The first problem of a legalistic approach to faith lies right at the beginning when the rules are made. Is there a possibility that we sometimes confuse God’s commandments with man-made rules?

To be successful at earning salvation through keeping the law, the rules would have to be very clearly stipulated. For example, if Jesus says that a lustful look is enough to cost us our salvation (Matthew 5), how exactly is such a look defined? Perhaps by the number of seconds that a man looks at a woman? Or perhaps we should ask scientists to determine how long it takes the average man to develop lustful thoughts? And then we can make a rule that draws the line between keeping and breaking the law.

In Mark 7, Jesus tackles this problem head-on. The practical details of keeping the law were as complicated 2000 years ago as it is today. For example, what happens if you committed to giving money to the church and then your parents need that same money? (Vv. 10-12) Would you break the law if you lied by not keeping the vow, or by not honoring your parents? So the Pharisees who knew the law inside and out came up with some rules for these sticky situations.

The rules of the Pharisees made it easier to keep gray areas under control, but it also replaced the real Law. “And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition” (Mark 7:13, NLT). The rules designed to help people live closer to God’s will, took them even further away from it.

In the same way, we should consider the rules we live by. Do we believe that our salvation is guaranteed because of them? Do we judge others by our own rules instead of God’s perfect will which is love? “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14, NLT).

Let us remind ourselves daily that no amount of rules can help us to keep God’s perfect commandments. And let us find freedom in Christ who saved us by grace alone. “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing” (Galatians 3:13, NLT).

Scripture readings:

Mark 7:6-13

Galatians 3:10-13