondervan.

EDBT         Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic edition, Baker Books, 1996.

EMB          E. M. Blaiklock, Bible Characters and Doctrines, Scripture Union, London, 1974.

Exp Para        An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul, F. F. Bruce, Paternoster, 1965.

KSB           The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, AMG Publishers, S. Zodhiates, 1990.

ISBE          The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, electronic edition, 1996, Biblesoft.

JB             Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, 1966.

KJV           King James Version (1611).

Knox         The Knox Translation of the New Testament, University Press Cambridge, 1956.

LS             Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Abridged, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1944.

Moffatt        The Bible, A New Translation, James Moffatt, Harper and Row, 1954.

NASB         New American Standard Bible, Nelson, 1973

NEB           New English Bible, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

NET           New English Translation, Biblical Studies Press, 1996.

NLB           New Living Bible, Tyndale, 2001.

NIV           New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 1978.

NKJV         New King James Version, Nelson, 1982.

NT            New Testament.

OT            Old Testament.

Phillips      The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillipps, MacMillan, 1972.

RSV           The Revised Standard Version, Nelson, 1946.

The Message The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson, Navpress, 1995.

TDNT         The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 volumes, edited by G. Kittell and G. Friedrich, Eerdmans, 1985, electronic edition.

“Little Kittell” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abridged in one volume, by G. W. Bromiley, Eerdmans, 1985.

UBS           The UBS Handbook Series,1961-1997, United Bible Societies, electronic edition, Biblesoft.

Vincent      Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Electronic Database, 1997, Biblesoft

Vine          An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, W. E. Vine, Nelson, 1985.

WBE          Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, electronic edition, editors C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, J. Rea, Moody, 1975.

Strong               New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance, electronic edition,1994, Biblesoft.

Thayer       A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, J. H. Thayer, Baker, 1977.

Weymouth Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern English, R. F. Weymouth, James Clarke, 1937. 

17    Bibliography.

In addition to the books listed under Abbreviations, the following references were used.


Alfred Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Kregel, USA, 1962.
H. M. Carson, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, Tyndale NT Commentary, Eerdmans, 1981.
A. Cole, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, Tyndale NT Commentary, Eerdmans, 1981.
Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament, Baker, 1989.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Pickering and Inglis, London, 1971, page 719.
The Armoury Commentary, The Four Gospels, edited by F. Coutts, Hodder and Stoughton, 1973.
The Bible Exposition Commentary, Warren Wiersbe, Victor, 1989.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT edition, Victor, editors Walvoord and Zuck, 1986.
The Interpreter’s Bible, volumes 10 and 11, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1982.
The New Bible Commentary, IVP, first, second and third editions, various editors, 1953-2001.

William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, SCM Press, London, 1957.
M. Pearlman, Knowing The Doctrines of the Bible, G.P.H., USA, 1937.
J. C. Ryle, Daily Readings, compiled by Robert Sheehan, Evangelical Press, 1982.
John R. W. Stott, Christ The Controversialist, Tyndale, London, 1970.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, BST, IVP, 1968.

Electronic Books
The Essential IVP Reference Collection, IVP, 2001. (Libronix Digital Library System, Logos)
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, general editor F. E. Gaebelein, Zondervan.
Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, edited by W. A. Elwell, Baker, 1995.


18    A Prayer Of Commitment.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your undeserved favour to me through Jesus Christ.  I acknowledge that the Christian life is grace from beginning to end.  Thank you that you are a gracious God who can take the unpromising and unlikely circumstances in my life and use them to accomplish your will.

I pray that my reading of this paper will mark a turning point in my journey of faith.  I confess and repent of the sins of the Pharisees.  I renounce legalism in my life.  I want to truly repent of my sins of spiritual pride and dishonesty.  I thank you for a full and free forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  I bring to you all my unfulfilled hopes and unanswered prayers and trust that you will “restore and make good and replace the years that the locusts [of legalism and tradition etc] have eaten.”

Keep opening my eyes to the dangers of legalism and the wonders of your grace.  Forgive me for the times when I have judged others unfairly.  I ask for grace “to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God.”  May the purpose of my life be to bring honour to the “God of all grace”.

