In March of 2002, BBC news told of a shocking event in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi religious police prevented the fire department from rescuing 15 of the 800 girls trapped inside their burning school. Their reason for blocking the rescue? Because those 15 girls were not wearing correct Islamic dress. The religious police warned the rescuers that “it would be sinful to approach them.” Fifteen girls died because they were not wearing the headscarves and black robes required by the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam.
While this is an extreme example, this incident shows the mindset of legalism. This is what can happen when man-made rules are put before the laws of God. And that mindset is not restricted to Islam. Legalism exists in every religion, including Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and most certainly Christianity. Legalism consists of man-made rules with self-appointed judges who induce guilt and oppress normal life. Because legalists place their laws above God’s laws, legalism leads to slavery.
Jesus fought legalism all through His ministry. True faith in Christ leads to the ultimate freedom: freedom to follow God and know God; freedom from captivity of legalism and sin. Legalism leads to spiritual death, while true faith in Christ is about abundant living in Him.