The Pitfall of Legalism- Part 2

Richard Foster recounted the following story about Hans the tailor:

Because of Hans’ reputation, an influential entrepreneur visiting the city ordered a tailor-made suit. But when he came to pick up the suit, the customer found that one sleeve twisted that way and the other twisted this way; one shoulder bulged out and the other caved in. Although the suit was deformed, he pulled and managed to make his body fit into it. As he returned home on the bus, another passenger noticed his odd appearance and asked if Hans the tailor had made the suit. Receiving an affirmative reply, the man remarked,”Amazing!” I knew that Hans was a good tailor, but I had no idea he could make a suit fit so perfectly someone as deformed as you.”

Legalism causes a person to attempt—through external works/law-keeping—to earn through their own efforts the righteousness that only Christ was able to earn for us. It is like trying to fit in a “suit” of perfect law-keeping…we think we appear righteous, but in reality, it is a delusion—a distortion of the genuine righteousness we are clothed in because of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

There are two considerations, or pitfalls, regarding legalism:

1. Are we people-pleasing, trying to conform to others’ expectations? Is there pride in our hearts to appear more righteous than we are? In other words, are we submitting to the pressure to conform rather than receiving the grace and instruction of God?

2. On the other hand, if we think we have managed to hold to a higher standard of behavior than others; we ourselves can begin to expect other people to conform to our personal standard of morality. In this way, we are attempting to make others contort into our expectations.

A verse comes to mind that addresses both scenarios: 2 Corinthains 10:12– “When they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

If our primary consideration is to meet others’ expectations, we are comparing our behavior to their standards; and therefore are lacking understanding about the righteousness we have in Christ. We do not comprehend that it is by God’s grace that we are guided and empowered to do what is right according to His will (Romans 12:2).

…but also, if we expect others to fit our expectations…if we compare their works to our personal standards and convictions, we are lacking understanding about all that is going on in their lives. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is in the process of convicting them about the very thing we deem important, but they are not yet at a spiritual level to obey. Perhaps they have physical or other limitations we are unaware of. Maybe there are obligations in their lives that must take precedence until another time.

The point is, it is best to assume we are without proper understanding when we expect others to conform to our idea of righteousness. Instead, we can earnestly pray for them to be lead by the Spirit in that area. Moreover, we can resolve to humbly ask for God’s grace to help us to stop comparing; but instead, to submit our will to His timing and sanctification process in the lives of others.