by Glen Penton
Sometimes in the writings of the Renewed Covenant Scriptures, the writers use common Greek words in surprising ways, without the benefit of previously existing words for the ideas they wanted to express. For example, in the Greek language at the time, there were no such words as "legalism", "legalist", etc. Rav Sha'ul (whose legal cognomen as a Roman citizen was Paul), had to be described and warned against legalism without any ready-made word for it. He sometimes used the Greek word "nomos" (translated into English as 'law') to express the concept of 'legalistic misuse of God's Torah'.
I count seven kinds of legalism that the Holy Spirit warns us against in Rav Sha'ul's letters. There are two that involve the matter of obedience.
1. Forgery legalism happens when people add to God's Torah with unauthorized commands of their own, pretending that their commands are God's.
2. Fraudulent legalism is a kind of forgery legalism that subtracts from God's Torah by commanding people to disobey and/or ignore His commands. It seeks to defraud people of our God-given possession of His loving guidance. Fraudulent legalists are quick to accuse us of legalism. Another name for fraudulent legalism is "illegalism", perhaps because it has made God's Community so ill.
There are three more that miss the motive of obedience.
3. Facial legalism seeks the praise of people, rather than to honor God.
4. Forgiveness legalism tries to earn God's forgiveness instead of receiving it as the free gift it is. Likewise...
5. Friendship legalism tries to earn God's love and friendship rather than receive it as a free gift.
Sometimes we miss the method of obedience.
6. Fortitude legalism is the delusion that we can obey God by our own efforts. Self-reliance rather than trusting God's grace in and through us by His Spirit.
Finally, perhaps the most obvious type of legalism among Torah-observant Messianics involves the meaning of the mitzvot:
7. Figure-ground legalism involves confusion about the relative importance of the various mitzvot (commandments), and about which ones take precedence over others. We miss the forest by looking only at the trees. The Hebrew Scriptures and traditional Judaism mention, and the Renewed Covenant Scriptures emphasize heavily, that every command God has given is merely commentary on the one command to love. Sometimes that's hard to remember and easy to get confused about.
In summary, all proper use of Torah centers on God. It honors Him as our Liberator, Lover and Lord. It allows Him to be the Legislator, Judge, and Administrator of His own Law. Misuse of Torah, either subtly or obviously, transfers the glory and authority from Him to us.