The issue of same-sex marriage has taken up a lot of my reading over the last few weeks. People on both sides of this debate have spent a great deal of time defending their position. On one hand, the pro same-sex marriage argue from a position of doing what feels right and equal rights. On the other hand, the opposition to same-sex marriage argues from thousands of years of recorded history that marriage has always been between male and female. They also cite Scripture demonstrating God is opposed to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This is when the debate usually breaks down and name calling begins. Sometimes the Christian who is opposed to same-sex marriage based on Scripture is called “legalistic.” The point of this blog is to see if that is a fair accusation.
I. HOW LEGALISM ACCUSATIONS ARE USED TODAY.
The term legalism or legalist is thrown around today by people who have absolutely no idea what the term means. Some call others legalistic if they have deep convictions. For example, a person may have strong convictions that Sunday is to be a special day and for this reason may refuse to work on Sunday or eat out on Sunday. Many level accusations at such a person of being legalistic.
Some call others legalistic if they have convictions that are not explicitly stated in the Bible. For example, I personally have a conviction against going to the movies. I have not attended many movies in my adult life and the ones I did attend I am ashamed of. There is not a Bible verse prohibiting movies so many would call me legalistic. However, such an accusation is unfounded. I believe I understand the confusion of such accusations. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day based many of their practices on traditions not found in the Bible. They also were legalistic. However, one has nothing to do with the other. They were not legalistic because they had beliefs based on traditions and not the Bible.
Some accuse any who try to keep some of the Old Testament Laws as being legalistic. I know no believer who believes Christians should keep all Old Testament laws. However, many, myself included, believe there are certain Old Testament laws that are universal moral absolutes. We desire and strive to keep such laws. There are some who profess Christ that believe the Christian is bound by no law whatsoever. This is known as antinomianism. This is the belief that there are no moral laws that God expects Christians to obey. Antinomianism is made up of two Greek words “anti” meaning “against” and “nomos” meaning the law. This group is literally against the law. To the antinomianist anyone who tries to keep the Law is a legalist.
Most use the term legalism simply when someone is opposed to what they are for.
II. WHAT LEGALISM REALLY MEANS.
Legalism is a belief system where some try to merit salvation by keeping the Old Testament Law. Some trust in the Law for salvation. Paul could not have been more clear in Galatians 2:16, “know that a man is not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the Law, because by observing the Law no one will be justified.”
So in the environment we live today if you are opposed to homosexuality and same-sex marriage you may indeed be accused of being legalistic. Your reply should be, “No I am not legalistic. I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.” The claims of legalism are unfounded unless a person is attempting to keep the Law to merit God’s favor and their salvation.
An author I really respect and enjoy interacting with wrote a nice blog on legalism several years ago. I invite you to give it a read here – Gulf Coast Pastor.