20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. –Colossians 2:20-23 (KJV)
Legalism is the enemy of grace. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is what has brought about spiritual freedom. In Christ we are freed from the burden of trying to save ourselves by our good works. We are also freed from the Old Testament law and its rigid requirements. This is the nature of the grace Christ has made possible. Without the grace Jesus brings we easily develop what I think of as kind of spiritual OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Rather than walk in the peace and joy Christ brings we live in fear of doing something to cause God’s anger. You may think comparing legalism with OCD is extreme, but think again.
-I once heard of a pastor who began wearing pastel colored shirts. A number of people in the congregation complained this was unacceptable and the pastor should wear only white shirts.
-Another pastor had the habit of placing his Bible on the communion table after the sermon as he closed the worship time. A group in the church complained on the grounds the communion table is “sacred” and should not have anything sat on in it including the pastor’s Bible.
-I know of churches that will not allow visiting women missionaries to stand in the pulpit while speaking about their missions work as this could be construed as a woman preaching.
-Several years ago I visited a man in the community who told me he no longer attended church and probably would not again. When I asked why, he told of a time he visited a church on a Sunday evening service. He happened to be wearing a pair of short pants, the kind that come to about the knees. Before the service began, the pastor of the church told the man he was welcome to visit provided he went home and put on acceptable clothes. This was the last time the man had been inside a church.
All of these situations are forms of legalism. This is where we allow the letter of the law to interfere with addressing human need. We find in the Gospels that Jesus always placed human need over keeping the letter of the law. For example, no work was allowed on the Sabbath and this included any kind of healing (except what was necessary for saving someone’s life). However, we find instances where Jesus did heal on the Sabbath as He did not want someone to suffer any longer. Again, human need took precedence over the letter of the law.
Grace is spiritual freedom which allows us to reach out in Jesus' name without being hindered by ritual or tradition. As Paul the apostle told the Colossians, the gospel is not about keeping a rigid set of rules; “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” The gospel is salvation in Jesus Christ and walking forward in faith; the kind of vibrant faith which produces peace, love, and joy.
God bless you today.