LEGALISM DEFINES RELIGION
We must not accuse the judaizing brothers in Galatia of being insincere. Neither should we view many of the Pharisees during the ministry of Jesus of being insincere. They sincerely thought that they were right. They never viewed themselves as false teachers. Such is often the case with those of a legalistic persuasion. Because their legalism has come to them through the tradition of their fathers, they feel confident in their self-sanctifying religious heritage. However, the zeal of the Jewish legalists was without knowledge of the will of God. Their goal was often one of selfish ambition (See Gl 6:13).
The problem with legalistic religion is manifested in the results or behavior of those who believe in and practice such. In order to understand the confrontation of Jesus with the religious leaders during His ministry, and to understand the background upon which much of the New Testament was written, it is imperative to understand the nature of self-sanctifying legalism, which is basically the definition of religion. Our understanding of this system of religious thought helps us to guard ourselves from denying the truth of the gospel.
We must understand that the nature of the Jews’ religion into which Jesus came is the same nature of any religion throughout history. Religion exists because men obey self-sanctifying religious rites of each unique religion.
The Jews’ religion that was constructed after the traditions of the fathers is typical of institutional religious structures today where heritage and tradition has been exalted over the Bible. We live in a world of traditionally oriented religions that view their traditions after the same manner the religious leaders of the Jews viewed their traditions during the ministry of Jesus. Religious tradition was sacred to the Jews. It is sacred to religions throughout the world today.
Because traditions have become so sacred to religions in the world, such traditions are viewed as a legal system by which one is to stand justified before God. In other words, adherents of the particular religion must honor the traditions of the religion in order to supposedly be pleasing to God. It is essential, therefore, to understand the nature of religious legalism in order to understand the religion that confronted Jesus and the legalistic system of religion that made attacks against the gospel.