Jesus, Legalism and Liberalism

Jesus, Legalism and Liberalism

Matthew 5:17-20

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

We know, from the words of Jesus:

  • He did not come to abolish the Law or Prophets, but to fulfill them. Vs. 17
  • Not the smallest letter or least stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (It is finished) Vs. 19

Jesus always honors and loves God as seen in the Old Testament.  The Old Testament God is His Father, whom He loves.  Our Lord quotes the Old Testament twenty-four times.

Jesus holds the Old Testament, including the Law given to Moses, with the highest regard and respect.

“A God of wisdom was behind the Mosaic Law.  There has never been a more perfect standard of righteousness, neither could God’s plan of redemption have been implied more beautifully than in the ceremonial law.”  R.T. Kendall

God, the Law-giver, requires laws, commands, statutes, and precepts to be met with the duty of obedience.

Jesus forbids any and all ‘relaxing’ or ‘teaching others to relax the Law’ and thus miss the duty of obedience rightly required by God.

In fact, Jesus concludes His great Sermon on the Mount with a call to obedience.  Matthew 7:24-27

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

We know Jesus fulfilled the Law.  Matthew 5:17

  • Some of the Law He fulfilled ceased (Ceremonial Law).
  • Some of the Law He fulfilled continues (Moral Law).

The audience Jesus is addressing has much experience with and knowledge of the Law and experts in the Law.

  • Jesus highlights the scribes whose hero was Ezra (7:6, 10).
    • The scribes were the teachers of the Law.
    • The scribes were the doctors of the Law.
    • They were the professional interpreters of the Law.
    • They were the copyists who wrote out the Old Testament.
  • Jesus highlights the Pharisees.
    • The Pharisees were almost like a political party.
    • They too were teachers/doctors of the Law.
    • They were separatists from the priestly interpretation of the Law and from the common people.
    • They regarded themselves as superior interpreters of the Law.
    • They were well known for being legalistic and rigorous.

Contrary to the scribes and Pharisee’s teaching, a person NEVER earns God’s love, grace or salvation.  NEVER!

  • God’s love. 1 John 4:8 – for God is love.
  • God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8, 9 – “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God so that no one may boast.”
  • God’s salvation. Titus 3:4-6 – “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…”

Are earning and doing the same?  NO!

Do I have a duty to God’s love, grace and salvation?  YES.  The Bible couldn’t be clearer; my duty is to believe.

  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
  • because, if you 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 and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10: 9, 10
  • 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… John 1:12
  • 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:35
  • To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:43
  • And they said, “Believein the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Acts 16:31

Believing isn’t earning.  Believing isn’t “works based salvation.”  Believing isn’t legalism.

Believing God is a human capacity, placed by God in every human being, and is connected to righteousness as far back as Abraham.

“And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  Genesis 15:6

Let’s consider the scribes and Pharisees and the greatest commandment in both the Old and New Testament.

Deuteronomy 6:4, 5

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Matthew 22:36-38

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.

“Jesus, legalism and liberalism: An illustration with three lines.”

Concluding Questions

  1. Have you placed your belief in Jesus for salvation?
  2. Do you tend to add things above the line of God’s truth and practice a form of legalism?
  3. Do you tend to subtract things below the line of God’s truth and practice a form of liberalism?

Listen – My Story

  • Do you ever practice the externals of your faith without the corresponding internals of faith? (Do you ever fake your faith?)
  • Why? What happens inside of our hearts that prompts us to be ingenuine?

Learn – Digging Deeper

  1. God’s love, grace and salvation are always the gift of God and never earned. What feelings and thoughts do you have about such magnificent gifts from your Heavenly Father?  (Include any Bible verses that come to mind, for example, 1 John 3:1)


  1. Read Luke 18:9-14. What are some strategies for dealing with the recovering Pharisee of legalism in our hearts?


  1. Read Isaiah 58:1-4. Do you see ways the people had liberalized fasting (required less of themselves than God does?  Notice especially verses 3 and 4.


  1. Are you more prone to legalism or liberalism (as demonstrated in the three-line illustration)?


Life – Taking it Home

  • What is the Holy Spirit asking you to personally adjust this week?
  • If you have experienced legalism or liberalism, what can you do to successfully move on?


Lift – Prayer

  • Please thank God for His gifts of love, grace and salvation.
  • Please pray for those in your LIFE Group who are recovering from legalism or liberalism.
  • Invite everyone in your Life Group to place their belief in Jesus for salvation.