Vol.XIX No.III Pg.1
May 1982

The Legalistic Mind

Robert F. Turner

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, he was told to "keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:16-f; Mk. 10:17-f; Lu. 18:18-f). Some may dismiss this by observing that the querist was "under the Old Covenant" at that time, but Jesus' answer was not a legalistic one. Recognizing the importance of obedience no more makes a legalist than accepting support as a preacher makes a hireling. God sees more than the external. He sees what prompts our actions, and takes the heart into consideration when judging what we do.

So Jesus could say, "One thing thou lackest." It seems the mere act of selling his goods to supply the poor was not the "one thing." Rather, it was to change his affections from material things to spiritual. The alms giving would be the fruit of that change, as would his coming to follow the Lord. He needed to "lay up treasures in heaven..."

And when a certain lawyer tested Jesus with a similar question, Jesus cited the law — "how readest thou?" The lawyer replied correctly: whole hearted love for God, and "thy neighbor as thyself" (Lu. 10:25-f). Jesus said, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?" Jesus was not legalistic in saying, "do." It was a legalistic mind which sought to codify who must be helped, and who can be ignored. Who do I have to love and who can I afford to despise? This was not a healthful searching for the whole truth. It evidenced a miserly conception of obedience that could come only from one who thought the doing itself would justify — apart from the desire and effort to do more. We see the same attitude today in those who ask, "How often do I have to attend church gatherings; or, how much do I have to give to be acceptable?"

Surely we know "all have sinned" and can be "free of guilt" only via forgiveness. This is conditioned upon a faith that obeys (Rom. 16:26). The legalistic mind may ask "how much?" as though the doing earned something; but valid faith gives all (Matt. 16:24) knowing that God accepts doing from a heart that trusts Christ, not self.