On Legalism and Freedom

You should combine great exactitude with great liberty.  The first will cause you to be faithful, the latter courageous.  If you aim at being exact without freedom, you will fall into scruples and bondage.  If, on the other hand, you achieve freedom without exactness in duty, you will soon yield to negligence and laxity.  Mere exactness in the fulfillment of duty narrows the heart and mind; mere liberty stretches them too widely. They who have not experience in God's ways to not beilieve it is possible to combine the two virtues.  By being exact they understand living in a state of contstraint and exhaustion, in a restless, scrupulous timidity which deprives the sould of all freedom.  They look for sin lurking everywhere, and so narrow the soul's vision that it frets about every trifles an scarcely dares to breath.  By freedom they mean having a very lax conscience, ready to pass over detail; being content to avoid serious faults, and calling serious nothing save gross crimes; indulgin freely in whatever is acceptable to self-love, and taking considerable license as to the passions, in the thought that they meant no great harm.  This was not the freedom St. Paul contemplated when trying to train up to Christian perfection:  "You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedome to indulge the sinful nature. . . " (Galations 5:13)

    It seems to me that real liberty consists in obeying God in all things, and in following the light which points out our duty, and the grace which guides us.  We should should take as our rule of life the intention to please God in all things; not only always to do what is acceptable to him, but if possible what is the most acceptable.  It is not good to trifle with petty disctinctions between great sins and small, imperfections and faults, for although it may be very true that there are such distinctions, they should have no weight with a soul which is determinded to keep nothing it possesses from God.  It is in this sense that the Apostle says, "The law is not made for the righteous" (I Timonthy 1:9) -a burdensome, hard, threatneing law, one might almost say a tyrannical, enslaving law.  But there is a higher law which rises above all this, and which leads him into the true "freedom of the children of God" --the law which makes him always strive to do that which is most pleasing to his heavenly Father in the spirit of those beautiful words of St. Agusutine, "Love, and then do what you will."

    Yield wholly to the grace with which God sometimes draws you closer to him.  Do not be afraid to lose sight of self, to fix your gaze solely and as closely upon him as he will permit, and to plunge wholly into the ocean of his love --happy if you could do it so entirely as never to come forth again.

Exerpt from The Royal Way of the Cross by Francios Fenelon, edited by Hal M. Helms -Christian Classics in the Paraclete Living Library Series by Paraclete Press; available through your local Chrisitan Bookstore

I've shared with Christian ladies on the subject of "legalism" in times past, and can share with you what I've shared with others. First, there is a false definition of 'legalism' and a Biblcal definition. For many Christians, any presentation of "Christianity" which upholds standards, practices separation from the world, and has a code of conduct...is "guilty" of "legalism."

The 'Dictionary of Philosophy' (very liberal view) defines legalism as "The insistence on a strict or overt observance of certain rules of conduct, or the belief that there are rules which must be so obeyed."

Christians (and sometimes non-Christians) who cry out "LEGALISM!" will typically turn to the book of Galations for a Scriptural indictment of legalism. (Galations is the book that teaches against legalism, and warns the believer not to allow themself to be put under the law.)

BUT, this "legalism" described and written against the Galations is NOT the legalism spoken against today. The "Biblical" concept of 'legalism' is FAR different. Biblical "legalism" was the teaching brought forth by some of the Jewish community which insisted that it was "necessary" to keep some of the law of Moses in order to "gain" salvation. To them, salvation was gained by faith in Christ, AND observing the legal system of Moses.

Webster's dictionary properly defines legalism here: "the doctrine of salvation by good works." Paul wrote the Galation epistle to counteract such legalism, and make it plain that salvation was by faith ALONE, WITHOUT the deeds of the law.

"...a man is not justified by the works of the law" (2:16);
"...if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (2:21)
; "...that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident..." (3:11);
"...if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" (3:21);
"...the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might
be justified by faith" (3:24)

Against this sort of backdrop, Paul maintains that legal observances have nothing to do with our salvation, he adds, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (5:1).

