Posted by: Robin Foster | April 6, 2010

Chuck Swindoll on Legalism

In an interview between Howard Hendricks and Chuck Swindoll, Dr. Swindoll gave some of his thoughts concerning legalism in the church.  He begins by stating that areas that are clearly spelled out in scripture does not fall under the topic of legalism:

Dr. Swindoll: I’m glad you mentioned legalism in relation to obedience and spiritual maturity. What a topic to think about in relation to growing in grace and doing it gracefully! I was recently asked an age-old question that the Church will probably be dealing with until Christ returns. It goes something like this: Where do you draw the line between legalism, which is restrictive and counter to grace, and the fact that God’s Word does give us clear standards and calls us to live sanctified,set-apart lives?

Well, the place to begin is to affirm that anything that is set forth in the Scriptures as a directive is a directive, period. It’s not legalism. There are in the Word lists of things God wants us to do and not to do, and they are very clearly set forth. We’re to obey every one of them. To fudge on that is to fudge in an area of obedience to God.

Yet, Dr. Swindoll also warns us against the dangers of legalism.

Dr. Swindoll: The problem comes when we get into areas that are not set forth in Scripture, either in precept or even in principle. These may be such things as length of hair, tattoos and other body piercings, skirts or pants for women, makeup or no makeup. Those are not scriptural issues. Sometimes these issues are cultural, and you do have to address them when you are in that particular culture. But I think legalism begins when you do or refrain from doing what I want you to do or not do because it’s on my list and it’s something that I am uncomfortable with.

The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them and told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don’t mess with legalism anymore. I’m 72 years old; what have I got to lose? Seriously, I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers. They’ll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith. Other than that, I don’t have any opinion! So if I am trying to force my personal list of no-no’s on you and make you feel guilty if you don’t join me, then I’m out of line and I need to be told that.

What I like about Dr. Swindoll’s view is that it is balanced.  Legalism is a grace killer, but antinomianism (disregarding the Bible’s precepts) is dangerous to a faith community that is commanded to be holy in a world of sin.  To see the full interview click here.


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