The Difference Between Holiness & Legalism

I believe one of the things the church will see the closer we get to Jesus’ second coming is the authentic church growing in holiness. I know the Bible promises a great “falling away” of unbelievers but the book of Revelation promises us that the church will be presented before the Lord “pure and spotless” and “without wrinkle”. Because the Word of God is sure and true, this will happen. The church will become holy and a bright glorious model of Jesus to the world.

Yesterday, I started pondering the word “holiness”. I have been raised (supposedly) seeing and hearing about holiness and what it is, yet there has been great debate and contention in the church about what is holiness and what is legalism.

I have been studying the Sermon on the Mount a lot recently and these two thoughts jumped into my heart and mind while I was thinking about holiness and legalism.

  1. Holiness is what God calls you to live while legalism is what you call yourself to live.
    Jesus talks about the “blind leading the blind”, and I feel sometimes that I am leading myself straight into a pit. I’ll realize my sinful condition (which is good) but instead of realizing I can do nothing in my strength to fix the problem (that realization is called “poor in spirit”), I develop this “plan” to save myself and to make myself holy. The problem is I’m blind. I have no clue what holiness is. It is God who leads me along the highway/path of holiness. I think many times we suffer burnout and feel dejected simply because we put unreachable standards on our own life. It is God who calls us upward and it is He who will give us the grace to accomplish anything that He has called us to. He doesn’t give us grace to the unneccesary things we call ourselves to do.
  2. Holiness is about God’s convictions concerning you while legalism is putting your convictions on others.
    This point is the one I see at the forefront of all the debates and contentions in the church and world  (while I think the first point is the true root of the matter). I want to make this very clear — holiness is a corporate work but done in the midst of individual believers’ hearts. The result of multiple believers walking down the path of holiness with God in their personal lives is a holy church. Corporate holiness cannot be done by instituting laws and standards. Corporate holiness can only be as great as each individual’s pursuit of holiness in their personal walk with God. Jesus has already given us the one two threes of becoming holy…it’s called the Sermon on the Mount. We don’t need leaders and churches giving more rules and regulations trying to make the church holy and righteous, we need leaders and churches preaching and teaching the Sermon on the Mount (and other passages in the same flow of thought) which all go back to point one — we are blind and only God can show us each (individually) the way up the mountain of the Lord.

These two points in no way mean that holiness is all up to what we feel it should be. I am not talking about a liberal holiness in that we neglect the clear teachings of the Bible. We are to follow what the Lord has clearly shown as sin (if you want a good list, see Galatians 5:19-22), but since we are blind, there are things that are unknown to us that are unpleasing to the Lord. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would come and convict us of sin and lead us into all righteousness.

Let’s let Him lead us. I’m over falling into my own pits.