Jesus Hates Legalism

I know.  I know.  Jesus doesn’t really hate because he never sinned, he was totally divine, while totally human.  I get that, and I am really not trying to be flippant….BUT, Jesus hates legalism.  Let me try to explain.

Legalism, in one definition, is an attempt to gain favor with Godrules or to impress the people around us by doing certain things (or avoiding other things), without regard for the condition of our hearts before that same God.

Read that again.  Because if you don’t hear anything else, and don’t want to read any further, that statement alone is worth wrestling over for a while.

I have been reading and studying in the book of Mark, the second chapter of the New Testament, and one of the four gospels.  Many feel that Mark’s gospel gives us the clearest picture into the “humanness” of Jesus.  There are verses that talk of Jesus showing pity (1:41), becoming hungry (11:12), getting tired (6:31); amongst a host of other very “human” feelings and characteristics.  One of which is anger.

In Mark chapter 3, Jesus was in the synagogue and notices a man with a deformed hand.  Jesus asked the man to come and stand in front of Him.  It was the Sabbath, and the laws (legalism) of the day, prohibited any type of “work” on the Sabbath.  Now, just a few verses earlier, the legalists (Pharisees) had questioned Jesus about “harvesting” on the Sabbath.  His disciples had been hungry and cracked open a few heads of wheat while walking through the fields.  (Not sure how good that would have tasted.  Probably like Triscuits, which, to me, is like sucking on burlap).  But I digress.  You can read about the encounter here in Mark 2:23-28.  What Jesus ended up telling them, however, is that “The Sabbath was made to benefit people, not people to benefit the Sabbath.”(v.27)

So, in Mark Chapter 3, as Jesus heals a man with a deformed hand, and asks for an answer to the question, “Is it LEGAL to do good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm?  Is this a day to save life or destroy it?”(v.4), and he doesn’t get an answer……

Verse 5 says “He looked around at them angrily…..because he was deeply disturbed by their hard hearts.”  And in my mind, in all of his humanness, with a grin on his face like a cat who just ate a mouse, with maybe a hint of righteous defiance, Jesus simply says, “Reach out your hand.”  The man did, and the LEGALISTS went AT ONCE to plot the murder of Jesus.

A few chapters later, with a new LEGALISTIC boldness, some pharisees show up to confront Jesus (7:1).  They wanted to discuss some more “LEGLALNESS” with Jesus about his disciples not washing their hands before eating.  Jesus goes on to call them hypocrites, and quotes some words from the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, that describe their attempts at worship(keeping the rules) as a farce, due to the fact that the condition of their heart is “far away.”  I was intrigued by this idea that they could “appear” and “feel” so religious, but their hearts be far from God.

This brought me to Romans 14 in The Message Bible.  You can read the entire passage (which I highly recommend) here.  If you don’t have time right now I will try to briefly summarize as this post is getting a little lengthy.

It’s as if Paul was re-readng Mark’s accounts of what Jesus had dealt with when enduring some of the skeptical following of the Pharisees.  He is talking about what people eat and keeping certain days holy.(LEGAL stuff)  He goes on trying to explain that each of us have enough to worry about taking care of our own lives, don’t worry about all this stuff, and pointing it out in other people(a form of legalism).  Then, somewhere around the 17th or 18th verse Paul says something that gave me new insight.  “Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ.  Do that…..and you will please God above and prove your worth to the people around you.”

So to those of you out there who I have ever taught, and somehow conveyed the idea that The Gospel is simply about what you do and don’t do….I am sorry.  It isn’t about that at all.

Our desperate need for God and His desire for us to abide in Him do not mean we have to sit around being “super spiritual” all the time. We do not need to feel obligated to read our Bibles or confine ourselves to a prayer closet for hours each day. It should be part of our lives, but we don’t need to feel as if we are being “spiritual” when we do it and “unspiritual” when we do other things.

When we really love God and He is first in our lives, everything we do becomes spiritual in a way because we are doing it with Him, in Him, through Him, by Him, for Him , and to His glory.

It’s not about what you do or don’t do.  It’s about the condition of your heart.  That’s why Jesus died for you.  So your heart can be transformed.


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