We need to be clear... The "legalism" which the apostle Paul opposed was that thinking which made the observance of the law a "condition" of salvation. Certainly, no Christian who truly studies and believes the Bible, thinks "law-keeping" is needed for salvation! We are saved by faith ALONE! The works of the law do not and cannot either help us gain salvation, or help us keep salvation. Salvation is ALL of "grace"...NONE of works.

I'll stop here, (I get too long winded...) except to add that Christians who seek to obey the Scriptures should be more correctly labeled as "Biblicist", NOT legalists. Christians who are "Biblicists" are simple enough to believe that if God says, "do it," we ought to do it, and if God says, "don't," we shouldn't.

Hope this makes some sense, and is of some help... :)
God bless you~

Your sis in Christ,

The Bible gives a good definition of legalism, both in Mt. 15:9 and in Mk 7:7, in speaking to the scribes and the Pharisees Jesus said "...in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men...". They would follow the Scriptures, adding their own versions of how that was to be carried out. The things that they determined then,began to hold more weight among the people than the actual Scriptures themselves. He called them hypocrites.

I would like to include the following testimony in hopes it may encourage
someone to follow the Lord's leading.  May He receive all the praise and
glory for everything written !!

My first questions about the headcovering came some 8 years ago.  I had
asked a pastor's wife about 1 Corinthians 11.  She explained it away as
cultural.  I was fairly insistent about it, and I was wondering how did
she know this?  How could she discern what Scriptures were "cultural" and
which were applicable for today?  I was not satisfied with the answer,
but I could not find anybody else near me who did know the answer.
Eventually, I just thought I was not good enough to know these "spiritual
secrets" that everyone else did.  Maybe I did not pray enough, study
enough,or have enough faith.  I left it alone for several years, but all
the while the Lord was just under the surface calling me to obedience.

Fast forward several years....I was recovering from cancer , and after
staring my own mortality in the face, I decided that whatever time I had
left on this earth was NOT going to be spent being a closet Christian. I
was going to get serious about what the Bible said.  I started with
modest dressing.  Of course, I went down kicking and screaming !!  I
loved my jeans, my shorts, and my bathing suit.  I had to die so much to
my own desires, I sometimes expected a hearse to drive up at any moment!!

Then came submission to my husband.  He was so skeptical at first, but in
time he has come to enjoy having a helpmeet around instead of the
competition!!  It has helped his own walk with the Lord, and I regret all
the years I have stood in the way of God's leading for him.  How much
time I wasted trying to be the boss, the leader, and in charge.  God, in
His wisdom, has a unique and special place for His daughters, and He has
designed us to serve Him best in this way.  Then, we can win our husbands
over without a word, and sanctify our households for the Kingdom. How
blessed we are to be in this vital position, sisters!

More housekeeping in my heart and life...

  Then, the issue at hand...the headcovering. I approached my husband
about it and asked his interpretation of 1 Cor. 11.  He read it and said
the covering it spoke of was the hair.  I said okay, but my spirit would
not rest.  I spent the next year researching, studying, reading, and
praying.  I read commentaries, articles, and books.  I joined a
headcovering loop for a while, and asked more questions.  They were all
so patient with me, and helped me in my understanding even more.  About a
year later, I shared with him all my research. He read the verses again
in different translations even, and said the covering mentioned was the

Now, I was at a crisis of belief.  Was I going to submit to my husband's
interpretation?  Was I supposed to just take all the information I had
gathered, and just toss it?  I prayed so much for guidance.  How could I
not submit to my husband on this?   I had been taught to submit, and I
was sharing with others on submission. 

God's words rang in my spirit:  It is better to obey than to sacrifice (
1 Samuel 15:22 )...If you love me, keep my commandments ( John 14:15
)....let her be covered ( 1 Cor. 11: 6b)  I asked my husband's
permission, and he reluctantly agreed to a 2 week trial.  I was so

So, I officially began covering on April 2, 2000.  Was it easy?  No.  It
quite possibly was more difficult than chemotherapy!!  My husband was so
angry with me.  He was insulting to me, mocked me, and laughed at me.  He
hated the headcovering so much.  I was not prepared for his reaction.  He
would not walk with me in stores, and he stopped introducing me to his
peers.  He did everything he could to make me take it off.  He even
questioned our future together as husband and wife.  I was so
frightened!!  I desperately clung to the Lord during all this.  I was
constantly in prayer, in tears... being persecuted by my best friend.  My
other friends were not much better.  They could not understand why I
would purposely disrupt my happy home for a piece of cloth on my head. 

