One of the errors that legalists commit is to think that we have to figure out God’s will though Bible study and then strive to fulfill it.
In Philippians 2:13 I discovered a verse that opened my eyes to God’s rest: “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Until I saw that, I tried to produce in myself the desire (the “will”) and then to dedicate all my strength to fulfilling it (the “work”).
But that’s not the way God wants it. He wants to create the desire to do His will in me, and then give me the strength to do it. Amazing! My job is simply to let the Potter’s hands mold me however He wants.
When we allow God to work in us the will and the ability, it changes everything. It is hard for legalists to believe that “God is much better to me than I deserve.” They might say it out loud, but they can’t believe it in their hearts because it goes against their whole life philosophy. They truly believe that God is very good to them, but only when they deserve it. The blessings they receive come in exchange for faithfully serving Him, and not simply as unearned gifts.
A legalist believes that it is up to him to shape his life and ministry. These are usually sincere people and would say that God has made them what they are, but in their hearts they really believe that they are spiritually limited by their own level of sincerity and effort.
Remember in Luke 18:11, 12 when the Pharisee prayed? He told God that he was not a thief, that he was not unfair nor was he an adulterer. He fasted twice a week and tithed on all he received. Look again at that prayer. He started his prayer out giving thanks to God but at the end of the prayer, Jesus said that he was not “justified”!
As a friend of mine said, “We can be proud of our own works but we can never be proud of a gift received, just grateful.”
God wants to work in us and through us. In John 6:29 we read that the work of God is to believe in Jesus. Paul emphasizes it by saying “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,’1 He goes even further a few chapters later when he says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”2 This work of grace does not make us lazy nor negligent, which is just what the legalists are afraid of. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work”3 Works are a result of the abundant grace of God in our lives.
In Ephesians 2:10 we read, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has ordained beforehand that we should walk in them.” We don’t decide what we should do, we walk in the works that God has ordained beforehand for us.
1- Romans 4:3-5 (NAS) 2- Romans 11:6 (NAS) 3- 2 Corinthians 9:8