This I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

19    Appendices.

19.1     Appendix 1: What Is Grace

1. Definitions

(1) “Favour or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves.  Grace is one of the key attributes of God.” [77]

(2) “The basic thought is that of free giving.  To the ‘grace alone’ embodied in Christ corresponds the ‘faith alone’ of believers.  We are saved by grace alone and it is always a gift on which one has no claim.” [78]

(3) “The word ‘charis’ contains the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved.  It is used of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of Christian virtues.” [79]

2. An example of grace: Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle.

“Paul’s sense of God’s grace owed much to his experience of being turned from the persecutor of the church to Christ’s missionary to the Gentiles (1 Cor 15:9-10; 1 Tim 1:12-14).  So convinced was he that this was all God’s doing and not of his own merit that he could describe his apostolic calling as coming even before his birth (Gal 1:15).  He was an apostle solely because of God’s grace (Rom 1:5), and his entire ministry and teaching were due to that divine grace (Rom 12:3; 15:15; 1 Cor 3:10; 2 Cor 1:12; Gal 2:9; Eph 3:2,7,8).

Paul had too profound a sense of human sin to believe that a person could ever earn God’s acceptance (Rom 3:23).  As a Pharisee, he had sought to do that by fulfilling the law.  Now he had come to see that it was not a matter of earning God’s acceptance but rather of coming to accept God’s acceptance of him through Jesus Christ.  Law is the way of self-help, of earning one’s own salvation.  Grace is God’s way of salvation, totally unearned (Rom 3:24; 4:4; 11:6; Eph 2:8).  Grace is appropriated by faith in what God has done in Christ (Rom 4:16).  It is through Christ’s atoning work on the cross that God’s grace comes to us, setting us free from the bondage of sin (Rom 3:24-31).

In Christ Jesus, God’s grace is open to all people (Titus 2:11; compare 2 Cor 4:15); but the experience of God’s grace is conditional upon human response.  It can be rejected or accepted (2 Cor 6:1; Gal 1:6; 5:4).”

The Holman Bible Dictionary, article by John Polhill, 1991, Holman Bible Publishers.

19.2     Appendix 2: Justification By Faith.

1. Definition.

“Justification marks that instantaneous point of entry which makes one “right with God.”  Christians are justified in the same way Abraham was, by faith (Rom 4:16; 5:1).  Human works do not achieve or earn acceptance by God.  The exercise of faith alone ushers us into a right, unmerited relationship with God (Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:7). 

Biblically, the spiritual journey begins at the point of justification.  This immediate act has far-reaching consequences.  It establishes the future.  God in the present moment announces the verdict He will pronounce on the day of final judgment.  He declares that trusting faith in Jesus Christ puts people in the right with God, bringing eternal life now and forever.”

(Adapted from The Holman Bible Dictionary, article by Paul Jackson, 1991, Holman Publishers)

2. Justification By Grace.

“Christianity is unique because of its teaching of justification by grace (Rom 3:24).  Justification is God’s declaration that the demands of His Law have been fulfilled in the righteousness of His Son.  The basis for this justification is the death of Christ.  Paul tells us, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Cor 5:19).  This reconciliation covers all sin: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).

When God justifies, He charges the sin of man to Christ and credits the righteousness of Christ to the believer (2 Cor 5:21). Because this righteousness is “the righteousness of God” which is “apart from the law” (Rom 3:21), it is thorough; a believer is “justified from all things” (Acts 13:39).  God is “just” because His holy standard of perfect righteousness has been fulfilled in Christ, and He is the “justifier,” because this righteousness is freely given to the believer (Rom 3:26; 5:16).

3. Justification by Faith.

Although the Lord Jesus has paid the price for our justification, it is through our faith that He is received and His righteousness is experienced and enjoyed (Rom 3:25-30).  By faith we are considered righteous (Rom 4:3,9), not as the work of man (Rom 4:5), but as the gift and work of God (John 6:28-29; Phil 1:29).

Not only is Christ’s righteousness legally accounted to the believer, but Christ also dwells in the believer through the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:10), creating works of faith (Eph 2:10).  The order of events in justification is grace, faith, and works; or, in other words, by grace, through faith, resulting in works (Eph 2:8-10).”

(Adapted from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, Nelson Publishers) 

19.3     Appendix 3: Sanctification Is Both Positional And Practical.

(Adapted from Knowing The Doctrines of the Bible, Myer Pearlman, G. P. H., 1937.)