I was so ashamed.  Surely no other husband would be so cruel!  I found
out I was not alone.  Many sisters shared the same pain as me.
Eventually, my husband asked me to forgive for his angry outbursts.  He
said it was as if he was watching himself and hearing himself say these
hurtful things, but he was not doing it.  We both felt satan was up to
something there.

Later, my husband had lunch with a man that basically told him he did not
have a leg to stand on.  He taught him about the covering.  The Lord sent
this dear man on my behalf!!  He told my husband how fortunate he was to
have a wife who wanted to please the Lord in this way!!  My husband heard
and received this teaching.  He came home again, and gave me permission
to follow the Lord as He led me.  He said he felt he had no choice.
There was wisdom in his words.  I believe we must obey God over man (
Acts 5:29)

Now, my daughter and I are covered full time.  I am so overjoyed !  God
placed my heart's desire right in my lap.  All I could say to my dear
husband during the past weeks was that I was just wanting to obey the
Lord!!  He has done so much for me, and I want my life to be a sacrifice
for Him.  I want to be dressed as a daughter of the King of Kings!  I
want to cover my own glory so that His glory can shine through.  I want
to die of pride and vanity.  I want to look like a Christian inside and

I did spend one week straddling the fence after my husband gave his okay.
Now, it was just up to me.  I spent a few more miserable days out of
town making sure.  It was no turning back now, and I wanted to see
clearly the way of the Lord for me.  I wanted to double-check my heart,
my motives, and my direction.  It was just a lack of faith on my part,
though. The Lord was saying to me, "You understand Me on this..what else
is holding you back?"  When the Lord commands us to do something, He does
not need to convict us of it, He just expects us to obey.  He always
blesses our obedience, too.  I missed my headcovering, and when I got
back home, I placed it on my head to stay.

I have had lots of stares, giggles, and finger pointing.  Does it bother
me?  It could.  This headcovering has sometimes felt like a 100 lb.
flashing neon sign!!  I have had to get used to all the attention it
brings.  My reaction, however, is the key.  I am being mildly persecuted.
I am being mocked for my faith.  1Peter 4:16 says "if anyone suffers as
a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this
matter."  I smile a little on the inside when I think I am suffering for
Christ.  I am bringing Him face to face with others on a daily basis with
my headcovering.  Not to mention, the added protection of the angels.  I
can go to the Throne anytime on the behalf of anyone God calls to my mind
and pray for them.  It is a constant reminder of Who I represent in word
or deed.

My testimony is in the making.  I am living it everyday.  I have already
seen some of God's blessings because of my simple obedience to Him.  I
love Him more and more.  Luke 12: 47 says that the servant, which knew
his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his
will, shall be beaten with many stripes.  I do not want to " go there" if
you know what I mean!!

Jesus told us that He came to divide.  That is the cost of being a
disciple.  He said in Luke 14: 26, 27, 33, and 34 that we are not worthy
to be called His disciples who cannot persevere, who cannot , in the
sense of indifference to, or relative disregard for them in comparison
with his attitude toward God place anyone's wishes or desires above His

In a nutshell, we are to be willing to go against the wishes or approval
of our father, mother, wife, children, and even our own wishes to obey
God's commands.  That is quite a command, but nevertheless it's there,
sisters.  Christianity is not for the fainthearted!!

We are called to be separate, to be peculiar, and to be not conformed to
this world.  Modesty is out the window in this country, as well as any
dying to vanity or pride.  This why we who are covered stand out so much.
I would much rather suffer in OBEDIENCE to God now, than to suffer for
DISobedience later.  Count the cost, sisters, and take that step towards
God's will in this matter.  I can tell you that the blessing of obedience
will be yours for the taking.

Because of His love for me,

Susie Harris

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