The Pull of Legalism

July 22, 2018

David Sorn

Our hearts seem to always be pulling us away from the Gospel and towards the false gospel of earning our own way

The Pull of Legalism

July 22, 2018

David Sorn

Our hearts seem to always be pulling us away from the Gospel and towards the false gospel of earning our own way

SERMON TRANSCRIPT | Luke 5:33-6:11


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor.

Thanks to Meg for filling in for Pastor Zach Foty who’s in Idaho leading worship this week.

When was the last time you were accused of being too happy as a Christian?

When was the last time you were accused of not paying enough attention to someone else’s standards because you were just trying to help people?

That’s what’s going to happen to Jesus today in our passage as we continue in the book of Luke.

And Jesus is going to attack legalism head on.

Legalism is the idea that we need to create a bunch of extra rules, obey those rules, and then, and only then, we’ll earn God’s love.

It’s like religion on steroids.

Now, before we open the passage, let me say this:

We are NOT living in the “Age of Legalism” in the American church.

The peak of legalism in America is in our past…you’d have to go back to the early and middle parts of the 20th century to find it in full effect…back when Christians couldn’t play cards, watch movies, touch alcohol, dance, or you name it.

Where pastors could be arrogant men who didn’t know Christ, but if they were caught smoking a cigarette, they would be fired!

No, in 2018, if anything we have a bigger problem with not taking God’s commands seriously more than we have a problem with legalism.

And yet today, we’ve come, in our walk through the Gospel of Luke, to a passage on legalism

And even though we feel like we’ve come out of this, I think you might notice today that our hearts keep wanting to pull us back there.

Plus, if we don’t keep teaching on this, we’ll be right back where we were, as Christians have spent SO much of the last 2,000 years stuck in the quicksand of legalism

In terms of setting, we’re still at Levi’s party.

Which is what we covered last week.

(Page 836)

(Renovation App)

If you weren’t here last week, Jesus picked a sinful, hated tax collector to be one of his disciples, and then that tax collector threw a party with a bunch of his sinful friends and Jesus went to hang out.

It’s there, that the Jewish Religious Establishment is going to continue to badger Jesus with questions.

(Luke 5:33-39) – NIV

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”


Let’s start by unpacking those metaphors that Jesus uses because he’s not talking about items we use every day anymore.

Maybe you know someone who tries to brew their own beer at home, but I doubt they’re pouring wine into animal skins. J

So what is Jesus talking about when he says no one puts a new piece of garment on an old one?

He’s saying, listen, clothes shrink after the first time you hand wash them, so if you use a new, unshrunk piece of cloth to patch up an old garment…

As soon as you wash your garment, the new part is going to shrink, which is going to tear a huge whole in the old part

You can’t fit the new onto the old.

It doesn’t work.

His metaphor about the wineskins makes the same point.

Back in Jesus’ day, glass was rare and costly and ceramics were heavy and breakable, so people used animal skins to hold water or wine.

However, over time, these skins would wear out and lose their elasticity.

And you couldn’t just pour new wine into an old wineskin.

And here’s why:

Unfermented wine EXPANDS while it ferments, so if you poured new wine into an old brittle wineskin, the old wineskin would break, and your new wine would leak all over the place.

And Jesus is saying the same thing with both metaphors:

What he’s bringing with the New Covenant, the New Testament, is not meant to fit within their old systems.

He’s not coming to start a reform movement within Judaism

He’s not coming to patch up their ways.

The Gospel…His grace and forgiveness would never fit into their ‘wineskin of rules and regulations.’

He’s doing something new.

This is not going to be legalism…which in fairness, is not the teaching of the Old Testament either.

Legalism is how the Pharisees and others distorted the Old Testament.

And even though legalism may feel foreign to how we live our lives today, what I want to show you is that legalism is always trying to pull our hearts away from the Gospel.

The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus died for our sins, and can completely forgive us through our faith.

Charles Spurgeon once said this about THE PULL OF LEGALISM

“Beloved, the legalist [in us] is a great deal older than the Christian. If I were a legalist today, I should be some fifteen or sixteen years older than I am as a Christian; for we are all born legalists.” – Charles Spurgeon

Most of us grow up thinking we need to earn love rather than just receive it as a gift.

