The Snare Of Legalism

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:20-23, NKJV)

The Snare Of LegalismDo not . . . do not . . . do not: This is a perfect description of legalistic religion, defined more by what we don’t do than by what we do. Christianity is a moral religion; it does have clear moral boundaries. But at its foundation, Christianity is a religion of positive action.

Remembering this is the key to living above legalism. Our identification with Jesus in both His death and resurrection becomes the foundation for our Christian life, instead of our law-keeping:

having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)

“They are things which come to an end in the very act of being used. Handling them, eating them, or the like involves their destruction. Food, once eaten, ceases to be food. These are not the things that matter most; these are not the ultimate realities.” – F.F. Bruce

One aspect of legalism is that the doctrines of men are promoted as the laws of God.

All such legalistic rules may have an appearance of wisdom, but they have no real value. Legalism doesn’t restrain the flesh; it feeds the flesh in a subtle, powerful way:

“In fact, the most rigorous asceticism can coexist with insufferable spiritual pride, one of the subtlest and most intractable of the ‘works of the flesh.’” – F.F. Bruce

Self-imposed religion is man reaching to God, trying to justify himself by keeping a list of rules. Christianity is God reaching down to humankind in love through Christ.


Almighty Father God, give us insight into Your word that we might avoid the snare of legalism and follow You in Spirit and in truth. In Jesus name, Amen.

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