June 6th

Sunday 13th June 2021​

Link to video sermon address:


“So, you’re a religious legalist…” 

(5 sure Biblical signs)



Last week I started a two-part series on legalism-


One that doesn’t assume it’s somebody else’s problem,

… But instead asks the question:

   Am I a legalist?


This is the definition that we use last week to define what we mean by question legalism:

‘Legalism is any attempt to gain acceptance or forgiveness from God through your own works or merits.’


We also made the point last week,

… That legalism tends to disguise itself as righteousness


= but it’s actually anti-Grace in nature.


GRACE is god's unconditional free gift of love

LEGALISM in contrast,

…..is the little voice in the back of the head that says ‘Grace isn’t enough’


(It needs a few extra good works tact on the end to make it sufficient)


THE TERRIBLE IRONY is that the legalist

...WANTS  to please God


= But that legalistic efforts have the opposite affect.


Some of the greatest and godliest people in our own Baptist heritage,

… Have discovered for themselves the irony of legalism,


Charles Spurgeon for instance

… In his handbook for ministers wrote:

“ I have found in my own spiritual life that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit.“


One example he gave regarded prayer –

… He said he needed to pray regularly,

…… That’s not legalism, its relationship.


But he went wrong in that he -

•set strict times to pray, 

•set minimum periods of time, 

•And had long and comprehensive lists of what and who to pray for in case he left anything out by mistake. 


= after a time he concluded these rules Strangled rather than assisted his prayer times. 


Last week I looked at two stories of Jesus that touched on the subject of legalism –

… The vineyard workers and the Prodigal son


These helped to formulate the first two points,

... I wanted to make in this series,


= Today we look at 3 final points AND SOME OTHER ASSOCIATED TEXTS  to conclude our reflection.



A legalistic person constantly compares themselves to others


Jesus told a rather provocative story,

 about an upstanding and respected Pharisee ….and a corrupt and wicked tax collector,

……... = Who both came into the temple to pray.


The Pharisee stood up and proudly prayed:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterous or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week: I give tithes of all I get”.

(LUKE 18: 11-12)


I’m not sure it’s even really a prayer –

= It sounds more like a proclamation for everyone around him to hear and admire. 


You can imagine this religious VIP,

... peering disdainfully at the godless despicable tax collector,

…...dirtying the sanctuary with his very presence. 


The tax collector meanwhile –

Unlike the Pharisee,


= couldn’t even lift his head towards the heavens.


He was like a whipped dog,

= appearing to be crushed by the weight of his own sins,

….and afraid to look up towards his master.


We get this incredibly emotive image of a man beating his breast in distress,

 ...and pleading with God for a mercy he Clearly knows he doesn’t deserve


It’s well worth pointing out at this stage,

… That tax collectors weren’t the bureaucratic pen pushing, generally honest civil servants we might envisage in our society today


They were corrupt, semi gangsters who caused severe misery to ordinary Jews as they became rich (and they were very rich) on their backs


They often use violence and intimidation to exhort taxes for the enemies of Israel the  Romans –

Taxes that they inflated in order to skim off the top for their own cut


They would be considered as morally upstanding and socially acceptable,

... as drug dealers standing around the school gates are today in our society


And so the people listening to Jesus‘s story,

… Would have been more than a little amazed when Jesus concluded;

“I tell you, this man (a tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the other.  for everyone who exults himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exulted ”


We can’t understate how jaw dropping the conclusion to his story was!


The point Jesus was making,

… Was that the Pharisee relied on his fasting and tithing and praying to please God




None of those things are wrong in themselves –

… Indeed they are all potentially really helpful spiritually



The big clue that he was a legalist,

... was that he compared himself to another. 


He looked down on the tax collector;

“God, thank you but I’m not like this man.”


Now –

We’re not like that Pharisee are we,

… None of us would pray such a loud, showy and arrogant prayer!!


But does that mean that we never compare ourselves to others?