1. Definitions of Sanctification:

(1) “The process of being made holy resulting in a changed life-style for the believer.” [80]

(2) “Sanctification is the process of God’s grace by which the believer is separated from sin and becomes dedicated to God’s righteousness.” [81]

2. Sanctification is Positional and Instantaneous.

The apostle Paul addresses all believers as “saints” (literally “sanctified ones”) and as already sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11); yet the same letter was written to correct those Christians of carnality and even open sin (1 Corinthians 3:1; 5:1-2, 7-8).  They were saints and “sanctified in Christ,” but some of them were far from being such in daily conduct.  They had been called to be saints but were not walking worthy of the vocation wherewith they had been called.  According to the NT, then, there is a sense in which sanctification is simultaneous with justification.

3. Sanctification is Practical and Progressive.

This initial setting apart is the beginning of a progressive life of sanctification.  All Christians are separated to God in Christ and from this springs the responsibility to live for him.  This separation is to be lived daily as the believer seeks to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ.

Sanctification is both absolute and progressive – absolute in the sense that it is a work done once for all (Hebrews 10:10), progressive in the sense that the Christian must follow after holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and perfect his consecration by cleansing himself from all defilement (2 Corinthians 7:1).  Numerous commands in the Bible imply that believers also have a responsibility in the process of sanctification (Romans 6:19; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Thess. 4:3-5).

4. A Scriptural Balance.

Calvinism exalts the grace of God as the only source of salvation as does the Bible.  Arminianism emphasizes man’s free will and responsibility as does the Bible.  The practical solution consists in avoiding the unscriptural extremes of either view, and in not setting one view against another.  For example, an over-emphasis of God’s sovereignty and grace may lead to careless living if a person believes that his conduct has nothing to do with his salvation.  On the other hand, over-emphasis of man’s free will and responsibility may bring people under the bondage of legalism and rob them of assurance.  The two extremes of legalism and lawlessness or license should be avoided.  

The life of sanctification begins from the moment a man is justified by faith when he surrenders himself to Christ as his personal Saviour.  However, the life of sanctification is not a life of faith only; it is a life of faith-obedience that results in good works inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

19.4     Appendix 4: Faith Is Confirmed By Works.

Paul says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28, NKJV). 

Yet James says, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (2:24, NKJV).

Does the Bible contradict itself?  Are we justified by faith, or are we justified by works?

1. Context is all-important. 

Paul taught that salvation is a free gift from God.  James did not contradict Paul’s teaching; he emphasized that a living, vital faith in Christ influences the way a person thinks and lives.  Paul supports James’ point that a faith that has no practical expression is not approved by God (Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 1:16; 3:7 f.)  James illustrates his point by describing insensitivity to human need in verses 15-17. 

2. Genuine faith is always expressed in good works.  

James further explains the relationship between faith and works by reference to Abraham and Rahab in verses 21-25.  He argues that faith is only evident as it is put into action.  A profession of faith that has no evidence in daily living has the same value as the faith of the demonic powers who fear God’s judgment (19).  It is not the faith that saves.  James, like Paul, knows that Abraham was justified before God by faith because he quotes Genesis 15:6 in verse 23.  However, he mentions the offering of Isaac as proof that Abraham was “justified by works” (21).  This statement means that he was justified by works before men i.e. Abraham’s works demonstrated the genuineness of his faith in God.  

3 James discusses two kinds of faith.

James is not saying that we need good works to be saved or that works are more important than faith.  He is discussing two kinds of faith: “faith made complete” (22) and “faith without deeds” (20).  One is true and the other is false; one is dead and useless and the other is living and useful.  Saving faith leads to action.  “Faith, the root, must naturally issue in works, the fruit.” [82]

4. It is not a matter of faith or works, but both together (James 2:22).

If one claims to have faith and fails to live a godly life, it is clear that s/he has only an intellectual interest in the gospel and has not personally responded to what God has done for us in Christ.  We are saved by grace through faith but by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we do good works.  We are not saved by faith plus works; we are not saved by faith in faith; we are saved by faith in Christ alone.

“Paul was arguing for the priority of faith.  James argued for the proof of faith.” [83] Obedience, expressing itself in action, is the result of faith.  Those who do not obey Jesus do not love him, even if they think they do (Matthew 7:21). 

