Shaking off the Dust of Legalism

As we walk forward with God, how can we shake off the pride of flesh and the deep conditioning toward legalism that we acquired before we were saved?


Each of us walks along our own path with God. I believe in His omniscience, that He knew before I was born that I would exercise my free will to choose to serve Him.  He positioned me from birth to serve His purposes and to win others to Him.

Let me speak plainly: I believe God placed me in a religious family and provided me a very Pharisaic upbringing so that when I discovered His wonderful free gift of salvation, I would be equipped to help others trapped in legalistic settings to find their way to freedom.

Though I can speak most effectively to Adventists because of my familiarity with the lies that confuse them, the overriding principle is one of rejecting the counterfeit in favor of the genuine. Legalistic religions are perversions of the true faith. They differ from one another only in the idiosyncratic rituals and practices that they have adopted as tickets to glory.

Cashiers and bank tellers, when being trained to spot counterfeit bills, are schooled in the characteristics of real money; the feel of the paper, the security features that are incorporated within each bill. By learning to identify a genuine $100 bill, they can spot a phony immediately.

In the same way, I don’t have to be intimately acquainted with the various beliefs and foibles of every sect to lead people away from those false faiths. The Gospel of Salvation is simplicity itself. Any addition to the faith=salvation formula should set off alarms in your spirit.  

If you are struggling to reconcile what God is speaking to you with a religion that is either completely dead or actively resisting His leading, you have likely already been converted to the truth and adopted eternally and irrevocably into the family of God. I can’t wait to meet you. The instant you came to Life, you became a disruptive influence in the old wineskin of a church that seeks to keep you in chains and your offerings rolling in. The presence of God within you shines forth, grating on the godless, and His Spirit comes through in your speech and actions, giving offense to legalistic Pharisees.

In truth, this message applies not only to legalistic religions, but to all religion. By religion, I mean a system that purportedly worships God, but lays upon its followers conditions, requirements and restrictions that have nothing to do with salvation. I emphasize legalistic religion in this article because that was the snare of Satan that the Lord freed me from, so I now know the escape route out of that prisoner of war camp.

There are also many churches at the other end of the spectrum. Having denied the many promises of God to punish the unrepentant, they promote a lawless, all-inclusive religion wherein all are saved despite their denial of the need for the Savior. Every abomination to God is tolerated and embraced. “Relax, there is no hell” they coo.

I also want to give special attention to those coming out of a Jewish background. Messianic Jews are but the first fruits of the legions of Jewish people who will turn back to God through the coming Tribulation; the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. They will likely struggle to reject the forms of religion in favor of a personal relationship with the Living Christ. Their hardness of heart toward Jesus will be removed as soon as the Church has been removed from the scene at the Rapture.

As a teen attending an Adventist high school, I became active in youth evangelism. In the youth center at our school, something resembling a little New Testament church sprang to life. As far as the Adventist Church was concerned, we were running a program of outreach, hauling vanloads of enthusiastic teens to the beach and other venues to witness to the lost and attempting to convert them to Adventism.

In reality, it was those Adventist teens who needed Jesus, and they were finding Him in our daily sessions which included worship and Bible study. We knew that, and we knew the program of witnessing was a ruse. Adventism offered nothing to the lost but more chains. The phrase ‘twice as fit for hell as you are yourselves’ springs to mind. Our program boasted zero conversions of the sort advertised. The treasure lay in freeing the hearts of those Adventist teens, and that was where we happily concentrated.

The message we were preaching was the simple path to salvation as laid out in Romans:

“…if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Rom 10:9-10 WEB (Emphasis added)

That was the sum total of the message: Righteousness by faith. People in the church would argue with us that Adventists do believe in righteousness by faith, “But, get serious” they’d say. “You still have to try your best to keep all of the commandments. When you fail, Jesus makes up the difference. That was why He came and died for us.”

There it is…that’s the trap: Righteousness by faith, +works. You must grasp this in order to find your way out of that trap. It is your key to freedom and happiness.

The gift of salvation is irrevocable. No man or devil can steal it from you, and you cannot even throw it away by your actions. Even your willful carnal flesh cannot sabotage your salvation. You are safe in the hands of God, and no one can pluck you out…ever.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30 WEB (Emphasis added)

“…Christ: 13 in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.  Eph 1:12-014 WEB (Emphasis added)

You are saved by the blood of Jesus and sealed by the Holy Spirit. That means something important. You have become the tar-baby of the Holy Spirit (google tar-baby). He is stuck with you and you with Him until you are standing perfect in your resurrection body before the throne of God.

