Legalism can be defined as "Thinking we're accepted by God by keeping rules, and expecting others to keep the same rules."
But obeying a list of rules doesn't create Christ-followers. It creates self-righteousness.
Jesus offered a prime example of self-righteousness (i.e. legalism) in Luke 18:9-14:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: "Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I'm certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (New Living Translation)
We shouldn't use other people as a way to gauge our righteousness in God's eyes. Because God doesn't compare us with other people - he compares us with Jesus.
And that is why "everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard." (Romans 3:23 NLT)
That standard is Jesus.Thankfully, He loves us, and gave himself for us! (See Galatians 2:20.)
"God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4 NLT)
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