  • I don’t parent like that person

  • I don’t share their politics, thank god

  • I’m not lazy like a bad person, I have a better work ethic

  • My timekeeping is better than so-and-so

  • I’m better with money than them

  • I never use language like that

  • I never behave like that

  •  I volunteer for jobs more than they do

  • I’m not a hypocrite like them

  • I have better taste

  • Morals

  • Musical taste

  • Et cetera et cetera et cetera


Whenever I compare myself to someone,

… And get satisfaction from the difference..


= I’m basically saying:

“God, thank you I'm not like that person”



A legalistic person has a joy deficiency


I’m convinced it’s impossible to be a legalist,

… and genuinely joyful at the same time.


Christian joy comes from knowing that

 Jesus has forgiven us

…... even though we don’t deserve it


But trying to earn forgiveness,

… Is misery incarnate


It’s like a spiritual hamster wheel:

...Lots and lots of effort for no progress


So - like oil and water

= Joy and legalism don’t mix!


In Psalm 32:1 David wrote:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”


None of us like looking at the shameful truths,

….in our lives and attitudes


It’s even worse when other people point them out to us!


So when we accept with our heart as well as with the mind,

… That ALL our shame is covered by God


= then the result is profound and utter joy.


But the legalist doesn’t spend much time contemplating their forgiveness


They’re too preoccupied on the hopeless task ...of covering up their own shame,

……. through sheer effort


There is no joy in what God HAS done,

... instead joy is lost as they focus obsessively on what THEY must do


Before this address we listened to hymn



This summed up the joy of undeserved forgiveness in the line:

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought my sin, not in part but in whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”


This is a song for flawed kings like the adulterous David,

… Or corrupt tax collectors


= but not religious legalists.



Legalists are always afraid that God isn’t pleased with them.


I suspect that there are two types of legalists – 


one) The type that feel they deserve something from God because of their wonderful righteousness

Two) (And perhaps this is the most common I have encountered in myself and others) – 

….,there is a nagging feeling but God isn’t really happy with them.


We have touched enough on the first type,

… I’m going to finish on this second type.


Maybe you feel that God has technically accepted you –

… He has to because of what Jesus did on the cross.


But you fear that just because he accepts you,

…it Doesn’t mean but he’s particularly happy with you


I wonder if it’s some deep part of our mind,

… Some of us feel that we have got into god's kingdom through a technicality or loophole,


Now he’s sort of ‘tolerates’ you –

… A bit like some kind of heavenly long-suffering schoolmaster


And there’s this nagging guilt –

… I’m just not good enough for God


  • I don’t talk enough about my faith

  • I don’t pray enough

  • Don’t read my bible enough


= He’d like me more if I did!


I feel like a really good Baptist minister today,

Because I’m going to Charles Spurgeon for a second time in one talk!


“The poor sinner trying to be saved by law is like a blind horse going around and around a mill, and never getting a step further, but only being whipped continually. The faster he goes, the more work he does, the more he is tired.”



the solution to legalism


 SO - 

If you feel there is a bit of legalism in your life,

… Either a seed of self righteousness,

Or a sliver of ‘not good enough’ wretchedness


Then how do you cast off this miserable state?



This is risking over simplification –


But I would suggest of both myself and others

= that we set our eyes upon Jesus 


OK -

Sounds a bit obvious and cliched BUT -

...Think about it,

… I’m not sure that the legalist can have their eyes upon Jesus


  • The legalist has their eyes fixed on their watch (How many more minutes before my prayer time is over?)

  • The legalist has their eyes fixed on themselves (Woe is me, I’m not good enough, I need to try much harder)

  • The legalist has their eyes fixed on the rulebook (I must do this, do that, do the other – more, more, more.)

