Throw Out Those Legalists! An Exposition Of Galatians 4:21-31 -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 15:1 (Summer 2006)
Article: Throw Out Those Legalists! An Exposition Of Galatians 4:21-31
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Throw Out Those Legalists! An Exposition Of Galatians 4:21-311

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Lewis Johnson regularly ministered the Word at Believers Chapel in Dallas for more than thirty years. During his academic career he held professorships in New Testament and Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. At the time of his death in January 2004 he was Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Dallas Seminary. Both MP3 files and printed notes of Dr. Johnson’s sermons and theological lectures may be downloaded from the web site of Believers Chapel «».

Legalism is one of the major problems among Christians today,” a noted author of a commentary on Galatians has written.2 It is by no means an overstatement. It is, in fact, a gross understatement, for legalism has troubled the people of God and the human race since the fall in the Garden of Eden. From Adam’s fig leaves, through the perverted use of the practice of circumcision by the Judaizing false teachers, on to the sacramental systems of modern religious organizations, legalism has flourished. Man loves legalism because it provides the flesh with an opportunity to look good.

What are the main marks of legalism? One of my former teachers has suggested three of them. In the first place, it is essentially “a religion of redemption through human effort,” a method by which man may build his own highway to the heavens. In this it is a direct contradiction of the truth of Ephesians 2:8–10. In the second place, there is “its tendency to import a mercenary spirit into religion.” A man, pointing to his achievements, becomes able to demand of God the reward of eternal life. And, furthermore, by multiplying regulations and requirements, he is able to continue increasing his claim upon

God. In this it is a direct contradiction of 1 Corinthians 4:2–7. Finally, legalism has a “fondness for negatives.” We are reminded of the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments and of the modern taboos invented by contemporary churchmen. In this, legalism is a contradiction of the truth of Colossians 2:20–23.3

Legalism, of course, does not mean the recognition of spiritual standards. It is the doctrine that one may conform to such standards by one’s unaided efforts and gai...

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