Legalism, in a sense, is more natural for us

I want to look at 3 ways our sinful hearts pull us toward legalism even today…and this is the first one:

3 Ways Our Sinful Hearts Pull Us Toward Legalism

#1: We try to earn God’s love

According to the Old Testament, it was fine to fast (that’s to not eat…for the sake of prayer)

Many people did for special occasions or when they were really trying to seek God out on something serious.

All Jews fasted on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

But the Pharisees are trying to show how they are more holy, more loved, because they…they fast twice a week…among other things.

And you hear that, and most of us say, “Um, that’s not me. David, this is not what I struggle with…

“I’m not struggling w/ fasting twice a week.”

“I’m closer to rebellion twice a week than fasting twice a week. ”

And yet, do our hearts not trick us into thinking that God is somehow MORE proud of us when we are obedient?

Do our hearts not trick us into thinking that God loves us less when we struggle?

Even something as simple as reading the Bible.

You lose your YouVersion streak of days reading the Bible…and you feel this sense of shame…as if God’s love has dropped.

What is that?

That’s legalism.

The Gospel is this: IF you are a believer in Christ, as your level of faithfulness and obedience goes up and down throughout your life (move right hand up and down), that God’s love for you is constant (keep left hand constant) never changes.

If this next year you fall into sexual sin, develop an addiction to pain killers, and get divorced, God’s love for you is still here ( don’t move hand)

If the following year, you break free of your substance addition, come back to church, and get remarried to your spouse, God’s love for you is still here (don’t move hand)

It’s one thing to intellectually understand that, it’s quite another thing entirely to live as if that’s really true.

There was a story in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago about deer that lived near the Iron Curtain in Europe…particularly where the old wall (fence really) that separated Germany and what is now the Czech Republic.

The fence was dismantled at the end of the Cold War in 1989, but biologists have discovered that even though the fence isn’t there anymore that the deer on both sides of the old Iron Curtain, won’t cross the border.

The deer living in Germany won’t wander into the Czech Republic, and vice versa.

Biologists put a GPS tracker on one of the deer, they named Ahornia, and they found that she spent her whole life in Germany.

She’d walk right up to the border, and even though there was no fence anymore, she wouldn’t cross it

And the crazy thing was…this deer was born in 2007…18 years after they took the fence down!

AND, on the other side of the border, in the Czech Republic, they’ve built an incredible nature preserve that the deer could have went and frolicked in or whatever deer do

This fence, these parameters, of how life should be done, and what paths should be followed, had been passed down to this deer from its parents, who got it from their parents…

And that routine was deeply embedded into all the deer in the area.

And this same thing can happen to Christians.

When you come to Christ, the fence is removed.

We’re told, we don’t have to earn his love by walking a certain path…

He freely offers it to you!

But many of us prefer to live as if the fence is still up.

Freedom feels too scary…to dangerous.

We prefer the simplicity and safeness of routines and rituals

For others of us, the idea that God’s love is somehow lowered when we sin (even a little bit)

That’s deep in our family systems for a lot of us.

And truly embracing the Gospel and his fence-removing love for you…is going to take quite some time for some of us.

But it’s worth it.

This is why Jesus uses the language of the bridegroom (an old-fashioned word for groom).

When someone has vowed, through the covenant of marriage, to never leave you until death do you part…

You’re not spending your life trying to earn their love and acceptance so they won’t leave you.

Do you live in that sort of unconditional love in your relationship with Jesus?

But some of you are still living as if you have to impress Jesus and earn his love

But that’s not the Gospel. It’s not. It’s legalism.


But the pull of our heart towards legalism isn’t just in wanting to earn his favor.

Unfortunately, it’s even deeper than that.

3 Ways Our Sinful Hearts Pull Us Toward Legalism

#1: We try to earn God’s love

#2: We add rules that aren’t in the Bible

Let me show you where this is in Scripture.

Let’s keep reading in Luke…we’ve crossed into chapter 6 now.

(Luke 6:1-5) – NIV

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

So not only have the Pharisees already added extra rules like “fasting twice a week,” but they’ve added more.

