Understanding Legalism: (part 4)

How do we develop convictions in areas not specifically addressed in Scripture?

When a behavior or custom is not addressed in Scripture by a specific moral absolute either commanding or forbidding it, that behavior or custom belongs to a category of freedom.  In areas of freedom, Christians are free and responsible to establish their own convictions (Romans 14:3).

It’s never wise to assume that the absence of an absolute command immediately means you should exercise liberty. There could be a number of good reasons for caution and restraint — even in areas of legitimate liberty.

Consideration should be given to the way your actions impact others. The compelling example for this is the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us. Jesus’ example in sacrificial death is to regulate how believers treat each other (Romans 14:15; 15:1-3; I Corinthians 8:9-13; II Corinthians 5:15; Ephesians 5:25).

The words of Romans 14:15 apply this standard: “Do not by your eating (i.e. exercise of liberty) destroy someone for whom Christ died.” Even if you know for sure that you’re free to make your own choice in a certain area, you must not exercise freedom if a “weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (I Corinthians 8:11).

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'” (Romans 15:1-3).

This is a principled approach to the Christian life. When pursing a life that pleases God, we try to be as clear as Scripture will allow. We need to ask if there are any Scriptures that speak in principle to the issue under consideration. Of course, it must be understood (and accepted with grace and maturity) that believers will arrive at different conclusions when applying more general principles of Scripture.

When faced with uncertainty about what pleases God, the following 10 principles must be considered. Some of them fall under the category of general commands mentioned earlier.

1. Glorifying God

  • Scriptures:  1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 10:31; 1 Thessalonians 2:12
  • Questions:  Would this behavior/practice dishonor God?

2. Loving others:

  • Scriptures:  1 Corinthians 8:1, 9-13; Romans 14:13-21; Galatians 5:13
  • Questions:  How will this behavior/practice affect others? Will this provide a proper Christian example?

3. Eliminating excess:

  • Scriptures:  1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:13; Hebrews 12:1
  • Question: Will this hinder me in living an effective Christian life?

       4. Attaining excellence:

  • Scriptures:  1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23; Ephesians 5:16; Philippians 1:9-11
  • Questions:  Is this activity useful toward my Christian growth? It may not be wrong, but is it really useful and profitable? Will this be an unproductive waste of time?

5. Avoiding destructive alliances:

  • Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 1 Cor. 7:39; Psalm 1:1-3; Proverbs 13:20; 22:24-25
  • Questions:  Will this association bring negative influence in my life? Am I pursuing inappropriate unity and solidarity with those who do not walk with God? Am I entering into a relationship that could cause me to commit myself to believe or practice something that is not pleasing to God?

6. Keeping a clear conscience:

  • Scriptures:  Romans 14:5; 14:22-23; 1 Corinthians 8:7
  • Question:  Is what I am doing bothering my conscience in its current condition?

7.  Aspiring to Christlikeness:

  • Scriptures:  Romans 8:28-29a; 1 John 2:6
  • Question:  Is this consistent with all I know about Jesus Christ?

8.  Maintaining purity:

  • Scriptures: Matthew 5:27-30; Romans 13:14; Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 2:11, 16; Galatians 5:13
  • Questions:  Will this activity become a source for sin? Am I allowing myself to be open to temptation?

9. Prioritizing the Gospel:

  • Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:23
  • Question:  Will this activity hinder or help my effectiveness as a witness for Christ?

10. Listening to Leadership:

  • Scriptures:  Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
  • Questions: Is what I am doing in conflict with the membership or service covenants of my Church?  Am I respecting the leadership and seeking guidance from them?


The application of the principles above requires personal honesty and humility. God knows our hearts and He knows what is best (1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:13; Philippians 1:9-11). Our service for God should be motivated by love for God and others as we make every effort to do what pleases Him in all things (Matthew 22:37; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Colossians 3:23). However, we must be careful not to treat our conclusions on nonspecific matters as morally binding upon all who desire to please God.  Those who do this are guilty of legalism. Do not use this list to judge others. Use it for yourself and as a means of advising others when they seek your counsel. Church leaders must be exemplars of wise and measured application of these principles both personally and in exercising ministries of oversight.

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Accountability, Behavior, Christian life, Debatable Matters, Ethics, Judging others, Legalism, Unity. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Understanding Legalism: (part 4)

  1. Pingback: Understanding legalism (part 3) | Wisdom for Life

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