[1] G. Santayana, 1863-1952.
[2] Jesus Christ, John 8:32.
[3] Paul, Galatians 6:14.
[4] Paul, Galatians 5:1.
[5] William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, SCM Press, London, 1957, pages 87-88.
[6] J. R. Wagner, Dictionary of New Testament Background, electronic edition, Editors: C. A. Evans, S. E. Porter IVP, 2000.
[7] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, electronic edition.
[8] The Handbook To Bible Study, electronic edition, P. S. Karleen, Oxford Press, 1987.
[9] J. P. Baker, New Dictionary of Theology, IVP, electronic edition, editors S. B. Ferguson, D. F. Wright, J. I. Packer, 1988.
[10] The Armoury Commentary, The Four Gospels, editor F. Coutts, page 87.
[11] Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, page 81-82, Word Publishing, 1990.
[12] Kaiser, W. C, 1997, Hard Sayings of the Bible (electronic ed.) ,Pages 630-632, IVP.
[13] Barclay, volume 3, pages 64 and 66.
[14] John Stott, The Message of Galatians, BST, IVP, pages 178, 180.
[15] AG, pages 164-5.
[16] Thayer, page 121.
[17] F. E. Hirsch, ISBE, Electronic Edition.
[18] WBE, Volume 2.
[19] Douglas, J. New Bible Dictionary, electronic edition 1996, Pages 924-925, Tyndale.
[20] Quoted in The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (Tyndale NT Commentary), Alan Cole, page 50.
[21] EMB, Volume 11, page 65.
[22] Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance, electronic edition, 1994.
[23] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[24] Thayer, page 546.
[25] Alfred Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Kregel, USA, 1962, page 75.
[26] The Armoury Commentary, The Four Gospels, edited by F. Coutts, page 116.
[27] Strong’s Concordance.
[28] Thayer pages 481-2.
[29] AG page 125.
[30] Thayer, pages 13-14.
[31] DNTT, article by J. I. Packer.
[32] Thayer page 24.
[33] LS, page 30.
[34]TDNT , electronic edition, Vol. 3, Page 1099.
[35] Daily Readings From J. C. Ryle, compiled by R. Sheehan, Evangelical Press, 1982, page 175.
[36] Thayer, page 305.
[37] Barclay, Volume 10, page 10.
[38] C. Maurer, “Little Kittell”, page 1179.
[39] Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament.
[40] The UBS Handbook Series.
[41] Thayer page 615.

[42] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.

[43] AG, page 514.
[44] “Little Kittell”, page 1096.
[45]Little Kittell”, page 43.
[46] Thayer, page 254.
[47] UBS Handbook Series.
[48] KSB, page 1804.
[49] “Little Kittell”, page 57.
[50] R. Earle, Word Meanings in the NT, page 270.
[51] AG page 801.
[52] AG page 852.
[53] Thayer page 643.
[54] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.
[55] AG page 583.
[56] Thayer page 150.
[57] “Little Kittell”, page 175.
[58] WB Volume 10, page 21.
[59] Exp Para page 27.
[60] Thayer page 98.
[61]  UBS Handbook Series.
[62] TDNT, Vol. 1, Pages 595-596, Gerhard Delling.
[63] Thayer page 571.
[64] “Little Kittell”, page 1005.
[65] Thayer page 379.
[66] AG page 477.
[67] “Little Kittel”, page 537.
[68] F. W. Beare, Exegesis of Colossians, The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 11, page 201.
[69] Thayer page 614.
[70] AG page 812.
[71] “Little Kittell”,page 1156.
[72] Thayer page 168.
[73] AG page 217.
[74] Expa Para, page 253.
[75] New Bible Commentary, 21st century edition, electronic edition, IVP.
[76] G. P. MacLeod, Exposition of Colossians, The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 11, pages 207-8.
[77] Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary,article Sanctification, 1986, Thomas Nelson.
[78] “Little Kittell”, page 1304, article by H. Conzelmann.
[79] Thayer, page 666.

[80] Lorin Cranford, Holman Bible Dictionary, 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.

[81] Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, electronic edition.

[82] A. McNab, The New Bible Commentary, IVP, first edition, 1953, page 1122.

[83] J. R. Blue, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT edition, page 826.