In fact, the Pharisees had 613 different commandments they had come up with…based on how they interpreted the Bible

613 rules for people to follow.

And some rules had subcategories.

For instance, honoring the sabbath…

There were, I’m not joking here, 39 different kinds of “work” that they had decided were forbidden on the sabbath

And this included things like carrying or writing or cooking or tying knots…all types of work

And so what’s happening in this passage, is that the Pharisees are saying, that when Jesus and his disciples are picking some heads of grain from the field…they are actually reaping and harvesting…thus breaking the Sabbath.

Even though the Old Testament says explicitly in Deuteronomy you can walk through the fields and pick food with your own hands.

So what’s happening here?

Why have the Pharisees added so many rules?

And if you study Christian history, so much of our story, unfortunately, is a history of adding extra rules that aren’t in the Bible.

From the mid-20th century’s obsession with don’t drink, dance, or chew, or go with girls who do.

To older traditions of how you were supposed to dress in church, how confirmation was a “must,” or Sunday NIGHT worship was a “must,” and we could literally talk for hours about all of the rules we’ve added to the Bible over the years.

And as much as think we don’t do this anymore, I’m not so sure.

We always have a way of subtly trying to tell each other how REAL, HOLY Christians should actually live.

Whether that be how Christians should eat…or use natural products…or essential oils…

Or to something more serious like how you raise your children…

Real, Godly Christians should discipline their children like… (insert a rule)

Real, Godly Christians should HOMESCHOOL their children, real Christians send their kids to Christian School, real Christians send their kids to public school to reach people for Christ

Social media is full of lifestyle-shaming on all sorts of topics like this, and we must be careful to never add rules that “all Christians must live by” if those rules are not in Scripture

As a pastor, lots of times I get asked complex situational questions by people in our church.

And they’ll explain some complicated family drama or something, and say, “What, as a Christian, should I do in this situation?”

And I can try and direct them as best as I can from Biblical teachings and principles…but lots of times, the answer isn’t completely obvious in the Bible.

Because the Bible wasn’t written by insurance lawyers…it doesn’t have 9,000 situational clauses.

It’s a guide.

And when the Bible as our guide doesn’t speak specifically about what exactly you are to do in your exact situation…we’re supposed to consult our other Guide, the Holy Spirit.

And so lots of times I’ll say to people, “It’s not 100% clear in Scripture how to handle that exact situation, but God can tell you what to do…seek counsel from the Holy Spirit”

And lots of times, people don’t like that answer

Honestly, it’s just easier to make another rule about how Christians should always to act.

It feels easier to force everyone into a paint-by-numbers Christianity where we all look the same, rather than letting people seek the Holy Spirit and letting Him paint the picture of our lives.

But when you’re adding to God’s commands, it’s like saying, “Hmm, I see God’s commands, clearly they are not sufficient…I think I could improve on them if I also required Christians to do “X”

We’re not to add to the WORD OF GOD.

But the legalists, just like the Pharisees, always want to further define the law.

And often, we want to do this because we feel insecure about our standing in Christ.

We think

We think, if we could further articulate, with more rules, exactly how we’re all supposed to live as good Christians, they we could feel better about the fact that we are GOOD Christians and, see, God loves me because I obey so MANY rules!

But that’s not the Gospel

The Gospel is that you don’t need to keep impressing Him to earn his love, He already loves you!


Unfortunately, our pull towards legalism goes even a step further than adding more rules so we can feel better about ourselves.

3 Ways Our Sinful Hearts Pull Us Toward Legalism

#1: We try to earn God’s love

#2: We add rules that aren’t in the Bible

#3: We use rules to feel superior to others

We not only use extra rules to feel good about our standing with God…but we use them to compare ourselves to others, so we can feel superior.

Let’s read a few more verses in Luke 6

(Luke 6:6-11) – NIV

6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.

9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Notice, firstly, that the Pharisees are basically stalking Jesus

They’re at the party at Levi’s… (even though they rebuked Jesus for being there!)

They’re somehow following him in the grainfields (“Oh, hello there!”) That’s crazy!!

And now, they’re stalking him, even at the synagogue.

