“Be ye holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

This verse came clear to me this weekend.  A friend and I were talking about legalism last week and this verse was mentioned in a book I was referencing later on that subject.

Legalism is not a term I knew anything about until probably 10 years ago or so.  Most of the readers of this blog perhaps know what legalism is but in case some do not; legalism is trying to win God’s approval by your own righteous acts rather than believing that Jesus has already done everything to make us righteous.  All we have to do is believe this.  When we believe, then everything we do for Jesus from that point on is accomplished from the reference point of thankfulness, not duty.

I just realized there are two ways of reading this verse in 1st Peter 1:15-16

One is looking at it as a command from God to us, “16 Be ye holy, because I am holy.”  This is the way I interpreted that verse up until the other day.  Reading it that way certainly described my life in the meeting system and for many other religious systems as well.  Trying so hard to be perfect, to be holy, but always messing up because I kept on sinning over and over.

The other way to read this verse is from the viewpoint of God declaring the thought over our lives, “You, Darla, be holy.  You can because I am holy.”  And from that point on, that is how he looks at me.

Wow.  Quite a difference in interpretation, eh?  The difference determines whether we are in bondage or freedom; whether we are living under legalism or liberty.

I have started a new project for myself and am keeping a little notebook of any definitions or examples of legalism I read about; I will jot those thoughts down in my notebook.  So, I am asking for your input, readers.  If you have any bullet point definitions or examples of legalism, please send them to me.  Thanks!

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3 thoughts on ““Be ye holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

  1. I googled legalism and this is what I found:
    legalism is strict. literal or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code…the institutionalized legalism that restricts free choice…the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works….. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws……a system of rewards and punishments uniform for all classes, and an absolute monarchy…………………..I can think of many examples of this behavior in the meetings.

    I can think of times when some are subject to “”THE LAWS” of the overseers or I can think of many examples of this in the meetings…. and I am sure many can think of times when they were “corrected ” for departing from the “norm” so to speak….one example comes to mind is the excommunication of some who dared to tell the truth or or ask questions where they do not “belong” ……

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  2. This concept of legalism, I believe, is one of the most important realizations that those of us who were raised in the fellowship and begin questioning doctrine come to understand. Understanding that our approval with God is not based on our right(eous) acts but on our trust (faith) in him and what Christ did for us on the cross.

    I have been thinking about legalism since this post and also because I spent Friday at Mt. Peak convention south of Dallas. I wanted to listen to the workers with a couple that are struggling with the fellowship and have come to understand legalism. The dad gave me a number of knowing nods when workers or friends mentioned things that related to this.

    I spoke to our pastor, Chuck Swindoll, Sunday morning before the service about visiting convention. I mentioned how much it means to me to have learned so much about freedom in Christ from him. He said something that really resonated with me. He said that people trapped in legalism are afraid of freedom. They are afraid to believe that salvation is available soley by grace through faith and that they are in some way taking advantage of God’s favor towards us. It is so evident when you think about the “most hearty souls” in the fellowship are the ones who struggle with this the most. They have such zeal and are so afraid to disappoint God that they trust their own efforts more than Christ’s.

    What a revelation to finally come to understand that every little bit I rely on my feeble, imperfect efforts at salvation, the more I diminish the value of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.

    David Legge, a pastor from Ireland who knows the fellowship, gives a great definition of legalism (preachtheword,com):

    “Now listen carefully to what I’m saying, because I’m standing firmly on the authority of the word of God: both are forms of legalism. That is, believing that you need something more than Christ to be saved, and also believing that you need to do more to keep saved and to keep in ‘good tick’ – as we would say here in Ulster – with Almighty God. Both are forms of legalism, and both, I believe, are what Paul is writing against in his epistle. Now, you may not have a legalistic view on salvation – and I would hope you wouldn’t – but what we’re saying is that you may not have a legalistic view of salvation, but you may well have a legalistic view of sanctification. What I mean by that is that you’re living your Christian life by a list of written rules or, for that matter, unwritten rules – and you’re performing these things to gain God’s blessing and the acceptance of God. Paul writes in this epistle that that is not Biblical Christianity, that is legalism! Legalism was a problem, a serious problem in Paul’s day, and it is a serious problem, I believe, today – and it always will be a serious problem. It is serious not only because it distorts the gospel as we preach it to unbelievers, but for Christians it always results in a life lived in the flesh, a life lived in the energy of the flesh rather than the power and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. For the Christian it means that the burden of responsibility is upon me and my behaviour, rather than God’s enabling grace that I draw on by faith. It’s the difference between trying hard as a Christian, and trusting Him. Very simple. It’s the difference between being led by the Holy Spirit or being driven by the flesh, whether it is our own

    Now, I want to ask you: which version of sanctification have you adopted? I’m pretty sure that most of you here tonight have adopted the Biblical view of salvation – that it’s not Christ plus, it’s Christ alone – but what about sanctification? Is your sanctification – in other words, is the way you’re living your Christian life – performance-based? Now this is important, and here’s another reason why it’s important: it is not people who are half-hearted about the Christian life who get this wrong, it’s not folk who are spiritually lazy who struggle with legalism, rather it’s those who are highly motivated to serve the Lord who fall into this trap. They gauge their spirituality based on their outward exterior practices of what they think is Christianity, and a great tragedy is that they are doing this with a motivation to connect with God, and they’re trying to connect with God on the level of performance, and that always ends in disappointment! Here’s the reason why: that is the one place that God cannot be found.”

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  3. A great post Darla…legalism is such a human word! It certainly goes with “the letter” and not “the Spirit”, which to me is unconditional love, mercy and forgiveness. I have come to understand that verse as just confirmation and trust that we are a part of God, creators in the image of our spiritual creator…and that we can be holiness…in its pure form of love……not in religious duty or piousness in fear, or anything that requires approval of men…. this is what legalism feeds on. The spiritual words “deny yourself” have a legalistic teaching that had great impact on me, which thankfully I have erased from my life. How blissfully simple to understand that in any situation, whether for ourselves or with others, denying oneself is to put away the selfish human thought or deed that would cause hurt or harm, and instead choose the example of Jesus. With the legalism removed, it becomes a spiritual commandment that helps us to understand darkness and light, and the effect it can have when it ripples out from us.

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