Answers to Legalism

The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

–Galatians 3:24

What’s the cure for legalism? How do you solve the problem of legalism in your own life or in the church?

In Colossians 2:17, Paul gave two answers to legalism. He wrote that food, drink, festivals, and special days “are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”

The first answer to legalism is understanding the law. Paul said the Old Testament law was “a mere shadow.” The shadow of something is always inferior to the object of the shadow, isn’t it? That’s true of the law. The law was an imperfect representation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the law was not to make people holy–nobody became perfect by keeping the law because nobody could keep the law. Instead, James said the law was like a mirror we look into to see how dirty we are (James 1:23–24). And Paul said, “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

The purpose of the law was to bring us to Christ, the only one who can make us clean, but it was an imperfect representation of Christ. We need to understand the limitations of the law. It was simply a shadow of what was yet to come.

The first answer to legalism is understanding the law, and the second answer is understanding Christ. Paul said in Colossians 2:17 that the law is a shadow, but “the substance belongs to Christ.”

Let me illustrate that for you. Let’s say you come home from work one day, and as you’re walking up the sidewalk to your front door, your mate and your children run out to greet you. But instead of hugging and kissing you, they hug and kiss the shadow you’re casting on the sidewalk. They’re on the ground embracing your shadow while you’re standing there by yourself.

Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? Why would they hug your shadow rather than hugging you? You are the real person; the shadow is an imperfect representation of you. But that’s what Paul was saying: the law was simply a shadow of Jesus Christ, an imperfect representation. Now that Christ is here and we have wrapped ourselves in His righteousness, why would we ever go back to depending on that imperfect shadow? That’s the cure to legalism: understanding that the law is a shadow, but Christ is the substance.

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Today’s devotion is adapted from “The Joy Killers” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org.

 

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