Unlawful Legalism

The pharisees were notorious for drawing lines of separation. They thought themselves to be more righteous and holy than others due the level of their own self perceived piety. Not only did they strive to obey God’s law, which is what we as Christians are all called to do, but they went further by making new laws. The pharisees added to God’s law their own opinions of how they thought a righteous person should live. They regularly condemned people for transgressing against their man made laws, which were not God’s laws.

“For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4:15.

The term regularly used for adding our opinions and preferences to God’s law is called legalism. It is a form of prideful, self-righteousness where people begin to see themselves as the measuring stick of Godliness based on their personal convictions, rather than looking solely to the scriptures.

There are primary issues of doctrine that are non-negociables. These are doctrines that are legitimate lines of separation that must be boldly defended and fought for. These primary issues are doctrines such as the deity of Christ as well as his death, burial, and resurrection. The trinity being three separate and distinct persons (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit) but together as one God. Believing that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way that anyone will ever see salvation, and that He is the one and only God. The acknowledgement that God calls men and women to repent and believe the Gospel. And the fact that believers are called to preach this glorious Gospel to all creation. These are just a few doctrines of the Christian faith that are primary and worthy to be defended to the death.

However, there are other doctrines of our faith that our secondary issues. Meaning that Christians can hold slightly differing views on these issues without drawing lines of separation. Secondary issues are worthy of discussion, but are not points of separation. 

Unfortunately, many times believers begin to fall into the same trap as the pharisees when they elevate their view of secondary issues to the level of primary. In doing this, they begin to go against the words of Paul and condemn their brothers and sisters in Christ, calling out transgression where there is no law. In essence, God’s word is not their only measuring stick, but also what is deemed as right in their own eyes. 

And when secondary issues of our faith are raised to a primary  level inside of a church, internal strife sets in, and the mission of Christ is abandoned in exchange for a kingdom of self righteous pharisees. The true Judge of all creation and his Word are replaced by finite, whistle blowing, self appointed judges who sit on thrones of paper mache. They seek to condemn others by adding their own standards to God’s Word. 

I would like to briefly touch on a few of these secondary issues that are regularly made into primary issues. My prayer is that as believers, we can guard against falling into the same trap as the pharisees and instead, keep our eyes focused on Christ, and not ourselves.


The first secondary issue that is often a dividing line between believers is soteriology. This is the doctrine or study of salvation and how it is that God actually saves. Those who study this doctrine are divided into two main camps. 

First there are those who believe that God has made salvation possible through Jesus, but it is up to man to actually make that initial step in deciding to following Jesus. This was the belief that 15th century theologian Jacob Arminius taught, and so people with this view of salvation are often referred to as Arminians.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who believe that man is so spiritually dead in his sins, that he can neither seek nor understand the things of God without the Lord’s supernatural intervention, changing the persons heart and giving them Godly desires. People who believe this are referred to as Calvinist, named after the 14th century theologian who adhered to this view of salvation.  

Throughout the centuries, battles over this doctrine have caused massive turmoil in the church. Faithful believers have drawn lines of separation in the sand with others in the church, raising this secondary issue to the level of primary. 

Granted, I believe that each church should make it clear on the direction of how their leadership believes on this doctrine. Just as with any secondary issue, it is both right and good that we should stand firm on our convictions. But convictions that are not primary should never been a cause for division between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Leonard Ravenhill was one of the most faithful, powerful, and God honoring preachers of the 19th century. Ravenhill was bold in his proclamation and sound in his theology. He was used mightily as a tool of the Lord to lead many to Christ. And his passionate, Christ centered sermons can still be heard today via the internet. Ravenhill was also Arminian in his view of soteriology.

Paul Washer is one of the most powerful, faithful, and passionate preachers of the 21st century. Paul Washer is Calvinistic in his view of soteriology. And when speaking of the faith of Leonard Ravenhill, Paul Washer once said, “Leonard Ravenhill was a man that walked with God, and he was a man of prayer. The impact of Ravenhill’s preaching upon my life remains to this day. I’d take one Leonard Ravenhill over twenty dead Calvinists.”

We can agree to disagree when it comes to the doctrine of soteriology. This is not a doctrine that should ever divide a church nor cause strife between brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, we can and should boldly stand upon our convictions, even engaging in conversations with one another regarding our views. As long as at the end of the day, we remain united in Christ.

Christian Education

Another secondary issue that has arisen in the church centers around Christian education. There are believers in Christ that choose to home school their children, and other believers that choose to send their kids to public school. In this, lines of separation have been drawn at times to where one side demonizes the other side for not educating their children in the same way that they do. Unfortunately, this has many times been done to the point of Christians breaking fellowship with one another.

