Writing on the subject of modest dress, Bill Mosely, a Baptist, writes here the following: Legalism is generally cried out when this subject is approached. However, strict adherence to the law is not an undesirable quality. Law is an established rule that must be observed if society is to have any resemblance of a high quality of life. Even civil law is established by our all wise God and is beneficial not only for those who observe and respect the law but also for the disobedient (Rom. 13:1-7). Just as surely as God required Israel to follow the ceremonial law in their worship, just that surely the moral law of God was given not only to Israel but to all mankind and His requirements have not been repealed. God does not haphazardly introduce His commands. Each command of God has it’s own divine purpose and morality and decency is a divine requirement.” Mr. Mosely makes a very good point, only he errs by elevating his dress code to the level of Law.

On one hand, Mr. Mosely says, “law is an ESTABLISHED rule that must be observed…” and he’s right. But he is wrong when he binds specifics that God has not. If Mr. Mosley or anyone decides, for example, that blue denim and not white denim is sinful or inappropriate, that’s legalism. It can’t be justified.

Another thing I find interesting about Mosley’s statement is that he and others might very well deny the necessity of Baptism and the basis that it is legalistic to require it for salvation. Even though God commanded and made it His “law”, a Baptist might say you are legalistic for requiring it.

It would be legalism to demand what God did not, but there is ample evidence in Scripture Baptism is commanded. Jesus Christ, the Apostles, and others commanded it (Acts 8). Philip commanded it as did Paul and Peter. Paul must have been heavily emphasized Baptism for the Philippian jailer to go out after midnight, immediately after hearing the Gospel, to be immersed into Christ. And 3,000 had it heavily impressed upon them on the same day they first heard the Gospel (This also shows that infants aren’t subject to baptism in the Bible).

Ananias commanded Saul, saying ‘what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). In all of the New Testament, there is the sense of urgency to be baptized. The Baptist will immediately ignore the evidence and turn to Romans 10:9,10 which says that belief and confession lead to salvation. The problem with this approach is that it pits one verse against another. To me there is no contradiction at all between Romans 10:9,10 and Romans 6:3-5. Romans 10 would be the final and complete answer for how to be saved if that were the only verse in the Bible. But there is more than belief and confession to being saved; there is the necessity to repent and be baptized.

Yet with the mountain of evidence to show that Baptism is the place or point in time at which a person is first introduced into God’s saving grace, people like Mosley will still deny it and call it legalism. Why do such people justify rules of dress as necessary and then deny the very thing which Jesus commanded? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved...” It is not legalistic to command for people to be baptized if God commanded it. So why do so many people make the accusation against the churches of Christ that they are being legalistic for requiring what Jesus commanded? It makes no sense.

Legalism is in the mind and sometimes it is in the preaching. Legalism in the preaching comes by requiring, for the hope of being righteous, something that God does not require. It was legalistic in Matthew 15 for the Jews to encourage children of elderly parents to support the temple treasury instead of their parents. That was legalism. It was legalistic to require people to wash their hands before they ate or else they would be ceremonially unclean. Jesus said it is what comes out of the heart that defiles a man and not what goes into the mouth. Man-made rules that supposedly bring one closer to God are legalistic and should not be bound on others. Requiring women to wear dresses is legalistic. A woman can be dressed in pants and still be feminine and modest. Even though fasting is prescribed as something Christians do, it would be legalistic to lay out a schedule and require the church to follow it. In the Bible, fasting is an individual thing.

Besides the outer forms of legalism, there is the kind that is committed inside of a man’s spirit. If a man thinks that Christ’s blood is INsufficient to wash away his sins and thinks that he must somehow pay some of the debt for his sin, either in this life or in so-called purgatory (purging), that is legalism. However a person lives after becoming a Christian, he is only doing what he ought to do from that day forward. There is no way that he can pay for his past. He can only live the one life he has, not two. Must he at times in this life suffer the consequences for sins committed? No doubt. But each person who follows Christ must understand and let Christ pay the debt for his sins. Thus is his salvation a free gift. I am indebted to Christ because I owe Him my everything. But it is an affront to Christ and to His sacrifice to suggest to people that they must atone for some or part of their sins. That is legalism. But to command what Jesus commanded is not legalism.
Legalism is not the strict adherence to God’s word
EIS in Acts 2:38 and Matthew 12:41

Categories: Uncategorized

8 replies

  1. Just sort of wondering/wandering out loud…I can see where civil law, that is, laws established by governments are binding in that governments are ordained by God and insofar as these laws are not in opposition to the law of God they must be obeyed. But, it is a really great stretch to make this apply to rules of modesty as determined by any group. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia and a few other middle eastern countries…


  2. I agree. Mosley defended his church’s personal rules on modesty by appealing more to the necessity of civil law than to Scripture.


  3. Question about the poll: Do we actually command a person to be baptized or are we just teaching that it is a command given from God which then necessitates the action? Maybe I’m off base, but I don’t feel comfortable answering the question as it is worded.


  4. That’s a good question. Can I command people to do what Christ has commanded them to do? Acts 10:48 Paul commanded Cornelius to be baptized. If you were in Paul’s position, would you command the person you were teaching to be baptized? Acts 22:16 Ananias tells Saul to be baptized, and the word BAPTISAI is in the imperative mood. The imperative mood can be a command, or a “polite” command among other things. The first use of the imperative is the general command as when Jesus says, “Follow Me!” (Mk. 2:14). 1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:10, it is not baptism that is commanded here, but Paul commanded Christians on how to live. “Attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” 1 Timothy 4:11, Timothy is told to command the things that Paul instructed him in. If a Brother won’t repent, he will be put out of the church. If someone won’t be baptized, he won’t be welcomed into the church. I think it is a command, as much as anything can be a command, but it is understood that the authority we have is limited. I wouldn’t have a problem telling someone I had come to know through study, when the time had seemed right, to say, “It is time for you to repent and be baptized.” The authority is God’s and the way that it is said would indicate the imperative mood. Do you think I am off track on this matter?


  5. Those thoughts came to my mind and in the situation you describe it would certainly be understood that you were relaying God’s command. Since, I know where you are coming from and anybody with whom you have studied would know the same I can find no problem with the issuing the command. I guess when I read the question I immediately jumped into the mindset of one who is ignorant or unstudied. I envision this ignorance causing confusion or a resentment which could be avoided if they understood that the command is not a situation in which we are forcing our opinion on them in a sort of military fashion. It makes me interested in finding the exact meaning of the Greek word as it compares to the modern and commonly accepted meaning of our English word ‘command’. Am I being to weak/PC/wishy-washy?


  6. Dear 36,000 Inches,Yes, you are very P.C. (Warning: lame attempt at humor coming) if it stands of “Proud (to be) Christian”. But no I don’t think you are wishy washy. You make a good point that “command” can be misunderstood. The difficult could easily be avoided by changing it to “God commands”.


  7. Off-subject slightly, there is another glaring but common error in Mr. Mosley’s writing: Making a distinction between the “ceremonial” law and the “moral” law that Israel was given. This distinction enables one to bind parts of the Old Law on people today even though Christ “nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14) 2000 years ago. Such a one would say the “ceremonial” law (animal sacrifices, Temple services, Feast days, etc.) was nailed to the cross, while the “moral” law (10 commandments and applications of them) were, and are, for all people yet today. Matt. 5:17-18 is by this means sidestepped. Reference II Cor. 3:7, 11; and Rom. 7:6-7 for the truth on the matter. This is a man-made distinction, common in religious circles, that is not from God.


  8. Thanks, Ray. Excellent point


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