1At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
9He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Legalism is deadly because it places strict adherence to rules above the welfare of people. Legalism is easy because keeping rules is less demanding than showing mercy. Legalism is dangerous because it feeds religious pride at the expense growing in humility. Finally, legalism is blinding because fixation on do's and don'ts prevents one from seeing God.
The legalism of the Pharisees blinded their eyes to Jesus who appeared to them a law-breaker. The legalism of the Pharisees -- and their wounded pride -- eventually conspired to kill Jesus.
Religious legalism is one of the worst sins imaginable because in the name of God we end up going against God.
The opposite of legalism is not antinomianism (or, lawlessness) but grace. Grace is the antidote to legalism. Grace in Christ.
Legalism is built on the (wrong) idea that you can make yourself better (i.e., more righteous, more holy, more acceptable to God) by merely doing certain things or by avoiding certain things, without regard to one's heart or motivation. Legalism is all external. There is an internal part -- the part that says, "If I do such-and-such, then I'm all good." Grace undercuts all that false thinking. We cannot do anything to make ourselves better before God or before others. Self-betterment in terms of righteousness is simply not a possibility for us. Grace allows us to see this impossibility. But Grace also allows us to see the possibility of our acceptance before God and the possibility of love and mercy. Grace opens our eyes to people as objects of God's immeasurable love. Grace makes a way for us to live-in-God.
Grace creates space for people to be who they are without judgment. Grace enlarges the heart so that we can rejoice with people and even helps us to laugh at ourselves. Grace in Christ means life. Grace helps us to see that the Sabbath was made for people and not people for Sabbath. Grace, lastly, allows us to rest in Christ Jesus, who is the true Sabbath rest because He is the "Lord of the Sabbath."
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we come before you to receive the mercy and grace that we need to live joyfully and freely. We come before you so that our eyes might be renewed, to see others and even ourselves rightly in the light of your love. We must live in your grace because there really is no other way to live in you. We thank you that your grace is abundantly available whether we ask or not. But today we choose to ask for your greater grace -- the overabundant grace that overflows unto others. In your name, amen.