  • The legalist has their eyes fixed on other people (thank God I don’t behave like them! Or - they’re much better than me)


I think the legalist too distracted and busy to look at Jesus


And if they did look at Jesus –


… Look into his pained, love filled face,

… As he literally gives his life so we can be free of sin

… As his love covers all shame


SURELY the sight of such GRACE,

...would burn away all LEGALISM,

…...and fill the beholder with unparalleled joy




I would like us to finish by listening to this closing piece of music -


As you do so,

...perhaps you would like to close your eyes in an attitude of prayer as you listen to it


Ask God to help you set your eyes upon Jesus


  • Ask him to reveal his grace

  • And fill you with joy




**The music can be found in this link:

(‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’ - Josh Garrels)



Sunday 6th June 2021​

Link to video sermon address:



“So, you’re a religious legalist…” 

(5 sure Biblical signs)



A number of things have happened in the online world of verbal conflict this week to bring me back to this old chestnut of a topic –


Not as a way of self righteously finger pointing at some of those religious black and white keyboard warriors,

… But as a way of performing a bit of a spiritual health check on ourselves

(In other words not assuming that it’s necessarily always somebody else’s problem)


I’ve split this reflection into five parts,

... and I’ll look at these across the next two weeks 


… But before we go into these parts,

…. here’s a story I once read in one of those Christian daily reflection books


A pastor of this rather strict Scottish Evangelical church woke up one morning to find a heavy snowfall had blocked all the routes to church this particular Sunday morning.


Being a sporty (and still relatively young minister) he popped on his ice skates And literally skated across a large frozen lake which separated his manse from the church.


He was spotted mid skate by some of his senior Deacons,

Who were mortified. 


An extraordinary meeting was held after the service at which the pastor had to explain why he had skated on the Lord’s day.


“ it was a choice between skating to church or not going at all”

He explained. 


finally one Deacon stared him straight in the eye and, in a stern tone, asked;

“ah, but did ye enjoy it?”


“No” the pastor answered 



Said the old man, his face suddenly breaking into a big grin,

“ then there is no crime to answer for!“


**Are you religiously legalistic?



‘Legalism is any attempt to gain acceptance or forgiveness from God through your own works or merits.’


Can you relate to that,?


I once heard legalism described as the most burdensome of sins to bear –


= because it’s the most miserable.


Some sins might be just as bad,

.. but at least offer of the offender some brief joy 


= But legalism hardly puts a smile on the face!


Legalism sucks the life out of you,

… and it’s displeases God.


(Which is really ironic,

Because legalism comes from the desire to actually please God)


I also feel that legalism can creep up on you,

… Enter our attitudes sneakily

….. And hide away in our lives without us even being aware.


Sometimes legalism can even disguise it self as grace

=But it’s actually it’s nemesis.


Legalism -

would have us swap the free gift of gods unconditional love,

… For a heavy religious burden.


Maybe in a way,

When we become unintentionally legalistic,


= we’re saying that Jesus‘s sacrifice wasn’t quite enough,

… And we need to tack  on a few good works to really please the big guy!


But here’s the thing –


(It Belittles his grace)


You’ll notice in scripture that Jesus is really gentle with most sinners -

EXCEPT for religious legalists!


So – 

if like me you feel that legalistic attitudes,

... can occasionally creep up on you,


… You may want to join me in doing a spiritual health check


We’ll look at the first two parts of this week

(using a couple of Jesus’ stories to help us)


And next week we’l examine the last three parts.


**Part one – 

a religious legalist hates it when others receive grace..


Do you remember the story that Jesus told about the vineyard workers?


It’s the parable but always makes me inwardly mutter:

‘Jesus - that sounds so unfair!’


Having had a stint as a union steward,

… In my long ago chainsaw wielding days,

= I find this story particularly difficult to swallow.


The first workers came early in the morning,

… And literally sweated their guts out in this backbreaking task,


Working through the hottest part of the day,

… To receive their pre-agreed day rate.


Other workers came around lunchtime,

… And worked half a day.


Yet others came in the afternoon,

… And did a quarter of a day.


Finally a few more came along,

… And just put in an hour.


Here’s the kicker –

= when the wages were handed out,



Q - how would you feel if you were one of those who came first,

… And worked the whole day?


Matthew 20: 10-11:

“So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.”


“Grumbled’ -

I would have felt more than merely grumbly,

… I would have felt seriously miffed off!


The workers basically thought that they deserved more,

… Because they had worked more.


It’s basic economics –

… But it’s also legalism.


