I love it when a message hits close to home. I love reminders that I am not what I'd like others to think I am. Ouch- but in a good way.
Do you remember what your life was like before you
surrendered to Christ? You were an enemy of God living
in blindness, a lost soul without hope. You were
ungodly, guilty - and the wrath of God was "abiding on
you" (see John 3:36).
How did you find forgiveness and acceptance before God?
How did you enter into the blessed assurance you were
saved, rejoicing in the love of Jesus Christ?
Was it because God saw something good in you? Did you
possess some inherent righteousness that attracted Him
to you? Did you earn His favor with obedience and
No - absolutely not! No one is ever saved by his own
works or merit. Scripture says, "But we are all as an
unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as
filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
The apostle Paul did not want to be found standing
before Christ in his own righteousness. Here was a good
man - a Pharisee who had diligently kept all the
numerous rules and regulations of the law. He paid
tithes faithfully. He loved God with all his heart. He
attended all the functions of the synagogue. He studied
the Word of God endlessly. He loved his fellow man and
went about doing good. According to the law, Paul was a
But all that became as rubbish to Paul - he counted it
all as loss - when he came into the revelation of the
righteousness of Christ!
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss
for Christ.... And do count them but dung, that I may
win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own
righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is
through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is
of God by faith" (Philippians 3:7-9).
To Be Made Righteous By Faith
Is The Hardest Thing
For The Flesh To Accept!
There are many sincere believers today who have not yet
submitted to the righteousness of Christ. They still go
about trying to please God by their good deeds. They
accept salvation by faith but then they want to take
over from there!
There is something in our flesh that rebels against a
faith-walk. We want to earn our salvation - to help God
out! We don't mind being saved by faith; but we don't
want to live by faith. Our flesh cries out, "All my
obedience, all my hard work to please God - it has to
count for something!" Yes, it is worth something - but
not for meriting forgiveness and pardon!
We don't want to accept that we are made right before
God simply by believing. We would rather "bite the
bullet" - and when temptation overwhelms us, we say
through gritted teeth, "Bless God, I'll get victory if
it kills me!" (And it will kill you!).
But that is not the path to victory. Obedience and
faithfulness come as a result of standing steadfast on
the rock of justification by faith alone!
Paul said this of a certain people: "They have a zeal
of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being
ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to
establish their own righteousness, have not submitted
themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is
the end of the law for righteousness to every one that
believeth" (Romans 10:2-4).
These people were trying "to establish their own
righteousness." We know that process by another name:
Legalism is misunderstood by most Christians. Even most
ministers don't know what it is.
I used to believe legalism had to do with man-made
rules and regulations designed by sincere, God-loving
people who were trying to lead holy lives. I thought it
was all about observing dress-code restrictions and
other do's and don't's.
No - legalism is much more subtle than rules and
regulations. It goes far beyond that!
When I was a boy, I heard evangelists thunder against
the sins of the day. They preached against bobbed hair,
women's "open-toe" shoes, makeup and fancy dresses.
This was called "Holiness" preaching - but the
standards kept changing with the new fads.
I thought that was legalism!
When I first came to New York City more than thirty
years ago, I was shocked by all the rigid rules in
Hispanic Pentecostal churches. Our workers would go to
the streets, pray with drug addicts and try to get them
into local churches. But if a newly saved girl was
wearing jeans or makeup, the pastor would rush out and
say, "You can't come in here dressed like that!"
One minister told a young girl, "Go home and dress like
a woman - then come back. We don't allow worldliness in
I thought that was legalism!
A young couple in England who received our newsletters
began listening to tapes of our services at Times
Square Church. They grew to love the messages of
holiness. So they came to visit - but when I met them
after a service, they looked hurt, crushed, their eyes
filled with tears. They told me they were upset because
the women in our church did not wear head coverings!
They said, "How can the Holy Spirit be at work here,
when you don't obey the command to cover a woman's
I thought that was legalism!
I hear from prayer groups all across the country who
are tossed, turned and left confused by all kinds of
new rules brought in by passing teachers. One tells
them, "You must kneel to pray. God hears only those who
kneel." Another teacher comes along and says, "You must
sit in His presence. You need not kneel - that is
Catholic!" Someone else says, "You must stand when the
Bible is read. You dishonor God when you sit during the
reading of the Word!" Yet another tells them, "That is
bondage! Jesus made the people sit when He preached the
I thought all this was legalism!
