Legalism is that system in which an individual seeks either God’s acceptance (salvation) or God’s blessings (spiritual growth) through personal effort. Whether one considers himself to be a Christian or not, if his focus is on his ability to control himself and conform his behavior, he is a legalist. The fruit of legalism is always the same.
Pride. In that legalism focuses on personal ability, there is a sense of attainment that accompanies it. After all, he is doing what is deemed necessary and avoiding what is thought to be wrong. As one disciplines himself to act a certain way, there will be a tendency to think, “I’m good enough. I know God accepts me [or, will bless me] because I’m doing everything right.”
Hypocrisy. With the emphasis on behavior as the means of acceptance and blessing, legalism does not allow room for error. That being the case, it is easier, if not necessary, to hide personal sin and shortcomings. Reputation and esteem must be maintained. So though one may be breaking behind a righteous façade, he continues to obsess, “I want you to think I’m good enough.”
Condescension. The legalist gauges himself by keeping, mentally or otherwise, a list of rules. Such rules are self-imposed. What happens though is, as a legalist holds himself accountable to his behavioral checklist, he begins to hold it up to others. People’s worth and worthiness, at least in the eyes of the legalist, become tied to his list. Looking at others, he thinks, “You’re not good enough. You’re not as good as me.”
Granted, these attitudes can exist outside of a legalistic system and they’re certainly not the only fruits within one. Nonetheless, they are the most prevalent and illustrate the obvious sin—a legalist has his eyes fixed on himself and those around him rather than on Jesus.
In this past Sunday’s message I read from John 15 where Jesus says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (vv. 4, 5). A branch doesn’t have to do anything to produce fruit. That is the natural result of being nourished by the vine. If you’re a believer, you too are being nourished by the Vine. Spiritual growth and the blessings of God will come naturally as you abide in Jesus. Look to Him daily, trust Him in every area of your life, and the “rules” will take care of themselves.
Where is your focus? Can you think of any other fruits that legalism produces?