It is His job to perfect you, and He is able. Any sense of estrangement from God is always an illusion; a lie of Satan because your body has literally become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

 “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1Cor 6:10-209 WEB

That passage is usually employed by religious folks to condemn you for some infraction, like a piercing, a tattoo, or drinking ’til you puke, but it is actually wonderful news! The Holy Spirit doesn’t just indwell you; He renovates you; knocks down walls and transforms you into a perfect being.

Salvation that is purchased in part by your works is not free or permanent. It flees the instant you even think about sinning because the Lord said lusting in your heart makes you as guilty as actually committing adultery. Even the unfulfilled desires of the flesh are sin. There is no hope for the flesh. It must die as the Holy Spirit performs the work of the cross in your life.

The religious people you are likely dealing with act like the good son in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). They pride themselves in their self-righteousness and resent the fact that their brother, a base sinner, is received so joyously; with gifts and celebration. They think the love of God extended to a willful sinner is an insult to their piety. The reality is, they are not sons of the same father because they have never accepted the gift of salvation that you have. If they do, the Father will accept them with the same love, forgiveness, passion and compassion.

Churchy people have a lot of derisive, derogatory names for the truth that once we are saved, we are always saved; like ‘easy believism’. ‘How dare you think you can be saved so simply’ when they have worked so hard! “How can you be saved when you keep sinning like that?”

Sorting out the dissonance between what they are saying and what God is saying can make you a little crazy; dazed and confused.. You begin to suspect that people you have looked up to and respected; even sought to emulate all your life, are wrong.

These are the folks who end up seated in the penalty box at the Great White Throne judgment, pleading the many works that they did for God. “I never knew you” is His response…so sad.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” Matt 7:21-23 WEB (Emphasis added)

So, your disruptive influence in your old church has earned you nothing but rebukes, rolling eyes, and the opportunity to argue for hours on end if you have the stomach for it. Pharisees love to argue and they get a warm religious glow when they think of how it adds to their brownie points with God. But, as Dale Carnegie pointed out in his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People”:

“A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still”

You will discover that, alarmingly, in many things that are of immense importance, the facts do not matter. What matters is the condition of the soil, as illustrated in the parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-9). The same seed that produced a bountiful harvest when it landed on fertile soil had little or only a transient effect when it fell on the hardened and rocky soil. Arguing with such people is nearly always an exercise in futility. You are casting your pearls before swine.

Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matt 7:6 WEB

Just what is your godly obligation toward these folks who are as committed to beating you into submission as you are to rescuing them from eternal damnation?

If anyone teaches a different doctrine, and doesn’t consent to sound words, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, 4 he is conceited, knowing nothing, but obsessed with arguments, disputes, and word battles, from which come envy, strife, insulting, evil suspicions, 5 constant friction of people of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. Withdraw yourself from such.” 1 Tim 6:3-6 WEB (Emphasis added)

There it is: “Withdraw yourself from such”. You’re done. Leave them in God’s hands.

Having recognized the path laid out for you, how then do you proceed?

“Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, as you depart from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony against them.” Mark 6:11 WEB

Step 1 in shaking off the dust: Get out of that dust. Leave that dust behind. Put some distance between you and that dust. Don’t say ‘hasta la vista’ or so long, but say goodbye to that dust.

I admit that my departure from the Adventist Church did not follow this model; not exactly. I was not clinging to the old dead faith. My older brother was dying a painful death from cancer at the age of 26, and God had created such need in my heart for His comfort that I merely walked away, and it was in that pursuit of Him that I left the church behind.

Along with my fiancé, soon to be my wife for life, God led us to a fellowship that had reached into the Lord and appropriated a level of worship that was unparalleled by anything we had ever experienced. It was a source of living water; an anointing and filling of the Holy Spirit that both cleansed and healed us.

Of course, my family objected, but it was with my mom that I had most of the arguments you would expect. Luckily, being a lifelong Adventist, her familiarity with the scriptures was so poor that any point she tried to make fell flat in the face of truth. Most of her arguments started with, “Well, Ellen G. White says…”.

It is typically mothers and wives who run these upside-down religious families. As the moral paragons and guardians of virtue, they set the tone, and dads (the divinely appointed authorities) are relegated to enforcer roles. But I digress.

