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Definition  the misuse or perversion of God’s law usually for the purpose of becoming self-righteous. Legalists believe that entrance into heaven is dependent on conforming one’s actions to an external code of conduct. Legalism tends toward the multiplication of rules and traditions that can be externally followed, while ignoring the interior motives of the heart.

Discussion: Jesus condemned the hypocritical Pharisees for distorting God’s law by adding their traditions. Instead of drawing one closer to God, legalism results in separation and is vain (Mt. 15:8-9). Everyone is born with a sin nature that causes self-deception — thinking that we can be righteous like God (Gen. 3:5). The pursuit of righteousness through the works of the law is a stumbling block (Rom. 9:32). Until we are spiritually reborn, we do not recognize that righteousness is a gift of God that is received by faith in Christ (Gen. 15:6). We must humbly submit to God’s righteousness instead of trying to establish our own (Rom. 10:3).

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