Why…because legalists love to look at those they perceive to be below them, so they can gain a competitive edge.

So what’s happening in this story?

Once again, the Pharisees have added rules…one that says, “Healing a person is working on the sabbath”

Again, not in the Bible.

But now, we see that these people are so blinded by their tradition and feelings of superiority that they can’t even rejoice when God does a miracle right in front of their eyes.

The man’s hand literally grew longer again in front of their eyes, and they’re MAD!

About a rule (a made up one at that!) being broken!

Christians do this all the time in regards to evangelism and tradition. Let me give you an example:

I’d say 5-10 times a year, someone visits our church, and walks out before I even get on stage…

I find out why later…when they send me an angry email…

But typically, what happens is, they’ve decided, that the way we’re doing the music, isn’t holy.

As if the original disciples would have worshipped with an organ and hymnbooks.

And I always want to run after them in the hallway, as they walk out with their enormous Bibles, and say, “Hey! Don’t you know what God’s doing here? And all the lives are being saved?!”

But they wouldn’t care… just like the Pharisees didn’t care about the man’s hand being healed.

Because to them, the rule (and superiority they’ve supposedly gained by following that extra rule) is more important than what God’s heart is for people…

Throughout the history of the church, the church has often been unfaithful to Jesus’ true heart for lost people, and instead chosen an adulterous affair with tradition.

This is why Jesus said earlier, people just, unfortunately, keep saying, “The Old Wine, in the Old wineskin is better”

But He’s here to do something new.

Legalism just perverts Christianity to a watching world.

Think about this: God says, “How about I give you the sabbath?

I know that humankind is going to be working all the time, and working themselves to death, so how about I give you a day off?

His commands are a guidepost to joy!

And we turn it into 39 ways you better not mess it up or He’ll be angry!

It’s like God says, “It would be great for you to take a nap!”

And you say, “Oh wow, thank you, God! What a gift!”

And your legalist Christian friend comes along and says, “Yeah, it’s nice, but Godly people should only nap from 1:00-1:45pm, and only on Saturdays, and only on the floor, and never with a blanket, and never with a pillow…because God wouldn’t want you to ENJOY that nap!”

In this same story in the Gospel of Mark, Mark mentions that Jesus also said this:

(Mark 2:27) – NIV

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

The Sabbath, like much of God’s law, was made for you, not you for the Sabbath

In other words, God gave you the Sabbath…this day of rest…because He knew it would be such a blessing to you.

The Sabbath was made FOR you.

God loves you like that.

And that’s why we want to follow every command He gives us.

Because we know it brings him glory, and that it is for our good!

But the pull of our legalist hearts always want to take God’s guideposts, and make them markers of how we can know He’s pleased with us.

And if you do that with rules…you will never truly understand grace…and God’s love in your life.

And so I ask you this morning…are you truly living out the Gospel…or has your heart pulled you back into legalism?

Has it pulled you back into adding rules and earning his love?


One of the best ways we remember the Gospel is be taking communion together.

In the NT, Paul writes this about the reason for communion:

(1 Corinthians 11:23-26) – NIV

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Paul also writes in this passage that we ought to examine ourselves before taking communion.

To 1) not do it in vain. To only do it if we truly believe it. And if you’re still just seeking, that’s ok. You’re on a journey. 2) Communion is an opportunity for believers to examine themselves (ask yourself some tough questions)

When you’re ready to take communion, we have 4 tables this morning (2 in back, 2 in front)….that have pieces of bread and a bowl of juice. When you’re ready, you can get up take an individual piece of bread and dip it in the juice.

You can get up at any time during this last and final song and take communion.

But before you get up, here’s what I want you to do as you take communion this morning.

Before you walk to the table…I want you to ask yourself this question:

“Where am I letting my heart pull me back into legalism?”

“Where am I trying to impress Jesus and earn his love?”

And when you identify it, I want you to get up, walk to the table and REMEMBER…

That his body was broken for you..his blood shed for you…

And when you believed in that…you were forgiven…you were fully loved.

And there’s NOTHING, NOTHING that will separate you from the Love of God.


Walk in that this morning.

Let me pray

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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