Like a runaway train, the hour approaches that the fullness of the Gentiles will be accomplished. Everyone will have been given the opportunity to either accept or reject Christ. At that instant, God’s focus will shift to the redemption of Israel, and He will keep His promise to keep the Church from the hour of testing by snatching us up to His throne.

“Because you kept my command to endure, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, which is to come on the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” Rev 3:10 WEB

Note: We are to be kept from the hour of testing, not through it. Recipients of His grace, we are not to be subjected to His judgments. We will be removed from the judgments, not sheltered through them. That means Rapture!

OK, step 1 is shake the dust off. What is step 2 in shaking off the dust of legalism? 2. Leave it behind. Drop what you are doing and depart. Don’t look back. Consider Lot’s wife who was turned to a pillar of salt when she defied the admonition not to look back at the burning city of Sodom. Looking back when you are going forward can cause you to stumble.

But Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but you go and announce the Kingdom of God.” 61Another also said, “I want to follow you, Lord, but first allow me to say good-bye to those who are at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60-62 WEB

Let the dead bury the dead. Unless there are people in your family with an openness to God, you will likely need to leave them behind in the same way that you have left your dead church behind. I’m talking about siblings, parents; even spouses and adult children. Keeping your focus on Jesus, make a clean break. If you need more help with this, read the article Forsaking families. It’s a hard step to take, but sometimes, a necessary one.

Look to the Lord and Him only. Submit your will to Jesus and ask Him to lead you. Follow His leading. He will provide you with a new family; the family of God. If you are fortunate, you will find a fellowship of true believers, though those seem to be very rare these days. God knows where they are. You will likely hear great things about the local megachurch. Good luck with that. Broad is the road that leads to destruction. Odds are, you may need to start your very own tiny fellowship as I laid out in Leaving Laodicea Behind and the article about Nicolaitanism. You only need two or three people to function as a fellowship:

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Matt 8:28 WEB

If it seems like I am repeating myself, I am. You are a new creation and you no longer have anything important in common with people who have not become new creations. Blood ties don’t count. Blood may indeed be thicker than water, but it doesn’t give anyone license to stand between you and the Lord.

We had an infestation of Cowbirds at our feeders last summer. Little by little, so many of them showed up that our Goldfinches, Chickadees, House Finches, and various other songbirds were driven away. I learned from my smart neighbor that Cowbirds are a parasitic species; laying their eggs in the nests of other birds to hatch and raise; even destroying the eggs of the adoptive parents or shoving them out of the nest. We were able to get rid of them by providing only feed that we knew they would reject; a fruit and nuts blend, if you’re interested.

When I sought the Lord about why He had allowed that infestation without alerting us sooner, I began to see that He was teaching us something important. We had people in our lives who fed on us in the same way that the Cowbirds drained our feeders. Having rejected the gift of salvation in favor of legalism, they fed on the anointing of the Lord which flowed through us. Yes, that is really a thing. In one instance, Christ was surrounded by a crowd, and one poor woman with chronic bleeding, in faith, just reached out, touched Him, and was healed:

“having heard the things concerning Jesus, came up behind him in the crowd, and touched his clothes. 28 For she said, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd, and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” Mark 5:27-30 WEB

When we become possessions of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit, the power of God flows through us. This was demonstrated in scripture by stories about miracles that flowed through contact with the Apostles following the coming of the Comforter at Pentecost. We become the instruments of His will in the Earth. If we bless someone, they are blessed indeed.

“They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them. 16 Multitudes also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.” Acts 5:15-16 WEB (Emphasis added)

Was Peter special, or do we all have access to the power of God? How can you have the Holy Spirit literally indwelling you and not be a wellspring of His power? That power can be drained from us by godless friends and family. In dealing with our families, the closer we came to the Lord in our walk with God, the more of an oppressive and pernicious influence they can have on us. The scriptural admonition to “Withdraw yourselves from such” has the wisdom of God behind it.

Like the Cowbirds, we had to remove that influence from our lives and close the door to their bitterness and condemnation. While our love for them and our hope for their salvation was undiminished, our connection with them had to be severed in favor of people whom the Lord sent us as our new family.

I pray this modest map away from religion, legalism, and the oppression of relationships is of help to someone. If you need more help, contact me personally. If you are dealing with some aspect of this that I have missed, we can seek the Lord together to find His will for your life. I am certain the Lord has more to teach us about this, and His wisdom flows through each member of His body; the Body of Christ.

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  • Don’t Mess With Israel by Greg Lauer