When you are legalistic – 

… everything must be equal


This isn’t such a bad system when it comes to working out workers wages,


= but Jesus is clear,

That when it is applied to spirituality,


= it really isn’t loving or godly



In Jesus’ vineyard story,

… The grace of the vineyard master,

…….  to those who came last and only worked an hour,


= infuriated the day long workers.


It’s true they had received a fair rate for a days work,

But why should those who worked less get the same?




Cast your mind now to the crucifixion scene as described in Luke’s Gospel –


Picture the thief next to Jesus,

… Receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and promise of eternal reward


Some folks spend their whole lives dedicated to - ‘trying to do the right thing’


They often sacrifice some of their selfish desires in the process,

… And the many hard choices and sacrifices are made.


Some of these good believers,

… Have faced persecution for being God’s followers.


Now to the thief –


  • He’s literally only been a believer for five minutes… Having spent a lifetime of doing as he selfishly pleased.

  • He’s received exactly the same reward as the lifelong believers


Does the thief deserve it?


= but that’s GRACE for you


He deserved it no more than the workers,

…. who worked for an hour only in the cool of the day


Perhaps one little warning indicator that we may have a LEGALISM ISSUE,


= is when we sense ourselves becoming a bit riled,

….because someone gets something we feel they don’t deserve


  • Perhaps sometimes we believe intellectually in grace (great idea)


  • But we can still feel a bit sour here in our hearts 


= because we struggle with the idea that God blesses people who clearly don’t deserve it.


Here’s another little self-legalism test:


Think of somebody you really don’t like or approve off

(You might know them personally or just know of them)


… this is personal always gets under your skin 


Now as you visualise that person ask yourself honestly:


  • Do you have more joy at the idea of them being graciously loved by God, getting what they don’t deserve.

  • Or the idea of them being punished – getting what they do deserve


He is a final thought,

.., before moving onto the second of our five sections -


have you EVER tried to put yourself into the shoes of those who come late in the vineyard story rather than those who did a whole day‘s work for the same rate?


I feel that we Often compare ourselves to/sympathise with the HARD DONE BY -


But maybe the point of Jesus’ story -

...is that we should concentrate more on relating to the ones who received undeserved grace. 


**PART 2 -

A legalist constantly evaluates how ‘fairly’ they have been treated


Let’s Step into another Jesus story,

… The tale of the lad who treated his dad with disrespect,

..,,,, left home and blew his inheritance.


Once he was totally broke,

….He came home and this Prodigal son received a massive welcome home party laid on by his dad


The calf was slaughtered,

…. A ring put on his finger,

…….. And the festivities were lavish


Everyone was overjoyed except for the elders, loyal son,

He said:

LUKE 15: 29-30

‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’


We often relate ourselves to the Prodigal son,

… But, if we are to spot that seed of legalism in our hearts


= then perhaps we need to ask,

… should also relate ourselves to the elder brother?



Because his younger brother didn’t get what he deserved


He had blown his inheritance on wine, women and parties,

… Whilst his faithful older brother had been good and diligent.


Now little brother is receiving GRACE

...and a big PARTY


From the diligent sons perspective,

… There was something seriously backward about all this.


And because he was a legalist


= It drove him mad that little brother receive blessings,

… When he deserves punishment.


Perhaps legalism turns us into religious accountants?


We see a discrepancy between the incomings and the outgoings column…


Surely God made a spiritual accounting error?,

… We conclude


If they are receiving something for seemingly nothing,

… Surely we deserve more?






That’s the first two parts –


Next week we will look at some more passages ….to further expand on this Grace versus legalism theme


I think in today’s two stories that Jesus told,


He isn’t suggesting,

.. that some of us are legalists and others are not

(And so talking at some of his audience)


= I think he Is rather challenging all of his listeners


I think we are supposed to listen to these stories,

… And see that to some degree we all have an issue to deal with


We can ALL get a bit self righteous at times,

… A little less graceful,

… As we become a little more legalistic


Grace frees us

Grace fills us with joy




Let’s ask Jesus for this joy and freedom now…




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