Legalism. Worldliness. Holiness.

This is a fairly controversial topic within Christian circles… Legalism vs worldliness. Some fall into the trap of legalism, and uphold ridiculous rules that are completely extra Biblical. There also are those who let pretty much everything go… to the point of fault. This dilemma raises a few questions.

What is legalism?

{Right now I live in an extremely Mennonite community.  Most of the people in this town either are currently, or were practicing Mennonites. Because I’m somewhat familiar with some of their customs, I’ll use them to illustrate my point. I’m not trying to hate on them, just laying out the facts.}

Mennonites are the pure example of legalism. They believe that all women should be wearing bonnets and long dresses, and are even very specific about the way the pleats on the dresses are ironed. Men are to wear suspenders. collared shirts and caps/hats, and married men are to wear a long beard… This is merely scratching the surface of the Mennonite dress code. In the Mennonite church, you are to never smile because it is not godly.

Rules like these are so strongly held to, that there have been church splits over silly things like the color dress you wear, the type of wheel on your buggy (steel or wooden), and the color of your horse. If you break these rules, you are living in sin.

They worship RULES instead of God. In this case, their rules are man made and have nothing to do with God. Yet somehow their rules equate to holiness.

What is worldliness?

Alright… I don’t need to elaborate on this one much. We turn on the TV for a moment and it’s right there, blatantly in our faces. Foul language, immorality, violence… it surrounds us. A PG movie is barely PG anymore.

Where do these two lead?

Legalism tends to lead to rebellion (aka worldliness). Worldliness leads to corruption, and the loss of your soul.

What is BIBLICAL Godliness/Holiness?

The Bible says over and over that we need to live in holiness. Philippians 1:27 says we need to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. All over 1st, 2nd and 3rd John we are called to be children of the Light and imitate goodness, for God is good. The book of Romans states that we are saved and justified by faith, not by following a list of rules or laws. In Christ there is grace, and we are no longer bound by these laws.

God calls us to be holy. Ultimately, He is the only Holy one. We all fall short, but we are called to do our best to be holy and righteous. We need to actively put aside sin and choose to walk in righteousness and godliness, knowing that we are justified before God through Christ and undergoing a constant process of sanctification which will eventually make us holy. This process will finally be completed when we reach perfection in Heaven.

But what about non-Christians? Obviously, they can’t be holy or godly. How should we treat them? What about believers that are trapped in sin?

Well that’s simple. We need to treat them exactly how Jesus would, with utmost love and care. We are not called to judge others punitively… we are called to love and forgive one another just as Christ did for us.

Now this whole “legalism is bad” thing is NOT a pass for Christians to live in sin and throw their hands up hollering “You’re being legalistic! Jesus is full of grace, I’m fine!” when someone tells them to change their ways. (Romans 6:1) We are called to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ. Ultimately, walking in holiness is best for us. Walking in sin will only hurt us. We are called to holiness because it is the path that will lead to the least amount of pain. God loves us, which is why He calls us to this standard.

Living in legalism is living in bondage. Your life is dictated by rules, and you have no freedom. At the same time, living in worldliness also is living in bondage. You have a false sense of freedom, but really, you’re a slave to sin. Living in godliness is living in true freedom.

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3 thoughts on “Legalism. Worldliness. Holiness.

  1. Is it ok to have some worldliness though? I’m not talking about straying from Christ, but just still knowing what’s going on in the world so we are able to connect with people when we share the gospel with them. Obviously we need to be set apart from the world, but I still think we need to be able to connect with them. I feel like the hardest part is distinguishing where that line we can’t cross is. Not easy to do, at least it isn’t for me.

    • Yes!! I do think within that context it is alright. We can’t just be completely oblivious to the world around us. I think if we lose an idea of what’s going on, we’ll lose some of our potential connection to nonbelievers. It is a very, very hard line to not cross. It takes a lot of wisdom and maturity. I also think if someone struggles with a certain area they should avoid it entirely so they don’t fall into sin. Ya know?

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