It is indeed all rules and regulations. But all of this
is only a part of legalism - it is not the heart of the
Legalism is far worse than all these things. In fact,
all of us have a bit of its leaven in our hearts -
because legalism is based on pride!
Legalism Is an Outward Show,
a Facade - a Pretense of Holiness
to Impress People, Not God!
At its heart, legalism is a desire to appear holy. It
is trying to be justified before men and not God!
Legalism is wanting to be known as a prophet, a man of
prayer, a woman of intercession - and feeding and
fostering such an image!
The legalist is not out to earn justification. He is
more interested in appearances, in impressing other
Christians that he is devoted, pious, serious, all-out
for God. He says, "I am deeply religious - and
everybody ought to see it!"
We see this in the Jewish Talmudic writers' list of
seven classes of Pharisees. Among these classes were:
* The Shechemites. These Pharisees said long prayers
in public to be considered holy - but on the side
they robbed widows of their estates!
* The Stumblers. These were so mock-humble they
wouldn't dare lift their feet before a holy God.
Instead, they shuffled along with a "poor, humble,
insignificant me" attitude.
* The Bleeders. This group would not lift their eyes
from the ground, lest they look at something evil.
They got their name from constantly walking into
walls; the more they bled, the holier they were!
Beloved, these types are in every church! They have a
sad, serious, "holy" look. Some of them dare not raise
their hands to praise God - nor clap and be happy or
joyful! They think of themselves as "shut in with God,"
holy, above everybody else. They sit in "deep
meditation," their lips moving, lost in the Spirit. Yet
"all their works they do for to be seen of men"
God Has Lovingly Reminded Me
of Some of My Legalistic Games!
Last year, Gwen and I spent a vacation at a Florida
hotel with some dear friends, a couple from Texas, Dr.
and Mrs. Rice. We all had spent the week seeing Disney
World, and now we just wanted to relax. As we stood in
the lobby of the hotel, Gwen suggested we go to the
Rices' room to play dominoes.
Now, I know the Rices have always considered me to be a
righteous man - and I figured I didn't want to blow it!
I realized that during the week our friends hadn't once
seen me retreat to pray. I thought, "How am I supposed
to be holy in front of these people if I don't go
So I told them, "I'm sorry, I can't play dominoes. I
need to go in my room and touch God. You all go ahead
But do you know what I was really saying? "I don't have
time to waste, like you poor earthlings! You worldly
minded ones go and tinkle around with dominoes. This
prophet is going to shut himself in with God!"
(I ask you: How can you relax at playing dominoes when
you know that someone like that is nearby, "pleading
When I got to our room it was about eight o'clock. I
thought, "I'll watch just a half hour of CNN News -
then I'll pray." One hour of news later, CNN announced
an upcoming documentary on the rise and fall of Hitler.
I quickly reasoned, "That has to do with prophecy - I
have to see it!"
At a quarter to ten, I'd already seen Hitler rise and
fall - when I heard Gwen coming down the hall!
I jumped up, ran to the TV, shut it off, turned out the
light - and fell on my face in the dark at the foot of
When Gwen walked in she saw her devoted prophet husband
getting up slowly from his holy position - piously
acting as if he had been in prayer for two hours. I
looked up meekly, rubbing my eyes, and said to Gwen,
"Oh, honey, isn't the Lord good?"
I hope you can laugh at this as loudly as our
congregation did when I shared it in my sermon! But,
more importantly, I hope you laugh at it hard enough to
drive the truth down into your soul: We all play games.
trying to maintain a facade of holiness before people!
I had to maintain my image of a holy man - and that is
legalism at its worst!
The fact is, people who truly have the righteousness of
the Lord don't have to put on airs. They are common,
ordinary folks who know how to weep and laugh and enjoy
Jesus and the fellowship of the saints. They are
involved in other people's burdens and needs - and
they're not always "shut away," trying to maintain an
We all look at appearances - but God sees the heart! We
each need to come down from our high horse of
pretentious holiness - to be honest and ourselves, the
way we know God sees us. That is the only way to enjoy
true fellowship with Him and with each other!
-Taken from The Gospel of Grace (TSCPulpit Series) David Wilkerson