The scriptures call parents to lead their children in the ways of the Lord. The call for men to lead their families in family worship is undeniable all throughout the Bible. But there is no law given by God that would make sending a child to the public school system, in and of itself a sin.

The crux of the issues falls in the household of both the parents who home school and the parents who send their kids to public school. The real issue falls upon the father mainly. Is he leading his children in family worship? Is he talking about the things of the Lord with them every day? Is he equipping his family and children to walk intimately with their God and to proclaim His Gospel to others? 

Yes, there are wonderful advantages to home schooling.  Home schooling allows even more time for the parent to be a Godly influence to the child and to protect them from any ungodly ideaologies that may seep in. For parents that are able to do this, it is a worthy and God honoring pursuit. 

But the truth of the matter is that not every family is in a situation where they are able to home school their kids. There are many households that need the finances that a two income family provides. We are not given her circumstances, but the Proverbs 31 woman worked selling her wares outside of the home to help support her household. As long as her priority was first God and then her family, working was not a transgression of God’s law.

There are other situations where a spouse may be deceased and the surviving parent has no choice but to public school their children. There could possibly be a situation where a child has severe learning disabilities that require the assistance of a trained professional teacher. Or perhaps the parent has certain health problems that prohibit them from being able to teach their children in the home.

Granted, we must keep in mind that there are grave concerns in much of what our school systems teach, and therefore Christian parents with kids in public school must be watchful. This is all the more reason why family worship and intentional discipleship of our children is so very important. 

There are Christian families that I personally know of who home school their children, and they are being led and used of God to transform lives and make disciples for the Kingdom of God by doing so. And I praise the Lord for this. Also, there are Christian families that public school their children of whom I know of that regularly tell of their children speaking up for Christ in the school system and leading their classmates to know and love the Lord Jesus. In these cases, both are bringing glory to Christ and being used of the Lord for His purposes.

Christian Education is a matter of personal conscience and Christian Liberty. The Lord never once specifies a physical location as to where children are to be educated. But rather, the emphasis in scripture in on intentional, daily discipleship of the children by the parent. So that when they enter into the world they will be as those Psalm 127 arrows that are shot out of our homes and into the culture as beacons of light for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Home schooling is a wonderful endeavor if a parent is able and capable of doing so. But if a child is raised up and consistently discipled in the Lord, even the child in public school can be used in a mighty way to bring great glory to Christ. Weather a child is five or eighteen, they are eventually going to go out into the world. The question in both cases is, are they continually being discipled in the truth in the household. As with soteriology, this is a secondary issue and is not something that believers in Christ should cast judgement or draw lines of separation over. Both Christian public school and home school families should be united in their commonality found in Christ.


The last secondary issue that I will mention is escatology, or the study of end times. Like the previous two, the study of last things has commonly drawn lines of separation between believers. And I believe that it grieves the Holy Spirit when this happens.

It is no secret that the book of Revelation is mysterious. The great theologian John Calvin was an expository preaching, meaning that he preached verse by verse through books of the Bible. But Calvin said that the one book of the Bible that he would refuse to preach verse by verse through was Revelation, because he could not speak with certainty on the parts that were not clear. He did not want to misrepresent the Word of God.

This is not to say that we as believers should not study Revelation. Every word of God is given to us for teaching and reproof. The study of Escatology can actually be quite exciting. However, we should never make our views of the end times into a primary issue that causes us strife with other believers who may see things differently, nor should the study of end times be a line of separation.

R.C Sproul once said that this is a doctrine that should never divide a church, because there is some merit to be found in all of the orthodox views of the study of last things. As with any other secondary issue, it is good that as believers we have discussions to sharpen one another in our quest to know truth. But if our passion for a secondary issue should ever cause us to draw swords with our brothers and sister, we should cry out to the Lord and repent immediately. 

In the book of Acts, chapter two describes the original church post resurrection. And it was said of the church that they had “all things in common.” When it comes to fallen human beings, we know that no one has all things in common. What did this mean? The early church had all things in common, because their commonality in Christ made all secondary issues pale in comparison to their unity found in Him. 

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes about recent converts to the faith who had come out of a pagan background. And because of their background, they were extremely convicted to not eat any meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Their consciences made them feel that if they did so, they were sinning against the Lord.

However, the law of the Lord did not forbid a Christian from eating meat sacrificed to idols. And Paul stated that no matter if a believer felt it wrong to eat meat, and another believer felt freedom to do so, neither should break fellowship or judge the other. Because again, where God has given no law there is no transgression. 

Let us as believers in the 21st century defend and guard the primary issues of our faith, but also to see that as long as we are unified around the main tenants of our faith, we have no right to judge or separate from one another. 

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